With each passing season, the phenomenon that was once Girls continues to wane. The show wrapped its fourth season last night with an ending akin to that of The Wizard of Oz. You see, much like Dorothy finding out she had the power to go home all the time, the "girls" merely needed to be exposed to pure, distilled "adulthood" to grow up - child birth made Jessa realize she wants to be a therapist and Hannah to move past Adam; Shoshana got a Yoda-like lecture from Hermie and decided to embark on a career in Japan and Marnie just needed a pep talk from newly minted Neighborhood Board Chairman Ray Ploshansky to nail a coffee house tryout.
The season finale nicely exposed much of what was wrong with the season as a whole. Too much plot crammed into too little time. Nowhere was this more true than with Lena Dunham's alter ego and titular main character Hannah Horvath. After pulling a particularly selfish stunt by letting Adam know that she had been admitted to the Iowa Writer's Workshop on the night of his Broadway premiere, the couple has an uneasy denouement (and unspoken "we're on a break" agreement) when Hannah makes her way to the prairie in the season's second episode. Instead of keeping Hannah in Iowa for the season to explore how couples handle long-distance relationships or let her stretch her literary wings (after all, she was supposed to be a voice of her generation) before a season ending "should I stay or should I go" conundrum, Hannah flames out spectacularly. Her fellow graduate students have no patience for her childish behavior and know-it-all attitude much less her actual writing, which they quickly peg as superficial and self-centered.
That she folds her tent so quickly was particularly curious considering how much time had been spent during the prior three seasons getting us invested in the idea that Hannah was determined to be a writer - from burning bridges at her advertorial job at GQ to doing coke for a freelance website gig - suddenly, being bullied by snobby graduate students snuffed out her dream? When she gets back to find Adam has shacked up with a new woman (an excellent Gillian Jacobs as a pretentious artist named Mimi-Rose) it feels like, as Adam would say, another step in a series of random steps.
Hannah spirals further when she meets Fran, a single teacher at the school she magically gets a substitute teaching job at and takes him to one of Mimi-Rose's art exhibits on their first date. She also befriends one of her teen students, Cleo, who she goes to get matching piercings with (bailing when the younger girl screams in horror as a needle is shoved through the underside of her tongue) and then berates when Cleo doesn't return Hannah's ten texts and three calls (!) after Tad comes out of the closet. Perhaps it is because Hannah talked Cleo into getting the underside of her tongue pierced that the teen snubs her, but the total lack of appropriateness and idea that you would rely on an adolescent for emotional support (and then have a tantrum when she does not) made me roll my eyes so hard I think I gave myself a concussion.
Marnie is no better. Her relationship with pretty boy hipster Desi is volatile, beginning with her as the "other woman" whom Desi basically sells on the idea of his not being into traditional relationships, but somehow ends with a marriage proposal after he blows their $2,000 advance on some guitar equipment. Huh? Of course, she ignores the advice of the one person who actually does act like an adult - Ray - when he tells her that Desi is selfish and unworthy of her and it is ultimately left to Ray to dress down Desi so thoroughly (it really is one of the show's great scenes) that he no shows the coffee house gig a record executive scheduled for him and Marnie.
Shoshana spends most of the season on a fruitless search for a job (perhaps a karmic comeuppance for being so incredibly rude to the one interviewer who did offer her gainful employment) before oddly shifting into a role as Ray's pseudo-campaign manager when the Grumpy's manager is left wanting at a neighborhood board meeting where his complaint about traffic on his street does not even make it onto the agenda. She also manages to insult another interviewer, Scott, but who ends up asking her out and offering her material comfort which she ultimately rejects in favor of a job in Tokyo offered to her during the season finale.
Jessa and Adam gravitate toward each other in Hannah's absence and bond over AA, but Jessa is also typically Jessa - peeing on the street and then mouthing off to the cops who issue her a ticket, getting her and Adam arrested; setting up Adam with Mimi-Rose so she can get a crack at Ace (an also excellent Zachary Quinto), Mimi-Rose's ex, before the whole caper blows up spectacularly in Mimi-Rose's impossibly hip home when Ace and Jessa pop in unannounced and Jessa realizes she and Adam are simply pawns in the most narcissistic game of human chess ever played - she susses out that Mimi-Rose and Ace are heavyweight champions of self-absorption while she and Adam are rank amateurs.
But like a clever kid who skips showing her work and gets to the answer at the bottom of a math question, the show barely lingers on what would otherwise be major milestones in its characters development to get to some ending that seems satisfactory. Tad's coming out is played for some laughs but also humiliates him - he is just as emasculated by Lorraine post-coming out as he was pre, so did it really make a difference? Marnie goes from other woman to betrothed, steals Ray's thunder at his election night victory party, but then is able to perform flawlessly in her fiancé's absence when he bails on the most important performance of their nascent career. Even the coda to the finale, flashing forward six months (never mind the fact that the season presumably ends in November after Election Day, meaning NYC must have experienced a very rare May snowfall!) makes little sense. Fran had rightly pegged Hannah as self-involved and dramatic, yet somehow, by the magic touch of his hand on her back after she (dramatically) storms out of her class and her witnessing a child's birth, we are to assume that they are now a happy, stable couple tip toeing through the snowflakes. Ok. It is TV, so sure, why not.
But the longer the narrative arc of the show becomes, the more its whole strains credulity. Or maybe it is that life just moves oh so fast when you are in the rarefied hipster air of Brooklyn, but having brushed over so many of the small things that happen in life to get to bigger themes and sources of discovery, the show misses a basic point: life rarely affords a simple montage or defining moment that moves you in a different direction, it comes from slow and steady work and effort to change and break bad habits and inculcate new and better ones. What was too often missing from this season's work was the showing of that work. If anything, much of the behavior and decision making regresses before the deus ex machina ending that propelled the characters forward. Convenient, but not very satisfying.
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