Now That We’ve Seen Everything: A Girls Reappraisal

A counterpoint to John Cook's final Girls recap.

Sunday's season finale of Girls ended with Lena Dunham's Hannah Horvath sitting by herself on the Coney Island shore, alone with her thoughts. Then the screen faded to black and we were informed, in quick succession, that she had directed and written that episode, and created the show. If you paid attention to Girls, you knew where it was going all along: Lena, Lena, Lena.

"You're the fucking worst because you think you're not pretty and you're not a good writer and you're not a good friend," Adam Sackler (played by Adam Driver) told Hannah just moments before her rare moment of external solitude. "Well, you are pretty and you are a good writer and you are a good friend."

That, along with an unrequited "I love you" from him, was the culmination of a relationship over which hands were wrung. It initially appeared to be an act of masochism, maintaining this relationship with a disaffected shithead who told her things like, "You're a dirty little whore and I'm going to send you home to your parents covered in cum." But sometimes hot sex is just hot sex and sometimes hot sex blossoms into a relationship pollinated with feelings. If you stuck with Girls throughout the season, you saw the relationship morph from those extremes. The ultimate result wasn't one of masochism, but self-flattery.

Let's let fiction be fiction and ignore how similarly aligned the goals of writer/feeler Lena and writer/feeler Hannah are. Let's ignore that Lena probably considers herself a good friend, just as Hannah is considered in the series. Let's focus on what we cannot ignore: that by virtue of the fact that Lena plays Hannah, a comment on Hannah's appearance is a comment on Lena's appearance. There were several of such observations – about one per episode – throughout the season, all presumably written by Dunham. Adam, in particular, was obsessed with her weight ("Do you eat for fun?" "You're not that fat anymore." "You think because you're, what, 11 pounds overweight you know struggle?"). Hannah rarely bristled at the body snark. She was described as handsome. It was implied on the finale that she'd been compared to Camryn Manheim, which one character kindly disagreed with.

Through these lines, a normal-looking girl in a beautiful Hollywood world cracked the joke before everyone else could. Dunham's costars' bodies only drove that home, with each impossibly leaner and more sculpted than the next. Driver's Marines-formed pecs were on display in nearly every episode. Dunham, meanwhile, appeared often topless, and sometimes bottomless, in a way that seemed calculated to court attention. Her padding sticks out against media-prescribed perfection and she knows it.

An ostensible ensemble, Girls is actually a one-woman show insofar that all roads lead back to Hannah. Marnie (Allison Williams) and Jessa (Jemima Kirke) go out so that they can go home with this guy so that he can gross them out so that they can make out so that Jessa can be her weird, flighty self and end up marrying him so that Hannah can attend the wedding. Hannah's friends, and specifically their attitudes toward sex (what makes Girls go ‘round) are nothing but broad sketches against which Hannah can be contrasted. There's the virgin Shoshanna, the whore Jessa and the burgeoning whore/dysfunction-addled Marnie. Hannah, on the other hand, is so vanilla that being jokingly peed on in the shower reduces her to tears. In the words of Marnie, Hannah's the selfish one. It's also what she's meant to represent.

Girls' aesthetic of egocentrism may have yielded some ickiness, as the prescient discussion of the series' treatment of race proved, but it's also key to its appeal as the best sitcom ever—or at least since the similarly race-stupid Friends. (Furthermore, of course Girls does not have anything particularly smart to say about race because Lena Dunham is a white person who can get by existing without even once considering it.) As much as people praise how on-the-nose the show is, what seduced me was its flair for the absurd. It had "Forrest Gump-based" AIDS fears. A girl at the gyno convincing herself that she does, in fact, want AIDS. Sentences that began, "In the STD world..." Moments of whiplash self-awareness ("We can get past this? I just tried to fuck you, sue you and extort you."). Three people touching tongues outside of a final. Not couples. People. The entire character of Shoshanna. "I'm not gay, I was just trying to be free." When Girls did share something like a group experience through pop culture, it picked the weirdest, goofiest shit: Game Show Network's Baggage, Jewel's "Hands," Keri Hilson's "Pretty Girl Rock." Self-investment that makes you so trite-wary that you become brilliantly original is self-investment worth exploiting.

And that is the triumph of Girls – the ability to make one 25-year-old's experience, quippy Twitter-ready voice, and need for validation so terrifically watchable. Lena Dunham is television's greatest singer-songwriter. When Adam told Hannah, "Just be who you are," she kissed him passionately not in illustration but response. It was a perfect nutshell moment, but not as much as that in the first episode, when she told her parents the now oft-quoted line: "I think I may be the voice of my generation...or at least a voice of a generation."

Dunham's is the me, me, me generation, and by virtue of this young woman's self-investment, she is both.