What Girls Got Right: How We Talk (And Talk Back)

Bernard Baruch's famous quote-turned-cliché, "Those who matter don't mind, and those who mind don't matter," becomes quainter and more obsolete by the day. Technology has made the public-communicating elite more accessible, and as a consequence, more vulnerable to critique. Feedback lurks in every corner – your inbox, your @replies on Twitter, Facebook, comment sections. If you choose to ignore the criticism, people will inform you of it nonetheless ("Don't let ‘em get you down," they will say.) If you are sensitive enough to be sourcing your emotions for content, you are probably sensitive enough to be affected by these words, especially when they are negative. You may even end up exploring them, sorting them out or just plain responding to them in your further work, which will then be up for public dissection, which could get under your skin some more, causing you to react again, etc. Modern discourse is full of noise, thanks in no small part to these feedback loops.

Lena Dunham matters and minds. "I take that criticism very seriously," she told Terry Gross, regarding the widespread idea that the show Dunham created, stars in, writes and sometimes directs, Girls, wasn't diverse enough. She answered that criticism by having on Donald Glover as her temporary love interest in the show's second season. Within the first few minutes of the show's Season 2 premiere, she and Glover's character were fucking. "I wanted this so bad...I'm finally getting it...It's about fucking time," her character moaned. Later Dunham told Vulture that while she had "always wanted to work with Donald," his appearance was somewhat in service of a dialogue with viewers. "It was a pretty clear statement that we are comfortable, that there isn't a political agenda against having black characters in the show," she said.

Glover lasted on the show only long enough to make a statement. His character and Hannah broke up in the season's second episode after a particularly fraught argument about race and his political beliefs. (During, which, by the way, she receive his criticism of her writing with the same grace that Dunham tends to employ.) "Thank you for enlightening me on how things are tougher for minorities," his character said at one point after she brought up the disproportionate amount of black men on death row, implying his Republican status was somehow doing them a disservice. Enlightening people on how things are tougher for minorities is in fact what Dunham did when she made a show about a bunch of white people in New York. Glover's character was a token, but one used to illustrate how out of her depth Hannah and Lena Dunham are when it comes to talking about black people, and why her creative decision is, in fact, accurate. It's not admirable but it is clever.

The same can be said for so many of Dunham's responses embedded in Season 2 of Girls, the main function of which was to summarize our modern call-and-response dialogue and to define the fashion of the day: Thin skin is in. In the process, though, Dunham & Co., have found a way to make Internet-driven integration sophisticated in a time when it's an accepted practice for shows to cluelessly plaster tweets onscreen, forcing one medium onto another in the most unsightly way possible.

Responding to the series premiere, Frank Bruni wrote in the Times last year that:

You watch these scenes and other examples of the zeitgeist-y, early-20s heroines of Girls engaging in, recoiling from, mulling and mourning sex, and you think: Gloria Steinem went to the barricades for this?

And yet, last night's series finale ended back-to-back-to-back sex scenes in which the women dictated exactly what they wanted. When surveying her romantic life with an affluent young doctor she had a multi-day affair with (played by Patrick Wilson in the most controversial episode of the second season), Hannah described a time when she asked a guy to punch her in the chest and then ejaculate where he had just hit. "What make me think I deserve that?" she wondered. Exactly other people's point.

That controversial episode, "One Man's Trash," resulted in wildly divergent interpretations all over the Internet that focused on the likelihood of frumpy Dunham being the temporary fuck buddy of by a piece as hot as Wilson. (Insult to injury: His character referred to Hannah as "beautiful.") That's only looking at it from one perspective – Hannah's – which is a fair enough direction given how Hannah-centric the first season was and how Dunham-centric this show is (in the same way that her actual name half-rhymes with her character's, Lena's life seems to half-rhyme with her that of the writing, thinking, feeling, New York-dwelling Hannah). What many didn't take into consideration is that some dudes will fuck anything, regardless of where he fits on the 1 to 10 scale, and that sometimes people have these tangential half-narratives that don't exactly fit in with their lives or what outsiders would expect from them. Hannah had just a bit role in the life of Wilson's character. She was that weird thing he did.

If the first season of Girls was all about the me-ness of culture, the second focused on the communal aspect of modern communication. Two episodes after the Wilson lightning rod, when Hannah visited Jessa on a trip home to visit her father, Hannah was confronted with the very idea that she is the center of only her world: Jessa's father's girlfriend (played by Rosanna Arquette) described Hannah as a "cushion" she had prayed to manifest for smoother relations between Jessa and her father during their visit. Hannah played a supporting role in that narrative, and, for that matter, several others in the season (especially that of Marnie, who barely gave Hannah the time of day during a party Marnie was hosting for her artist boyfriend). This counters so much of the criticism Dunham received for being egocentric. You think she's a megalomaniac? Well, the guy who had the most screen time (to a virtually insufferable level) was Shoshanna's boyfriend Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who explicitly stated that he wasn't attracted to Hannah. So there.

The end of last night's Season 2 finale found Hannah's ex-and-maybe-future boyfriend Adam racing to her, his too-perfect abs glistening, to save her from herself. Her character began unraveling midway through the season, right around the time she told Wilson's character that she was deeply lonely. She fell into old OCD patterns, hurt herself badly enough to require hospital care and defaulted on her e-book deal. While Marnie and Shoshanna beamed with happiness, no mulling or mourning to be found, and Jessa was off somewhere probably getting her vagina pierced and speaking a language that wasn't English, Hannah was either being rescued by her true love, or she was sinking further in a hole by a guy who fucked her like she was an animal, who made her feel like shit, whom she spent a lot of time giddily fleeing from in the season we just saw. As usual, it was open to interpretation, and perfectly tailored.