Matilda Dixon-Smith: Overanalysing the Last Minutes of the “Girls” Finale

Posted on March 19, 2013


Girls might be the most polarising, talked-about television series in years. At You’re Dripping Egg we’ve written about the series twice already; and there’s no shortage of recaps, analyses and opinion pieces about Dunham, her show and her motives. A show that regularly attracts the kind of attention Girls does is in a unique and powerful position. And for the most part, season two has taken full advantage of that power, and extended its status as Lena Dunham’s entertaining mouthpiece to the limit. Dunham faces her critics head-on: she takes on the racial criticism, the body image bashers, and the dramatists who have dismissed her particular brand of “realism” (it’s too “real”, or it’s not “real” enough, or it’s not the right kind of “real”).

But what is the point of season two’s surprisingly conventional, maybe slightly over-wrought finale?

In the final minutes of Dunham’s messy, fabulous second season, [spoilers, obviously] a desperate Hannah calls her damaged ex-boyfriend, Adam. She’s in a bad way: her OCD symptoms have taken over, she’s sporting a hideous self-administered haircut, and surely Adam notices that she’s in the same shirt she was wearing when they met on the street last episode. She’s calling out for comfort and attention, and Adam—a character who last week forced a horrifying, humiliating sex act on his girlfriend Natalia—springs into action. He takes a heroic run through the streets of Brooklyn (shirtless, sweating), breaks into Hannah’s apartment and scoops her into his muscly arms for a protective embrace. When Hannah garbles “You’re here”, Adam’s reply is “I’ve always been here”.

Look, it’s a sexy hug.

This is a bold pastiche of a romantic comedy; in fact, had Adam grabbed Hannah before a crowd of people, there’s no doubt a slow clap would’ve been warranted. And it was, at the very least, an incredibly powerful image. But how does it fit into the context of the series—or the context of this darkly rewarding season?

This season, Dunham forced her characters down into the depths of their self-loathing, and exposed the most shocking and compelling flaws they possessed. And no one was dragged further than Hannah and Adam. Adam betrayed his desire for—and inability to sustain—”normal” human contact. He also revealed a terrifying tendency to lose control and abandon respect and compassion. For Hannah, the peak in her neurotic self-satisfaction and self-pity brought on an almost unwatchable plunge into sterility and despair. Her systematic detachment from her own support network (Elijah, Marnie, Jessa and her parents) was the most grimly fascinating arc of this season. The Hannah of season two’s finale makes the Hannah at the end of season one (that “who gives a shit” chick relaxing on a beach at dawn, munching on stale wedding cake) look like a Patrick Wilson-style fever dream.

Now we know the origins of Dunham’s slick pixie cut!

So why did we endure this? Did we watch Hannah fall so spectacularly this season so we would be satisfied when Adam (quite literally) picked her back up at the end?

I’m used to being tricked by Dunham. In my mind, she sets traps for her potential critics to tumble into. With “One Man’s Trash”, for example (the Patrick Wilson episode), it was almost like Dunham dared her ignorant critics to say she wasn’t hot enough to bag the Ken-doll-like Dr Joshua. The writers at Slate, who produce a “Guys on Girls” discussion column following each episode, fell right into that trap; and they were absolutely skewered for it. So when I watched the very traditional “happy ending” to season two I wondered, “What’s the trick here?”

It turns out the trick is that there isn’t a trick at all. Dunham’s intention, in having Adam swoop in to support Hannah, was exactly what it looked like. After a ten episodes which brought Hannah to her knees, Dunham reunited her with the one person who would support her when everyone else was sick of doing it.

Am I too jaded and cynical to believe in this resolution? Maybe. But my disdain towards the ending is more to do with expecting more (perhaps too much) from the show. I had hoped we were watching Hannah fall so we could see her pick herself back up, and I think it makes a strong statement to have a man do that for her. Of course, Hannah is mentally ill, and she needs support, but why is it Adam who must provide it?

And, more importantly, when will Adam be held accountable for his actions towards Natalia? After the horrifying sex Adam inflicted on her in the last episode we see them trying again, Natalia boldly trying to control Adam’s tendency towards derogation. It feels like the message is “Well, Hannah ‘gets’ Adam, and Natalia didn’t”, which is physically reinforced by Adam and Natalia’s awkward sex this episode, where they are moving at different rhythms.

Cool Whip for dinner…she really does need help!

I can’t help but think of that famous Parisian ending to Sex and the City. Big’s machismo—his desire to save Carrie—is the appropriate romantic gesture in a series that’s famous for dismantling rom-com tropes and rebuilding them to satisfy its audience. Girls deals in romantic tropes too, but they come right before a jump: a moment when Dunham proves, “No matter what you wish for, life is not like this—life is getting peed on in the shower or hit by a mail truck outside a wedding party”. And despite the world’s collective disdain for the comparison between Girls and Sex and the City, in matters of the heart Girls is telling a similar story; that destiny is a stronger, more potent force than the emotional trauma lovers put each other through. And maybe the “jump” will come at the start of season three; perhaps Dunham is just lulling us into a false sense of security again.

Ultimately, the ending is a successful one for this season of Girls: it rewards the audience with something they were hoping for all season—a reunion between Adam and Hannah. It is also uncharacteristically kind; Dunham offers a reprieve (however brief it may turn out to be) for two characters who have hit rock bottom. It’s also successful, in the way Girls always is, because people are still asking “why?” and wondering “what next?”. At its best, Girls is a show that promotes debate and discussion; I guess the downside is that people tend to overanalyse. But, for me, Adam The Shirtless Saviour is still a startling tonal shift; Girls has never been easy, and that ending was. Now I just have to figure out whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

Matilda Dixon-Smith is You’re Dripping Egg’s editor-in-chief and resident Television Overanalyser. You can catch her weekly column, Fantasise or Perish, on Mondays. 

What did y’all think of the “Girls” finale? Are you a lover or a hater? Sound off in the comments. 

Posted in: Opinion, Television