On its surface, the HBO series Girls appears to be a trifle of a show—a paper-thin portrait of four vapid, self-absorbed twenty-something New York women trapped in a state of arrested development. Look closer, and you’ll realize that the show has, over three seasons of television, become the series that best distills the wealth of contradictions that define Generation Selfie.
When we last left things, aspiring writer Hannah (Lena Dunham) had a quarter-life crisis of sorts. She’d quit her job penning punny advertorials for GQ magazine, proclaiming, “I just expect more from life! I want every day to be exciting, and scary, and a rollercoaster of creative experiences!” It was classic Hannah—asserting what she believes is her moral and ethical superiority over her ‘sell-out’ peers in lieu of compassion. Hannah is a ‘90s kid in every respect—a coddled woman-child whose choices in life are purely governed by self-interest.
By Girls’ twelfth and final episode of its third season, titled “Two Plane Rides,” Hannah becomes almost as risible a character as Marnie—her primp, proper, and wildly narcissistic foil with a strong chin and weaker ego, played by Allison Williams. At least Marnie, for her myriad faults, acknowledges that they exist. In the alternate reality that exists between Hanna’s ears, she is faultless. The plight of Hannah was best summed up in a memorable exchange between her and a wacky-haired Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, brilliant), in the previous episode.
Shosh: Are you gonna be okay?
Hannah: Like ‘okay’ how?
Shosh: I mean… Adam’s about to be on Broadway, Marnie’s probably about to be a pop star and… I dunno… You’re like supposed to be the famous artist in this group and now you’re just working in advertising, so…
Things come to a head in “Two Plane Rides,” an episode written and directed by Dunham. Its title is meant to symbolize the distance between Hannah and her feral beau, Adam (Adam Driver, also brilliant), that’s been spreading for quite some time.
But things start off slowly. Adam’s kooky, earth mother-y sister, Caroline (Gaby Hoffman) is back, shacking up with Laird, and apparently pregnant with Hannah’s ex-stalker’s child. Meanwhile, Hannah receives a letter of acceptance to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, which Marnie describes as “the best MFA program in the world.” Only it’s in Iowa. And Jessa’s photographer-boss (Louise Lasser), who’d offered her an archiving job, asks the recovering junkie to score her some drugs so she can off herself. The Caroline and Jessa segments, in particular, seem more like random asides then part of the overall arc of the show, and Jessa’s denouement, in particular, leaves much to be desired. Through her interactions with the photographer, she’s been presented with a vision of her own future if she continues along her drug-fueled, debauched path. Jessa’s storyline started off with a bang this season—with her in rehab—followed by a near-miraculous (and mostly offscreen) recovery, but ended with a strange whimper (an assisted suicide attempt).
Things pick up when we follow Shoshanna, who destroys her apartment punk rock-style after realizing she won’t be graduating from NYU. She’s fallen three credits shy after one of her professors failed her. Marnie, in her infinite wisdom, decides this is the perfect time to swing by and drop a bomb on her, admitting she’s slept with Shoshanna’s ex, Ray (Alex Karpovsky), “more than one time.” Shoshanna tackles Marnie and, straddling her, screams into her face, “I HATE YOU!”—something we’ve all wanted to do to Marnie all season.
Later, during the intermission of the opening night performance of Major Barbara, a Broadway revival of the George Bernard Shaw play starring Adam and his pal, Desi (Eben Moss-Bachrach), Shoshanna tearfully admits to Ray that she loves him, and that he makes her feel like “the best version” of herself, and she wants him back. Ray isn’t on the same page. “Right now, we’re in different places,” he says, “and we have very, very different goals.” He tunes out her desperate pleas. Mamet has been a force of nature all season, and her Shoshanna has emerged as much more than a Jewish American Princess-archetype. She’s become the show’s moral center, in a way; the only one of the four who tells it like it is. It’s refreshing, and during the exchange with Ray, Mamet wonderfully conveys her character’s deepest, darkest insecurities.
But it’s the actions of the dastardly duo, Hannah and Marnie, that encapsulates just how distorted these two character’s viewpoints are.
First, Hannah visits Adam in his dressing room prior to his hotly anticipated opening night turn in Major Barbara.
“I’m so proud of you,” she tells him. “You’ve taught me so much about perseverance, and commitment, and creativity.” “Well, I love you,” he replies, tearing up.
Then, she drops the bomb on him: she got into the MFA program at Iowa, and is thinking about moving there. Her parents will bankroll it. She says they’ll figure it out. He’s appropriately stunned. This is the biggest moment of his career, and she’s not only made it about her, but is so deluded and egotistical that she doesn’t realize this will throw him off.
“Watching you thrive creatively these past few weeks has made me want to thrive,” says Hannah.
Meanwhile, her partner-in-narcissism, Marnie, visits the dressing room of Desi in a cute green dress and gifts him with James Taylor’s guitar pick. Desi, who we know is deeply in love with his girlfriend, Clementine, passionately kisses her. This follows in the wake of their knockout duet performance at an open mic night—an effort so non-cringe-worthy that Hannah even admits she’d purchase the tune “as a cassette single.”
“Desi kissed the shit out of me,” a beaming Marnie tells Elijah. “It was so satisfying.” Elijah warns her, “I don’t see this ending well for you.”
Indeed, Clementine confronts Marnie in the bathroom and, wearing the same green dress, tells her she’s on to her machinations, labels her for what she is—“a sad, pathetic mess”—and tells her to “shut the fuck up.” “Has anyone ever taught you when to speak?” asks Clementine.
Then we’re back to Hannah, who first falls asleep during the play, and then has an awkward confrontation with Adam after his performance, which he wasn’t happy with.
“Why did you tell me that thing about Iowa right before I went onstage?” he yells. “I fuckin’ blew it.”
She says she thought it was great news for the pair as a couple, and claims the distance between the two was his doing, since he’d moved a few blocks away to Ray’s apartment in the weeks prior to opening night to prep.
“I’m sick of trying to work it out,” says Adam. “Can’t one thing ever be easy with you?”
So, the saga of Hannah and Adam has, apparently, come to a possible end. When I spoke to Driver about the penultimate episode, entitled “Role-Play,” he all but confirmed he’d be back for Season 4, so their rocky relationship will, it seems, continue.
Whereas the finale to Season 2 of Girls left many viewers with a sour taste in their mouths—Adam’s heroic, Face-timing dash to save an OCDing Hannah seemed too saccharine for a show as raw and realized as this—“Two Plane Rides” was the finale viewers deserved; an uncompromising meta-commentary on millennial egoism and self-import. Dunham’s show is an excellent representation of the over-sharing, ME! ME! ME! generation; one that snaps selfies with reckless abandon, publishes diary entries on social media for all to see, and put Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue.
In closing, we’ll leave you with the sentiments of Broadway veteran Bobby Cannavale: