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Girls’ series finale wasn’t satisfying, but it was fitting

“Latching” was just as jarring, lonely, and hopeful as the show itself.

HBO

Girls aired a fantastic series finale. The episode managed to acknowledge a show’s deep roots while excavating them. It asked the show’s characters take their hardest, most unflattering looks at themselves and each other, tearing them apart before throwing them back together for a bittersweet dance party before everything changed forever.

But that episode wasn’t the show’s final one. “Goodbye Tour” — which saw Hannah (creator Lena Dunham) let go of New York City and the nightmares and/or friends she found there — was Girls’ penultimate chapter. On 90 percent of TV shows, it would’ve, and should’ve, been the end — and not for nothing, a really damn good one.

But the actual series finale, “Latching,” flashes forward five months to Hannah and her holdout best friend Marnie (Allison Williams) gritting their teeth to co-parent Hannah’s newborn son. They’re doing it, but more so just getting through their days, desperate to be happy even as they’re both radiating misery. Eventually, Hannah’s mother Loreen (Becky Ann Baker) gets called in to do damage control, and goes about trying to wake the two of them up to the realities of, you know, raising a human child.

With “Latching,” Girls briefly became another show entirely before it said goodbye for good — which, given how the series lived the rest of its messy life, makes sense.

Girls’ final season proved that the series’ best moments were always its most self-aware

Becky Ann Baker’s Loreen would like everyone to cut the shit, already.
HBO

I never hated Girls, but I always held it at arm’s length. Part of this, I realize now, was because I was 23 when it premiered. I knew I had a whole lot to learn, but convinced myself I already knew better than Girls’ rotating door of self-absorbed jerks. I had to, right? (I didn’t, and probably still don’t.)

I was also wary because I could never quite tell when the show was being self-aware. I’d watch episodes through narrowed eyes, wondering if Dunham realized how truly awful Hannah could be, or if she wanted the character’s shtick to be charming. I eventually assumed her goal was a particularly frustrating combination of both.

And then Girls’ sixth and final season seemed more self-critical than ever. It felt like everyone — from Hannah to Marnie to chirpy Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) and sneering Jessa (Jemima Kirke) — was finally calling each other on their respective shit. They grew and stared deep into their own guts to figure out what was actually in there, even if they only did so reluctantly. In the season’s eighth episode, “What Will We Do About Adam?” Hannah and her volatile and magnetic ex (Adam Driver) realized once and for all that they weren’t good for each other anymore. In the penultimate “Goodbye Tour,” a single, lengthy scene trapped the core four girls in a bathroom to acknowledge that their friendship would never be the same — and that it might, in fact, be over.

So before the series finale, I went back and re-watched a bunch of episodes I’d cringed through on a first run and never tried again. And this time, I realized that the moments I loved in season six had been scattered through Girls the whole time. Hannah, Marnie, Shosh, and Jessa all constantly called each other on their respective shit; it’s just that none of them bothered to actually listen until now.

Girls was, in other words, a pretty dead-on depiction of what it means to grow up — a prospect so fraught and specific to who you are as a person that maybe the constant criticism surrounding the show was inevitable.

In the middle of constant scrutiny, Girls pulled off some stunning TV experiments

Girls premiered in 2012 to an immediate shitstorm of disdain, critical praise, charges of obliviousness and nepotism, and in the uglier parts of the internet, fierce shaming because women like Dunham dared to get naked and filthy onscreen. The show’s sex talk was only outstripped in frankness by its uncomfortably intimate sex scenes. And its characters were, for the most part, the kind of oblivious, 20-something white girls who make everything about them and don’t want to admit they’re devastated when someone else is the center of attention.

But Girls was also an incredibly ambitious show. Dunham and executive producer Jenni Konner made a series that was so human it sometimes hurt to look at — it never feels great to relate to anything that raw — but still sporadically joyful. Episodes were often akin to short films, even if they weren’t intentional one-offs like this season’s bruising “American Bitch” (where Hannah confronts a celebrated and possibly predatory older male writer) or season two’s melancholy standout “One Man’s Trash” (in which Hannah spends a weekend in a beautiful brownstone with an equally beautiful man and realizes with some disappointment that she just wants to be happy).

Girls was a show that really thought about what it was doing, and then took a flying leap anyway, just to see if it could land on two feet. So really, it kinda figures that Girls would air and immediately reject its own perfectly effervescent finale in favor of ending with a new kind of loneliness and sense of renewal altogether.

“Latching” isn’t typical for either Girls or finales — which might make it perfectly fitting

HBO

What happens in “Latching” isn’t nearly as satisfying as the blunt and teary revelations of “Goodbye Tour.” All it does it show us Hannah and Marnie, miserable and flailing in upstate New York with this startling new (and literally infantile) man in their lives, before Loreen and their own unhappiness force them to realize that they have to move forward.

Every scene is bare bones, with rarely more than two people sharing the screen at a time. Hannah has one-sided arguments with her crying son, who’s recently stopped wanting to breastfeed. Marnie vapes on the front stoop and tries to find moments for herself by Facetiming personal trainers for masturbation material. And when the two women are together, Hannah and Marnie’s scenes are tense with unspoken bitterness, each unsure if they want the other to stay or shut up and leave forever.

Then, halfway through the episode, Hannah and her mother fight about the enormity of Hannah’s responsibilities now that she’s a mother. Baker is absolutely ferocious as Loreen slams down Hannah’s every tossed-off pity party about being in “emotional pain” once and for all.

“You know who else is in emotional pain?” Loreen snarls. “Fucking everyone.”

But Hannah doesn’t buy the reality check until she has a run-in with a sobbing teen girl, apparently running from a mother who dared to ask her to do her homework. You can almost see the lightbulb go off over Hannah’s exhausted head. So she rolls her eyes, firmly tells the girl to listen to the woman who loves her more than anything in this stupid world, and tries to take her pants back. (It’s a long story, but to borrow Hannah’s words, it’s “about what you’d expect.”)

And when Girls finally ends, it ends quietly. Hannah offers her nipple to her son, and dares to hope for the best.

“Latching” is, even for Girls, a disorienting and bleak episode. But in going one step beyond the expected, just far enough to make us face an unflattering reality, Girls stayed true to itself to the end.