Fans expecting a tidy conclusion might be in for a disappointment when HBO’s Girls comes to a close on April 16. Girls has never been a Sex and the City retread to any but the most clueless (or chauvinistic) observers, so a wedding, a baby, and/or a one true love -type wrap-up would be an unthinkable end to the acclaimed series. Based on the season premiere, viewers can most likely expect the characters to remain true to their unique natures and, maybe, to better see themselves for the women they are. Growth, but not necessarily change.
The show has long served as a reminder that life seldom takes the expected route yet often arrives at a destination that has been vaguely apparent all along. Hannah is finally on the verge of becoming a professional writer. Marnie is finally acknowledging the messes she has made and the destructive patterns she has failed to notice. After finding a strange sense of belonging in Japan, Shoshanna is struggling to break away again from her overbearing New York friends. And Jessa is, as she has been inclined to do since the very beginning, once again busy playing with ever more consequential fire.
President Obama had just begun his second term when Girls launched in the spring of 2012, and the nightly news
still existed still referenced the Arab Spring instead of ISIS. No doubt it must have felt like the ideal time for HBO to develop a series focused on the hipstery exploits of a self-centered Gen Y-er and her close emotional support network. As 2017’s fresh crop of fall pilots leans noticeably to the right (to better engage an overly vocal “silent majority”), this last season of Girls stands out like a relic of that more optimistic age.
From its debut, the proudly progressive, youth-focused Girls has aimed to dramatize uncomfortable, real-life issues that have not always been fairly portrayed onscreen. Storylines candidly addressed women’s experiences as well as the identity challenges faced by a generation of newly-christened adults helplessly stuck in a jobless recession. Each of the characters — guys included — struggled to find and accept their place in a microcosmic city where, simultaneously, everything and nothing seems possible. As the series gained ground and inspired discussions of these topics, it became equally topical to criticize the show for the issues it failed to raise rather than examine the issues it did. As the latter half of 2016 unmistakably proved, there’s far less challenge in lecturing to allies than in confronting opponents.
Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna certainly grew over the course of six years, but real change, both for real people and for realistic characters, is exceedingly difficult and exceptionally rare. At times, each of the four leads seemed awful, unlikable, and selfish, because that’s the way people act in real life. Yet somehow, the sort of criticisms Girls weathered over the years for daring to make its characters convincingly disagreeable were hardly, if ever, hurled at shows like Mad Men or Seinfeld. Consider it the critical equivalent of being told to smile more. For those ardent loyalists who stuck with the girls through outbursts, betrayals, and every misstep of the way, this bold authenticity in the appalled face of convention has always been the main source of the show’s charm.
Optimistically, with Girls approaching its end, Lena Dunham and her costars are now free to pursue other projects that can capably tackle the issues of 2017. Regrettably, the type of issues Dunham first sought to address in 2012 have only grown in prevalence since the final scene of Girls was shot in late September, one week before the infamous Access Hollywood video came to light. As much as Hannah Horvath’s take on the disorienting new reality that has emerged since November would make for engrossing television (and in doing so provoke a Twitter showdown with the leader of the free world), perhaps it’s for the better that audiences won’t have to see Hannah’s outrage play out in a future season. Dunham’s character deserves whatever happier, pre-election sendoff waits in store: presumably, a fairytale ending in which women and girls do not have to march in the streets simply to be heard as equals.