Fans expecting a tidy conclusion might be in for disappointment when HBO’s Girls comes to a close on April 16. 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 path yet often arrives at a destination that has been vaguely apparent all along. Consider it some organic form of destiny. 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 still 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.
From its debut, the proudly progressive, youth-focused Girls has aimed to dramatize (or comedicize) uncomfortable issues of ordinary life 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 struggled to find and accept their place in a microcosmic city where, simultaneously, everything and nothing seems possible. As the series inspired wide-ranging discussions of critical topics most relevant to a hopeful, young, and over-educated generation, it became equally topical to criticize the show for 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. Strangely, this criticism that Girls faced repeatedly for daring to make its characters convincingly disagreeable was rarely hurled at shows like Mad Men or Seinfeld: it’s the critical equivalent of being told to smile more. For those loyalists who stuck with Girls through several seasons of exaggerated claims pronouncing the title’s narrative departure, this constant 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 new projects that can capably tackle the issues of 2017. Regrettably, many of the stories of gender and inequality that Dunham set out to tell in 2012 have only grown in relevance 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 new reality that has emerged since November would make for engrossing television (and could potentially 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 her happier, pre-election sendoff—a fairytale ending in which women and girls do not have to march in the streets to be heard as equals.
President Obama had just begun his race for a second term when Girls launched in the spring of 2012, and the nightly news still referenced the Arab Spring instead of ISIS. As 2017’s fresh crop of fall pilots veers noticeably toward more dark and gritty premises, this last season of Girls stands out like a relic of that more optimistic age.
Watch the series finale of Girls on Sunday, April 16 at 10pm ET on HBO.