Monday, April 10, 2017

Girls Season 6, Episode 9, “Goodbye Tour”

This penultimate episode of Girls could have very well served as the series finale: Hannah accepts a professorship at remote New England or upstate college; Hannah and Jessa make up and resolve their longstanding feud, and the four eponymous "girls" actually share a scene together for what might be the first time since the start of season five. Given the way this scene pans out, it will almost certainly be the last scene between them.

In a show ostensibly about a friendship between four women, it’s fitting for the penultimate episode to take stock of those friendships in both big and small ways. Midway through the episode, Hannah stops by a candle store, and sees two friends in their early twenties shopping for their apartment. The camera lingers on Hannah’s face as she eavesdrops, and a faint smile and a glimmer of nostalgia washes over her: they clearly remind her of how she and Marnie used to be back when the series first began (Lena Dunham is excellent here – very subtle).

The two candle-shoppers provide a stark contrast with the state of Hannah and Marnie’s relationship now, as well as Hannah’s relationship with Shoshanna and Jessa. The point is underscored by the scenes surrounding this encounter at the candle shop: Marnie doesn’t take Hannah’s calls, and Hannah discovers she doesn’t even have Shoshanna’s phone number anymore. Likewise, the past few episodes have thoroughly dismantled Hannah’s relationship with Jessa (or so it seems).

Thus the table is set for the magnificent scene that takes place in Shoshanna’s bathroom later on, after Hannah goes to Shoshanna’s and discovers 1) that Hannah is interrupting a party she wasn’t invited to, and 2) that Shoshanna is engaged.* Despite everyone else’s protests, Marnie drags Hannah, Shoshanna, and Jessa into Shoshanna’s bathroom for a group meeting. The scene is clearly a callback to the pilot episode, where they did much the same thing in Hannah’s apartment, except rather than work out their friendship like they did in that first episode, in this scene their friendship dissolves.

* Shoshanna’s engagement coming so out of the blue is evidence of how thoroughly this show is filtered through Hannah’s perspective. Like Hannah, we didn’t even know Shoshanna was dating anyone, even though she’d appeared in a number of stories involving Ray this season, and one episode focused largely on her. 

And it dissolves with good reason. As many critics have pointed out, the four characters have drifted so far apart over the course of the past six seasons that they no longer seem like the kind of people who would want to spend time with one another. A part of this can be attributed to their incremental growth as characters: they’ve matured, becoming marginally more self-aware, and have realized all the ways they’re incompatible with one another (maybe with the exception of Marnie, who is oblivious here to how unhelpful it will be to get everyone to air their grievances together). Shoshanna puts a pin in it while also demonstrating her own growth and increased self-awareness: “We can’t hang out together anymore because we cannot be in the same room without one of us making it completely and entirely about ourselves.” Perhaps no truer words have ever been spoken about these characters in the entirety of the series.

However, unlike Shoshanna, I don’t find their dynamic “exhausting, narcissistic, and ultimately boring,” but moving, insightful, and sometimes profound. Girls represents some of the smartest and most compelling character writing on television, maintaining a consistent level of excellence for much of its run. Just look at this scene: it takes a high degree of skill to execute such insightful and culminating character interactions while also demonstrating their differences through their reactions to a topic like people shitting in the streets of New York.

One by one, each of them storms out in frustration with the others, and it would seem that the four have come to terms with their mutual incompatibility. Except then, surprisingly, Hannah and Jessa reconcile. It takes some self-awareness on Jessa’s part, which is what literally leads to their reconciliation: in explaining her decision to quit school, Jessa acknowledges that she’s not in a position to help others through psychology, and that she needed to reflect on her own problems first. In doing so, she demonstrates her own character growth: this is a far cry from the self-possessed hellion who raises her own self-esteem by putting others down. After they exchange pleasantries about Hannah’s baby, Jessa finally apologizes to Hannah for everything she put Hannah through regarding Adam. And to her credit, Hannah instantly forgives her, and both of them are moved to tears to have regained their friend. It’s a lovely little scene.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have mixed feelings about Hannah accepting a professorship at an upstate college. On the one hand, it works dramatically – it’s a pretty standard move to end a television series by having the main character move on from whatever they’re doing that served as the show’s premise, because it provides a natural stopping point. Moreover, Hannah not only does Hannah have previous teaching experience, but Girls has been building toward Hannah being in a position to accept a job like this by having her become a more successful writer over the course of the season.

On the other hand, Hannah’s newfound writing success is intimately connected to her life experiences and her willingness to put herself in uncomfortable situations. It seems unlikely that she’ll be able to continue to be the kind of writer she’s become in this comfortable job, so far removed from the stuff she writes about. Thus it almost seems like a bridge too far for her character to have even thought to apply to this job, let alone for her to give up what she has worked so hard to achieve (especially in terms of character growth). I suppose I’ll take solace in her spending much of the episode feeling conflicted about it, but I can't help but view her even being in this position in the first place with an air of skepticism.

Hannah accepting this professorship also irked me for other reasons. Perhaps things are different in MFA programs, but nothing about Hannah’s job interview resembles my experiences in the academic hiring process. That it should come so easily to someone who has so little need for it and has put so little thought into it left me rolling my eyes (to say nothing of her lack of an MFA – recall that she washed out of Iowa). It was disappointingly implausible, and below the high standards to which I hold this show. It stands out even more when contrasted with the portrayal of Elijah's audition process this season. Her new job distanced me out of the first half of the episode, but then the bathroom scene and Jessa and Hannah's making up were more than enough to pull me back in.

After having tied up a lot of the series' longstanding arcs (to the extent that this character-based show has arcs), I genuinely wonder what's in store for next week. Perhaps an epilogue where we revisit the characters 30 years from now? Perhaps Hannah wakes up and it was all a dream? Perhaps everyone gets together for the birth of Hannah's baby? Tune in next week to find out!

Other thoughts:

- Hannah and Elijah’s friendship has been one of the more winning aspects of this series for the past few years, particularly when Elijah acts as a Greek chorus for whatever’s going on in Hannah or the other characters' lives, slipping in hilarious, snide remarks that cut to the core of the latest pathology consuming them. But despite Elijah’s often selfish advice to Hannah, there’s also real affection here, and we see it in this episode too: after Hannah gets offered the job, she talks it over with Elijah as they both eat burritos and wear bandanas. Evidently they just decided to dress up and look silly while they eat together, and it’s just slipped into the margins of the scene. It’s a nice touch, as is his singing Hannah to sleep later on.

- Elijah is also interesting for the contrast he brings to the eponymous girls. In many respects, he’s their opposite: in seasons past, their lack of self-awareness is so thorough that it almost becomes profound, but Elijah has always been painfully self-aware, much to his own chagrin. We saw it in his romance with Dill last season, and in this season's Broadway audition arc, but it’s also evident in small ways as well, like at the end of the dinner scene. Elijah storms off, telling Hannah that she’s mistaken if she thinks he’s going to move upstate with her, but then he undercuts his gravitas by belatedly tacking on, “Probably.”

- I liked Hannah explaining her pregnancy to the professor interviewing her by stating that her body is “kind of confusing.”

- Where is Ray? Shouldn’t he be at Shoshanna’s party? Couldn’t he have fit in via an awkward interaction with Marnie or something? More Ray is always a good thing. Although perhaps he's done - he got his happy ending last week.

- I greatly enjoyed Shoshanna’s “fuck it” attitude toward Hannah when she stumbles into the party, very matter-of-factly telling Hannah she didn’t invite her because Hannah didn’t tell her about her pregnancy, and that “I guess that’s just who we are to each other.” When Hannah scoffs at Shoshanna smoothing this over by pretending to have invited her, Shoshanna refuses to feel bad about it, and even makes a cutting remark about how Hannah would have worn overalls to the party even if she had been invited.

- I also love Elijah’s unbridled id, bursting into the bathroom with the news that he got the part in the Broadway show, in the process calling Hannah, Jessa, and Marnie “feckless whores,” and departing with “Eat a dick!” (and of course, none of this even remotely phases the trio of girls). Elijah has really grown on me; I find him just as fascinating as Adam and Ray.

- Nice touch: Marnie relishes being the center of attention for a bunch of dudes during the dance montage at the end of the episode. Of all the characters, hers is perhaps the most disappointing for having grown the least. Maybe that will be rectified in the series finale, but I doubt it. Too little time, too long a road.

- I love how Shoshanna flashes her engagement ring at Jessa, Hannah, and Marnie before leaving the bathroom (see the frame grab at the header of this post). It's as if she's transmuting the dissolution of their friendship into a physical talisman to ward them off.

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