GIRLS Season Five Review
Oh, Lena Dunham. Your semi-autobiographical brainchild shoves a megaphone in the face of millennial existential malaise, giving a whiny, ungrateful, and privileged voice to the not-so-voiceless. The struggles of the four titular “girls” and their equally messed up male counterparts have never been more real than in this most recent season. Season five is notable for the tangible character growth from season beginning to end for all characters, many of whom find themselves dealing with truly adult decisions for the first time. Hannah, Shoshanna, Jessa, and Marnie are dragged even more mercilessly kicking and screaming toward adulthood — but unlike in previous seasons, some of these lovable screwups actually seem like they’re going to turn out OK.
No, not you, Marnie
Most impressively, season five pays incredibly delicate attention to each and every one of its characters. From squarely secondary characters like Elijah to Hannah’s oft forgotten parents Loreen and Tad, everyone has their moment in the spotlight. This was possibly aided by the fact that season five saw all four girls predominately separated for the first time in the history of the show. GIRLS has always stood out as an ensemble piece, but allowing the characters to branch out and come into their own is a welcome change.
Elijah in particular steals the show this time around. Sucked into a whirlwind romance with famous news anchor Dill Harcourt (played by Corey Stoll of HOUSE OF CARDS), Elijah showcases both his vulnerability and his agency. We see Elijah find himself ready for a serious relationship, intimidated but accepting of his growing feelings for Dill, and unafraid to make demands in the relationship. These are a lot of complicated emotional themes for a character who existed only to awkwardly make out with Hannah and do lines in a club bathroom just a few seasons ago. Hell, Elijah’s big end-of-the-season monologue is arguably the most emotionally moving scene in the entire season — and this season also sports Adam Driver playing with a baby. Elijah has developed into a fully realized character in this season with wants and desires independent of the main characters of the show — a real triumph for storytelling and for LGBT portrayals in the media.
“Half-hour comedy” is the one that makes you cry, right?
Another hallmark of this season is the long-anticipated relationship between Jessa and Adam. Adam pursues Jessa relentlessly, breaking down her defenses until she self-sabotages her friendship with Hannah to give herself a free pass to sleep with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. The resulting relationship is as erratic as Adam and Jessa themselves; at one moment nurturing and tender, the next outwardly violent and destructive. As an ardent Adam/Hannah supporter, it took me a good minute to warm up to this development, but it ended up being as satisfying and downright messed up as we all imagined it would be. If Hannah and Adam are incompatible crazy, Jessa and Adam are too compatible crazy. Adam’s sister’s disappearance leaves her and Laird’s infant daughter (weirdly nicknamed “Sample” for “sample size”) in Adam and Jessa’s care. I can only imagine Adam Driver’s very real wife losing her mind watching him be amazing at caring for this little baby girl — it is goddamn heartwarming. This sequence gives the impression of Adam possibly on the brink of settling down and being interested in a family, but Jessa clearly is having none of it. In response, Adam slings the Line of the Season to a needy Jessa: “You’re an adult. She’s a baby. Why do you need more help than a baby?” These moments of tenderness spiral almost immediately into the season’s explosive conclusion for these two — the most powerful testament to Adam and Jessa’s particular flavor of self-destruction the show has given us thus far. It is truly a trainwreck.
The fact that Adam didn’t try to eat or maim the child is the biggest plot twist of Season Five
But speaking of trainwrecks — Marnie! From an ill-advised wedding to an ill-advised musical career to an ill-advised barefoot adventure through the streets of Manhattan, season five is the crowning achievement for Marnie’s descent into batshit insanity. Seriously, this girl is so crazy, she makes Hannah look like Ray. Marnie’s insecurity takes full control here, driving her from one Great Idea™ to the next. She is so desperate for direction and clarity that she is willing to try anything that might put her on the right path. Spoiler-alert-but-not-really: when her marriage with Desi tanks about halfway through the season, she returns to pursuing Ray romantically after having a dream where she was brushing his long, luxurious hair. What?? Desi sums it up best as he breaks down crying when Marnie ends the relationship, not because she’s leaving him, but because he’s utterly convinced that she’s going to be murdered.
Marnie’s big moment this season is the episode “The Panic in Central Park” — arguably one of the best episodes of the entire series. In this, she unexpectedly reunites with her early-in-the-series long-term boyfriend Charlie after a characteristically explosive fight with Desi over a doughnut. Charlie was once a hotshot young app developer who abandoned Marnie for greener pastures, but is now a burnout drug dealer with a sad beard to boot. These characters’ paths have diverged incredibly, only to meet once again for a single night of debauchery and possibly romance. This episode is truly a triumph of writing, directing, and acting. It feels more like a short film than an episode of an existing show, in the best way possible. Marnie’s single moment of clarity this season lasts about as long as any of us would expect it to, but it is as powerful as it is important.
Marnie “Everything is Probably Fine” Michaels
Shoshanna spends most of the season working at her new job in Japan. Echoing the experience of so many study abroad kids, she constantly sways between absolute elation and love for her newfound home and crushing depression at being away from her first home. In one sequence, she shows her Japan-hating boss all around her favorite places in Tokyo in an effort to equally convince herself that this is where she is meant to be. By the end of the tour, her boss is convinced and poor Shoshanna is in tears. Add a dollop of romantic upheaval (#YoshAndShosh) and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a Grade A Shoshanna meltdown. Shoshanna has always been the most honest and most vulnerable of the girls, and watching her confront real hardships outside the NYU bubble over the last season has landed her squarely in the emotional heart of the show.
Let us not forget Hannah Horvath, whom we left last season having rejected Adam’s romantic advances and settled into a relationship with fellow teacher Fran (Jake Lacy). Sorry to say this, but I’ve seen Jake Lacy in a handful of television and film credits, and I really don’t think he’s a great actor. In some ways, this makes him a perfect casting choice for boring, simple Fran. Hannah, naturally, is having as little of Fran as she usually has of her non-Adam relationships. Their union is fraught as usual, but this time around, Hannah herself recognizes that the relationship is just plain not right. She finds the most immature way out one can possibly imagine, but it is an important step for her all the same. Also uncharacteristic of Hannah is her graceful handling of the Jessa/Adam debacle. She discovers the relationship relatively late in the season, but in contrast to all of Jessa and Adam’s theories and fears, she lets them be and wishes them well. The end of season five sees Hannah leaving her teaching job to return to writing with the support of Elijah and her parents, delivering a heartfelt piece on her thoughts about Adam and Jessa at The Moth. It is highly unusual to see Hannah doing extremely well emotionally and physically, but it is a welcome change. The season’s ending is a big “fuck yeah!” moment for her, and it is well earned.
The Modern, Realized Woman
Rumor has it that the next season of GIRLS may be the last — and from the way we’ve left these characters, it could very well be true. They are all teetering on the brink of adulthood, some leaning toward success and others toward failure. Yet, in all these cases, it seems possible for each of them to come through and become a Real Human Being (yes — even Marnie). Season Five has set up these opportunities beautifully. It captures exactly what is so great about the show; it’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s relatable, it’s devastating, it’s sexy, it’s everything you could possibly want in a half-hour of television. For fans of the series, this is a definite must watch. For non-fans, this might finally be the season to change your mind.
GIRLS is available in its entirety on HBO Go