Mar 17, 2013

Girls: "Together", and Season Two as a Whole

By Josh Oakley

Girls toes the line of being a serialized and an episodic program. Story-wise, it is the former, carrying the arcs of Hannah’s book deal, Marnie’s bad year, and so on throughout the season. Emotionally though, it leans more towards episodic, which can be the cause of the show’s greatest flaws and triumphs.

A disclaimer on my relationship with this particular show, so you know where I’m coming from: the first season left me mostly cold, besides “The Return” and the stunning season finale. This season arrived, and the first few episodes impressed me more than most of the first season. Then, the run of “It’s a Shame About Ray”, “One Man’s Trash” and “Boys” left me floored, and fully in the pro-Girls column. Jessa’s abrupt departure in “Video Games” and Hannah’s abrupt OCD in “It’s Back” weakened otherwise strong outings, and then last week’s “On All Fours” left my already cold heart completely blackened (in a good way?). So I came into tonight’s finale hoping it would land me on the one side of the fence: a genuine fan or a casual one.

Unfortunately, I still have no idea. 

This season of Girls shifted tone every episode, sometimes within every scene. The largely jovial nature of the season’s beginnings (even the negative issues, such as the fight with Donald Glover, didn’t feel painful) quickly gave through to some of the most honest conversations I’ve ever seen on television. Whether it was Hannah yelling at Charlie in “It’s a Shame About Ray”, or even the technically dishonest phone call between Marnie and Hannah in “Boys”, the show got at real, emotional truths that urban 20-somethings grapple with (add as many qualifiers [white, upper class] as you need, I’m not getting into that discussion).

Last week’s pitch-black “On All Fours” took the loose threads spread throughout the season and plunged them all into an abyss. When that performance of Marnie’s is nowhere near the most painful part of an episode, it’s getting the job done. And as much as I may not have enjoyed that episode, I thought it to be a fantastic culmination of the season, as much as a show like this cares to pull off.

Then the season finale arrived, and left with one of the most curious scenes Girls has ever devised. The sweeping score, Adam’s sweet, calming words to Hannah over FaceTime (or “FaceSpace”), the big gesture: it didn’t feel earned. The show seemed to be cheating, thinking it could provide an emotional payoff without doing the grunt-work of building up conflict. This has been one of the largest flaws within the back-half of the season, from the two jarring conflicts named above (Jessa’s exit and Hannah’s OCD) to the other “romantic” scene tonight between Charlie and Marnie. I’m still parsing through my thoughts on the latter, but at first glance it didn’t feel authentic. And when Girls is failing to be authentic, it’s lost its greatest attribute.

Does Charlie really love Marnie? And even if he does (or does not and is lying to himself), even if we do act irrationally when we are young and in love, that does not forgive the show for the loss of dramatic stakes. Maybe that scene actually happened to Lena Dunham or a friend of hers and it is truthful. But that doesn’t mean, within the context of the show, it makes any emotional sense. Or even if it does, that scene isn’t going to provide the audience with the emotion the show is intending. It feels dead, and false, rather than beautiful.

Ray’s story is the best part of the episode, as he has quietly become the most important figure on the show. Being older, he represents failure, whereas the rest of the younger characters teeter on the brink of it without having yet fallen in. His promotion is, I think, overall a good thing. I’m not sure how the show wants us to read it (as victory or defeat), but Ray is in his 30’s and it’s just a smart thing to do. It’s not as if he’s put in the artistic hours to have earned the bohemian creditability he wants. Of course it isn’t the dream. But it’s something, which is more than a lot of people have. His break-up with Shoshanna is well done, but doesn’t offer much that is fresh or original. It lacked the ruthless spark that Girls’ best scenes have. (That said, the break-up was easily the best work Zosia Mamet has done so far on the show.)

I don’t need a season of television to make perfect sense in its ebbs and flows. The beginning and middle and end don’t have to match. But it helps, when telling a dramatic story, with dramatic stakes, to have some semblance of emotional cohesiveness. Marnie and Charlie’s story doesn’t seem to make much sense as a continuation of last week’s story, except for the fact that they slept together. Adam is clearly working on his anger issues (at least in bed), but the utter depths of darkness that we witnessed in him seem to have tempered too quickly. Hannah’s emotional through-line works fine from episode nine to this finale, but still bounced throughout the season. There’s no clear direction where a character is headed at any given point, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. I understand that these characters themselves have no idea what their futures hold. But we should at least know if their destination makes sense. And I don’t know if I know enough about what Shoshanna was feeling after cheating on Ray to know if the break-up made emotional sense. Girls season two felt as if it has missing scenes, or entire episodes that have been wiped away.

I still very much liked this season of Girls. I can deal with rough patches in great television; it comes with the territory. I just find myself incredibly disappointed in the finale. Girls made me feel a lot of really complicated things this season, given that I am a single 20-something who lives in the city and wants to be an artist. I wanted this finale to have effect that season one’s finale did. That episode took me from liking the show to loving it, at least a little. This episode took me from loving a problematic series, to wondering if that love was even possible. Just like Adam’s shirtless run through New York City to hold Hannah in his arms, loving a show this messy doesn’t make much sense. And maybe that's the point. Maybe Girls got me. But it doesn't feel like it. And when you're young and stupid, like most of the characters on this show are (and I am), all you really have are those feelings.

Season Finale: B-
Season: B+

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