WARNING: Minor spoilers ahead for the Girls finale.
IN THE end it wasn’t “girls” so much as “girl + boy”.
The series ended on Hannah’s face, at peace, as she cradles her baby boy, Grover.
In that moment, it’s possibly the first time we have seen Hannah give herself completely over to someone else, the first time she finally got out of her own head and stepped away from the narcissism that’s characterised the show’s run.
While some fans have been disappointed at the muted energy of the finale, preferring the “everyone gets a send-off” approach in the penultimate episode, it was fitting that Girls would choose the unconventional route and end six years on a coda of sorts.
The finale, the quietness of it, was a reflection of what it’s like to graduate out of those heady days of your twenties. It wasn’t a normal TV send-off with everyone gathered around in a big group hug, it was a fade-out, just like most cycles in your life.
To say Girls was a controversial show is an understatement. The discourse around the series was always louder than its actual (legitimate) ratings would suggest as critics, fans and haters piled onto a show that was at times frustrating and at times transcendent.
It was rich for the picking, both good and bad.
From the beginning, the fact that 25-year-old female wunderkind, with one feature film and a handful of other shorts and web credits, got her own show on HBO likely grated those who weren’t used to seeing that kind of atmospheric success from someone so young and possessing of a vagina.
Lena Dunham was unapologetic and had a no-holds-barred approach to what she put on screen, which included her bare body in a series of uncomfortable sex scenes or even the more mundane activities of the day, like getting changed.
Dunham’s body didn’t conform to the expectations of naked female flesh and the backlash reached fever pitch around the time of season two’s self-contained episode “One Man’s Trash” in which Hannah spends a day with a handsome doctor (Patrick Wilson) in his gorgeous terrace, going through the throes of lust and infatuation.
The chorus of those who said that in real life someone who looked like Wilson would never hook up with someone like Dunham was a harsh reminder of the ugly judgment women still labour under when it comes to their body.
That Dunham put herself out there wasn’t “brave”, as it’s been so often called, it was overdue.
But Girls wasn’t just six years of Dunham normalising real bodies. It was an incredibly well-written and well-directed series about that time in your life when you’re still lost. Away from the comforting strictures of school and university, but before the increasing stability of your thirties, it captured that moment of flailing kidulthood.
Wandering from job to job, from partner to partner, from one party to the next, Girls was an authentic take on what’s like to be unsure of your place in the world even if, in your youthful arrogance, you thought you knew it all.
It was also an honest experience of friendships, an almost anti-Sex and the City.
It laid out — sometimes in ugly detail — that your friends aren’t always there for you. That they will be wrapped up in their own dramas and forget to return your call, and that you will be incredibly frustrated at their selfishness or the dumb life choices they make.
That the people you thought you would be friends with forever sometimes don’t factor into your life after a few years. You’re not always on the same path.
In the second last episode of the series, Shoshanna tells Hannah, Marnie and Jessa that it was time to “call it” on their friendship. It was a sad moment but it was also true. She had moved on and was ready for the next phase in her life. This happens. It doesn’t always have to be some big falling out or schism, sometimes people just drift apart.
Yes, the show was populated by narcissistic characters largely unconcerned about whether or not they were “likeable”. They were rude, self-centred and woefully naive. Girls knew exactly that, it even had its own audience surrogate character in Ray to remind us of that.
But anyone who says they don’t recognise even a little of themselves, or didn’t relate to some action one of the girls had done, is a liar. Perhaps that’s why Girls became that lightning rod of controversy — it was often uncomfortable viewing and asked people to confront truths they weren’t ready for.
Dunham created these complex, deeply flawed young female characters and put them out into the world, elucidating that women aren’t supposed to be perfect, that they can’t be everything to everyone.
In their final moment together, Hannah says to Jessa: “We were all just doing our best.” Jessa replies: “Our best was awful”. And that’s the truth about life and people, you’re not always going to get there.
Some of the criticisms aimed at Girls were valid, some of which Dunham herself has acknowledged — the show was very much the experience of privileged, college-educated white girls in one of the most expensive cities in the world. It also couldn’t be everything to everyone.
That the first episode featured Hannah calling herself “the voice of my generation or, at least, a voice of a generation” had set up impossible expectations that it could never hope to reach. The line was also uttered by Hannah in the middle of a delusional, opium-induced fever and maybe some of that irony has been lost over time.
But in all the ways it wasn’t “the voice of a generation”, it was always what it strove to be, a sincere depiction of what it feels like to be unanchored in your twenties as a young woman. It wasn’t really about empowerment, it was about honesty.
For that, we can salute to six years of bloody good television. For that, we can salute to Girls.
The Girls finale will screen on Foxtel’s Showcase channel Wednesday night at 8.30pm.
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SOURCE: newsnow entertainment