Depending on your perspective, GIRLS's fifth season ended this week with either a two-part finale, or one weaker episode leading up to a much stronger conclusion. It was an oddly fitting end to for the show's penultimate season, which has been inconsistent and occasionally excellent—"Japan" and "The Panic in Central Park" were, in my opinion, GIRLS' strongest offerings to date. And while "Love You Baby" wasn't exactly mindblowing, it at least seemed to take us...somewhere.
The two-parter makes a lot of sense, if only because "Love Stories" isn't all that memorable. It was directed by Alex Karpovsky, which explains why Ray got so much screentime in a season that's sidelined him too much, and it wasn't a bad episode, but it certainly got overshadowed by its successor. A bunch of things happen that set us up for the season finale. Hannah, for one thing, kicks Fran out and tells her boss—the one to whom she showed her vagina—she's quitting teaching. Marnie has a "love dream" about Ray, and decides she loves him. Shosh, recently returned from Japan, shows up at Ray's coffee shop and vows to help him revitalize business after hip Helvetica stole all his customers. Elijah pours his heart out to Dill Harcourt, only to have it shredded. And Jenny Slate shows up to remind Hannah that maybe her life isn't so terrible after all.
We can focus on the Jenny Slate situation above all, here, since that's probably the most important catalyst leading into the finale. Slate makes her return as Tally Schifrin, Hannah's nemesis from her Oberlin days who's enjoying a cushy career as a published writer. Tally gets newly-unemployed Hannah to feast with her at Crif Dogs, convinces her to steal a bike in Williamsburg (ugh, guys) and goes on a joyride with her all over town, ending up back in Greenpoint where the two get high as fuuuuuuuuck. The two have a heart-to-heart—Hannah's already laid it out on the line re: Jessa and Adam, who she loves but feels betrayed by, and at whom she is angry but doesn't know where to place that anger. And Tally, despite her success, isn't doing that well either, crumbling while attempting to keep up with the critics and the quasi-fame. "It's exhausting and boring at once. And I'm too smart to be exhausted and bored," she tells Hannah. "Today's the most fun I've had in like 17 months."
You can't help but think Lena Dunham's getting a little autobiographical here, and indeed, in the post-show "Inside the Episode" interview, she admits it's a little bit about her. It's a little on the nose, a la Britney Spears's 2000 classic "Lucky", but it's also nice to hear Lena dig into something she knows, since her real life has veered a little far from the lost, aimless, and broke 20-somethings around whom GIRLS is supposed to rally.
And so, we segue into "Love You Baby," with a few gamechangers in place. Hannah's done with teaching, for one thing, and Marnie and Ray are...together, I guess. Shosh is helping Ray and Colin Quinn get Ray's business back on its feet as the "anti-hipster establishment—"Gentlemen, it's high time we started serving coffee to people with jobs," she tells them—and Elijah, who managed to become a three-dimensional character this season, is swimming in heartbreak.
First, let's dig into Ray and Marnie, the latter of whom still has to deal with Terrible Desi because of their Terrible Music. Marnie sweettalks Ray into joining her on tour. "Ray, you have to support me professionally. I will require a lot of emotional support. And logistical support," she tells him, while on the toilet, no less. It's kind of a bummer, because it's clear Marnie's magical "I'm going to stand alone" moment from "The Panic in Central Park" has gone right out the window. I don't believe for a goddamn second that Marnie loves Ray, but Marnie needs Ray. This can't end well for Ray.
Meanwhile, under Shosh's creative leadership, Ray's coffee shop has gone full anti-hipster. Colin Quinn even shoos out a prospective customer coiffed in a manbun, and when Shosh protests, he tells her business is booming all because of her. It's unclear exactly where all this will go, but at least it seems like Shosh has found some footing in New York.
Then, there's Adam and Jessa. The two are still taking care of Baby Laird since Adam's sister disappeared, and Adam is clearly exhausted. Jessa's not looking so hot either, and it seems like she's starting to resent Adam. There are a lot of reasons why this could be the case—he's probably not paying enough attention to her, since he's overwhelmed by the baby situation, and it's a little early for Jessa to be playing Mom, considering she's still trying to find stable footing herself. But the GIRLS writers inexplicably pin this one on Hannah, and when the two break out in a wild, violent, kind of sexy but also horrifying fight, Queen Horvath's the main instigator. The fight feels real but the reasoning is totally orchestrated in a bad way, though it's probably a testament to Adam Driver's acting prowess that it's at all believable
Hannah, meanwhile, gets a visit from Tad and Loreen, who've thankfully played a big role in this season. It turns out she's back on the writing kick, thanks to the prior episode's heart-to-heart with Jenny Slate, and she's putting her name in at The Moth. Of course Hannah's name gets picked, in part thanks to some sneaky orchestration by newly heartbroken Elijah, and she unspools a tale on jealousy, obviously focusing on Jessa and Adam. But there's a twist ending here—Hannah admits that she worked very hard to let go of her anger.
"I tried very hard not to be 'that girl,'" she tells the audience, and it strikes a chord, or at least it did with me. When you lose someone you care about to someone else, it's almost impossible not to imagine the three million things they're doing with this other person that you can no longer do, or maybe you could never do at all. But what's even worse, somehow, is trying to escape their pity. Even if you're not in horrible pain, you can fear that the person who spurned you—and worse, in Hannah's case, the person for whom you were spurned—thinks they've reduced you to a trembling, crazy, Fatal Attraction-esque mess, and maybe you want to be just that mess but you CANNOT, and instead you have to let your anger fester until it either sputters out or turns your heart black.
Here, though, Hannah decides she's not letting that anger grow—she's not letting it stick around at all. She announces at The Moth that she delivered a "very nice and not cheap at all" fruit basket to Adam's apartment with a very sincere note wishing him and Jessa well. She happened to hear them fighting, about her and about everything else, and it set her free from her anger, if just for the night.
I didn't like the finale until I started watching the "Inside the Episode," and I don't know if that's a good thing. They say if you have to explain a piece of writing you didn't do a very good job with it in the first place, and I didn't see any real evidence in "Love You Baby" that the characters have moved forward until Lena Dunham pointed it out. Hannah does seem to be making small strides—she's letting go of the anger and the madness, and she's even shopping for some age-appropriate clothing, which is no small feat. Shosh too is moving forward, in a way, but Shosh was always a step ahead of her compatriots, which made her stagnant last couple of seasons all the more frustrating.
I don't believe Marnie's moving forward, but maybe that's because I don't believe in Ray and Marnie. This relationship has been thrust upon us by the writers, and it doesn't feel real. It has never felt real. I can understand Ray being infatuated with Marnie, and I can understand Marnie turning to Ray when she needs someone to lean on, but I do not believe that she loves him. We'll see how that pans out in the next season.
As for Jessa and Adam, Dunham makes an excellent point in the post-show commentary. The very spirit and anger and madness that lives within them and probably attracted them to each other in the first place can take a dark turn, and that anger is dangerous. There is something to be said for seeking solace in someone who feels just as much pain as you do, because they understand what it's like to suffer. But you can't suffer together—Jessa and Adam need someone who can pull them out of the darkness, and I fear neither is strong enough to help the other.
Stay tuned for next season!