After last night’s stressful season finale of Girls, I’m mostly trying to process what I just watched this year. As we saw (and acknowledged in “Beach House”), every passing season of the show takes us a little further down the spiral of each character. Nothing—and no one person, as most 20-somethings will reinforce—will stay the same in Girls—not even the seemingly static Shoshanna. And we’ve hit a few definitive moments here for main, secondary and auxiliary characters alike.
The scattered, hard bumps of this season have been mildly annoying (Marnie’s forceful Rent singalong) to infuriating (I still don’t think I’ll forgive Hannah for her deceitful tale of her fake cousin who just wanted to go to prom). Up close, under a microscope they’re brutal, unrealistic. They’re the dumb moments you couldn’t believe your friend did in retrospect. They’re seeing your good friend miss graduation, or maybe s/he quit a good job for at-the-time unrealistic ideals. They’re the one friend who’s maybe tiptoed too close to death with drugs or alcohol. Maybe they’re just desperate requests for the spotlight.
But when you step far enough back—maybe it’s like surveying your own year in review on New Year’s Eve, those exasperated I-Can’t-Even-Believe-What-Happened-in-2013s—Girls remains the definitive source on what it’s like to go through the growing pains of your 20s in the year 2014. There’s the single-episode madness followed by your later long-term feelings of endearment toward the cast. Yeah, that’s probably how this show should run. And now we’re going through some big changes to set up season four.
First, Hannah got into a writers workshop program in Iowa, the best in the country. We’ve seen great divides between her and Adam all season, but the biggest one here (and one I have to side with Adam on) was her idea that, yeah, it’s somehow a good idea to let your boyfriend know you might be moving to Iowa minutes before he takes the stage in his Broadway debut.
I tried to explain this to myself over and over, as Adam didn’t seem to overreact (who wouldn’t?) and he didn’t botch any lines in the play (I figured he would). Of course she was excited at the idea of real-life validation in her field of choice, not just GQ advertorial nonsense. And it seemed she spoke with a glimmer in her eye (and some honesty) when she brought up this sort of artist-y, long-distance, bohemian relationship she had in mind with Adam. But who could blame the guy who, after explaining the announcement made him blow his role (his observation, not anyone else’s), that he’s tired of working around Hannah’s ever-evolving drama? We’re left with the image of Hannah smelling a sheet of paper—her acceptance letter, we learn—and I’m about 75 percent sure she’s going to pull the paper away from her face, tears streaming down as we so often see. But there’s a look of satisfaction, happiness.
I’ve heard people argue that this is bleak. How could she be happy at the idea of leaving behind this life that she built? But we’ve already seen that, in so many New York instances, that things aren’t working for her. Her cost of living is forcing her hand to take GQ ad-writing jobs that maybe she shouldn’t have to be okay with long-term. And Adam moved out of their apartment to put his own career first. Why are we jumping all over Hannah when she does the same? Part of me was surprised to see her smiling, and part of me was happy for her for actually taking pleasure in the conflicted decision.
The rest of the Girls aren’t looking so good. After a semester dedicated to her sexual, social and not-so-much educational awakening, Shoshanna has hit a bottom. After discovering that she’s not going to qualify for graduation, she’s confronted by Marnie (shit timing), who tells her she slept with Ray. More than once. But you probably don’t care and are probably totally over it and it was a mistake anyway, right Shosh?
Wrong. Shosh’s emotions rage, pinning Marnie down and screaming in her face. In these scenes, Shoshanna’s borderline animal. She’s scary. And when it comes down to a confrontation with Ray, who she dumped and who she wouldn’t take back, her gaze is softened when he refuses to take her back. We all know the two aren’t incredible together, but they do advance each other forward. Ray’s now got a better work gig. Shoshanna went off into a party spiral that resulted in a late college graduation. Both seemed like necessary courses for each character’s growth, even if one path was a little more destructive than the other. You feel for Shosh here—everything’s falling apart on her, but it’s refreshing to see Ray also not let himself be treated as a throwaway now that Shoshanna had her time to explore the booze and men around her. For what it’s worth, the duo has been my favorite to watch this season, even if they’re not together.
Marnie is still driving me absolutely nuts. The scene where she talks about getting a pre-show kiss from our girlfriended lead actor in front of the heartbroken Shoshanna, who she just admitted to boning her EX IN FRONT OF!!!, ugh. That’s classic Marnie, and like any good friend, I’m not going to waste any more time on her ass. Gross. Good luck in life, Marnie. And then we’ve got Jessa, whose life is going to get a lot more complicated after using those worldly eyes of hers to help a disabled photographer she’s been assisting in suicide. With her drug record, along with the photographer’s late-episode plea after ingesting a toxic drug combo—“I don’t want to die!!!”—this is the first time I’ve feared jail-time for a Girls character.
But, bravo Girls. You’ve taken twists and turns that kill me inside all season and still have me glued in anticipation for the fourth installment. I can’t wait to see what Lena Dunham and company do next year. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to see a quarter of the storyline set in Iowa, but if that’s the case, I think Hannah’s made a wonderful career choice, too.
Tyler is an assistant editor at Paste. His only experience with Girls comes thanks to HBO. You can follow him on Twitter.