An Exhaustive Goodbye to Hannah, Marnie, Shosh and Jessa of ‘Girls’
A ‘Girls’ deep dive for the books
Tonight is the series finale of Girls, which means it’s finally time to say goodbye to Hannah Horvath, Marnie Michaels, Shoshanna Shapiro and Jessa Johannson (did anyone else just realize all their names are alliterative?). After six seasons of complex character arcs, aggressive debates among viewers about who sucked more or less and, oh, about 61 rounds of HBO’s “Inside the Episode” (ALL OF WHICH I JUST REWATCHED, eyes crazed), there is a lot of ground to cover in this last hurrah.
If you’re feeling as curiously nostalgic about this show ending as I am, join me below as I exhaustively and possibly obnoxiously review the evolution of all four leads’ motivations, challenges and lovable (hatable?) neuroses across all six seasons in one long, run-on sentence a piece. For a group of friends who at times seemed utterly, frustratingly stalled, they’ve actually come quite a long way. As for whether it was the right way, well, that is subjective and in some cases remains to be seen. So grab your Sunday brunch, your cat, whatever and settle in. It’s time to review.
Motive: To be recognized as the (or a) voice of her generation.
But: Despite her dreams of being a writer, she doesn’t actually get much writing done because she’s dating Adam, who treats her “like monkey meat” — which she’s pretty sure is bad, but not like, positive it’s bad, because it’s kind of passionate? — which distracts her from her creative ambitions and her friendships.
Motive: To catapult her career as a writer via her e-book deal.
But: She is in a weird place with literally all of her friends, she is romantically and sexually apathetic plus confused about Adam and — this one’s important — her anxiety and OCD are taking over her mind and prohibiting her from making her thoughts into interesting insights. It doesn’t help that she can’t find Jessa and is lonely as fuck.
Motive: To be an adult — whatever that means — to bestow upon people her infinite wisdom and to get her fucking e-book published.
But: Despite feeling more grounded compared to last year (and good about having found and “saved” Jessa from rehab), she’s beginning to feel panicky that she’s too old to be a wunderkind. Is it too late for her to find her version of success? Her new job as a copywriter fills her with so much existential dread that she’s starting to numb out (which includes an inability to mourn her e-book editor’s death) and question why the things she thought should, would, could make her happy — Adam, a fancy job, living in New York, etc — no longer are or maybe never did.
Motive: To become a real writer — wait, no: to help people — wait, no: to just feel like a normal person?
But: Her writing program makes her doubt her talent/passion for writing and want to hide under her duvet cover, generally. The consequent substitute-teaching gig (which she decides is a perfect mix of her academic skills and self-proclaimed altruistic sensibilities) is a nice change, but she’s so caught up in trying to be the type of person Fran wants and trying to be mature about Adam dating Mimi Rose that frankly, she’s forgotten who she is until she finds out her dad is gay and discovers a part of herself that’s less selfish.
Motive: To be a better friend, a better teacher, a better person.
But: The things she’s decided make her an adult — a relationship with a nice guy like Fran, a teacher to inspire students, a blindly supportive friend — actually don’t bring out the best in her, and it takes a run-in with an old acquaintance (Jenny Slate!) who says her messy life has depth, a quick encounter with ecstatic dude driving into New York for the first time, the realization that Jessa and Adam are together and a well-received performance at The Moth to realize she has latent energy, passion and creative drive boiling up within her.
Motive: Self-actualization; to write important work and have a baby — earnestly, joyfully and without anyone’s permission.
But: Despite her waning cynicism and increasing ability to not make other people’s problems about her — her mother’s, her father’s, Marnie’s, even Jessa and Adam’s — she struggles to navigate the choppy waters of imminent single motherhood with consistent confidence and has intermittent lapses in judgement as a result (Adam delusions, pulling away from friends). As she ponders moving upstate for a quieter life, she’s faced with the not-unfamiliar-to-her question of where her needs and desires intersect.
Motive: To be loved and admired by everyone.
But: Her controlling nature means that, although she is disgusted by Charlie’s touch, she is gutted when it’s directed at anyone other than her, and when a) her rebound Booth Jonathan rejects her and b) she can’t help but continue to reinforce her unwanted reputation among her friends as the “uptight one,” her life, as viewed through her the narrow peephole of her navel, manages to disappoint her over and over.
Motive: To get Charlie or Booth to love her so they can live happily ever after.
But: While Marnie isn’t thrilled with her career outlook (her hostessing gig isn’t ideal), she’s far more concerned with dudes — namely how to win them over or back — and she’s so focused on the specifics of Charlie and him no longer idolizing her that she’s willing to do anything (anything!) to win back his affection (like crash his party and make a fool of herself), thus staking her claim as the most delusional character on Girls.
Motive: Being everyone’s favorite friend and falling in dramatic, romantic love.
But: Although she’s both desperate for a job that is impressive to others (the art world? the music industry?) and unable to hold one, period, her toes do begin to touch the ground during certain moments this year — like when her heart is broken over Charlie and she’s forced to accept that it’s over. Her thirst for drama and attention manifest in self-destructive ways, like when she dumps Ray, who is boring but invested in her, for Desi, who is an artist but has a girlfriend.
Motive: To find commercial success as one half of an in-love singing music duo.
But: After she leaves Ray, she’s so laser-focused on living up to the idea of her and Desi’s shared love and musical passion (and in such hot pursuit of external validation for her existence on Earth) that she’s not only willfully ignorant to the gaping flaws in their relationship, but also actually willing to sacrifice her own happiness in exchange for the admiration of others.
Motive: To figure out what it is she really wants.
But: After her batshit whirlwind wedding to basically a stranger (Desi) and subsequent realization that she is trapped in a situation that brings her very little joy, she has a fever dream of a night with her ex Charlie, which serves as a sort of contained metaphor for her crumbling marriage to Desi and ultimately propels her to leave him in favor of a more “grounded” Ray.
Motive: To make her music career work and not feel like such a fucking failure.
But: When her “stable” relationship with Ray does not have enough drama to sustain her interest and she starts sabotaging it by cheating with Desi, the sneaky fun comes to a screeching halt in a cabin upstate when her and Hannah discover Desi’s a drug addict, which fortuitously presents her with an emotional rock bottom — “We don’t know shit, do we?” she asks Hannah, after owning up to being a narcissist — that leads her to let Ray go, more genuinely pursue friendship (a.k.a. feel real empathy) and humblingly move back in with her mom.
Motive: To meet a nice boy.
But: While she is forthcoming about her quest for a relationship, it’s obviously more to check a box than anything else. Once she confesses to her friends that she’s a virgin, her focus shifts to “fixing” that so she can be more like her cool, older friends, which ultimately leads her to accidentally smoking crack in Bushwick, running around pants-less (cool) and, in the process, discovering an authentic connection with Ray.
Motive: To be in a good relationship.
But: While she struggles to reconcile her simultaneous love for and irritation with Ray, she discovers that although honesty and forthrightness aren’t particularly challenging for her, she still has no idea what it is she honestly wants, and these two truths manifest in weird ways, like when she hooks up with a random doorman, fails to connect deeply with her friends and sends mixed signals to Ray before finally breaking up with him.
Motive: To graduate, be normal, find the right relationship.
But: While she seems to be getting more solid in her convictions — and continues to exhibit a surprising amount of emotional intelligence as compared to her friends — the convictions mostly center around her life being a mess, missing Ray, everyone being selfish and adulthood being hard and full of consequences, which don’t make for a very satisfied Shosh.
Motive: To get a grown-up job.
But: Her delusions about her strengths and where she fits into the corporate world ultimately undermine her overarching goal of actually getting a job offer, which deeply shakes her confidence and leads her to distract herself with a far easier emotional outlet: her friends’ problems and dudes she doesn’t actually want but goes after anyway.
Motive: To figure out who she is outside the context of her life in New York (and maybe who she is period).
But: When her independent and exuberant new life in Japan — which seems perfect on the outside but which actually sits at the complex intersection of freedom and loneliness — reveals itself to be a house of cards, full of empty friendships, caricatures of love and dead-end jobs, she returns to New York a little defeated but with a renewed sense of self that leads her to a job she’s actually good at (branding at Ray’s coffee shop) and a fulfilling pastime other than dating.
Motive: To grow up and feel like she has her shit together.
But: The more she exposes herself to other social circles, the more dissatisfied she becomes with her life (which doesn’t involve hip entrepreneurship, good-on-paper sisterhood or nice bags) and her friends (who she’s always thought of as selfish and delusional but who she never thought to distance herself from), and so — having finally seemingly identified what she wants — she’s actually going for it unapologetically, much to her old friends’ surprise.
Motive: To just fucking live a little.
But: When her free-wheeling, sex-positive, don’t-give-a-shit attitude keeps landing her in trouble — the unwanted pregnancy, the affair with her boss, the instigation of fights among her friends — she realizes that not only do others worry that she’s not serious enough, but that she might even agree, and so she fools herself into believing that making a big life decision like marriage is the same thing as being an adult.
Motive: To undo some of her past mistakes.
But: When she runs out of false confidence procured by way of performing the mechanics of “settling down,” she realizes her marriage is a sham and she’s failed to actually deal with her problems — like her estrangement from her father and her inability to be truly vulnerable — all of which she thinks she’s ready to tackle, but ultimately isn’t and so she runs away, fast.
Motive: To stay clean.
But: After bailing out of rehab (thanks to Hannah and Shoshanna who were just happy to finally find her), she tries to pursue a more subdued sense of normalcy by way of a retail job at a children’s clothing store, only to discover that — thanks to a visit from a rehab friend that gets out of hand — she’s actually a full-on addict, which serves as a wake-up call that helps her finally learn to be more honest with herself.
Motive: To learn to be more vulnerable.
But: When her new, more honest life leaves her feeling vulnerable in a way she’s not used to, she strikes up a friendship with Adam that feels different than relationships past — they’re messed up and viscerally emotive in similar ways — and while her budding maturity guides her away from getting romantically involved (with Adam or with party boy Ace) she can’t help but falter in her treatment of Hannah out of a latent bitterness she can’t quite place.
Motive: To be an honest and good person.
But: While she’s trying to make more honest decisions — going to AA, pursuing a career in therapy, trying to fix things with her friends — she also can’t change who she is, and she’s found such an emotional match in Adam that, in the end, she can’t bring herself to deny the strange comfort of their connection over her friendship with Hannah, which leaves her tortured in a way she’s not used to (as a self-proclaimed free spirit).
Motive: To be at peace with her decisions.
But: Her decision to go for it with Adam makes her feel both whole and empty, being that it’s like nothing she’s felt before but it alienates her from her friends and traps her in the insular whirlwind of their forbidden, passionate love. When the basket in which she’s so carefully placed all her eggs (Adam) nearly abandons her for Hannah, the tenuous building blocks of her stability tumble down and leave her lower than ever.
Oh hey, didn’t see you there. DID YOU MAKE IT THIS FAR? If so, Qs for the finale:
1. Will Hannah decide to move upstate, buy a house, get a job as a teacher and raise her child as a single mother? Or will she stay in New York with Elijah and her friends and keep trying to make it as a writer?
2. Will Marnie try to keep her music career going while she lives in Jersey with her mom? Will she start pursing a version of fulfillment that doesn’t rely on drama and the admiration of others?
3. Will Shoshanna actually feel at peace with her new husband, new friends and new life, or will that reveal itself to be another kind of sham?
4. Will Jessa and Adam stay together and discover a less destructive way to love each other? Will Jessa patch things up with Hannah and figure out what she wants other than romance?
Photos via HBO.