It is a truism that TV shows, and particularly sitcoms, take time to find their voice. Girls, despite bursting forth from Lena Dunham’s head drenched in all of its “voice of my generation”-ness, is no exception. Like the twentysomething characters it follows, Girls has always sounded sure of itself, even as it has been feverishly trying to figure itself out.
Girls started as a sweet, realistically observed show about friends who, in addition to being all gnarly kinds of co-dependent, actually liked each other. But it swiftly leaned into the comedy—and the criticism—and turned its characters into brazen monsters. Girls has taken its time finding a tone that’s not too sweet and not too sour but just right, and over the course of its just-finished third season it finally got there. The girls of Girls have not entirely matured, but the show they appear on has. It was there to see in Sunday’s season finale, which skewered and applauded Hannah Horvath not too much or too little, but just as much as deserved.
The finale was a kind of corrective to the end of last season, which saw Adam (Adam Driver) racing through the streets to rescue Hannah from the throes of mental illness, a rom-com moment that capped off a season that had been decidedly more sour. It was a strange beat: Say what you will about Lena Dunham’s vision, but it does not seem the sort in which getting rescued by a shirtless man is the ultimate happy ending, even if said shirtless man did get Hannah blessedly far away from errant Q-tips.
But this season finale paid off that moment, with Hannah coming home alone to her apartment, maybe after having broken up with Adam, looking at her acceptance letter to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and smiling. Hannah is, as ever, a narcissist, but in that moment her self-focus seemed like a good thing. It even felt like—excuse the Spice Girls syntax—girl power. In this season finale, Hannah rescued herself.
Hannah’s relationship to her work has been this season’s major storyline. (Anne Helen Petersen pointed out in a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books that all of the characters’ relationship to their work has been central.) The show began by answering a looming question: Is Hannah any good at what she does? Previous evidence—at least from Donald Glover’s character—was that no, she was not so good at it, but this this season quickly suggested otherwise. Hannah landed an e-book deal. When that fell apart, she was offered another book deal. When that fell apart, she got a job at GQ advertorial that she was, undeniably, extremely good at. And then she got into Iowa.
Meanwhile, Hannah’s worst behavior this season has all sprung from her ambition: When her editor died and she reacted with no compassion at all, it was because she was too fixated on the “death” of her book. Last week, she quit her job at GQ by creating a scene in a meeting and castigating her generally lovely co-workers. But she did it because she was terrified by the prospect of living a cushy life writing ad copy and eating SunChips and not being or becoming a real writer.
Knowing what we know about Hannah, it would have been really easy to imagine her blowing things up with Adam out of jealousy or spite. Early this season, Hannah told her therapist that Adam took care of her. An episode later, Shosh commended Adam on having nothing to do but tend to Hannah. This may not sound like a well-balanced partnership, but it worked. (Girls brims with relationships built on needy, suspect footing: Ray and Marnie’s whole fling rests on the fact that neither has anyone else to eat lunch with.) But Hannah didn’t end things with Adam because he was more successful than her, even though her friends thought she might and Patti LuPone intimated maybe she should.
Hannah’s decision to tell Adam she had gotten into Iowa right before he was about to make his Broadway debut was perfectly self-involved. She’s Hannah, but unlike in the past, Hannah wasn’t secretly trying to take Adam down, or to bring about their end; she really thought she was sharing happy news that would put the two of them, once again, on equal footing. She really had been inspired by Adam’s dedication to his job, inspired to dedicate herself just as fully to her own calling.
Hannah has no interest—and no capacity—only to be Adam’s Girlfriend, as one of Adam’s theater friends called her last week. Everyone who knows her, including Adam, knows this. And that’s really admirable. Given that Hannah is Hannah, she’ll surely mess things up in as yet unforeseen ways, but 25 is a pretty good time to blow up your life for your dreams, selfish though they may be. As Hannah once tweeted, Adventurous women do. She’s doing, and Girls finally feels like it’s on her side again.