The fifth and next-to-last season of Girls begins on Sunday, and in the premiere, it’s Marnie’s wedding day (she’s marrying Desi, even though he kinda abandoned her last season). Each of the main girls is doing the most her possible thing to prepare: Marnie is ordering Hannah to “keep the vibe like supercalm in here, that would be great, and then when the hair and makeup artist arrives, you can start maneuvering the appointments”; Hannah of course replies, “Got it. On it,” before pausing, because she can never not be Hannah, and asking, “What do you mean by maneuvering the appointments?”; Shosh is steaming bridesmaid dresses and tittering on about a Japanese game show called Fold, Fold, Press; and Jessa sweeps in, having bathed in a stream and dried herself by running through a field. In short, our girls are as we left them, still four separate spinning tops of passive-aggressiveness and selfishness, and the show is assured, still in that groove where it knows exactly who the characters are and how to keep all the tops spinning at once. But if you look very closely, there’s the slightest, ever-so-vaguest hint that the girls have maybe just maybe grown up a smidge in the four seasons it’s taken them to get here.
Somewhere along the way, this show morphed from an earnest exploration of young womanhood to a straightforward satire of a group of self-involved people. Marnie was originally supposed to be Hannah’s beloved best friend and confidant and the show a celebration of “female friendship,” a phrase that has become trendy over the past few years even as many works that purport to be about female friendship—see also the Neapolitan novels—are instead about the complicated ways in which female friends actually hate each other. Willa Paskin thought it was clear the show’s main foursome had “outgrown each other, if in fact, they ever fit at all” by Season 3, so the fact that they are still hanging out two seasons later, that Marnie chooses the other three as her bridesmaids, can only be attributed to TV magical thinking—the same kind we employ when we entertain the idea that Samantha ever would have put up with Charlotte, or vice versa.
All that said, it is a joy to watch Marnie as a bridezilla, telling her wedding stylist, a divine Bridgett Everett, that she’s a “totally easy, easygoing girl, you know me, right?” in the same breath that she requests that she be able to “sign off” on every girl’s hair and makeup before it’s final. She also whisper-forces Shosh to kick Hannah’s boyfriend out of the room, lays out her aesthetic for the wedding in delicious detail, and mouths to her mother, played by Rita Wilson, that she wants to kill her: all of it, perfection.
Girls has always been a fan of the “not New York” bottle episode, where the show gets a change of scenery and a chance to stretch its legs. In that spirit, the season opens with a wedding episode set at a country estate. A later episode’s jaunt to Shoshanna’s kawaii life in Japan similarly feels like a little movie of its own. The wedding scenario also gives the show the opportunity for some great visual jokes involving bridesmaid dresses, makeup, and flower crowns. (“It’s super modern. Bill de Blasio’s daughter wears one all the time,” Marnie explains.)
This show has done a wedding before, Jessa’s doomed nuptials with Thomas John at the end of Season 1, but in this season premiere, Dunham is able to leverage her powers of observation on a ritual that, as a late-twentysomething as opposed to the early-twentysomething she was back then, she probably has a fair bit more experience with. “It’s like a romcom that even I wouldn’t want to watch,” Hannah says to her boyfriend Fran after having temporarily escaped Marnie’s reign of terror. It’s true—weddings are sometimes more stressful than fun, and learning that is part of growing up. Growing up also means not ruining the ceremony after finding out something about the groom’s history that might devastate the bride, and talking down the bride when she’s panicking before the vows, both things that Season 1 Hannah might not have been able to do but that Season 5 Hannah bumbles her way through. She actually sucks up her need to fully live her truth all the time and lies to Marnie in service of the greater good; “I’m excited,” Hannah says, hugging Marnie in a bathroom, maybe a callback to the pilot’s bathtub scene, and as unconvincing as the delivery is, smiling in spite of herself. This is what progress looks like on Girls.
It’s also a sign of progress that Hannah is maintaining a teaching job and dating Fran, played by Jake Lacy, back to reprise the role of “that cute, sweet guy who just wants to be your boyfriend” that he is fast becoming known for. (Cf. Carol, Obvious Child, How to Be Single.) He acts as a corporeal embodiment of Hannah’s growth—see how mature she is, dating this nice guy who has the good sense to look embarrassed when Ray mentions Hannah’s “pussy” to him? But their relationship is not without conflict: In subsequent episodes, Hannah gets annoyed that Fran questions her teaching methods and keeps nude pictures of exes on his phone. The latter example is a far cry from Girls Season 1, when Adam asked Hannah to play “the quiet game” during sex and dirty-talked about her being an 11-year-old prostitute. Sexy pictures on a phone feel almost vanilla, like a primetime sitcom plot—is this another sign that Hannah’s growing up, because she’s dealing with mundane relationship problems? Or, well, is Girls not the front-lines documentary of sexual taboos it was once considered to be?
Four years in, Girls has lost its edge. As funny and enjoyable as it still is—I haven’t even gotten to Elijah, but seriously, Andrew Rannells, praise be to you in every scene you’re in; Adam Driver, too, is still so much fun to watch—it just feels less urgent than it used to. Lest you forget, this show’s premiere was the cultural event of 2012—talking to a 24-year-old recently, I, a wizened 28, tried to convey the sensation of being a young person in a certain Brooklyn milieu when the show launched: the way it overtook dinner parties and seemed built to absorb so many different cultural anxieties and inspired widespread soul-searching about just how much our TV shows should reflect real life. Certainly Lena Dunham has plenty on her plate and would be forgiven if her attentions were elsewhere now. She has announced several other projects in recent months and years, which in addition to film and television, include her book and the newsletter she started with Konner. Dunham will surely do something to shock us again. But it feels like Hannah Horvath, and Girls, are done.