Two reconciliations and a breakup capped a weird, difficult, and occasionally hilarious second season of Girls last night. But first, Hannah endured further eardrum excruciations, a lawsuit threat from her book publisher, a lecture from her dad, and a haircut-plus-diss from her downstairs neighbor Laird. Charlie and Marnie fought at brunch and then confessed their undying love for each other; Ray got promoted by his coffee-shop boss and then dumped by his croissant-purse-toting girlfriend; and Hannah, with a deadline looming, her OCD blaring, and all her friends elsewhere, desperately FaceTimed Adam—who took a shirtless, rom-commy gallop across Brooklyn to meet her.
Below, a panel of millennials from the Atlantic staff—Eleanor Barkhorn (editor of the Sexes channel), James Hamblin (editor of the Health channel), Chris Heller (social media editor), and Ashley Fetters (editorial fellow for the Entertainment and Sexes channels)—discuss ambivalent endings, female friendships, and what it's like to dislike someone for disliking everyone else.
Hannah in Adam's arms, Charlie and Marnie back together, Shoshanna free from Ray, and Jessa... somewhere. Was the season ending a happy ending?
CHRIS: No. If anything, it's a sly return to the status quo. Every character is effectively in the same place as they were when the show began. That's not to say that they haven't changed, of course—just that the end of this season looks familiar. The title of this episode—"Together"—is awfully ambivalent if we're supposed to think this is a happy ending, too. Most of this season has been about tearing these characters apart, both from their friendships and their relationships, so I see it more as an uneasy resolution to those physical separations. Do any of you think these characters are happy now? I don't. Relieved, maybe. But not happy.
ELEANOR: I'd say that at least Marnie and Shoshanna are more confident in where they are than at the beginning of the season. Marnie's seen life away from Charlie, and she doesn't like it, so she feels ready to say that she wants to be with him. Shosh has finally experienced a longish-term relationship, and she's seen the downsides, so now she's able to go out to a bar and kiss a guy she's just met. Contrast that exuberance with her mournful karaokeing in the season premiere, and you can tell that Shosh is way more secure in her singleness than she was at the beginning of the season. As for Hannah and Adam ... grrrr. There's really nothing happy about that reunion, for anyone.
ASHLEY: Adam and Hannah are a happy ending in the schadenfreude-y way—the way you feel happy when two awful people who are awful enough to deserve each other finally get together and start ruining each other's lives rather than everyone else's.
CHRIS: It was so appropriate that the last shot of the season was Adam holding Hannah like a small child.
JAMES: And upsetting that they used music and montage to make me care about a banal thing like Adam running to Hannah's apartment. I didn't want to care, but I did, because of music like this.
"A friendship between college girls is grander and more dramatic than any romance." True or false—in Girls world and/or the real world?
ASHLEY: Whoa. Well, in Girls world, both are pretty dramatic, but there have been some grand moments on the show this season between the girls—Jessa and Hannah's bath scene comes to mind, and the moment at the end of the sixth episode where Hannah and Marnie talk on the phone and lie to each other after Booth and Marnie break up. The latter, especially, showed just how complex that relationship is. So in terms of scope, in terms of the range of roles played within a single relationship, the girls' relationships probably are grander.
As for real life, when I think back to my sorority-house days, I guess the college-girl friendships I lived around weren't any more or less dramatic than romances in day-to-day interactions—they just lasted longer. So there was more drama and more grandness in total, I suppose. Maybe that's what Hannah's getting at. Boys come and go, but your friends are forever. That old chestnut.
ELEANOR: Yes, that chestnut! My fave iteration of it is from Kim Cattrall's 2003 Golden Globes acceptance speech: "Men may come and go, but women stay!" I think this is true IRL, and not just for college girls but for many young women in the entire post-high school, pre-marriage phase of life. Female friends can become like family members, with all the love and stability and dysfunction and frustration that comes with it. I think Girls does a decent job of portraying the drama of 20-something female friendship, but ultimately, at least in this season, the drama comes from their relationships with guys.
JAMES: I've never been in a relationship between college girls, but grandiosity isn't the first thing they conjure.
CHRIS: I don't know. If I read that line in a book, though, I'd stop reading immediately.
ELEANOR: Ha! I'd read that book, and buy copies for all my friends.
"I can't be the only thing you like." How real did Shoshanna's break-up with Ray feel? Was she finally speaking the truth about their relationship, or was something else going on?
ELEANOR: Shosh's monologue cataloging everything Ray hates was one of my favorite moments of the season. It was hilarious (who hates colors!?) but also very poignant and very true to life. It is really hard for a relatively optimistic person to be happy with someone with a "dark soul," and it's not surprising that Ray and Shosh's opposites-attract pairing would eventually combust. Still, I can't tell if "you hate everything" was really the root of Shosh's dissatisfaction with Ray, or if it was his ambition problem, or simply old-fashioned guilt at her tryst with the doorman. What do you guys think?
JAMES: That was really it. The girl can't lie. That's why it was good. Though I love your phrasing "tryst with the doorman." That's a book I would buy for my friends.
ASHLEY: "I can't be the only thing you like" is totally a real thing. I've never heard it expressed in those terms, but it's a thing. I'm repeating myself here, but Shoshanna seems to know she's the stablest, happiest, and maybe best part of Ray's life right now. That's a lot of pressure—and hooking up with the doorman was the moment she cracked under it. I think she got to the heart of the matter.
CHRIS: As somebody who's been accused of hating everything, I'm (almost) sympathetic to Ray's plight. Jim nails it, though—Shoshanna just doesn't lie. "You hate everything. I can't be the only thing you like," is one of the better lines I've heard on this show. It simultaneously disarmed Ray mid-rant, while acknowledging that she realizes—and hates—how he coddles her to mask his own insecurities. Preach on, Shosh.
Season Two is over. How was it?
JAMES: Emotionally I'm entirely ready for it to be over. I need to move on and address some pretty pressing issues in my real life. Not spending Sunday night through Wednesday every week thinking about this Girls' world, discussing it, and then rethinking it, and then discussing it again and again—if there was a character I most related to this season, it's Hannah's left eardrum.
ELEANOR: Yeah, this season was super depressing. But it had moments of levity: Ray's indictment of Shosh's emoji habit; the skewering of Internet journalism/app startup culture; Ray and Adam's jaunt to Staten Island; the naked ping pong scene. Those glimmers of light were enough to keep me hanging on through the dark dark slog through Season 2.
CHRIS: Very sad, very good, and not quite as good as the first season.
As I've been saying for weeks, Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner face a tough choice as Girls rounds into its third season. For quite a while, it successfully straddled the line between comedy and tragedy. This is a very, very hard thing to do, but at times this season, I think the latter has outweighed the former. I'm sure this pattern will tire me out if it doesn't change.
When I think about the most evocative episodes of the season—"One Man's Trash" and "On All Fours"—and the most entertaining ones—"Boys" and "Bad Friend"—it seems like Girls can (and should) exist as both a comedy and a tragedy. This show does both so well, losing one for the sake of the other would be like cutting off your right leg to save your left. Here's to hoping that Dunham and Konner balance things out again next season.
ASHLEY: I'm ready for a break from this show. It's a great exercise, in that it frequently challenges me; it makes me look at things I don't like and figure out how to deal with them. But this is enough for now. Mad Men, please.