For Hannah, that radical choice was to stay calm when she learned that her ex, Adam, was dating her best friend, Jessa. In her subdued but funny performance for The Moth, she said that the worst thing about the situation was knowing that Adam and Jessa rightly expected her to react with outrageous behavior. But Hannah saw how she was seen by others and broke with the caricature, delivering a fruit basket to Adam’s door instead of a bicycle through his window. This doesn’t mean an abdication of the otherwise wacky Hannah persona: She still left a decent-seeming boyfriend, quit a decent-seeming job, and stole a decent-seeming guy’s bike. But she made each of those choices after clear deliberation about the risks and potential rewards. Though her life may appear to be one of chaos, increasingly it seems that control, not inertia, drives it.
Other characters have chosen to defy the dominant conception of themselves in the service of their own happiness. Marnie has said time and again that she’s not a kind of girl who can be with a kind of guy like Ray—but, for now, she’s set that appearances-rooted judgment aside in order to fulfill her desires and need for emotional support. Shoshanna’s rebrand of Cafe Grumpy, requiring an avatar of whimsy to post Mitt Romney ads in a coffee shop, offers a lighter vision of the power of taking command of one’s own identity. The progress that Hannah’s parents have made in finding some peace after Tad came out is a reminder of how the process of periodically realigning the person you’ve become with the person you want to be continues into middle age.
But not everyone is on the path to transcending. Elijah, brutally confronted by Dill with how he is perceived by other people, chose for now to double-down on the aimless party-boy look. Jessa and Adam, too, remain chained to the most destructive generalizations they might make about themselves. All season, they’ve made comments indicating that they believed their relationship would result in an epic blowup because of their personalities. Now, they’ve obliged the doomed-psycho-lovers narrative with a violent fight. When Adam broke through the bathroom door all Shining-like, Jessa chastised him for going over the top—a clear indication that as much as their battle was driven by pure passions, it was also a kind of performance.
The exact reason for that performance came, too, from a clash between self-conception, outward perception, personal choice, and reality. “You know people hate me,” Jessa told Adam in one of the most electrifying scenes of the entire series. “I’m a hatable kind of person. I don’t know why, I can’t help it, maybe it’s because I have a big ass and good hair. But I know—I know!—that I have principles. And one thing that I don’t do is steal people’s boyfriends.”