Girls Crashes Back to Earth

As the HBO show approaches its series finale, it’s deftly exploring the limits of fantasy in storytelling.


Of the five previous season finales of Girls, the least satisfying have been the episodes that have surrendered earnestly to fantasy. Like Hannah, deep in the clutches of her OCD, being “saved” by Adam at the end of season two, or the flash-forward to her walking in the snow with Fran at the end of season four. Both moments felt like attempts to draw neat lines under characters who were anything but. They were codas that were both unearned and unconvincing, given that viewers knew Hannah would return in future episodes and skewer her superficial bubble of romantic contentment as efficiently as she punctured her own eardrum with a Q-Tip. Hannah has considerable, well-documented flaws;  seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses isn’t one of them.

But this also presents a considerable challenge for the show as it hurtles towards its last-ever episode: How can it deliver a satisfying conclusion while staying true to the essence of its characters? In Sunday night’s episode, “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?,” the awkwardness of the title felt like a reference to the wrestling matches in the writer’s room over how to wrap things up. But the episode itself was a nimble experiment with fantasy, showing viewers a glimpse of a more conventional TV show’s happy ending before pulling the tablecloth out from underneath them.

That it felt hard to comprehend was perhaps the point—I watched twice and didn’t fully understand the finality of what had happened until catching the “Inside the Episode” segment. Hannah, sweltering in a Brooklyn heatwave, went out for ice pops and came home with Adam, who surprised her in the bodega by offering to help raise her baby. The moment had been brewing since Adam and Jessa started making their movie about Adam and Hannah’s history. Adam, reliving the best moments in their relationship, became enthralled once again by the promise of it. But the real motivating factor was Hannah’s pregnancy, which offered Adam the chance to save the day and become the best version of himself.

Here, it’s worth noting that everyone in the show sees themselves in Hannah’s pregnancy, as though it’s a weird gestational Rorschach test. Elijah sees his lazy status quo being upended and so repeatedly urges Hannah to get rid of it already, offering generously to trawl the country for one of its few remaining late-term abortion providers. Marnie sees an opportunity to jump on the mommy-mafia lifestyle blogging bandwagon (probably). Jessa sees betrayal, because she wasn’t informed about it personally. And Adam sees a chance to mature into the father and provider he apparently yearns to be. Let me show you the person I’ve become, he urged Hannah in so many words, but the subtext of it was, Let me prove it to myself.

The only person who hadn’t seemed to give substantial thought to how this pregnancy might define her was Hannah. But after Dill’s assertion in the previous episode that babies need fathers, Adam’s sudden proclamation was a simple answer to a difficult problem. For a few hours, she gave in to the reverie, making love to Adam, walking in the park, and discussing their future nursery. Suddenly they were a couple again, stronger than ever, but then, just as suddenly, it ended. Gazing at a baby bath in the hardware store, Hannah seemed to realize how improbable it was, and by the time Adam made an impromptu marriage proposal over soup, she couldn’t entertain the illusion anymore. Minutes before, they’d been planning to spend their lives together; now, they were each going home alone.

Adam and Hannah weren’t the only ones falling sway to the power of fantasy. There was Laird, also offering to raise Hannah’s baby, even seeing it as his triumphant destiny—the thing he’d been put on earth to do. And, most poignantly, there was Ray, going out for a walk with Shoshanna and unexpectedly meeting Abigail, his apparent soulmate. Of all the characters on Girls, Ray is the least self-serving and the most reliably decent, so if this is the last we see of him—finishing Hermie’s oral history and kissing Abigail on a carousel—it’s gratifying that he’s the one who gets the fairytale conclusion. (If nothing else, it restores balance to the universe to see curmudgeonly Ray get coupled off with a woman who’s pure sunshine.)

And then there’s Jessa. It’s unclear whether she’s actually pregnant or whether her vomiting was a spontaneous reaction to being on the phone with the cable provider (fair enough). But her actions deliberately mimicked the second ever episode of Girls, when the pregnant Jessa blew off her abortion party to go to a bar, hooking up with a stranger and realizing she’d either miscarried or gotten her period. This time around, it was sadder and more sordid. “I don’t want you,” she cried mid-assignation, breaking down afterward. The scene was brutal, especially juxtaposed with the rosy glow of everyone else’s magical Brooklyn adventures, but it served to remind that Jessa, like the other characters, has evolved since season one, whether she wants to have or not. Despite professing constantly to reject conformity, she does want stability and she does want Adam.

With only two episodes left, “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?” gave viewers a glimpse of the conclusion Girls might have had, if it were a different (and perhaps lesser) show. Hannah and Adam might be blissfully joining food co-ops and making furniture out of untreated wood, but instead, she’s lying in bed alone, looking thoroughly freaked out by the reality of her future—perhaps because she’s seeing it clearly for the first time. Not the textbook idea of a happy ending, but an undeniably realistic one.