Season finale review: 'Girls' - 'Home Birth': Lean in
A review of last night's "Girls" season finale coming up just as soon as it's pretty legal to self-doula...
Late in "Home Birth," Hannah stands in the NICU peering down at her partial namesake, Jessa-Hannah Bluebell Poem Schlesinger Sackler, and tries to impart some wisdom about being alive.
"Life, man," she says, "I can't guarantee perfection, but I can guarantee intrigue."
That's not only an accurate description of our time on this earth, but of this season of "Girls," which offered plenty of intrigue — along with strong comedy and poignant character moments — while feeling decidedly imperfect for various pacing issues I wrote about last week. Servicing the whole ensemble and making sure character arcs play out properly over the course of a season have never been strengths of this series, but the issues felt more acute throughout this year, and throughout this finale. I liked an awful lot of both, even as significant pieces of different stories seemed to be missing.
For instance, when Jessa and Shosh announced their new career paths to each other — Jessa deciding to become a therapist based on the success of a single come to Jesus lecture to Laird, Shosh heading to Japan mainly because of a single pep talk from Ray's boss Hermie — it played like even more of a joke than I think it was meant to, because both characters (Jessa in particular) had been so marginal throughout the year. And Ray's infatuation with Marnie on anything but a physical level has never been properly set up, so having him give this big speech to Desi about all her wonderful qualities didn't land, nor did her victory at the showcase quite work after a season where she was being a twit whenever we saw her.
And Hannah winding up — sometime during the six month time jump that closed out the season — with Fran is something that season 5 will have to put in a lot of work to justify, because in what little we got of their interactions this season, Hannah was at her most toxic and Fran was perhaps the sanest and most sensible character this show has ever featured. It's not that Hannah doesn't have good qualities, or moments of clarity, but that every interaction they had this year — including him comforting her after she had to run out of the classroom where she was teaching — gave him nothing but reasons to run far, far away from her.
But that's an issue to be dealt with next season. While "Home Birth" suffered from the pacing issues of the season as a whole, it also had some terrific material, particularly involving the birth of little Jessa-Hannah. Gaby Hoffmann was eight months pregnant when they filmed the episode, and if we somehow had any doubts remaining about her complete lack of self-consciousness, that long stretch of her moaning in the tub should have dispelled that. Caroline and Laird are so weird and terrible that the show wisely uses them sparingly, but both Hoffmann and Jon Glaser were wonderful here, as were the reactions of the regular characters — Hannah trying to be gentle, Adam losing his temper early and often, and Jessa (after getting a wonderfully-shot underwater look at the baby coming out the wrong way) just being direct about the whole thing — to the ridiculous, potentially dangerous birth plan.
The episode also featured some of the sharpest and funniest jokes of the season from the Dunham/Konner/Apatow troika, whether it was Hannah invoking the Ricki Lake-produced "The Business of Being Born" as her primary source of knowledge on the subject, or Hermie explaining that he only read "Lean In" because he found Sheryl Sandberg's author photo attractive, or Scott's nausea-inducing plea for Shosh to stay: "I'm going to be in love with you soon."
And the Hannah/Adam scene in the NICU was lovely, and a sign that Hannah has grown a bit from her recent experiences. It would be really easy for her to take Adam back. He understands her, forgives her for most of her flaws, has been there for her at her lowest moment, and can be a fantastic boyfriend when everything's going right. But for him to pull the ripcord on their relationship so quickly — even if they never really established any ground rules for how they would function once she went to Iowa — suggests he could just as easily do it again in the future, because the two of them are never going to be on steady ground for long. Those were excellent performances from Lena Dunham and Adam Driver in that moment, and I'll be curious to see how the show keeps Adam a character going forward, or if it doesn't try. (Dunham has said in the past she views Adam as the "Girls" equivalent of Mr. Big, but Chris Noth was absent from "Sex and the City" for long stretches.)
I've heard from a few TV critics who binged most of this season that it played better for them than some of the years where they watched it week to week. I may try that next year, though that would mean the end of "Girls" as a weekly blog subject. We'll see. Hannah seems to be changing, but "Girls" is more or less the same show it's always been, with many strengths and a few flaws, and maybe it's time for me to try looking at (and writing about) it in a different way.
Some other thoughts:
* The song playing as we transition from fall to winter is "Carry Me" by Family of the Year, whose "Hero" was featured in "Boyhood."
* More excellent guest stars: "SNL"er Aidy Bryant, who was also great on the "Broad City" finale earlier in the week, as Shosh's potential boss (whose office was shot like it was part of the set of a Wes Anderson movie) and director Spike Jonze (who doesn't act a ton but is often very funny when he does, as in "Three Kings"), as the shell-shocked, recently-separated head of Marnie and Desi's label.
* Speaking of the label, can someone who knows the music industry better than I do say whether a showcase would really be over after a single song? It just seemed really odd to have everyone be enthusiastic about Marnie's performance — even though she kept smiling broadly as she sang about the fire in Riverside, as if she was a pageant-y "American Idol" contestant who didn't understand the lyrics to "Jolene" — and then immediately walk away after she finished the one number.
* Great visual punchline to Hannah's phone conversation with her mom, as the camera pulls back to reveal Tad has been in the kitchen the whole time as Loreen has been bitterly monologuing about him and how he has taken away her future.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com