The penultimate episode of Girls, “Goodbye Tour,” would have been a perfectly acceptable series finale. It’s even got a solid series finale name.
In that episode, each of the four young women at the heart of the series gets some kind of interesting moment. The show manages—to our surprise and delight—to reveal that Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) is the member of the group who’s apparently grown the most over the course of the series. She declares the end of an era with her friends, the foursome has a “group meeting” in a cramped apartment bathroom, Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Hannah (creator Lena Dunham) finally make peace. A cathartic dance party at Shosh’s engagement shindig is their version of “Goodbye to All That.” Hannah bids farewell to New York City as she heads off to take a teaching job in the country.
It’s both emotionally and narratively satisfying, it works in all four leads and it presents a powerful sense of change through some very elegant storytelling (and inelegant dancing.) It would have been very open-ended, but that episode could have served as a surprisingly tidy way to wrap up the show’s six-year run.
As any Girls fan knows, though, that would just be too easy for Hannah Horvath.
SPOILERS for the Girls series finale ahead
“Latching,” the actual finale, feels like it could be another of the show’s often-brilliant midseason bottle episodes, stripped of so many of the Brooklyn trappings that defined the series look and even stripped of most of its characters. It’s a three-person story: Just Hannah, Marnie (Allison Williams) and Hannah’s mother Loreen (Becky Ann Baker), months after the last episode, at Hannah’s isolated home upstate. There’s no Adam, no Jessa, no Shosh, no Elijah, and no Ray. In fact, only one of those characters, Adam, is even mentioned in the show’s final half hour, though they all helped shape the show’s full narrative. Instead of a massive curtain call with spotlight moments for every character, “Latching” succeeds spectacularly at pulling off one of the show’s oldest tricks one last time: Put Hannah in an emotional pressure cooker and see how she responds.
The pressure cooker is new motherhood, as Hannah attemtps to navigate raising an infant who seems to be rejecting her attempts to bond with him. Baby Grover, when we meet him, has rebuffed Hannah’s breastfeeding and seems to be more soothed by the presence of Marnie (who showed up before Hannah gave birth, done with her own life in the city, asking for and receiving permission to help raise the baby) than by his own mother. While Marnie is reading all the baby books, learning how to properly swaddle and attempting to be a calming presence (“This is a sacred time,” she tells Hannah, which is a very Marnie thing to say), Hannah increasingly sees her baby as another in a long line of men in her life who won’t stop making things difficult.
Hannah’s perception of motherhood as another bad relationship is one of a series of steps the episode takes to make this new paradigm part of a pattern in her life that goes all the way back to the Girls pilot. The first shot in the episode is a mirror image of one of the show’s first moments: Hannah and Marnie spooning in bed. Even after what essentially amounted to a friend break-up in the last episode, Marnie is fiercely devoted to Hannah. When we first met her, she couldn’t let Charlie go, then she couldn’t let Desi go. Now she’s back in Hannah’s bed, declaring that she’s “the best at being your friend” and reacting to Hannah’s acceptance of her as co-parent like she just crushed a really important job interview. Marnie, always in search of a victory, latches on to Hannah’s new life because she wants to prove, if only to herself, that she can still be good at something.
Hannah’s endless complaints drive Marnie to call Hannah’s mother. Loreen arrives, ready to teach Hannah about the harsh truths of adult life. Hannah falls back on a classic combative stance, one she trotted out when her parents told her they were cutting her off back in episode one.
“I made a very intense choice to take this on all by myself,“ she tells her mother, ignoring the two women in her house at that moment offering her as much help as she needs. She complains of "emotional pain,” says that “no one understands” her plight as the single mother with a difficult baby. As she did with everything when we first met her, Hannah is treating this tribulation as an Experience, something she’d write an essay about so that the world would see her unique take. Loreen is not buying it.
“You know who else is in emotional pain?“ she asks her daughter. "Fucking everyone!”
Hannah responds to this with a cruel remark about her mother’s dissolved marriage, then storms off. On a show where the characters were always free to revel in selfishness and self-destruction without judgement from their writers, this feels like Hannah Horvath’s ultimate act of narcissism.
Then, something amazing happens, and all those patterns stretching back to the pilot finally break.
On a dark street, stripped of pants (because it’s Girls) and all sense of direction, Hannah realizes that the teen girl she’s just encountered is not anther victim of a world that doesn’t understand, but rather a selfish girl wo’d rather be with her boyfriend than do her homework. Dunham has grown substantially as an actress throughout the series, as you’ll remember from her amazing diner scene across from Adam Driver. In this moment, she shows just how much as Hannah shifts from Millennial Enabler to Righteously Angry Parent in the span of about 10 seconds.
The anger quickly fades to peace as Hannah returns home, awkward cop encounter and all. She isn’t bothered by taking a sip of wine even though she’s breastfeeding. She isn’t bothered by Marnie’s admission that they gave Grover formula while she was gone. She isn’t even bothered when Grover begins to cry. She just goes upstairs, cradles her baby and does what a mother does. It’s a brilliantly orchestrated half-hour arc. Loreen’s satisfaction that some of her advice is finally sinking in and Marnie’s realization that her life can finally be defined outside of her attachments to other people make this a series finale pregnant (pun intended) with meaning.
Dunham said long ago that she was ending the series because girls eventually become women, and in the hour or so leading up to the finale’s closing scene, we learned what that meant for the other three leads. For Shoshanna, it meant admitting that she’d outgrown her friends and was moving on. For Jessa, it meant an end to self-destruction and an embrace of honest, if imperfect, love. For Marnie, it meant learning to let go. We had to wait until the show’s last 10 minutes to really learn what that meant for Hannah.
Is Hannah going to wake up the morning after this episode as a permanently selfless, loving mother who no longer views life as an experience she must endure in order to be the voice of a generation? Almost certainly not. The Hannah we met in the pilot still exists somewhere in there, and she’ll never really go away. The final seconds of the series do reveal something new, though, that also feels like it won’t ever go away. As Grover latches, Hannah leaves her own self-obsessed lens behind and focuses on the moment. Hannah, present and finally in love with her messy new life, stops trying to be the voice of a generation for a second and succeeds at being human.
It’s not a glamrous final bow for this show, or a neat and tidy one, but it’s a beautiful sight at the end of a very long road: Hannah Horvath, all grown up.