Why the 'Girls' finale failed — and reminded us of all the show's problems

Carrie Wittmer
girls hbo finale2

HBO

How do you end a show with zero likable characters? Well, that is, except for Elijah, Ray, or Loreen, who are probably the only people ever on HBO's "Girls" to root for. It’s hard to end a show when there isn’t a main character you really, really wanted to find happiness or come up with an iconic Coca-Cola commercial. Hannah’s accomplishments (a Modern Love article, teaching "internet" at an obscure university, and pretty much every other job she ever got) were as frustrating as they were unrealistic, because she always got her way and did whatever she wanted without thinking about how she affected other people, but she all along she did expect others to think about how they affect her. 

Ending the series with a success for Hannah (and with breastfeeding) felt right, but it didn’t feel earned, especially considering Hannah was at her most insufferable in this episode — particularly in that big fight with her mom. Hannah's frustrations with Marnie’s help provided a perfect example of her spoiled, unappreciative nature, along with her theory that her own child hates her guts. But she got over it all too quickly, and that makes the rest of the series suffer because Hannah could have reached her epiphany sooner in the timeline of the show, and given space to other characters.

Not every series finale has to tell us everything. Not everything needs to be wrapped up in a traditional way, or even shown to us at all. Some of the best series finales don’t wrap up storylines or unanswered questions — think “Mad Men“ or “The Sopranos” — because that’s life. But some great series finales do tell us everything (or close enough to it), like “Six Feet Under” or “Breaking Bad.”

"Latching" gave us a little bit of both, but not enough of either. It was unconventional, but not for “Girls.” It showed us that Hannah is mature now. And that Marnie will be mature one day, too, eventually. Maybe. Probably not. And that was a little too much wrapping up. For a show that was about terrible people struggling to grow up, shouldn't it have ended with less of a bow for its main character, who struggled the most with maturity?

Some of the best and most memorable episodes of “Girls” have been character-centric bottle episodes, just like “Latching.” Season five’s “Panic in Central Park” (the one where Marnie reunites with Charlie who has become a heroin addict) is one of the most beautifully written episodes of television. And season two’s “One Man’s Trash” (the one where Hannah plays half-naked ping pong with Patrick Wilson) was defining for the series, and launched a thousand think pieces and misogynist conspiracy theories explaining why someone as good-looking as Patrick Wilson (an actual Hollywood actor!) would ever sleep with someone who looks like Lena Dunham.

And “Latching” wasn’t a bad episode. It was actually a good episode. It just wasn’t in the right place. The time jump to get Grover born by the finale felt rushed, and the season probably would have been more successful if this had been done earlier on in the season — and if this episode weren't the last. Its distance from the rest of the series — and the rest of the season — made it feel tacked on. That may be the point, but save for Hannah’s pregnancy, it rendered the majority of season six relatively pointless. 

We didn’t need to see Jessa or Shoshana or Elijah back in New York City, or even Ray, but it would’ve been more fitting to get a little more screen time from them — even if it were brief, vague, and made us ask more questions than before. Without Elijah in the series finale, his high-profile role in season six felt like a waste of time. Of course the point was that not all friends stick around as promised (except for Marnie, who is everywhere, always!), but we lost time we could've spent with Shosh, Jessa, and Ray because of it.

The worst thing a series finale can do is a montage showing exactly what happened to every single character for the rest of their lives. Except for “Six Feet Under,” which used that cliche to emphasize what the show was always about: life and death. From the start, “Girls” was about Hannah’s journey, but it wasn’t just her journey. What about Shoshana’s journey that we didn’t even get to see? Why did we have to watch Jessa and Adam make a movie together? Does Ray ever leave the coffee shop? None of these plotlines need answers, but with a finale so far away from the season and the series, you can’t help but wonder. 

Loose ends are fine — and fitting for a show about young people. And fitting for a show like “Girls,” which has never wanted to handhold the audience. We don’t need to see a happy (or sad) ending for everyone, but ending the series with a bottle episode doesn’t feel right. Yes, this was Hannah’s story all along, but the show is called “Girls.” And for a show that started off so real to its target demographic, it didn’t end that way.

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