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Toward a More Tolerable Hannah Horvath

Is this the season the ‘Girls’ character finally grows up?

(HBO)
(HBO)

I hate Hannah Horvath. Everyone hates Hannah; hating Hannah is one of the major themes of Girls. The Atlantic once had to have a bracket to decide who was worse, her or Hannibal Lecter.

From the outset, her character has always been a sort of Frankenstein creation of all the worst parts of human tendencies — millennial culture, internet culture, white liberal culture, Brooklyn — name something horrible and it was stitched into her personality somehow.

The assumption in Season 1 was that Hannah, like any character in a bildungsroman, would grow out of her terribleness. Instead, every time Hannah got an opportunity for redemption — a second chance at a relationship with Adam, a residency in Iowa, a different relationship with a (boring) guy who was extremely nice to her — she set the whole situation on fire. It was a very whiny broken record for the better part of five seasons. But after a successful Moth reading in last season’s finale, we were left with the faintest glimmer that maybe she’d find a way to be 10 percent less frustrating by the start of Season 6. After Sunday night’s season premiere — and I write this as a person who feels about Girls as one feels about a persistent rash (I want it gone, I cannot stop thinking about it) — I’m convinced that this might be the season we start to like Hannah.

The first episode of the final season finds Hannah basking in the glow of her Moth triumph, which earned her a New York Times Modern Love essay. It turns out she’s actually using that momentum to book freelance jobs; I was weirdly proud to see her find some success as a writer after seasons of watching her undermine herself. She is still extremely insufferable as she explains her “brand” to her assigning editor, and there is also the fact her success is predicated on an overly confessional essay about her ex-boyfriend and best friend, which is a self-centered and petty choice. (Even if it is an increasingly accurate description of how to become a successful writer.)

But once her work assignment takes her out of the city — to cover a ritzy, Goop-approved Montauk surf camp for adult women — Hannah begins to surprise. (Bottle episodes have always brought out the best in Girls characters; see also “One Man’s Trash” and “The Panic in Central Park.”) Hannah blows off her assignment and spends the weekend with a chilled-out surf instructor, played by Riz Ahmed. She grinds on a dance floor like nobody’s watching. (Weirdly, the only times I’ve ever liked this character have involved a dance sequence.) She gets goofily, sloppily romantic on a beach. Most important, she allows herself to be emotionally vulnerable in a way that reflects that she’s accepted her own insecurities and foibles, in a way that actually gives me hope that this more tolerable version of Hannah will stick.

In past seasons, Hannah never seemed aware of the destruction she was in the process of causing until it blew up in her face, and then she refused to take any sort of responsibility for her part. (Well, either that or she’s actually a sociopath and if so, OK, I’ll accept that twist.) But now her willingness to embrace her own imperfections might just allow her to have more balanced emotional exchanges with the world (all any therapist hopes for). Maybe she’ll be able to be more supportive to Shoshanna, patch things up with Jessa and Adam, write something that’s not just a personal essay (please God). But truly, all I want is for her to go from the type of person I would never invite to a party to “Hannah? Oh that girl who used to be so insufferable, but seems to have grown up now? Go ahead and invite her — as long as she brings Elijah.”

The hope is, for an audience who has stuck by this show with Stockholm syndrome–like dedication, to get an end that makes all of the hours spent cringing over Hannah worth it. But on a psychological level (maybe one too deep for a TV show), if Hannah Horvath truly is “a voice of this generation,” then for our sake, let her be likable, so those of us who have uncomfortably and reluctantly self-identified with some facets of this show can feel like we, too, have evolved.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.