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‘Girls’ Goes Out in Extremely ‘Girls’ Fashion

The series finale had a little of everything that made Lena Dunham’s show so polarizing

(HBO)
(HBO)

“Latching” wasn’t exactly a series finale, at least in the truest sense of the word. It was a coda.

Last week’s “Goodbye Tour” seemed to do all that was required of a proper Girls send-off: convene the central foursome one last time, splinter them in definitive fashion, and wrap the whole thing up with a cathartic dance session. It felt like Lena Dunham, Jenni Konner, and Judd Apatow were ending their show an episode too early — and for all intents and purposes, they did. That freed “Latching” to follow Hannah Horvath into the postscript of her own story, offering little in the way of climax. What “Latching” lacks in resolution, however, it nearly makes up for in insight into the tightly focused, congenitally uneven nature of Girls.

The entire episode takes place in the months after giving birth to her son, Grover, and before she’s started her professor gig. (The baby’s name comes from Riz Ahmed’s surf instructor, even though naming her child after an otherwise-forgettable president who probably had a bastard son would have been classic Hannah.) In search of a purpose, Marnie has followed Hannah up to her cavernous Hudson Valley house; unsurprisingly, two irresponsible 20-somethings with an already-strained relationship don’t make for the best co-parenting arrangement, so Marnie calls Hannah’s mom, Loreen, in for backup.

The whole affair is essentially a standalone three-hander, a move that’s at once totally in character for a show that’s full of such one-offs and a bizarre choice for a parting shot. Girls will likely be remembered most fondly for its bottle episodes — self-contained experiments like “One Man’s Trash,” “The Panic in Central Park,” or this season’s “American Bitch.” These chapters were superb in their own right, but they also inoculated themselves from some of Girls’ flaws: its lack of a coherent internal logic and the nonsensical characters and unearned twists that followed. The episodes weren’t meant to be part of an ongoing story, and as they suspended the show’s reality for 30 minutes at a time, we suspended our disbelief.

It makes sense that, in their quest to go out on a high note, Dunham and her collaborators would look to their strengths. The problem is that “Latching” couldn’t take a breather from Girls’ long-term storytelling; as a series finale, it’s automatically a part of that storytelling process—and arguably the most important one. Whether its creators want it to be or not, a series’ last episode is a culmination. Dunham’s attempt to shrug off that narrative obligation yielded unsurprisingly mixed results.

Stripped down to a three-hander, “Latching” focuses on the most unbelievable development in Girls’ long history of unbelievable developments. More than Hannah’s suddenly manifested OCD, more than Marnie’s jarring metamorphosis from uptight gallerina to trainwreck musician, Hannah’s pregnancy — and now motherhood — has felt positively unnatural. Luckily, “Latching” actually acknowledges that fact in its best scene, a long-brewing and desperately needed blow-out between mother and daughter. “You wanna act like this whole thing is an accident, like it happened to you?” Loreen yells. “You made a choice to have this child, and it’s the only one you can’t undo.” Hannah can break off a relationship or bail on grad school, but she can’t undo her baby.

And yet the question remains: Why is this conversation happening now and not months ago? Loreen was memorably wrecked on weed gummies when she actually got the news, but presumably she would be slightly more concerned once she’d sobered up. Why was Hannah so committed to this? And why did it take her struggles with breastfeeding to trigger the crisis of confidence she should have had months ago?

“Latching” doesn’t answer those questions, instead opting for a pat epiphany in the form of a girl so immature she finally makes Hannah seem like a woman in comparison. On a post-tantrum walk, Hannah encounters a teenager who initially seems in dire straits but turns out to be a typical airhead who wants to bone her boyfriend instead of doing homework. The symbolism isn’t hard to figure out here: She’s Hannah, or at least Hannah as she used to be. So Hannah as she is now assumes the responsible-mom role, perhaps more easily than she thought she could: “SHE’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU FOREVER EVEN IF IT MEANS ENDLESS, ENDLESS PAIN,” Hannah screams at the girl, articulating an understanding the protagonist we know has never been able to fathom. Hannah Horvath is a new woman. Having outgrown her show’s title, she can move on. And make no mistake — this was Hannah’s show, a fact “Latching” proved conclusively. Jessa, Shoshanna, Adam, and Ray are nowhere to be seen. Loreen is there for Hannah, and Marnie’s presence is just bizarre — an attempted echo of Girls’ beginning that only served to highlight how fundamentally it’s changed.

Marnie’s involvement wasn’t the only odd echo: Like the pilot, “Latching” also opens with a shot panning horizontally up a pair of intertwined legs, only to reveal two female friends. In the pilot, the shot’s a misleading indicator of what’s to follow; Girls has always been better at depicting individual narcissism than interpersonal connection, an aspect it seemed to embrace as it split up its leads and reunited them with diminishing frequency. In the finale, the shot is an awkward attempt to retroactively frame Girls as something it’s not: the platonic love story of two women who in fact haven’t seemed close for a long time.

On some level, “Latching” knows this. There’s a telling desperation to how Marnie frames friendship falsely as a competition but truthfully as something she needs to prove to herself: “Who’s here? I’m here. I win. I’m your best friend.” And ultimately, she takes Loreen’s advice to “let go” of her best friend and live life for herself, possibly as a judge. But we already learned that friendships end last week, and there’s no reason for Hannah and Marnie’s relationship to be granted special status over, say, Hannah and Jessa’s, or Hannah and Elijah’s. She’s just there as a half-hearted nod to what Girls used to be, rather than what Girls actually became.

What Girls did become was funny, frustrating, and occasionally great. We won’t remember the finale as one of Girls’ triumphs; given the show’s track record with continuous plot, that’s not particularly surprising. But we will remember “Latching” for what it says about the show. Girls was insistently offbeat, and in defiance of TV convention, a character study more than an ensemble piece — even if it wasn’t quite willing to admit that.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.