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Why the Strongest Season of ‘Girls’ Yet Was All About Hannah Horvath

Why the Strongest Season of 'Girls' Yet Was All About Hannah Horvath

The article below contains spoilers for “Two Plane Rides,” the March 23rd, 2014 season three finale of “Girls.”

“Girls” is an ensemble series, but season three belonged to Lena Dunham’s Hannah. While Jessa (Jemima Kirke), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) didn’t have arcs so much as steady spirals downward, Hannah found stability with Adam (Adam Driver) and then lost it again, faced an identity crisis as well as one of confidence, and struggled through some serious questions about her future as a writer. Last night’s season finale “Two Plane Rides,” which Dunham wrote and directed, ended with Hannah a different person than the one she was when the season began, and all of those changes, for better and worse, have been hard fought and felt.

If “Girls” is about the slow progress toward adulthood of its characters, this season more than the previous two has made every difficult inch of that journey real via Hannah, the possible demise of her relationship and her creative path. “Can’t one thing ever be easy with you?” Adam asked as the two met after his Broadway debut, as if there’s ever been a question there, as if the answer isn’t clear.

Nothing, for Hannah, will ever be easy. That’s why she decided to break the news to Adam about getting accepted to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop right before he made his Broadway debut. It’s a choice that, from his end, looked understandably retaliatory, like it was her way of getting back at him for taking space to focus on the play by telling him at the worst possible moment that she’s considering moving halfway across the country. After he carefully separated himself from her, even temporarily moving out because when he was around her he couldn’t help but give her all his attention, her tracking him down in the dressing room had to feel like sabotage.

But the glee Hannah felt over the acceptance letter, the peace it brought her (such that even Ray noticed) and the uncomplicated joy she showed in seeing him on stage carried no hint of spite. For once, given the affirmation of an MFA program’s stamp of approval, Hannah was able to take pleasure in someone else’s success without seeing it as a sign of her own failure. Her timing was thoughtless, but she meant it when she said “watching you thrive creatively over these past few weeks has made me want to thrive” and that she saw them as becoming “one of those artist couples.”

Will Hannah really go off to grad school in Iowa? TV logic says no — this is a show about New York, and with all the other characters settled in the city, there’s no way the central one will just haul off to a new location. But it’s also conceivable that season four could start with Hannah slinking back from Iowa City having decided, as she said to her thrilled parents on the phone, that writing isn’t something that can be taught.

Even after the mess of a conversation with Adam that ended with Hannah, for once, walking away with some dignity, she closed out the episode smiling and clutching that acceptance letter, which carried with it the promise, at least, of artistic fulfillment and structure, of seriousness about craft and time in the company of likeminded writers. Maybe it’ll be catty and competitive and filled with people who look down on Hannah’s particular brand of confessional essay, but from her current place of directionless drifting, it looks pretty irresistible, even if it costs her her first longterm relationship.

“Two Plane Rides” caught us up with Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann), who turns out to have gotten only as far as the downstairs apartment — she’s been shacking up with Laird (Jon Glaser), and the two haven’t just established ice tea-drinking domestic bliss, they’re pregnant, news that likely would have been majorly disruptive for Hannah were it not for the timing of the letter from the University of Iowa. Caroline, as crazy as she is, turns out to have her shit together in ways none of the other characters do.

Jessa’s been given short shrift this season after a fiery return from rehab, and her storyline for the year ended on a darkly funny but abrupt note when she learned that artist Beadie (Louise Lasser) hired her because she looked like someone who’d know where to get the drugs Beadie needs to commit suicide. Having been treated as toxic all season, Jessa finally had a moment to put those qualities to use for someone who wanted drastic consequences — until Beadie changed her mind and shrieked at Jessa to call 911.

After confessing “I know that I use sex for validation” after being caught sleeping with another of her friends’ exes, Marnie demonstrated that self-awareness doesn’t necessarily lead to self-improvement by getting entangled with Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), who still has a girlfriend, Clementine (Natalie Morales). Marnie’s been the most challenging character to stick with this season, with her dire post-breakup combination of insecurity and neediness leading her to behave in some wretched ways, but this episode at least showed her bubble of post-smooch giddiness being burst by Clementine calling her out in the bathroom and then by witnessing the couple fighting outside the bar in which the post-premiere party was being held.

In the end, Desi did kiss Marnie — she wasn’t an unwelcome temptation — but Marnie has been terminally unable to think beyond her own feelings in these matters. While Hannah felt she’d finally got outside evidence of her own worth by way of getting into grad school, Marnie’s been looking for her own endorsement by way of a romance, and it’s not working out — she’s become the girl no one wants around her boyfriend because she might attempt to hook up with him to make herself feel better.

And following a season spent exploring her post-Ray (Alex Karpovsky) freedom, Shoshanna discovered that she wasn’t going to be graduated when she planned, her partying having cost her a class and three credits she needed. While the series outlined the character’s indulgences with partying and sex and her having to deal with Jessa, it didn’t really give a sense that the uptight Shoshanna had gone so far as to unknowingly flunk a class. The development was a little convenient, but allowed for a nice showcase scene for Mamet, whose been left playing the sane one to her cousin’s disastrousness in recent episodes.

Shoshanna’s plea to Ray to take her back was poignant and quietly desperate (“You make me a more stable human”), not to mention doomed. She’d left Ray enough space to pull himself together, and as he noted, he was a better person for it, but also one wise enough to know that reuniting with his much-younger ex because she’s feeling vulnerable would be a step backward. The intermission talk was Shoshanna’s own attempt at looking for something external to hold on to when feeling lost, and she was left with the much tougher task of finding her own grounding.

Of the four main characters, it’s only Hannah who ended this terrific season on a bittersweet but somewhat positive note (though at least Jessa didn’t help kill anyone). But it’s Elijah (Andrew Rannells) who deserves the final salute for the short suit he wore to Adam’s premiere — and for managing to insert himself into the cast photos afterward. At least someone’s having fun.

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