Apr 3, 2014

TV Retrospective: Girls - Season 3 (Part 1)

What a long, strange time it has been since Girls premiered on HBO three years ago. Having sparked controversy for its depiction of its naked, obese and somewhat unpleasant protagonist, it has managed to become one of the most compelling and original shows of the decade. It's at times ugly and uncomfortable, but behind all of that is some wit and humanity in ways that makes its comparisons to Sex and the City almost absurd at this point. However, with season three, the show decided to do something different: become a traditional show. Not in the sense of following familiar tropes, but telling a full story with an impressive wrap-up in the finale "Two Plane Rides." Everything adds up in the finale and the themes are made more evident. What the show has done is become somewhat of a masterpiece on defining a specific age group in ways no show is likely to do comparatively. Girls, for better or worse, has turned in a definitive season of 20-somethings as they finally control their emotions and habits in ways that are likely to stick.
 If there was one miscall that came with the season, I was wrong with thinking that a character was going to land in the loony bin. Yes, technically Jessa (Jemima Kirke) was sprung from rehab in "Truth or Dare," but that is as close to a loony bin as we got. If anything, we understand by the end why she belonged there. Also, after season two ended with Hannah (Lena Dunham) draped in Adam's (Adam Driver) arms, it not only threw the entire episode for a loop, but asked us to try and understand how their relationship dynamic work. This was most evident in the opening scene in "Females Only," in which the two are confronted by a supporting character from the last season. They are lambasted with complaints about rape and being unfit for anyone but themselves. In a sense, this is their commentary for season two in the same way that Donald Glover's cameo in season two was commentary of the lack of racial diversity in season one.
A lot went down except the one thing that I feel is the show's overall goal: to publish Hannah's memoir "Midnight Snacks."  Yes, we have heard of articles getting published, but there is the sense that from season one, she has been an aspiring writer wanting to release that book (or e-book as this season suggests) and get the gratification. If the series comes to a close without the publication of "Midnight Snacks," I will be pissed. Yes, she may have gotten into one of the most prestigious literary schools in America, but as a writer, I don't feel that is quite the same as publication of a book. This was almost true until "Dead Inside," which killed off David (John Cameron-Mitchell), who had immediate access to publishing her book. The only catch is that when he died, it halted production and left her in a contract that didn't allow her to publish for some time.
If anything, this season feels like it was building directly towards getting Hannah that opportunity. Considering that she quits working for Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and even quits a high paying job that doesn't offer her creative power, she is dedicated to her craft. We may have not heard about this with exception to the bookend episodes, but it was there all along. Hannah showed that she wanted control this season, and she was willing to set aside her stressful ways in order to get it. She had goals and having just turned 25, was wanting to do them as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, everyone else's career plans weren't quite working out. Marnie (Allison Williams) was specifically a problem early in the season when she didn't do much besides moan about Charlie's absence. She sort of made up for these problematic elements when Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) was introduced in "Incidentals." It makes sense that her singing career would attract a performer like Desi. I do believe that she is attracted to unstable artistic types for a reason, and it may be to leech off of them and become a legitimate performer. She gets that opportunity a few times in this season, though she is still in the early stages. On top of that, sleeping with Ray is particularly upsetting, speaking it created unnecessary conflict with Shoshanna's (Zosia Mamet) character, who was having a stable season despite breaking up with Ray, looking for dank weed, and having a momentary boyfriend. Her slight fall out of grace was a little tragic and hopefully will not lead to Shoshanna's downward spiral in the next season.

Gaby Hoffman
Still, as presented in "Truth or Dare" in a long car ride, the theme of this season has been communication. Even if the main girls of Girls were rarely on screen together in the first half, things became clear by "Beach House" what needed to be done. They needed to set aside differences and admit that they have some repressed feelings about each other. In one of the season's most powerful moments, the girls talk it out in a highly confrontational way that allows Shoshanna to finally break her ditzy persona long enough to express how awful everyone is. If anything, that brought the characters closer together.
This is also how other characters bonded. In "Flo," Hannah and her mother (Becky Ann Baker) discussed a disapproval for Adam that left Hannah a little baffled. It also was a moment in which Hannah got to bond with her cousin (Sarah Steele) and let her grandmother (June Squibb) die with some fulfillment. We got to understand the extended Horvath family better this season and we understood how Hannah was managing to succeed. She had a plan that to the viewer looked a little unstable, but managed to hide her success. Then again, watching a writer write is particularly a boring thing when committed to celluloid. It was a nice sudden reveal.
However, the biggest communication point that proved that there are two sides to the case involved "Two Plane Rides" in which Hannah inadvertently tells Adam of her success hours before his broadway debut. It messes his concentration up and it brings to question something deeper: can Adam handle Hannah? He feels like she has been way too unpredictable for the entire run. For a character who has evolved from despicable to the moral center in season three, that is saying something. It leaves us wondering if this is the end, or if they will bounce back like they always do. Still, when Adam addresses the issues, there is a sense of urgency and strain on the relationship. Same goes for the Ray and Shoshanna story also finalized in this episode with a realization that they helped each other, but they are in different places in their lives.
The show has managed to paint the complexities of growing up in profoundly unique and unfair ways. While Hannah is somewhat succeeding, Jessa is failing to live life. She takes drugs with a junkie and helped in an assisted suicide. She makes no sense other than to be that regret in everyone else's lives. She wasn't necessarily a pointless character, but the whole season has been a thesis to why "Video Games" was her defining moment. She has trouble focusing and feeling loved. She also has trouble doing anything productive, admittedly after a pregnancy scare, a failed marriage, and rehab with a perverted old man (Richard E. Grant). She kind of deserves a break, but she also feels problematic to the narrative as she simply existed for most of the season beyond the great work in "Truth or Dare" of false promises.
Even the growing supporting cast became increasingly interesting, with the introduction of Adam's sister Caroline (Gaby Hoffman). She may be the loose cannon that rounds out Adam's neurosis, but she also is a delightful character. She likes to fool around in graveyards and has almost a hippie-like quality to her logic. She is extremely bi-polar and strange in ways that are attractive. Maybe it is just that in a resurgence of Hoffman's career that she is suited for these type of roles, but I found it to be a fascinating, confusing element to the show. I don't feel like we ever understand Caroline much like it took two seasons to fully get Adam's potential. Even then, she's living with Laird (Jon Glaser) and I really want her to come back next season.

Jemima Kirke
As a whole, this season worked because it managed to tap into something pure about the characters. They needed to be honest with each other in order to progress as humans. For the most part, this is true. The whole season was based around those small moments in which true feelings were expressed and that in a way allowed others to progress. Maybe Marnie is still directionless, but she at least communicates the problems. They're not always done in a beautiful manner, but at least honesty has allowed new ground to be approached. For many reasons, this makes "Beach House" a particularly strong episode in summarizing this season, even if most of it feels a little meandering.
Maybe the experimental nature was toned down. It doesn't necessarily mean it was absent. While the "side stories" that distracted from the plot made season two unpredictable, any moment away from the central progression were now focused around character improvement. These weren't damaged characters, but somewhat vulnerable dreamers. They want to thrive in society, but nobody will buy a 25-year-old as being the best person in the world. This captured the many small moments in ways that weren't nearly as grating or strange as season two's low point in "Bad Friend." That is a great sign, even if Elijah (Andrew Rannels) somehow becomes more involved towards the end of the season and Patti LuPone shows up for unknown reasons and the show is more prone to pop culture references.
If anything, it feels more real. The show's goals are loftier even if they are still aimless in many ways. There is a sense of uncomfortable transition into maturity. They still dress awfully, but they want more out of this life. Some people get it, others don't. That's the reality and maybe we'll see some characters drop off of the face of the planet in season four. I am betting Jessa in particular is either going to be more central in a major malfunction sort of way, or she will be gone.

Allison Williams
The question really is where the show can go from here. Hannah is likely moving out of New York. I feel she is too motivated for that not to be the case. As stated, this is all to further the publication of her memoir. I cannot see the series ending without this. It is essentially why the show exists. As season three suggests, this show has been about Hannah the whole time. She wants to paint the perfect life and raving publishers and high paying jobs aren't the right route. An actor boyfriend in Adam is the right way to go however. Though I feel like Adam is going to fall into the predicament that Hannah's mother stated in "Flo." He is going to become too uncomfortable with Hannah's new found life and break up with her for the better of the show. I feel this is also evident because the real life Adam Driver is going to have quite a career ahead of him with a potential role in the new Star Wars film and an already impressive catalog of supporting roles.
I mostly wonder if the show is going to radically change next season. I am excited to meet the college students in Hannah's class just to see what Hannah as a creative type is likely to be. We haven't seen her in a creative arts setting since "Leave Me Alone." She was intimidated then to give up her dreams, if temporarily thanks to Ray and a poor poetry reading. She has evolved beyond that thanks to David. However, when she has peers critiquing her work, what is to stop her from falling into regressive manners? Even if it is for a few episodes, I do want there to be some exploration of Hannah the student, as she seems to be driven to do that. 
I worry that this means that the Girls we know is going to get a radical face lift. Maybe the supporting players will be omitted. I hope not, as Ray remains one of the high points of any given episode. He may have been shorthanded this episode with dating two uncontrollable women, but at least he's still relevant. Adam will hopefully remain as morally center as he has been. I do believe that of everyone, Elijah will be the most consistent in falling in and out of the season at his own will. He seems to exist to provoke conflict, but I appreciate when he is a comic folly. I do want another episode featuring a heavy dose of Caroline. As a new mother, that will be interesting especially if she's still with Laird by that point. 
I think if this season was all about communication, then next season needs to be about dreams and goals. I believe that by having a consistent theme and follow-through, the show has reached a pantheon of zen that has allowed it to become more defined in its ambitions. It may at times be sloppy, but that is to its charm. Most of all, the performances continue to be great. I also feel that if the next season is to be about dreams, we will see some ultimate separations. I cannot imagine a Girls without the main girls, but clearly the characters have survived before without each other. Maybe that is what we're slowly building to. Maybe we won't spend all that much time in New York.
I am also wondering how much more sustainable the show will be. At three seasons, it has remained consistently impressive. However, there's only so much charm that the show can have. I don't know that I can see it running seven seasons or however long. It feels like a youthful, specific show. Hannah cannot struggle forever and still make an endearing protagonist. I do worry that we're over the halfway mark to its finale. However, I am glad to see a show with so much to offer succeed still after so long. It isn't a fluke that a show about an aloof writer captured controversy. What it has done is not only address it, but improve upon itself. I am likely to watch until the end, even if that may be sooner than later. Kudos to another great season and one that isn't likely to be topped by any half hour program (save for Louie) this year.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

*Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of this Girls Retrospective.

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