‘All I Ever Wanted’ Made Me Feel Unexpected Things.
Usually, I look forward to the premier of HBO’s Girls with excitement. Every season, as far as I’m concerned, has been better than the last. Season five delivered some of the most thoughtful, amazing and emotionally nuanced moments on television that I had seen for a while. And I really thought Hannah had developed as a character, moved on her tendency of being petty narrow-mindedness and susceptibility to her narcissistic whims. Watching her standing on that stage at The Moth and talking through her story about Adam and Jessa’s newly found relationship, alongside the slow shot of the fruit basket, a peace offering, waiting to be discovered by the arguing couple, I felt a small relief that maybe Hannah would be settled in the next season. Finally growing up.
But instead, this season opens with an even worse, almost caricature of the already over-the-top Hannah, babbling in a cafe about how she doesn’t give a fuck, but has opinions on everything. She hasn’t progressed, she’s just sat right back down in her comfortable, Hannah shaped, spot. She has written about the affects this “friend with her ex-boyfriend” situation had on her, because it’s classic Hannah to air this personal story to the world. We see a jittery Adam reading it, a sharp Jessa refusing, and various other characters chipping in. Hannah’s piece about resigning herself to this situation is a draw card for all of them, showing just how at the centre of everything, how much weight all of these people, place on this one character.
Hannah is not the reason I enjoy this show, and, judging by the commentary, she isn’t for most people. I don’t equate the character with the creator however, as some people seem to do. And it doesn’t bother me that I don’t necessarily like the main character of the show — I don’t need universal likability to be entertained. When I first started watching Girls, I was a year younger than them, and living in the space they were — young, uncertain, virgin and inexperienced like Shosh, aspiring writer like Hannah, insecure like Marnie, etc. The big difference was I was living at home in a small city in Australia, not trying to hack it in New York. But the show made me feel like my experiences were universal somehow, that feelings of insecurity was a right of passage, as it was for these young woman. There was a little part of each of these characters in me, and that made everything feel right when watching, relating and understanding. I wanted to know how these girls functioned in their lives, because it gave me hope that I could function in mine. And unlike my obsession with Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, it could possibly give me life lessons in how emotional experiences are lived out in your twenties.
The jarring experience of the opening episode of season six left me feeling overwhelmed with confusion more than relief that it was back. The main narrative of the episode was like a shorter Nicolas Sparks beach holiday movie — they all seem to set on beaches — the only redeeming feature being Hannah’s snappy comments about pubic hair. Having said this, it was pleasant to watch her settle peacefully into the world she was so ready to hate. But it was yet again painful the see how Hannah’s willingness to dominate and complain and fuck her way through life has her in another situation where “the man” is in a relationship, open mind you, and being confused and hurt and having to submit to reality on return to New York having had another quirky adventure; the awkward sex scene was brilliant, and I related too hard to her comments about being not flexible and enjoying normal missionary sex. I also appreciate that Lena Dunham is willing show her body and use it the way she does, but so much has been written about that, it doesn’t win any brownie points.
The uncomfortable watching experience comes from the subplots of the episode. When I was watching this episode, I was struck by one thing. I wondered why it is that the show chooses to harshly judge Jessa and Adam for finding love with each other, no matter how volatile that is, compared to say Marnie and Shoshanna’s equally complex relationships with Ray — even Hannah attempts to give Ray a blowjob at one stage, he’s seemingly safe man fodder. Comparatively, Shosh expresses a couple of times that she is upset that Ray loves Marnie, however plot wise this is tied into her struggles and frustrations to find her post-graduation self. It ends when Shosh shoves Marnie onto her bed in rage, and that is all. In this episode, there is a brief moment when Marnie turns up to bring Ray the wrong sort of coffee for breakfast and she watches the former couple bond over their hatred of current journalism. They have a connection there that Marnie is just not reaching. But the narrative doesn’t allow us to feel too sorry, because instead of waiting to work it out, Marnie solves her feelings of exclusion by making out, and probably sleeping with her soon-to-be ex-husband — I can’t imagine her online therapists opinion on that. It’s a mess. And it’s a confusing message to be sending about the relationships that women have with each other and the moralistic cherry-picking these characters are showing.
When I watched season 4 and 5, I began to see how well suited and appropriate Jessa and Adam were for each other. Both former addicts, struggling to function at times and prone to strange outbursts. They’re complicated characters, their attitudes swinging from thin skinned to “I don’t give a fuck” personas. The episode where they walk around the fair grounds in matching dark green clothes sold it for me. The show even did a good job in those seasons to convince the audience that these two might actually have been “meant to be” — sorry — from the outset. The moment when Hannah realises that something is going on, when they go to a less than conventional play, you see Jessa smiling and watching Adam with nothing but admiration. When we think back to Hannah’s reactions to Adam’s acting career, we are left with the bitter taste of artistic competitiveness, and Hannah’s need to manipulate and sabotage Adam to make her feel better, rather than listening to his desire to be focused for his opening night. She even falls asleep while he’s on stage. Alternatively, Adam, in front of Jessa’s sister, offers to pay for her education because he is supporting her to achieve her goals, and making her genuinely believe that she can do what she sets her mind to, a believe she hasn’t necessary held of herself in the past.
In the latest episode, however, Lena Dunham has seemingly began punishing these characters for the act of getting together. While they always had less than savoury streaks of behaviour, the show has worked hard at making rounded characters that have complex internal and external emotional lives. This episode truly lacked that same creativity and even sensitivity. Adam and Jessa are arseholes, eating yoghurt naked and laughing at Ray and their own stupidity. This is extended to the other characters too. Marine is an arsehole, wholeheartedly focusing on herself, leaving her ‘baby’ Ray (please stop calling each other baby) looking for a place to stay while she follows her online therapists advice, not to mention falling right back into Desi’s stupid hands towards the end of the episode. Ray and Shosh come across as arseholes, but in a way that scene is one of the most genuine in the episode because it’s grounded in a connection between the two. Hannah, even worse than I remember than in previous seasons, is the biggest arsehole of them all. Her self-absorption makes it really hard to follow her, and the show less appealing.
Despite this, I do love Girls and I want to see it succeed, wrap up with the heart that I know that it has. According to early reviews, I’m in the minority at seeing this season being set up with these characters sitting as uncomfortable projections of arseholery. I could be completely wrong and this is the point of this season — everyone is entitled to be oblivious occasionally, it happens especially around their late 20s, and maybe syncing for these characters. I’m just worried it’s about to take a nose dive and ending up with my relief that I don’t have to see these characters ever again.