There have been enough throat-clearing metatextual reads of Girls over the last five years — at once so brief and long a time — that further space needn’t be devoted here to grand sociological readings of it, or exegeses on What Lena Dunham Means and Why It Matters. With the series and its central quartet now nearing a more fulsome sense of adulthood, the great delight in Season Five’s debut is in how thoroughly it revels in being a television show.
“Wedding Day” unfolds with classical precision, as writer/director Dunham reintroduces the principals and a good chunk of the supporting cast, all gathered for Marnie’s wedding to Desi. It is as bad as ideas come, the perfect fodder for both comedy and tragedy at once. Desi, it transpires, has been engaged eight times, and has never married, having bolted on the previous seven. Marnie, as usual, is obsessed with the surface appearance of the thing, hiring a presumably expensive stylist to manage her and her bridesmaids’ looks. Hannah makes everything about herself, and now that it’s Season Five, it’s manifestly clear (as it should have been all along) that the character played by the writer and director of so many of the show’s episodes making everything about her is a meta joke rather than authorial narcissism. Jessa and Shosh are on the sidelines, although Jessa’s long-brewing, seemingly inexorable connection to Adam flares up again. Dunham’s command of tone and pace as a director and writer are in deft balance in “Wedding Day”, perhaps better than they’ve ever been; her directing has previously been more consistent than her writing, so this is maybe yet another sign of evolution, or the planets lining up… it’s difficult to say.
For the wildly disproportionate amount of controversy the show has caused, attracted, and forded over its run, Girls is frequently at its best in lighter, comic episodes like “Wedding Day.” The show has gone darker (and often done quite well in doing so), and an episode as frankly normal as this one seems in some ways a safe, conservative calculation, with the opening observations about women and men and weddings being some of the most tried-and-true comedy Dunham has put forth. But it’s also really good, and that’s the important thing.
Like a wedding, particularly the relatively small one Marnie and her mother (Rita Wilson, who is splendid in the role and works perfectly with Allison Williams) mount in this episode, “Wedding Day” is aimed squarely at the subset within the show’s fanbase that watch it because they like the show and want to see the characters back, rather than the hate-watchers and aggregators. Being more selective about who one has in one’s life, is, after all, part of growing up, which has always been the show’s subject, and now that it’s entering its later seasons, more explicitly so.
Danny Bowes (@bybowes) is an artist and critic whose film and TV writing has appeared in Premiere, Tor.com, The Atlantic, Indiewire, Yahoo! Movies, RogerEbert.com, Salt Lake City Weekly, and The A.V. Club.