Season 5 of HBO’s Girls is now done, and so it is time to bestow upon it “one of the all-time best seasons of TV” accolades. Holy moly, it was great. From beginning to end, it’s a flawless whole comprised of outstanding episodes. Fittingly, the two-part finale follows that same pattern. As a whole finale, it’s a graceful landing (not just because Grace Dunham cameos again), and the component episodes are internally structural marvels as well.
First, in “Love Stories”, we follow a number of, as the title obliquely hints, love stories. Marnie’s begins as a dream, in which brushing Ray’s hair — which, being a dream, is also “like Khaleesi’s on Game of Thrones,” because of course Marnie doesn’t call her Daenerys — causes her to reach orgasm, a rarity. The dream lingers with her to such a degree that she actually goes over to Ray’s place and fucks him. (Is it coincidence that Alex Karpovsky directed this episode? Obviously, but still: heh.)
And look at Ray (of all people) potentially in the middle of a love triangle. Because… Shosh is back! With a mission to rebrand Ray’s coffee place as a viable alternative to Yassir Lester and Grace Dunham’s “helvetica.” As she puts it to Ray and Hermie (Colin Quinn), “Gentlemen, it is high time that we start selling coffee to people with jobs.” And it works!
Elijah’s grand, romantic ultimatum to Dill, however, does not. If there’s one caveat I have in my Season 5 praise, it’s that the Elijah/Dill romance just kinda ended before it had a chance to go through a good period. Elijah is a supporting player in the grand scheme of things, but the show devoted just enough time to his relationship (or lack thereof), as the ending (if it’s ending) feels a bit thin. It cannot be stressed enough that this is a minor quibble.
The axis of “Love Stories”, though, is the storyline where Hannah runs into her old Oberlin classmate, Tally (Jenny Slate), a successful writer of the exact kind that Hannah aspires to be. Whereas their previous meeting resulted in Hannah seething because someone else had the toys she wanted to play with, their very slightly older selves have a very pleasant day with each other, as they exchange vulnerabilities, then get higher than giraffe ass and exchange even deeper vulnerabilities. Finally, immediately after having been talking about Adam and Jessa basically all day, they run into Adam and Jessa, because Adam and Jessa are still looking after Laird’s baby while Laird is out Lairding. And, rather than being awkward, Hannah and Tally fall out laughing, to the point where an embarrassed Adam and Jessa stalk sulkily off to their adult responsibilities.
In “I Love You Baby”, Adam and Jessa finally crack under the strain of Jessa’s unwillingness to let Hannah go and Adam’s angry refusal to see why Jessa won’t let Hannah go. They utterly destroy their apartment, and Adam very nearly beats the shit out of Jessa and only just sort of remains on the non-assault side of the line. It’s the kind of sequence that risks devolving into unfocused shoutiness, but there are builds and releases and clear dramatic beats within the fight, handled skillfully by first-time director (and long-time Girls writer/producer) Jenni Konner.
Konner flexes notably, and impressively, in two other scenes. The first is in Hannah’s story at The Moth, where Ophira Eisenberg, as herself, introduces Hannah in a typically Girls-y awkward way, creating the anticipation of yet another exhibition of train wreck Hannah… but then it turns into a really excellent Moth story, and one in which Konner pushes slowly in on Hannah throughout in almost the exact way Francis Ford Coppola pushed in on Michael Corleone in The Godfather when he’s talking about the Solozzo/McCluskey meeting. Obviously, Hannah is not going to have the heads of the Five Families murdered in Season 6 (though, if she does, close up television forever because it will have objectively peaked). But note that the Godfather scene is a pivotal moment in Michael’s self-actualization. Could Hannah’s Moth story prove equally pivotal? How many gangsters will she kill next season? Only time will tell.
The second scene is the end-of-season montage, set to the song whose lyrics lend the episode its name, there is a pull out on Jessa and Adam (kind of harrowing, really), having fucked in the ruins of their apartment and bonded strongly, but at what cost? There’s a lovely moment between Hermie and Shosh, dancing in the closed coffee shop. Loreen and Elijah drinking 40s and all but literally howling at the moon… a classic vignette. And then there’s the closer, with the bold — and, all the more surprisingly, completely earned — flourish of Hannah running like Antoine Doinel, and ending on the freeze-frame like François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows. There’s a whole additional essay in why that’s a perfect note on which to end the season, but like the sixth and final season of Girls, it is yet to be written.
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.