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The final episode of Girls revealed Hannah Horvath's two most important relationships

The penultimate episode of Girls, which saw the quartet in one room for the twelfth and last time, was what many viewers expected. The true ending - focusing on Marnie and New York - was more surprising. 

A girl’s foot hooks over another girl’s leg. A thigh wrapped round hips. In a soft pink bedroom, the camera pans up to reveal Hannah spooning Marnie, who is wearing soft pink pyjamas, her lip caught on her bulky mouth-guard. After the cold open and the show’s iconic title card, this is the first peek we got into the lives of the women on Girls. If the title alone wasn’t enough, this visual introduction makes it clear that these are women stuck in a state of semi-adolescence, plaits and all.

As the show rolled on, the fact that Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna failed to break out of this stasis kept viewers both hooked and frustrated. There were new jobs, new men and new homes; birthdays weddings, and divorces; yet despite some character development (Jessa sobering up, Shoshanna finding self-confidence, Hannah making it through a breakdown in her mental health), the four main women seemed to keep disappointing each other, and falling short of responsible adulthood. So how do you satisfactorily end a show dependent on collective arrested development?

Perhaps you end it with a group of four women finally accepting the extent of their differences, agreeing, through the odd tear, to move on with their own lives, before dancing carelessly together, as though they’d only just met. The penultimate episode of Girls, which saw Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna in one room for the twelfth and last time, was close to what viewers might expect from this bittersweet programme. Where was left to go from here?

The final episode, “Latching” opens with a call-back to its beginnings with that familiar tracking shot panning over Hannah lying in bed with a sleeping companion. In the pilot, it was Marnie, but we’ve also seen the same shot open seasons two and three, with Elijah and Adam respectively spooning Hannah, her main emotional supports in each of those seasons. In “Latching”, we’re back with Marnie, who is spooning Hannah in a mirror image of that first spooning shot. “We always said Marnie and Hannah were the true love story of the show,” executive producer Jenni Konner told EW after the finale aired. “I think you really see how much they love each other,” Dunham agreed.

Marnie makes a powerful case for being Hannah’s crutch as she tries to bring up her baby – something both Elijah and Adam offered to do, but essentially failed to follow through on. “Well this is just like Adam’s pitch and that didn’t work out so great,” Hannah says.

“You think you have a lot of friends, right? Who's here? Elijah’s not here,” Marnie insists, “Adam isn’t here.” She pushes on. “Who’s here? I’m here. I win. I’m your best friend. I’m the best at being your friend. I love you the most.”

Despite this self-referential set up, “Latching” never feels truly full-circle. It takes Hannah’s new home in upstate New York for its setting, and the strange, semi-suburban atmosphere and familial dramas are something we’ve only seen before in diversions from Girls’s main narrative, in bottle episodes “The Return”, “Video Games” and “Flo”. The result is something that, as Dunham herself acknowledges, feels more like an epilogue than a finale, as we see Hannah struggling with the first few months of motherhood, impossibly frustrated by her son’s sudden refusal to breastfeed.

But epilogues are somehow more final, truly more of an ending, than a more traditional and immediate closer. An epilogue fundamentally refuses the viewer the opportunity to imagine the same patterns continuing just out of shot, in the way that say, The Office (UK) encourages (Tim: If you turn the camera off, it’s not an ending is it? I‘m still here.) Instead, in forcing the viewer to really see the next stage in a character’s life, it puts the previous stage fully to bed.

Ending a show about not growing up was always going to be a challenge, and choosing a glimpse of Hannah’s motherhood was a risky choice for Girls. It’s one that many have found disappointing. “It’s a TV show called Girls. I suppose it’s unsurprising that it would include this most easy delineator between girlhood and womanhood,” Kathryn VanArendonk writes at Vulture, adding, “It’s frustrating that this particular plotline has become such a dominate way of measuring maturity and growth in female characters, as though no other life choices can compare as a meaningful way to determine adulthood.”

I watched the final with an uncomfortable sadness. In moving away from New York, and therefore Jessa, Elijah, Shoshanna, Adam, and Ray, this episode drilled home that the majority of those relationships are over, whether off-screen, in the show’s implied narrative, or on. And despite Hannah’s selfish outbursts while trying to raise Grover, this episode made it clear that these characters really have grown and changed.

Hannah and Marnie’s argument in the car has all the hallmarks of their usual edgy conversations: Marnie frustratingly superior, Hannah overly dramatic and sullen. “Promise me you’re not going to give up, okay, there’s a reason they call breastmilk ‘liquid gold’”, Marnie preaches from the front seat. “Well, if you really felt like that, I think you’d agree to taste mine,” Hannah sulks, as Marnie sighs, “Hannah, you have to stop asking me to do that.” Full of friction, challenges of intimacy and clearly a great deal of love, it reminds me of their conversation in the bathtub in Girls’s pilot: “Are you going to leave your towel on?” Hannah asks, protesting. “But I never see you naked, and you always see me naked, when it should actually be the other way around.” But as they squabbled, it dawned on me that this is the first time we’ve seen the two friends argue over something, or someone, other than themselves. I welled up, not out of pride for the characters but the realisation that their infuriating, compelling 20s really were almost over.

The episode ends with Hannah finally getting Grover to latch. Her eyes widen with the joy of the surprise, and the screen cuts to black. As the credits roll, we hear Hannah brokenly singing “Fast Car” to her son.

Many critics have commented on the strange choice of “Fast Car” as the song that would end Girls. It’s a black, working-class woman’s perspective on the cyclical nature of poverty, which seems like it has little application to Hannah’s privileged life. But there are specific lines about the comfort of recurring patterns of dependency in an urban setting that seem to relate to the way Girls has repeatedly presented Hannah’s experience of New York: “City lights lay out before us / And your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder / And I had a feeling that I belonged / I had a feeling I could be someone”.

That feeling of belonging swept in and out of Hannah’s life and in and with New York: one day she’d be up, dancing alone in her apartment or running over Brooklyn Bridge with elation, the next down, hiding from the outside world under her blanket, desperately hoping someone would save her from herself. As Tracy Chapman sings, “We gotta make a decision: leave tonight, or live and die this way.”

Hannah left the city, and her cycles of belonging and alienation, for something new.

***

Now listen to a discussion of Girls on the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY:

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

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Former MP Bob Marshall-Andrews: Why I’m leaving Labour and joining the Lib Dems

A former political ally of Jeremy Corbyn explains why he is leaving Labour after nearly 50 years.

I’m leaving home. It’s a very hard thing to do. All of my natural allegiances have been to Labour, and never had I contemplated leaving the party – not even in the gloomy years, when we were fighting Iraq and the battles over civil liberties. I have always taken the view that it’s far better to stay within it. But it has just gone too far. There has been a total failure to identify the major issues of our age.

The related problems of the environment, globalisation and the migration of impoverished people are almost ignored in favour of the renationalisation of the railways and mantras about the National Health Service. The assertion that Labour could run the NHS better than the Tories may be true, but it is not the battle hymn of a modern republic. It is at best well-meaning, at worst threadbare. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life talking about renationalising the railways while millions of people move across the world because of famine, war and climate change.

The centre left in British politics is in retreat, and the demise of the Labour Party has the grim inevitability of a Shakespearean tragedy. Ironically, history will show that Labour’s fatal flaw lay in its spectacular success.

Labour is, in essence, a party of the 20th century, and in those 100 years it did more to advance the freedom and well-being of working people and the disadvantaged than any other political movement in history. The aspirations of the founding fathers – access to education, health and welfare; equality before the law; collective organisation; universal franchise – have all to a large extent been achieved. The party’s record of racial and religious tolerance has been a beacon in a century of repression. These achievements have been enshrined in the fabric of British society and reproduced across the world.

The success brought deserved, unprecedented power and created political fortresses across the industrial heartlands of Britain. But with power, the party became increasingly moribund and corrupt. The manipulation of the union block vote at party conferences became a national disgrace. The Labour heartlands, particularly Scotland, were treated like rotten boroughs, and were too often represented by union placemen.

Instead of seeking a new radicalism appropriate to the challenges of the age, New Labour sought to ambush the Tories on the management of market capital and to outflank them on law and order: a fool’s errand. It inevitably succumbed to another form of corruption based on hubris and deceit, resulting in attacks on civil liberty, financial disaster and catastrophic war.

The reaction has been to lurch back to the status quo. The extraordinary fall from a massive majority of 179 in 1997 to a political basket case has been blamed on the false dichotomy between Blairism and the old, unionised Labour. Both have contributed to the disaster in equal measure.

I believe desperately in the politics of the 21st century, and Labour is at best paying lip service to it – epitomised in its failure to engage in the Brexit debate, which I was horrified by. The Liberal Democrats are far from perfect, but they have been consistent on Europe, as they were in their opposition to the Iraq War and on civil liberties. They deserve support.

But it’s a serious wrench. I’m leaving friends, and it hurts. Jeremy Corbyn was a political ally of mine on a number of serious issues. We made common cause on Tony Blair’s assaults on civil liberty and the Iraq War, and we went to Gaza together. He has many of the right ideas, but he simply has not moved into addressing the major problems.

To be blunt, I don’t think Corbyn is leadership material, but that is aside from politics. You need skills as a leader, and I don’t think he’s got them, but I was prepared to stick it out to see what happened. It has been a great, gradual disappointment, and Brexit has brought it all to the fore.

Frankly, I was surprised that he announced he was a Remainer, because I know that his natural sympathies have lain with a small cadre within Labour – an old-fashioned cadre that holds that any form of trade bloc among relatively wealthy nations is an abhorrence. It’s not: it’s the way forward. Yet there are people who believe that, and I know he has always been sympathetic to them.

But by signing up and then doing nothing, you sell the pass. Labour was uniquely qualified to confront the deliberate falsehoods trumpeted about the NHS – the absurd claims of massive financial dividends to offset the loss of doctors
and nurses already packing their bags – and it failed. Throughout that campaign, the Labour leadership was invisible, or worse.

At present, there is a huge vacuum on the centre left, represented in substantial part by an angry 48 per cent of the electorate who rejected Brexit and the lies on which it was based. Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. There is no sign from Labour that the issue is even to be addressed, let alone actively campaigned on. The Labour leadership has signed up to Brexit and, in doing so, rejected the principles of international co-operation that Europe has fostered for half a century. That is not a place I want to be.

The failure to work with, or even acknowledge, other political parties is doctrinaire lunacy. And it will end very badly, I think. The centre left has an obligation to coalesce, and to renege on that obligation is reneging on responsibility. Not to sit on the same platform as other parties during the Brexit debate is an absurd statement of political purity, which has no place at all in modern politics.

The Liberal Democrats have grasped the political challenges of the 21st century as surely as their predecessors in the Liberal Party failed to comprehend those that faced the world a century ago. For that reason, I will sign up and do my best to lend support in my political dotage. After nearly 50 years as a Labour man, I do so with a heavy heart – but at least with some radical hope for my grandchildren.

Bob Marshall-Andrews was the Labour MP for Medway from 1997 to 2010.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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