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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 the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

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Spotify, Netflix and now shared driverless cars: why don’t we own anything anymore?

With shared self-driving cars on the horizon, companies are forcing us into a minimalism that is profitable for them, but questionable for us.

For decades, the answer to all our collective self-doubt, anxiety, and existential sadness has been to buy, buy, buy. This was particularly evident during the Nineties and Noughties, which, in terms of business, were all about mass production, mass consumption and, inevitably, mass accumulation.

Companies targeted the general public with the message that without owning their latest fad – no matter how trivial it appeared – we wouldn’t be as productive, as beautiful, and, perhaps most frightening of all, as happy. And although material objects took up physical space, they certainly didn’t fill the metaphorical void.

It didn’t take long for artists to respond to the socio-economic ennui. Movies, in particular – from The Truman Show to, more strangely and recently, Disney’s Wall-E – critiqued mass consumption and consequent possession-hoarding. Literature, too – perhaps most famously Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, which was later adapted for film – studied the monstrous nature of hypercapitalism and the beasts it produces.

Despite being some of the most visually provocative commerce-related works to date (and despite anti-capitalist cinema becoming a genre in itself), they didn’t stop our needless purchase-making and endless consumption.

Aside from the self-proclaimed “minimalists”, that is. In a rally against the monopoly of McDonald’s, malls, and mass consumption, the reactionary lifestyle movement arose somewhat organically. A typical modern minimalist isn’t an artist with a penchant for sparse work, but instead somebody who, in an attempt to get back-to-basics, threw out unneeded wares and pared down to the absolute necessities. For their bodies: a few basic shirts and trousers, a basic pair of shoes. In their households: a dining table, some chairs, a fold-up bed. No excess. Minimalists professed that this alternative way of living made them feel happier, and by unshackling themselves and their homes of all the stuff they’d accumulated over the years, they consequently felt far freer. Maybe not free in the absolute sense of the word, but freer nonetheless.

Fast forward a few years to 2018 and minimalism has become something of an online trend, with people sharing tips on ways to declutter and downsize. It has become a lifestyle. We go on digital detoxes and follow the anti-clutter guru Marie Kondo. These changes go beyond the physical and into the digital world – old files, data, and the hundreds of undeleted emails you have are perceived to be just as burdensome as the unused blender stashed in the cupboard. It is mindfulness over matter.

Inevitably, commercial businesses are buying into the vogue of reduction, too: their message for consumers is to no longer to purchase and own wares, but to subscribe to and rent them instead. Ownership – of music, films, cars, and even office space – is, apparently, so last decade. And what you do own, you should “share”: put your flat on Airbnb, for example, or rent your car to Uber or Lyft.

“Flexibility”, “choice” and “ease” have become the tropes of modern marketing. The likes of Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, Apple, and Amazon proclaim that our lives could be simpler, smoother, if we trade ownership for non-permanence. And it’s not just entertainment-orientated businesses, either: even the way we travel has begun to fundamentally change. With London’s Santander bike programme, Uber taxis, and, in future, shared self-driving cars, the rent-on-demand and subscription model has superseded outright buying.

It’s not like we’re paying any less for the inadequacy: we’re still handing over a sizeable chunk of money every month to a small handful of wealthy, unaccountable businesses. Whoever we’re subscribing to and renting from haven’t struck gold so much as a goldmine: they earn more while handing over less.

The culture has shifted, in a subtle and violent way, from one of accumulating too much to one approaching a forced minimalism, which is just as expensive, competitive and decadent as before. Perhaps even the minimalists who appear on Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things (which is currently, and somewhat ironically, streaming on Netflix) wouldn’t agree with everybody being strong-armed into a way of life where we are progressively losing more and paying more for the privilege.

Thom James is a writer based in London.