Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV
3 April 2017

Who ends up with Adam? How Girls resists the idea of a romance as a happy ending

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“I’m not sure what Hannah’s gonna even say but I know what I’m gonna say,” says Adam to Jessa in the opening of the latest episode of Girls. “I’m just gonna say, ‘Look, Hannah, we have a lot of history that we can’t seem to erase, we can’t let each other go, as much as we try, so let me raise this baby with you.’”

The dialogue is abrupt and vaguely absurd, but not totally unexpected. Hannah and Adam’s relationship has been the driving force behind almost six seasons of Girls, and it seemed probable, if a bit predictable, that they could be endgame material, despite their myriad problems. As Hannah’s pregnancy plotline has evolved parallel with the relationship between her ex and her ex best friend, fans have wondered whether Adam would eventually leave Jessa to try and build a family with Hannah.

There has been a more subtle build up to this plotline too – when Adam’s sister, Caroline, has a baby (awkwardly named Jessa-Hannah) with Hannah’s neighbour, Laird, Adam becomes a surprisingly paternal figure in the child’s life. In “Homeward Bound”, Adam steps up to help Laird with Jessa-Hannah when Caroline suddenly disappears. Jessa, meanwhile, struggles with Jessa-Hannah’s presence in her and Adam’s life: feeling jealous of the attention Adam devotes to her, buying whole milk instead of formula, and whining about vomit, until Adam finally snaps. “You’re an adult. She’s a baby,” he scoffs. “Why do you need more help than a baby?”

While Adam and Jessa’s relationship is fiery and exciting, it has lacked stability and maturity – something Hannah now offers, in abstract, both as she has cultivated a “mature” approach to the fact of Adam and Jessa’s relationship, and as she now looks towards parenthood.

Cut to Adam actually finding Hannah in a convenience store on her block, buying fistfuls of popsicles. The setting feels suggestive of where they first meet (a scene we saw recreated for the first time only two episodes previously in Adam’s film), Hannah eating sugared almonds straight out of the container at the shop where Adam works.

For all the potentially regressive qualities of the scene, there’s something satisfyingly full-circle about it. Adam delivers his practiced speech: “I wanna raise your child with you. I miss you, and I miss being with you, and I thought I could move on but hearing about the baby made me realise we don’t have any more time to waste. Let me show you who I’ve become. I wanna be there for you as you become a mother, I wanna watch you blossom, and love this baby more than anyone has ever loved a living thing. I don’t wanna be away from you any longer.”

It’s the dramatic reunion that ends every rom com, and it’s been Hannah’s ultimate fantasy since Adam started dating Jessa. It comes just as Hannah is desperate for a father figure for her child, and it feels easy, and perfect. Hannah and Adam spend the day in a state of bliss, having giggly sex, whispering jokes to Hannah’s stomach, and teasing each other. “I’m just disconcerted,” Hannah says later, as they walk Brooklyn streets in the sunshine, sipping from glass bottles of bright yellow sodas. “I don’t understand how you just decided…”

“It’s simple,” Adam replies, “I just knew.”

Of course, it’s not simple. From day one, Girls has declared that relationships – between lovers, friends, parents, exes – are not simple, least of all Adam and Hannah’s. This could be the endgame narrative so many viewers long for, but it would belong to a different show, and a different set of characters.

The makers of Girls openly problematise the decision over whether or not to bring Hannah and Adam back together in the episode’s title: “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?” They’ve pushed them together and pulled them apart so many times over the course of the series that it both feels impossible to give them a happy ending, and to not see them together again by the end of the show. We crave resolution, but know it would involve narrative gymnastics and changes in character that don’t quite fit with Girls’ emotional realism.

The episode itself presents us this problem in miniature with the sudden arrival of Laird, who inserts himself awkwardly into Hannah and Adam’s day of romance. “Really sorry to barge in,” he says urgently, “I don’t know what’s up here, and if I interrupted something I’m sorry, but this is important. I really, really felt like it was important that I come here, and make it known to both of you – but mostly you – that I am here, and totally up for raising this baby.”

It’s absurd. And it’s even more ridiculous because we’re hearing it for the second time.

“I realised why I’m here,” he goes on. “The purpose of my life was to become a junkie, so I could get better, so I could move in to this building, so I could meet you, and we have that moment, and we establish that base, then we go away from that, which is fine – because then I met Caroline. We had a baby, she went away and ruined everything and destroyed my life to give me the clarity of this moment which is: you’re having a baby, you’re about to be a single parent, I am a single parent. It’s so crystal clear!”

It’s funny both in its abrupt nonsensicality, and in its knowing wink to the audience about potential plotlines. Laird’s screenwriting vocabulary (“we establish that base”) reveals his own self-absorption, as he writes himself into an internal movie without fully engaging with any external reality. But it also reminds us that endgame romance is a construct – the dramatic epiphany where characters realise I’m meant to be with you, forever! is something that belongs to movies, not life, and it feels ridiculous and hollow when it knocks on the door of Hannah’s apartment.

It’s striking in its similarity to Adam’s speeches. “Look, Hannah, we have a lot of history that we can’t seem to erase, we can’t let each other go, as much as we try, so let me raise this baby with you,” is a very silly sentence, but it takes Laird’s speech to make us aware of that. And, when you think about it, Laird is actually a more practical option than Adam – he already has a child, he hasn’t spent the last several months raging about how much he “hates” Hannah, their relationship is a lot less complicated, and he’s not living with another woman who happens to be Hannah’s ex-best friend.

“It’s simple, I just knew.” Even as Adam says this, he begins to qualify. “Well, I knew deep down – I didn’t really know until I heard about the baby, then I knew in my actual brain. Y’know, but it’s simple – there’s too much history here, there’s too much good stuff for us not to try.” There’s that word again, “history”. It’s what that pulls them back together, but history (trauma, resentment, emotional baggage) is also what prevents them from really maturing as a couple. Their joyful day together skirts over that completely. Instead, they spend their time together in wilful denial, almost pretending to be two adults in a long, committed relationship, starting a family together.

Hannah starts to realise this while she and Adam are shopping for baby things. While Adam natters away about building a bureau and grasping at the word for mobile, Hannah finds herself locked in a staring contest with a photograph of a perfect smiling mother and baby on a cardboard box in front of her. Betty Davis’s “You and I” plays over the store’s tinny speakers, getting gradually louder and louder. “I wish I could live for you,” Davis sings mournfully, “I’d be free, I’d be free, I’d be free.” (The song is a apt choice – its lyrics include “I’m just a child trying to be a woman / And you, you are a strange one / Trying / To be my man” – and one of several excellent uses of 60s and 70s music in place of an inner monologue from the last two seasons, from Brenda Lee’s “Someday” to Franki Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”.)

This moment is a preface to the point where Hannah and Adam’s pipe dream comes crashing down around them. Sat in a diner, as evening rolls in, the conversation finally turns to practicalities about where they might live. “Oh, right! I’ve been on this list for artist housing for like, forever,” Adam says. “They tend to favour married couples though, so it might help if we did that,”

Hannah starts to well up. Adam does do. At first, he smiles. But soon it becomes clear that Hannah is not moved by his suggestion, and there’s a silent but marked shift in the atmosphere. They both desperately want to continue the fantasy, but neither can, and Girls is forced to treat its characters with more honesty than a traditional fairy-tale ending could offer. The warm summer glow fades from their faces, and they sit opposite each other in tears. It’s a goodbye without drama or ceremony, just painful acceptance. It’s even more heart-breaking as a result.

And what about Jessa? While Hannah has been living in a dream, Jessa has been in a nightmare. A self-diagnosed sociopath and recovering addict who struggles with impulse control and feels uncomfortable around children, Jessa is insecure about her ability to both provide, and feel comfortable with, stability and domesticity.

Adam choosing Hannah over her reinforces all those insecurities – and it hits Jessa hard. She tries to play it cool in front of Adam, but once he’s left, she vomits. She spends the rest of the day indulging her worst thoughts about herself – visiting Laird and behaving inappropriately around Jessa-Hannah, seeking out casual hook-ups in a much sadder echo of “Vagina Panic”. The shots are identical (and the vomiting, too, could be a call-back to this pregnancy scare).

But Jessa doesn’t get the same comfort from these behaviours as she once did. When she sees Adam return home at the end of the day, she smiles.

“What about you and Jessa?” Hannah asks Adam earlier in the day. “Aren’t you guys in, like, mad passionate love? Aren’t you going to, like, run away together on two bicycles, or…?” Adam is overly dismissive of their relationship in his response (“Oh, you know, she would have left me in four months and done us both a favour”), but this line does pick up on something more serious – for all Jessa’s relief at Adam’s return, Jessa and Adam seem like an abstract fantasy that has to end sometime, too. Lena Dunham has said of Adam’s final storyline, “This complicated relationship with Jessa is where he’s supposed to be.” Their chemistry is explosive, but, for me, their relationship seems too turbulent to last.

While one of them is with Adam, Jessa or Hannah cannot realistically be friends. In fact, all four girls have drifted further and further apart this season: while Marnie and Hannah seemed close a few episodes ago, they have barely seen each other since Hannah told Marnie she was pregnant; Jessa and Shoshanna’s big fight has yet to have been resolved; Shoshanna hasn’t shared a scene with Hannah all season. The girls have fractured – seemingly, Hannah’s closest friend is Elijah, Shoshanna’s closest friend is Ray, Jessa is dependent on Adam, and Marnie is weaning herself off of her dependency on men by living with her mother.

It’s happened so gradually and believably that most viewers and commentators seem less interested in whether these bonds will reform than the various potentially endgame couples. But from the start, Girls has declared itself infinitely more invested in the friendly relationships than any others. It feels like now, more than ever, the makers of Girls are putting those relationships aside in order to bring them into focus later: in Laird’s words “we establish that base, then we go away from that – which is fine” for a while, but, ultimately, we have to see them brought back together. The preview for next week’s episode, “Goodbye Tour”, confirms that a reunion for the four women is on the way: this series’ much-trailed “group meeting”. But the episode title, preview and vague description also suggest that Hannah may be considering leaving New York – and these don’t seem like friendships that will survive long distance.

Regardless of whether the foursome remain a united group, I hope that the finale chooses to privilege Hannah and Jessa’s relationship over Adam and Jessa’s, despite Dunham’s comments about the couple. After subverting the endgame trope so beautifully with Hannah and Adam, it feels only right to resist it here, too.


[See also: Blonde review: Netflix’s degradation of Marilyn Monroe]

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

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action

Topics in this article : ,