With only one season left of Girls, it makes sense that creator Lena Dunham wanted to show some character progression when the two-episode Season 5 finale aired on Sunday, April 17. Girls Season 5 was one of the series' best because it showed that slow struggle toward maturity that many millennial women — who perhaps may not have all of the privileges that the Girls characters have — can frighteningly relate to. While Season 5 had lead characters Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna facing plenty of setbacks, the finale "I Love You Baby" did see the women having more mature life experiences than ever before, whether it be in their romances or careers.
Although Season 5 still showed Hannah acting out like she always has, particularly in Episode 8, "Homeward Bound," Dunham confirmed during "Inside the Episode" for the finale that the show's intention was to focus on "a new layer to their emotional reality" for the characters, as well as to show that these girls are advancing, ever so slowly, toward that mythical land of adulthood.
What we wanted to do in Season 5 was really set up the idea that these people were maturing and they actually were evolving and that we were actually were taking them towards adulthood in a meaningful way. What I like is at the end of Season 5, they are the most adult that we've ever found them. Adulthood isn't a clear end, but adulthood is a goal. And just seeing them take meaningful steps towards a more self-actualized life, that's all we can ask for for them.
While my initial reaction was to laugh at the idea of Hannah, Marnie, Jessa, and Shoshanna as the "most adult" they've ever been after watching their Season 5 shenanigans, I realized that Dunham was absolutely right. Although I may want to scoff at these characters for not being more mature at this point in the series, I also can directly relate to their trials and tribulations. Dunham's detractors, and indeed anyone who struggles getting past the selfishness of the characters, should listen to Dunham speak about the show in HBO's "Inside the Episode" specials. Her eloquent words about Girls not only highlight how different she is from Hannah, but also how she's aware that she's telling one story of a path to adulthood — not necessarily every millennial's story, although possibly a relatable one for many.
Despite the characters' unrelenting unpleasant attributes and actions, millennial women who may have had similar life trajectories as the characters on Girls could be attracted to Dunham's unique brand of storytelling; I know I am. I know firsthand that feeling of being unleashed into the "real world" after graduating from a four-year college like most of the girls on Girls. For me, it was liberating almost to the point of debilitation. That feeling of having my whole life in front of me with ample opportunities was exhilarating, but also meant taking personal responsibility for my life. The abundance of choice could incapacitate a person — most of the time it was just easier to float through without making any conscious decisions about my career, love life, or living situation.
While Season 4 emotionally devastated me as I watched the deterioration of Hannah and Adam's relationship, Season 5 showed the Girls having to deal with making strides toward happiness, something that can really resonate with some women of this generation as we age. The feelings of 20-somethings navigating their world of self-discovery may be best summed up by when Corey Stoll's Dill Harcourt told Elijah that he's looking for "someone less aimless" to be in a real relationship with. That comment by Dill was the one that affected Elijah the most and made holding back his tears harder to do than before.
As a member of the older millennial generation, I detest the idea of millennials being considered lazy, but someone calling me aimless would cut me to my core, not only because I don't want to be perceived like that, but also because it has been a struggle for me to find a path in life that makes me happy. I finally feel like I'm starting to achieve little personal successes as I'm about to turn 30 — an age I previously assumed would be one where I would already have it all figured out.
As Dunham's "Inside the Episode" comments indicated, the girls of Girls won't have it all "figured out" by the time the series ends after Season 6 because that wouldn't be true to the characters she created, nor to real life. While I'm the same age as Dunham, I am four years older than Hannah. And, Girls has given me the bizarre, humbling, and sometimes really emotionally traumatic opportunity of being able to look back at my early 20s and remember how low some things were for me at the time and how far I've come. Yet, there's also that knowledge that just like the characters of Girls, I still have a long way to go.
Although I don't think many people could say they are totally a Hannah, a Marnie, a Jessa, or a Shoshanna, there are elements to these characters' Season 5 arcs that could speak to you if you are a young millennial woman. Hannah, who I think may have had some of her entitled edges softened by being a teacher for the season, spent most of Season 5 dealing with her emotions in highly inappropriate ways, like when she Basic Instinct-ed her boss. However, she began to accept the confounding person she is and finally returned to form as the talented and engaging writer she is, thanks to her performance at The Moth.
Then there's Marnie, the type A who let her aspirations of becoming a famous indie folk singer blur who she is. Her marriage to Desi and their quick breakup was perhaps the weakest and most predictable plot in Season 5, but their breakup brought back a more tolerable Marnie since she had been winning "the worst" category for me for some time now. Although I don't know if Marnie and Ray will stay together, or if her music career with Desi will actually succeed, she's in a much healthier spot than she was at the end of Season 4.
Then there's Jessa. While I was infuriated at the coupling of Adam and Jessa because I'm defensive of Hannah's relationship with him, this is the most meaningful relationship Jessa has ever had. Their personalities led to a violent emotional and physical battle in the Season 5 finale, so Jessa will have to deal with the fallout of that in Season 6. But, she stayed sober throughout all of Season 5 and is going back to school to be a therapist, two things that would not have seemed feasible to happen to an earlier season version of Jessa.
And lastly, there's Shoshanna, perhaps my favorite girl of Girls. She was living the life in Japan, but, even there, I would argue she was still searching for something. When she was forced to return to America, she was feeling so bad for herself that she was going to accept government financial assistance, but instead put her professional skills to good use by helping Ray and Hermie transform the coffee shop. Yes, it's a little success for Shosh, but that's how life works — small successes that lead to the promise of good things in the future, especially the harder you work.
While I anticipate and hope that Season 6 of Girls will see these women come back to focusing on their friendships and their personal growth, I'm happy that Season 5 tried to speak to a chunk of a generation who may have also struggled to obtain these mini adult-level successes. For me, at least, it succeeded in that task. And, while the girls may not have fully matured yet, they have made progress over five seasons — and progress is all we girls can ask for these days.