One Step Forward, One Million Steps Back: Girls 6×01 “All I Ever Wanted”

For its first four seasons, the characters on Girls, much like the show itself, took pride in occupying the space between self-aware, snarky privilege and straight-up myopic narcissism. Then, in season five, new life was breathed into the show when almost every single one of the characters underwent some sort of growth. That growth may have been faltering and expressed in dysfunctional ways (Hannah breaking up with her terrible boyfriend by jumping out of the car during a road trip, Jessa going to school with Adam’s money when they had been dating for about two minutes, Marnie divorcing Desi after sleeping with her heroin-dealing ex), but it was there, and that was enough to convince me that the show had been worth watching.

But will that growth carry through the final season? While it seems that the show is maturing in significant ways, this is still Hannah and co. we’re talking about, and I can’t imagine that we’re heading towards a finale in which they become well-adjusted, self-reliant, normally functioning adults. Growth for these characters will always mean one step forward, one thousand steps back, for some more than others. Here are the most impressive and insufferable moments of each of the Girls this episode, ranked in order of who showed the most growth:

Hannah

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Shockingly enough, Hannah maintained her momentum from last season more than any other character. The episode opens with Hannah achieving her first major success as a writer–a column in New York Times‘ “Modern Love”–which leads to a lovely montage of all of her friends basking in her glory. This achievement could have gone to her head, and made her even more entitled and prone to squandering perfectly good opportunities. And in some ways, Hannah did go the way of revival-era Rory Gilmore (or season two Hannah Horvath); she tries to sell herself to the editor of awful-sounding millennial magazine, Slag Mag, by touting her “witty yet narcissistic” style and admitting that she “give[s] zero fucks about anything, but [has] strong opinions about everything, even topics [she’s] not informed on.” That’s bratty 20-something white-girlness at its finest.

Then, she somehow STILL gets the gig (she really is channeling Rory here, isn’t she? [More first-gen Rory there, though -Nerdy Spice]): a smug hit piece about horrible rich white women who have appropriated surfing culture “now that they’ve already ruined yoga.” This should be a no-brainer for Hannah, who hates everything earnest on principle, but she can’t even bring herself to finish the class. Instead, she puts in no effort, fakes an injury, wastes the time of beleaguered nurse Laura (the only woman of color in the episode), drinks about ten thousand alcoholic slushies, and sleeps with the surfing instructor (the delightful Riz Ahmed), which seems like a professional no-no.

To be fair, I’m sure that Slag Mag would love that kind of insider perspective. But she commits the worst millennial sin of all: she becomes a cliche. She goes to the beach to write a snarky hit piece, but then falls for a good-looking hippie who delivers lines like “Hate takes energy, love gives vibes” with a straight face. She talks about wanting to shed the “toxic” energy in New York and move to an AirBnB in Montauk and experience real joy. She’s one step away from starting a juice fast, signing up for Yogilates, and becoming the pseudo-intellectual women she’s supposed to be writing about.

Classic Hannah, right? She can’t even commit to a piece and an angle that she was built for. But through all of that hippie-dippie bullshit, she achieves some bona fide introspection. She reflects, “All my friends in New York define themselves by what they hate. I don’t even know what any of my friends like. I just know what they don’t like… Everyone is so busy chasing success and defining themselves they can’t even experience pleasure.” While it would be too simplistic for Hannah to simply cut ties with all of her friends in New York and move to Argentina, the show’s strength has always been its honest portrayal of 20-something friendships. The ones where you continually ask yourself, “Why am I still friends with this person?” Hannah and her friends are, indeed, toxic, and she’s not even close to counteracting that effect, but she does seem to become more aware of it.

This willingness, if not ability, to change is demonstrated by her reaction to Paul-Louis’ revelation that he’s already in a relationship, if a non-exclusive one. The old Hannah would have pouted, pretended she wasn’t angry, and then run back to New York to tell her friends how pretentious beach-dwellers are and pat herself on the back. And new-Hannah clearly wants to do just that. But instead, she pushes through it, and tries to enjoy the last few days she has with Paul Louis and his laissez-faire lifestyle. She occasionally looks like she’s trying to chew concrete, but at least she’s trying to change, which is much more than we could say for her before last season.

Shosh

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Shosh has always been the most put-together of all of the Girls, and is just generally awesome, so she doesn’t need much growth. And she was just as awesome this episode, accepting that Ray is with Marnie but still allowing him to stay in her apartment without awkwardness. As a non-shipper (and possibly the only person who likes Ray/Marnie), I have to say their friendly yuks were adorable, especially when they were randomly shitting on Paul Krugman.

But still, she’s ranked second, because she did seem a little petty when she threw her knowledge of Ray’s habits in Marnie’s face (“You know he doesn’t drink coffee from multinational conglomerates!”). And to what end? We’re clearly supposed to think that Shosh and Ray are twoo wuv, which I just don’t buy. Ray is clearly too good of a person for Marnie (more on that later), but while he’s perfectly successful, I doubt he would ever be ambitious enough for Shosh. I loved Ray and Shoshanna while they lasted, but it also felt right for them to break up. They met when Shosh was so young, and didn’t really have any idea what she wanted from a partner. They’re exactly the kind of cute-but-mismatched couple that breaks up amicably and stays friends forever. That’s what I want to see.

Jessa

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At the end of last season, Jessa and Adam’s relationship reached a crossroads: did that fight/sex session represent a realization that they are too toxic to make a relationship work, and that they never should have hurt Hannah the way they did? Or did it represent a turning point at which they both accept the other’s awfulness, accept that the damage is done with Hannah, and move on with their lives together? This episode didn’t really answer that question, except to tell us that they’re still together, still awful, and still holding onto residual guilt about Hannah. No progress has been made, it seems, but it will depend on how the show deals with their relationship–and the “what to do about Hannah” question–going forward.

That being said, I like Jessa and Adam. They’re both horrible people, as they demonstrated when they laughed evilly at Ray’s misfortune to have them as roommates (that entire scene was hilarious, btw). But they both have an intensity and free-spiritedness that Hannah has never been able to share with Adam, and honestly, I can’t imagine who else would be able to put up with either of them. #TeamJadam

Marnie

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On some level, it’s no surprise that Marnie is at the bottom of this list. She’s always been the least sympathetic character, a shallow husk of a person whose only well-established character traits are her deep-seated insecurity and complete lack of self-awareness. But she was somehow the biggest and most pleasant surprise of last season. The Marnie-centric episode, “Panic in Central Park,” was probably my favorite of the series, and showed more emotional honesty from the character than we had seen in four-and-a-half seasons combined. Her decision to break up with Desi was a mature and difficult one, especially for someone who probably spent her whole life wanting to be married. Her devastating last words to Desi, “I don’t even know who I am, but I know I don’t want to be married to you,” both encapsulated the character and gave the audience hope that she was taking genuine steps to better herself. Her singing career was as ridiculous as always (Alison Williams’ beautiful voice notwithstanding), but she started a relationship with a good man who loves her, she put aside her differences with Desi to work together, and was only minimally petty about his “spiritual companion” (which, lolz).

And now, here we are. I liked her arc at first, when it seemed like she was just going to be her insufferable self while still making progress. She and Ray seem stable at first, even if their constant usage of “babe” made me want to throw myself out a window. Her decision to stop him from de-facto moving in with her while she’s in the middle of a divorce is smart and mature, even if she does it in a tactless and inconsiderate way. And while it’s out of line for her to insist he not stay with Shoshanna when she’s the one leaving him effectively homeless, it is understandable, considering that he and Shosh were having sex just a couple of years ago.

But then, as always, Desi happened. Desi has proven himself time and time again to be one of the most pathetic creatures to walk this earth, and she knows it. But still, all it takes is a sleazy and overwrought compliment of her artistic genius (“Before I ever saw you as a woman, I saw you as a musician”–UGH) for her to make out with him and cheat on poor Ray. I would have even understood if she had caught herself when Desi started whining about his emotional pain (as always), but instead she just rolls her eyes and has sex with him. I could buy that Marnie would have sex with him through her own eye-rolls if she were trying to get revenge on Ray for sleeping with Shosh, or something like that. But this seems ridiculous even for her, which is doubly disappointing after her progress last season. Let’s hope she climbs up the list at some point this season, but my hopes aren’t high.

See you next week!

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One Comment

  1. […] The season premiere established that Hannah is trying to overcome this character flaw, when she realized that she and her friends only define themselves by what they dislike, rather than what they actually enjoy. (This attitude shift is helping her writing career as well; her sex cult essay looks pretty pretentious in its way, but at least she’s doing something.) But Jessa is still the living embodiment of this “fuck everything” mentality, and the fact that she was trailing after Shoshanna making snide remarks about everything didn’t help the situation. So it makes sense that Shoshanna would realize that she made a mistake in trying to fall in with Jessa’s crowd, especially when they don’t even like her very much. […]

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