“Girls” began its sixth and final season Sunday. Controversial from the start, “Girls” has been derided for its lack of actors of color, criticized for its star’s penchant for nudity and often brutal sex scenes, and dismissed because of its sometimes unlikable characters. Of course, the show is meant to satirize its characters as much as it identifies with them, so their failings are usually intentional. Those who stuck with the series have seen Lena Dunham and her characters continue to evolve, and the show has only grown in ambition.
The season’s first episode, “All I Ever Wanted,” starts with Hannah Horvath (Dunham) getting just that (at least that’s how it seems). She’s just had a submission accepted to The New York Times: “Losing My Best Friend to My Ex-Boyfriend.” We meet up with all the recurring characters as they read the piece, most of them happy for Hannah’s success. Hannah pictured herself as an essayist in the literary tradition in the early seasons of “Girls,” but the switch to a journalism context might finally be the right context for her.
Because of her big success, Hannah gets an offer to do a piece on surfing (from the very funny Chelsea Peretti). Hannah is still caught up in the emotions of her failed relationship with ex-boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) and the shock of his new relationship with her oldest friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke)—“It definitely wasn’t easy and I definitely feel like I’m more of a dumpling than a woman at this point”—but she takes the gig to get her mind onto something less turbulent.
The surf camp Hannah is covering is geared toward wealthy white women and is some convoluted outcropping of their yoga classes. Hannah isn’t at all prepared: she doesn’t know anything about surfing, doesn’t even like the beach, and her sunscreen has exploded in her suitcase. After an unfortunate wetsuit mix-up (Hannah takes someone else’s, and when they tell her to take it off she’s completely nude underneath), she can barely sit through the introductory class on how to sit on a board before she fakes an injury to run off to the nurse.
Later, she meets up with Paul-Louis (he explains it’s French, not just two names), her instructor, played by Riz Ahmed. Paul-Louis affects a stoner/surfer vibe and flirts shamelessly with the middle-aged women who take his classes, but he also shows some interest in Hannah. After a night of heavy drinking and dancing, they end up at his place in a very tiny bunk bed. Their drunken sex, involving painfully bent limbs and uncomfortable positions, is a parody of the acrobatics Hannah used to perform with Adam. Simplicity wins out in the end.
Hannah skips her reporting duties to spend her time with Paul-Louis. The resulting scenes are moments of uncomplicated joy that are rare for “Girls.” But Paul-Louis has a girlfriend he hadn’t thought to mention (they have an open relationship). Hannah does her best to ignore it and just have fun for the rest of her vacation.
Hannah was very much in the foreground this episode, but each of her friends get short introductions. Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and Marnie (Allison Williams) are still together, although she makes him stay elsewhere to give herself some post-divorce space. Later on, Marnie reconnects with ex-husband Desi (an inspired Ebon Moss-Bachrach).
Jessa and Adam are still together, and their sexual Olympics have taken over the whole apartment. When Ray returns (he technically co-rents it with Adam) there’s no place for him and all his belongs are shoved into a corner of the living room. Also, Jessa is eating yogurt on the sofa in the nude.
He stays with Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) instead. Their relationship is long over, but they’ve developed a kind of interplay that he and Marnie have never had. Ray’s newfound interest in politics has also rubbed off on her. (“Oh wow, the American middle class is dying. Thanks for the hot tip, Paul Krugman!”)
The episode ends on a shot of Hannah’s face: she’s caught up in the moment and just having fun with Paul-Louis around a fire. But the smile fades as Hannah realizes this moment of happiness will probably be fleeting. It’s a recurring motifs of the show, and seems to set the tone for the rest of the season.
- Marnie’s narcissism is thankfully intact: “I am in the middle of a divorce right now, so this is not about you, this is all about me.”
- Hannah’s giant hexagonal sunglasses and bratty attitude at the beach have a real Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver” feel.
- The crying man’s face on Ray’s copy of Hanya Yanigahara’s “A Little Life” seems appropriate for him.
- Hannah is bad at life experiences: “What if the piece was about how I went out to the beach, hated it, went back inside, and never came out? Could that be an interesting angle?”
- There were a lot of great lines in this episode, but Desi can also be relied up for the best ones: “Candace is not my f****** girlfriend, she is my therapeutic companion and she’s helping me on a spiritual journey. You know that!”
- Seems like this might be Riz Ahmed’s only appearance on the show, although his heartfelt apology to Hannah is totally at odds with the way most of her romantic encounters go.