Lena Dunham’s “Girls” aired its first episode just a little over five years ago, on April 15, 2012. Sixty-two episodes later, the show aired its final episode, “Latching.” The series was always plagued with issues, questions of privilege and representation, and the two middle seasons sagged a bit, but few series have been as consistently strong and ambitious. The finale of “Girls” was no exception; it’s one of the show’s strongest (if idiosyncratic) episodes.
At the start of “Latching” I wondered how “Girls” would approach the pregnancy. Hannah (Dunham) had moved to upstate New York at the end of the penultimate episode. The show had already ended its stories for Elijah (Andrew Rannells), who got his own episode and a chance at success, and for Adam (Adam Driver) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky), who solidified or initiated new romantic relationships. Last week’s “Goodbye Tour” was the end of the line for Hannah’s female friends. After moving in with her mom and coping with the dissolution of her band, Marnie (Allison Williams) had regained some of the maturity she displayed in the first two seasons. Jessa (Jemima Kirke) had reached a point of stability with Adam and finally found a way to reconcile with Hannah. Shoshanna’s (Zosia Mamet) end was paradoxically the most shocking and the most appropriate. She essentially disowned everyone aside from Marnie and decided to focus on her new fiancée and new friends. Shoshanna’s newly shallow life was a sad conclusion — she had always struggled with her affections for empty headed-but-successful women, but the final season saw her settling into that path. An unfortunate ending for a character many viewers empathized with, but an appropriate one.
Now in her new home, Hannah is approaching the due date. Marnie has appeared in the dead of night to escape her mother’s home gym and to restart her life while helping Hannah raise the baby. Although Jessa was Hannah’s oldest friend, Marnie was always the more reliable one, so it makes sense for her to be the only one here in these important moments. But instead of showing the expected moments of birth, all painful screams and ecstatic images of an emerging baby, we flash forward five months. Grover has been born and Hannah and Marnie are taking care of him.
The technical details of motherhood are difficult for Hannah. Grover breastfed for about six weeks, but now he won’t latch on and Hannah has to pump milk constantly. She doesn’t know how to swaddle him and has difficulty comforting him. Marnie is constantly reading tips from parenting books, which are both helpful and completely unwanted. Marnie calls in the cavalry — in this case, Hannah’s mom Loreen (Becky Ann Baker).
Loreen’s recurring struggle has been to push Hannah toward adulthood, and now is no exception. Hannah wants to just disengage from the baby: “I’m mentally ill, I’m overweight, I isolate people, I’m a quitter — so what if that’s the kind of man I raise?” Loreen wisely reminds her that everyone else has their own problems and unhappiness, and they can’t all run away from them, which causes Hannah to do just that — she walks out the door and wanders around rural New York all night.
Back at the house, Loreen walks in on Marnie, who’s masturbating and doing a video chat role play (“11C has a problem with his d***), a winking allusion to Williams’s live TV performance of “Peter Pan.” She’s initially embarrassed, but then strangely appreciative. Rita Wilson’s guest appearances as Marnie’s mother raised the question of whether she ever had a truly supportive mother figure, and even having Loreen walk in on such an intimate moment is more maternal than any interaction with her own mother. Loreen reminds her to focus on her own happiness, not the happiness of others (like she did by supporting a gay husband for 30 years). Marnie won’t be leaving Hannah immediately, or even for months to come, but she’ll have to leave at some point to focus on herself.
During her nighttime walk, Hannah runs into a teenage girl whose ridiculous troubles underscore just how much she has matured since the start of the show. There’s also an overly helpful cop who escorts her back to the house, where Marnie and Loreen are waiting on the stoop with wine and weed. They don’t make a big deal of her absence. Hannah goes upstairs to comfort a crying Grover, and in those final moments he latches on. The camera stays in a tight close-up of Hannah’s face. There’s a look of bliss and relief, the feelings she’s been waiting for. Parenting and adulthood will always be difficult for Hannah, with plenty of starts and stops and occasional reversals, but she knows she can do it now.
There were things I wanted in a finale that “Latching” didn’t give me. Michael Penn’s music for the show has been an integral part of the show’s best episodes, and he particularly excels at bittersweet moments, so I expected his score to be all over the finale. Instead, aside from a bit at the opening, a shot of Hannah waking up with someone in bed that recurs in every season, the episode was free of score. “Girls” has also perfected the art of end credit songs, but there’s no official end song, just Hannah singing Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” a call back to an earlier scene with Marnie. As jarring as these choices were, they’re also the right ones. Dunham, Judd Apatow (who co-wrote the episode) and Jenni Konner (who directed and co-wrote it) allow the story to play out without any music that might manipulate our emotions.
It’s also hard to watch a finale when so many of the show’s main characters are absent. “Girls” is a perfectly cast show, and it’s hard to leave those actors out of its final moments. But it’s the right choice. Hannah will never speak to Shoshanna again. She’ll keep in touch with people like Ray and Elijah in some capacity. Jessa was her best friend at one time, but their friendship is different now, more fragile, and Jessa isn’t the kind of person to spend more than a few days upstate. Marnie is the right choice. Even with her toxic narcissism, she could put it aside to help Hannah.
It’s difficult to bid farewell to “Girls.” I’m only a couple years younger than Dunham and have followed her work since her masterful early feature “Tiny Furniture.” Elements of the maturation of her characters have resonated with me and mirrored similar struggles (although it was often more of the funhouse variety of mirror). I hope Dunham (who is slated to release a collection of short fiction next) will try her hand at feature films again, perhaps even with her longtime collaborator Apatow. “Tiny Furniture” was an excellent film, but Dunham has matured so much during the course of “Girls” that anything she could make now would surely be of interest.
“Girls” opened with Dunham (as Hannah) saying that she was the voice of her generation — or at least “a voice of a generation.” That line, brilliant in hindsight, has been endlessly quoted, often out of context. Dunham could never speak for her generation, and she never pretended to, contrary to what the hot takes would lead one to believe. But the miraculous thing about “Girls” was how much the show deepened as it went on. Perhaps Dunham wasn’t as far off as we initially thought.
Watch the preview for “Latching” below: