March 15, 2015, 9:00 p.m. (EST), HBO
I think I’m on record at this point for thinking season four of Girls has some huge problems, issues that stem from the show doubling down on its weakest elements instead of focusing on its strengths. The show has attempted to do more longform storytelling this season than it has in years past, but as we prepare for next week’s finale, I am left wondering about the arcs of this season, and whether they tell us much of anything about these characters or their journeys of maturation. Various plotlines are coming to a head, and I am left wondering why I was ever supposed to care about things like Ray’s run for office or Jessa’s deeply sociopathic courtship of Ace. Even the more prominent plotlines, like Adam’s relationship with Mimi Rose or Hannah’s decision to give up on her dreams of being a writer, feel sort of lost in this season. Even the major threads are fraying as we proceed to the finale, and I am deeply skeptical the show can manage to tie all of this together in a way that is even remotely cohesive.
Girls has a tendency to skip important steps in building its larger storylines, the steps that take these arcs and transform them from vague outlines to actual character evolutions. This show always seems trapped in executing a treatment for each season that has never been fleshed out beyond a list of things that will happen. That means that when we reach climactic moments, like the whole cast converging at Ray’s victory party, everything that happens there feels undercooked. If Ray’s feelings for Marnie had taken up more of this season, or been referenced more than occasionally, his speech might carry more weight. If Jessa’s storyline had made a lick of sense, her flame-out with Ace might feel like it meant something. If Tad’s coming out was being treated as more than an inconvenience for the women in his life, his journey might come into sharper relief, or even mirror Hannah’s faltering steps towards self-awareness. Instead, all of these feel like things that happen because someone wrote them down a while ago, and forgot to do the work of building to them properly.
The funny thing isn’t that I could have written a review close to this one in any of Girls’ seasons. The funny thing is that I pretty much have. Season two fell apart with its sudden revelation of Hannah’s OCD (a plot contrivance lightly mentioned previously, and functionally ignored pretty much ever since), and season three had the same basic issues with its ongoing storylines mostly coming out of nowhere and being constructed from building blocks we were left to imagine. The difference, I think, is that each of those seasons had a few stand-out episodes that marked the show as one of the best, most distinctive things on television in spite of its flaws (season two had “It’s a Shame About Ray” and “One Man’s Trash,” while season three had “Beach House” and “Flo,” all episodes so great I don’t even need to look up their titles). The problem isn’t really that season four has lower lows, it’s just that it hasn’t ever reached the show’s previous heights. Even in the episodes I have liked, the show has been missing the elements that make it stand out as something excellent, even when it is doing hare-brained things like ignoring Jessa’s addiction spiral last season or basically using Tad’s sexuality as a way to irk Hannah right now.
This has always been a show that does big things badly, which is why it increasingly perplexes me that Girls trends toward longer-form storylines when the show excels at being a series of short stories. If the show dropped us into big moments in these characters’ lives or just told one-off stories about a group of twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, its frustrating inability to sustain a storyline coherently would instead become an asset. Imagine if, instead of peppering the season with Jessa’s awfulness, the show just turned in an episode about her efforts to seduce Ace, how that quest came to disappoint her, and why, exactly, she had become so fixated on Ace as a cure-all for her loneliness and her increasing alienation. It might not have fixed how incoherent this has been as a plotline, but it at least sounds like it would have been a better episode of TV than anything we got from Jessa this season. I’m not sure the show is capable of doing ten “One Man’s Trash”-style episodes a year (in fact, I am sure it isn’t), but this model just feels like it would play to the show’s strength. It is almost as painful to watch Girls struggle with this crisis of identity as it is to watch its characters flail helplessly through their twenties. But at least the latter is intentional. The former just feels like the show has lost touch with itself and what it does best.
- Oh, by the way, looks like Caroline is coming back to give birth in the finale. Because sure, why not bring back a character who has had basically no place in this season to give the finale some explosive content?
- “My friend Thomas has, like, four dads. You need to check your homophobia.”
- “You’re an adult, and I know it sucks, but you just have to start, at least trying, to keep, at least some, stuff inside.”
- “You think everyone is a homosexual.” “Most people are.”
- “Just a lot of cargo pants, I would think.”
- “I couldn’t get hired to give away free blow jobs at the bus station.”
- “We are at our best when we’re together.”
- “I don’t do well when I think.”
- “I’m faking it.” “I’m faking everything.”
Girls has a tendency to skip important steps in building its larger storylines, the steps that take these arcs and transform them from vague outlines to actual character evolutions.