Review: Girls, Season 3 (Dunham, 2014)

Still from Season 3 of Girls

I’m an avowed fan of Lena Dunham and her HBO series Girls, which finished its third season earlier this year. The first season hooked me, the second season meandered a little, but the third season is back on track, still managing to create something fresh and compelling, even though its shock value has inevitably dipped. (Anyway, Dunham’s crude honesty was always a surprising flourish but never the main ingredient.)

Dunham and the other writers seem to have matured this season–or maybe it’s just that the characters have?–relying less on Hannah’s antics and the funny beastliness of her supporting crew (always made endurable by the show’s self-consciousness) as the characters, perhaps with the exception of Marnie, grapple with realities that more and more have an adult flavor to them. Hannah aside, the “girl” who most strongly comes into her own this season is undoubtedly Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet). If before she had registered as not much more than an irritating buzz, in season 3 her role expands to full-fledged personhood, culminating with her surprising diatribe in episode 7, when the girls spend the weekend together at a beach house. Marnie (Allison Williams), by contrast, seems stuck in a rut, asking the same questions, committing the same errors, and going on as blandly and p(r)ettily as ever. Too much time is spent with her, cringing in awkwardness and shame. Although the same might be said of Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who is forever jumping on and off the wagon, in and out of jobs, in and out of rehab, her rocky path is at least interesting. We see her either absorbing her lessons like a reluctant pupil or cynically rejecting them, but at least she is awake to her life, unlike the maddeningly dense Marnie.

Finally, Hannah. Not surprisingly, her story is the nexus of all the adult themes, with three issues most prominent: 1) How does one become a creative person and feed oneself? Is “selling out” a mandate of adult life, or is there another path? 2) Is our disappointment with the adults in our life a reflection of our own persistent immaturity and unrealistically high expectations, or a sign that we’ve finally crawled out of their shadows? Will we ever get over the shock of being so blatantly misunderstood by those who created us? (This second topic is depicted with poignant and comic realism in episode 9, which features a guest appearance by Nebraska‘s June Squibb. I consider it one of the most relatable episodes of the season.) 3) When we’ve finally come to that contented, stable place in a romantic partnership, how do we navigate the inevitable schisms that appear–so frequent in those early days and so rare as to be alarming of late–the schisms that threaten to overturn us? Can we conduct ourselves with a poise that surprises even ourselves (as well as the audience), or will we lapse into our typical embarrassing pattern? I was particularly glad to see Hannah and Adam’s relationship move in this direction. At the start of the season, they were such a sickeningly normal, healthy couple that I wondered if anything interesting could happen there. I need not have been anxious.

All of this discussion makes the show seem much more serious than it actually is or pretends to be. Don’t worry, Girls is still as funny and light as ever, never more so than with the introduction of Caroline (Gaby Hoffmann), Adam’s sister, who pounces into episode 3, creates a mad, hilarious mess, and then bounces out again (mostly). And all this pathos would of course be too much if it weren’t lightened by Dunham’s characteristically awkward humor. Also, the show by no means answers all (or any) of the questions it asks. Anyway, what would we watch next year if it did?

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