The third season of Girls was, in a lot of ways, much like the show’s two previous offerings. Adam and Hannah face multiple relationship problems. Hannah moves forward with her writing, then moves back, then possibly moves forward again. Marnie continues to be annoying and self-obsessed. Well, all of them continue to be annoying and self-obsessed. The episodes are still frustratingly uneven, and some characters get the shaft, regardless of how interesting their storylines are (in the first season, it was Shoshanna; this time Jessa has the most interesting plot but is often relegated to the background). Yet this is the first season of the show that I actually enjoyed watching.
This isn’t to say that I love the show — honestly, I don’t think I will ever get to that point, no matter how long Girls lasts — but I didn’t openly hate it, nor did I hate myself for watching it. I have a complicated relationship with Girls: I like that it exists, I like that it has made people talk about television (though I wish the conversations were different or, in some cases, centered around a better program), and I can objectively understand why it’s a good show and why people love it as much as they do. Subjectively, however, I’ve had such a hard time getting into it. So why did I change my mind this year?
The writing is noticeably stronger, even when the characters themselves aren’t. For the most part, the show abandoned the long-winded Adam and Hannah break-up/make-up/break-up etc. pattern that was getting repetitive. Instead, it put Adam and Hannah in a good place in their relationship, living together and not actively trying to fuck each other over every episode. They break apart from each other a few times, but it’s never as dramatic. It’s a slow-burning depiction of a flailing relationship, where both parties are heading in vaguely similar but opposite directions, and can’t decide how much is worth it.
This season also successfully experimented with sometimes pulling these girls away from each other and placing them into their own individual stories or within other social groups. Hannah started a writing (or “writing”) job at GQ, and the scenes that took place inside the office were among the best and funniest that Girls has ever had (and the cast of characters there, including a wonderful turn by The Daily Show‘s Jessica Williams, were a welcome addition). Jessa was temporarily in rehab, a weird (but not surprising) twist in her character, and her season arc may not have had the most time devoted to it, but she shined more when dealing with her self-destruction than when she was hanging around with the rest of the crew.
Season 3 thankfully didn’t invest much time in Marnie and Hannah’s friendship, a well-trodden conflict that lost its edge a while ago. Marnie was busy finding newer and more creative ways to fuck everything up: dealing poorly with her break-up, attempting a terrible music career, and sleeping with Ray — hands down, my favorite development of this season. Ray and Marnie are so terrible for each other, a couple built out of devastation and self-hatred, that I couldn’t believe they hadn’t been paired together before. It’s a terrible pairing and I love it.
Because Girls occasionally separated the girls from each other, the episodes where they came together played much better. “Beach House” was definitely the standout of the season. One of the problems I’ve always had with Girls is that I don’t buy that they are friends, or that they even want to be friends, and “Beach House” explicitly explored this idea. They don’t really know why they are friends either, except for convenience and because they’ve already spent so much time together. The friendship between these four girls is imploding, as it has been for a while, and unlike many shows, Girls doesn’t keep trying to force them to stick close together every episode. They are absolutely cruel to each other over the course of a night, but what’s best is that they don’t have a long, apologetic talk about it in the morning. Even when they quietly clean up the house, it’s not symbolic for them cleaning up their metaphorical mess. They still talk to each other and they are still friends, but there is still a disconnect.
Even though there’s a lot of baggage and backstory that allows “Beach House” to be so successful, the episode does manage to work as a standalone installment of the season. The same is true of “Truth or Dare” and “Flo,” too, half-hours that felt more to me like short plays than Girls episodes. All three were episodes that I liked more than I expected. This emphasis on smaller, inclusive moments rather than the overall story helped craft a stronger, bigger story.
Last night’s finale, “Two Plane Rides,” highlighted most of how I felt about this season. I liked it, and I thought its ending was wonderful — I would like it even more if there weren’t a fourth season happening — and it was a enjoyable episode of television. It was also, of course, terribly uneven and noncommittal, but those are qualities of the show that I’ve learned to just accept. The twists in “Two Plane Rides” were ridiculous: Shoshanna isn’t going to graduate, although that goes against everything we know about her character; Jessa helps someone commit suicide but then actually doesn’t; and Hannah suddenly gets into Iowa because yeah, sure, why not? But I just accepted that these things happen, because Girls isn’t ever going to be a perfect show where things make sense. It’s also never going to be my favorite show, but it took a lot of steps in the right direction over the last few months, and for the first time, I’m eager to see where Hannah goes next.