For a show that prides itself on upending the conventions of television storytelling, Girls always manages to stick the landing. In every season of Girls there are a couple of threads left dangling and a few sprints down blind alleys, but the finales always tie up the season in a way that feels appropriate and emotionally complete, even when it’s not necessarily satisfying. “I Love You Baby” is the most satisfying Girls finale yet because it had the least to do with Hannah’s relationship with Adam. Yes, Adam played a huge role in the episode, as the unsettling tension between him and Jessa finally boiled over in a deeply disturbing way. But it’s an episode that takes place around Adam without actually being about him, and it ends with Hannah in a place of peace and exhilaration, as if she’s finally truly free of Adam for the first time.

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Compare that with season one’s “She Did,” which concluded with Hannah and Adam’s breakup, and season two’s “Together,” which ended with their reunion. “Two Plane Rides” faded out on the image of Hannah happily clutching her acceptance letter from the Iowa program, with the implication that she may have to sacrifice her relationship to go after her dream. Season four’s “Home Birth” found Hannah refusing to reconcile with Adam after the Mimi-Rose affair hit the skids, then frolicking in the show with Fran, having left Adam behind. This finale feels palpably different from those, like a brave new direction for Hannah and an intriguing glimpse of what’s to come as Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner start plotting their end game.

The finale, as great as it is, isn’t even the best of the back-to-back episodes. “Love Stories,” directed by Ol’ Man Ray himself, is absolutely irresistible. It’s hilarious, poignant, heartbreaking, and absurd. It’s everything you watch Girls for, and it’s all the more satisfying because the reappearance of Jenny Slate’s Tally Schifrin doesn’t portend well, then ends up being the best part of the episode. Whether you love Hannah or hate her, there’s no disputing that she’s had kind of a challenging run with her relationships lately. The last person she deserves to see is the vicious frenemy from “Leave Me Alone,” and Hannah is initially hesitant around Tally because their last interaction was so unpleasant. But Hannah eases into a conversation, which turns into a full day of activities including bicycle theft, stark emotional confession, and dancing while stoned.

The Hannah and Tally story is excellent all around, and it has a lot to say about how dramatically Hannah has changed though it doesn’t always seem that way. The Hannah of season four was petrified of admitting to herself that maybe the life of a writer wasn’t for her after all, and she was happy to be in a new career that didn’t involve churning out copy for the sheer love of the craft. Running into her old literary rival, whose successes have only continued, could have easily triggered Hannah’s insecurity and made her act out. That seems like the most likely reaction of the old Hannah, but now, she seems genuinely liberated to be able to admit to Tally that she isn’t writing at all. Hannah’s lack of interest in writing is still a wound for her, but one she’s exposing to fresh air to help it heal faster.

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Tally is having such a great time with Hannah, she insists they smoke a joint together, which makes Hannah comfortable enough to admit how jealous she is of Tally, who has published two essay collections, a novel, and a book of poetry. Everything with Tally is not as perfect as it seems, because of course it isn’t, but the script, written by Dunham, Max Brockman, and Jason Kim, does a really interesting job of elucidating Tally’s writerly ennui. Tally’s success has yielded a successful brand that’s synonymous with her, but doesn’t reflect who she actually is. And because she’s had to spend so much time and energy managing the brand, she hasn’t been able to live a real life the way Hannah has. She hasn’t tried things just to try them or failed miserably or screwed up really badly, and with so few authentic experiences in her young life, she ran out of essay material far more quickly than she had anticipated. Hannah and Tally’s heart-to-heart is one of the best scenes this show has ever done, and that was the case before they half-considered hooking up and shook a tailfeather to Nicki Minaj featuring Beyonce.

Their day together ends when they awkwardly run into Adam and Jessa in the hall and dissolve in a fit of uncontrollable weed giggles, which serves as the perfect set-up for “I Love You Baby.” Hannah’s day with Tally leaves an impression on her, helping her suddenly realize that there’s some middle ground between becoming the voice of her generation and never writing again. She enters a story slam competition with jealousy as its theme, and she winds up talking about her feelings of anger and betrayal around Adam and Jessa’s relationship. It’s a stunning sequence, a single take with Konner’s camera slowly pushing in on Hannah for roughly three-and-a-half minutes. Withholding the bit about the fruit basket until Hannah revealed it in the story is a real stroke of genius, and it’s so satisfying to see the basket outside the apartment in that dynamite closing montage.

As much as there is to like about “I Love You Baby,” Adam and Jessa’s fight didn’t totally land for me because one thing this season hasn’t done well is illuminate Jessa’s complex feelings about Adam. Generally speaking, it’s a good thing that Girls goes light on the emotional exposition, allowing some ambiguity and nuance in the characters and their relationships. But the Jessa and Adam relationship was such a seismic shift in the group dynamic and in our understanding of the characters, without some kind of explanation from Jessa, it’s like she’s just in her maneater default mode. And maybe that’s what it is, but I doubt it, because there’s not a lot of value in a story about how Jessa starts sleeping with Adam because he’s within reach and the situation is messy. Whatever is really driving Jessa’s behavior, it wasn’t established before this knock-down, drag-out fight. So her emotions never feel like they completely track, nor is it clear whether their fight is about Hannah at all as opposed to mutual resentment built up over a stressful day of taking care of a baby. The fight felt very flimsy, so watching it build to such a violent, disturbing level just felt icky and off, and not even the elliptical beauty of the fruit basket reveal fully acquitted those scenes.

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Dunham and Konner’s best decision (made along with Judd Apatow, who shares the script credit with them) is ending on a shot of an almost giddy Hannah trotting across the Williamsburg Bridge in search of life’s next adventure. Girls counts Sex And The City as one of its inspirations, but has always sought to portray a less glamorous, more naturalistic and critical view of young women maturing in New York City. The final shot of Hannah, set to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” is Hannah’s first Carrie Bradshaw moment. It’s about this woman, this city, and her commitment to doing what feels right for her even if other people can’t understand or relate to it. The world isn’t Hannah’s cupcake just yet. But make no mistake, she is changing, and maybe for the better.

Stray observations

  • Marnie and Ray: a thing again. I’ve just never cottoned to this relationship, but the scene with her telling him about the dream is so well-done I had to give into it. But by the time he was agreeing to come on tour with her and Desi, which is seriously history’s worst idea, I was back out of it again.
  • Desi: Dear God, man. Be less gross.
  • Andrew Rannells gets the MVP title in both of these episodes. Between that gut-wrenching break-up with Dill and the many interactions with Hannah’s parents, Elijah killed it all around.
  • I loved Shosh as the coffee shop spy, as well as the idea of an anti-hipster coffee shop, and I’m always glad to see Colin Quinn pop up. And yet, I’d have loved to see something a bit more substantive with Shosh since she’s been in and out all season.
  • I really liked Hannah’s quitting scene, especially the last look on Principal Toby’s face. It was bittersweet, like his life was about to get considerably easier, but he was losing his best ongoing work anecdote.
  • Hannah and Tally’s “Feelin’ Myself” dance montage felt like the show was saying “Oh, Broad City has the best ‘getting high’ montages, huh? We’ll just see about that.”

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