Ato Essandoh, Lena Dunham, Desiree Ahkavan

How is Girls supposed to end? “Female Author” provokes that question, from beginning to end, for all its characters. Is Hannah supposed to end up a successful writer? Is she supposed to live happily ever after with Adam? Is she supposed to give up both and embark on an even more painful journey of self-discovery? Are Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna supposed to be accompanying her on it?

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The answer, in this strong but unsparing episode, is that a satisfying conclusion for Girls is one in which Hannah has pulled her shit together and is at least en route to the life she wants for herself. But as long as Hannah has no idea what that is, the path forward for Girls always feels unclear, even as HBO grants it additional seasons just for showing up to work on time. “Female Author” doesn’t feel deeply significant to the show’s overall arc, but it will quite possibly look that way when watched in retrospect.

The first and most important thing we’ve been told about Hannah is that she dreams of being a “real writer.” She wants to be appreciated for her ideas and the way she strings them into elegant sentences. Even when doing so wasn’t easy, Hannah pushed forward with her dream and steered clear of booby traps like the bounty of snacks at an advertorial gig. But Hannah’s time in Iowa is upending this foundational element of Hannah’s identity. She’s in the workshop with an unlimited amount of time to devote to her craft, and zero desire to actually do it. Writers are supposed to write, and if Hannah doesn’t want to do that, who is she anyway?

Enter Elijah, who exceeds his utility as fey comic relief and lends Hannah some insight. At a poets’ party, as he flits about his hundreds of newly made besties, he tells Hannah how relieved he is now that he no longer has to pretend to actually want to dance. Life goals are loose frameworks we impose on ourselves to bring some order and meaning to the disorderly and meaningless, but after a while we forget that we created them to begin with. Hannah was the one who decided being a writer was important, and she could easily decide it isn’t, she just has to give herself permission to do so. But she’s not ready to do that yet, and it’s hard to watch her grapple with it.

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Hannah’s classmates bear the brunt of her frustration when she gets lit at the party and lays into them one at a time, even golden boy D’August, who is not remotely in touch with the urban toughs he writes about. It’s a terrific scene. It’s hilarious, and one of those sublime Girls moments when you can root for Hannah and think she’s an unbelievable brat at the same time. More than that, it says a lot about how Hannah views writing generally speaking. Though she bristles at the suggestion, Hannah is primarily a diarist who occasionally dabbles in fiction, and she can’t separate her characters from herself. It doesn’t occur to her that other people might actually be capable of writing from perspectives that strive to be something other than extensions of the writer.

Hannah awkwardly excuses herself after her dramatic nosedive, only to find her bike—meticulously locked up this time—stolen yet again. At this stage, Hannah’s big break more closely resembles a failed organ transplant.

It’s most nerve-wracking to see what Hannah is going through as a viewer, knowing more than Hannah knows about how little there is for her to come back to. Adam is being even more aloof toward Hannah than usual, tiring quickly of the desperate maintenance phone calls long-distance couples do to convince themselves they aren’t growing apart. Worse yet, there appears to be another woman in Adam’s life, judging from some brief, cryptic asides between Adam and Jessa, who have apparently forged a bond as a result of attending AA meetings together.

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The Adam and Jessa scenes in “Female Author” are great, but they’re also the scenes in which the seams are most visible. The reason Girls can pull off an episode with Hannah and Elijah in Iowa and the rest of the gang back in Manhattan is because its characters live very independent lives anyway. Even with its main character miles away, the show’s rhythm doesn’t feel any different. The side effect comes when the writers try to put the characters back together, which can be bumpy, as it is here. In the cold open, Jessa mentions that she’s seeing Adam in meetings, and talking to him frequently, then it seems like they’re suddenly best buds and it isn’t entirely clear when or how that happened.

Still, the result was interesting, with Adam reading Jessa the riot act after her free-spirited, troublemaking nonsense lands both of them in jail. Adam tells Jessa she’s a bad influence—he basically calls her a “dry drunk”—and tells her he can’t be her friend anymore. It’s the same speech Jessa has been hearing since “Leave Me Alone,” when Kathryn Hahn urges her to figure out what she’s using chaos to distract herself from. It’s a speech Jessa has gotten again and again. One of these days it’s going to land, and Adam’s diagnosis seems to hit her particularly hard.

Also, things happened with Marnie. Marnie is an insufferable character whose sole function is pining after Desi, another insufferable character. Marnie and Desi’s relationship is like a constant tug-of-war between two unbelievably selfish people. Desi is the most manipulative character ever seen on Girls, which is a profound statement I wouldn’t make without serious consideration. The way he calls her “Bella” and plies her with compliments while swaddling his selfish bullshit in new-age platitudes—I just can’t with this storyline.

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Stray observations:

  • Hannah’s had mono four times already. Sit with that.
  • Marnie, being awful: “Do you think maybe this is just, like, cosmic retribution for what we did to Shoshanna?”
  • Ray, being awesome: “Putting aside my disdain for the injection of witchcraft into a conversation that was previously tethered by logic and reason, no, I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.”
  • Marnie, continuing apace: “Yeah, you’re right, I’m way more upset than she ever was.”
  • Shoshanna went on a “practice interview” with Ann Taylor Loft. In case anyone was wondering what happened with Shoshanna.
  • Elijah continues slaying everything: “Oh, the whimsy!” “What would happen if I turned the camera… around?”

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