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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Hannah gets her groove back in the final Girls premiere

Lena Dunham and Riz Ahmed (Photo: HBO)
Lena Dunham and Riz Ahmed (Photo: HBO)
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“Maybe I don’t want to enjoy things all the time. Maybe that’s not my style.”

Hannah has never been quite so frank about her state of prolonged ennui as she is in “All I Ever Wanted,” the final season premiere of Girls. Her explanation makes perfect sense, given she’s inching out of her 20s and beginning to accept that maybe certain aspects of her personality are baked in. The thing is, at no point since Girls began has Hannah ever had more reason to be happy and enjoy the ride. She’s the best kind of single, having broken up with stealth dick Fran and worked through her issues with Adam. And she’s now been published in the New York Times’ “Modern Love” column for her essay about Adam and Jessa, which goes over well enough to land her a gravy freelance assignment complete with an expense account. But her success is also the problem.

Hannah has always believed that to be a personal essayist, she has to live a life of constant discomfort and adversity, and that notion has now been reinforced with the fusion of her greatest heartbreak and her greatest leap forward professionally. So it comes as no surprise that she can’t figure out how to nail her first major freelance assignment. A story about a jaded Brooklyn girl surfing in Montauk with differently jaded women is the sort of assignment you have to lean into, and Hannah is more accustomed to leaning back. She’s so used to being too-cool-for-school that she can’t slip into character and fake her way through a surfing lesson. Instead, she invents beach-borne illnesses, pisses off the locals with her lack of social graces, and retreats to her room for a Shailene Woodley-style pussy tan.

But by the end of the episode, Hannah is sitting contently by a bonfire, wondering if just maybe she’s been doing this wrong all along. And it’s all thanks to Paul-Louis, a crazy handsome surf instructor from Detroit who can’t believe his life now consists mainly of surfing and bedding tourists. Hannah is pleasantly surprised upon spending time with a guy who’s always present in the moment, focused on what’s around him, not what’s in his head. She suddenly can’t figure out why so much of her life and relationships are built around irrationally hating or avoiding things. Hannah is so charmed by her Montauk fling, she doesn’t even mind when he admits he’s already in a relationship with loose boundaries.

Every step in their rendezvous is surprising given what we know about Hannah, but Riz Ahmed is really terrific in this performance, and the character is written with so much warmth and charm by Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner. Intellectually it’s hard to believe that Hannah would respond so favorably to a guy who spouts platitudes about the healing power of nature and bumper-sticker wisdom like “Hate takes energy, love gives vibes.” But man, the way Paul-Louis presents it all, it’s hard to imagine a human with a pulse responding with anything else but “You’re goddamn right love gives vibes!” (And honestly, if you think about it, love does give vibes, yo.) The Hannah and Paul-Louis storyline is almost like a miniaturized version of the Andy-April relationship in Parks And Recreation, the reverse rom-com trope wherein an uptight, internal woman is taught to enjoy life by a fun, dunderheaded galoot with face for days.

Of course, this is ultimately just a vacation. Hannah can’t stay in Montauk forever, and she’ll quickly sink back into her old habits once she’s back in Brooklyn. But it’s clear that what she experienced with Paul-Louis will stay with her in one way or another. She now has no excuse to approach life as a relentless gauntlet that only redeems itself by giving you horrible experiences to write about. She’ll still live that way, but being exposed to another way of looking at the world gives her choices she forgot she had. It was hard to imagine what a final season of Girls will look like, but this episode communicates a strong vision for it. It’s not all about growing up once and for all, but it is about these characters realizing there are always choices to be made, and if those suck, you can make new ones.


Stray observations

  • As strong as the episode is, there’s something really odd about the shape and scope of it. Rather than a 41-minute episode that cuts between the Hannah stuff and what’s going on in Brooklyn, I’d have sooner watched a standard-length episode that focuses exclusively on Hannah. The Brooklyn stuff isn’t really a storyline, it’s a check-in, and it doesn’t feel like anything they couldn’t have gotten to in episode two.
  • For the record, those check-ins established that Ray and Marnie are now a couple that call each other “baby” incessantly, but she’s still hooking up with Desi. No clue what’s going on with Shosh but it seems like she’s winning the world.
  • Chelsea Peretti fits in really well in this world.
  • I have to let this go at some point, but this show is so weird about its definition of friendship. In what world is Jessa Hannah’s best friend? I’m kind of surprised Marnie didn’t make a bigger deal of it.
  • Paul-Louis: “I’m cool because I can drink a lot and not be an alcoholic. It’s tricky.”
  • Shosh and Ray shaded Paul Krugman so hard. I expect a civil and quickly forgettable Twitter beef between Krugman and Dunham.
  • Hannah, after regurgitating the prior night’s events on Paul-Louie’s floor: “It tasted like a slushie when I was having it.” Paul-Louie: “You probably shouldn’t drink so many slushies either.”
  • The song cues were super interesting, almost as if the show is sonically growing up. None of the music was modern or new save for the stuff in the club scene.
  • Desi: “You should want to be Fleetwood Mac! You should want that!”