A recognizable toothy grin greets audiences of the “Girls” season premiere, as Hannah (Lena Dunham, “Scandal”) types away furiously at her keyboard. It’s a familiar sight in a strange context — she’s writing a New York Times article about being betrayed by best friend Jessa (Jemima Kirke, “Tiny Furniture”) and ex-boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver, “Paterson”). After heartbreak and subsequently shaky closure left the show’s characters ready to move on in the season five finale, this teaser truly feels like a new chapter; ironically so, as it marks the beginning of the end for the six season series.
Each person in Hannah’s life responds to her published article and career milestone in a slow montage, making it hard not to feel a twinge of nostalgia. Their responses succinctly characterize each individual and his/her relationship to Hannah. Marnie (Allison Williams, “Get Out”) lets out an excited holler sitting on her toilet, while Ray (Alex Karpovsky, “Hail Caesar!”) corrects a typo on the printed article. It’s a sequence that’s both hilariously heartwarming and reflective of how far the series has come (even if its characters haven’t).
To claim that Hannah’s character has matured over the last five seasons would be ambitious. From being “the voice of [her] generation … or the voice of a generation,” to sitting confidently in front of her new assignment editor stating, “I give zero fucks about anything, but have an opinion about everything,” Hannah’s arc has come full circle. Likewise, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet, “The Kids Are All Right”) may have an edgier style and Jessa may have lobbed off her hair, but they’re as much the same as when the series started out — though, maybe a little worse for wear. In the new season’s second episode, the two — along with Elijah (Andrew Rannellis, “The New Normal”) — engage in a fierce spat outside Shoshanna’s “WEMUN” party. Shoshanna’s unleashed fury at Jessa for “stealing” Hannah’s boyfriend, with help from a particularly ruffled Elijah, is the pent-up fallout anticipated from the previous season. As always, Jessa doesn’t seem to comprehend the consequences her actions have on others; her remorse doesn’t extend past her own feelings of guilt and loss. Though she hilariously yells at Elijah and Shosh to “grow up,” the statement applies to both parties.
Even if its characters haven’t grown up, the series itself has — experimenting with form and style to evoke Dunham’s unique vision and tone. While the season premiere is a laugh-out-loud parody of itself, the following episode pushes the boundaries of absurdity. The third, and most structurally experimental, invokes Dunham’s think-piece style of storytelling to tackle gender and online media in a powerful, self-contained narrative. Each serves as somewhat of a feminist anthem (like much of the series itself).
In the premiere, Hannah sets off to a Montauk surf camp to write an article among female caricatures of the white middle class (perhaps a nod to the criticism the show has received for its all white cast), prior to which she quips “White people ruin everything.” There, she quickly avoids actually surfing by faking an injury then taking her surf instructor Paul-Louis (Riz Ahmed, “The Night Of”) home after a riotous night of partying (which involved her gyrating on the floor with her leopard print underpants revealed in classic Hannah fashion). Her drunken romp turns into a fleeting connection that provides a moment of insight into the world that Dunham has created on the show. When Paul-Louis asserts that it’s easier to love things than to hate them, Hannah opens up about her own milieu, saying, “All of my friends in New York define themselves by what they hate. I don't even know what any of my friends like … God that’s so crazy. It's like everyone's so busy chasing success and defining themselves that they don't even experience pleasure.”
Beneath this revelation is an essential truth about the series: Its inherent ability to define itself by what it isn’t. The show doesn’t depict the Hollywood ideal of women, it shows real women (as demonstrated by Hannah’s pubic hair rant in this episode). Its characters tend to grapple with what they aren’t rather than what they are, which makes Hannah’s admission that she’s aware of her own narcissism in the second episode so surprising. But the show isn’t afraid of surprising its audience and toying with expectations either — as demonstrated by Hannah’s casually affirmative response to Elijah’s request to host an orgy in her room when she’s gone.
In this final season, it would appear that Dunham and the series’ creators have been freed up to experiment even further with their nuanced exploration of broad issues within the world of twenty-somethings struggling to define themselves. Though the new season continues to prod the inner workings of the troubled and narcissistic millennial mind, it strikes a slightly different note, one of celebration and self-reflection.
The new and final season is beautiful, cringeworthy, emotionally engaging and a riot — a culmination of all the elements that propelled the series to the center of today’s cultural conversation in the first place.
The sixth season of “Girls” will premiere on HBO Sunday, Feb. 12.