I posed this question to a friend last night: Has there been a main character in recent TV series history who has been so irredeemable, so flawed? We came up with Larry David, to whom Dunham's character has been compared, both for their complete lack of awareness and how heavily their characters draw from their own wells of neuroses for punchlines. But has there been another female character?
The appearance of a woman doing awful things on television isn't new, but the role has become more nuanced and informed lately, perhaps because women are writing the roles. Dunham's Hannah Horvath has much in common with Amy Jellicoe (Laura Dern), the protagonist on HBO's Enlightened. Both characters have good intentions but get lost in their own idealistic and narcissistic fog. In season two of Enlightened, Amy seems to have found a purpose as a whistle-blower, while Hannah is in free fall.
At first glance, last night's season finale took what had become a very dark series and tied it up in a neat bow: Once the girls (well, at least Marnie and Hannah) are back with their male counterparts (Charlie and Adam), they are saved, absolved, allowed to be themselves again. Even though all the awkward sex we've endured on the show proves no one knows what they want, physically or emotionally, and even though Hannah is trying to destroy herself by sticking a Q-tip in her ear and praying for death, love has saved the day.
If you think back to the beginning of season two, in which Hannah does cocaine and is a bad friend to Marnie and dates Donald Glover's character, Sandy, you could see it as Dunham addressing her critics, though there was still a touch of humor. Love in this show has never been conventional. In the last three or four episodes, that has been especially clear.
Last night, as Hannah sat in her bed, paralyzed with fear over finishing her e-book, the words written on her laptop signaled an unraveling: "A friendship between college girls is grander than any romance." Marnie, however, has decided she doesn't need that friendship; she's back with Charlie, who is now rich and suddenly knows how to give good head. Shoshanna is the most self-aware character on the show: She knows Ray's negativity is bad for her.
But Hannah is isolated. She starts chopping off her hair, a symbolic gesture, though we get the feeling it's not one of independence. Her neighbor, Laird, is reintroduced to help her cut the back of her hair. He compliments her, she deflects, and he has to admit, it's a "pretty dark scene inside your head." Hannah's angry voicemail to the absent Jessa -- especially the mock, "I hope you're having a great time! Love you!" -- is one women over a certain age were most likely laughing at that, but women in their early 20s might have related to. Hannah can't find the answer she wants from Jessa or the men in her life: Her e-book editor, her father, her downstairs neighbor. So she calls Adam.
In the last episode, Hannah physically harmed herself by rupturing her eardrum. In this episode, Adam destroys his boat after drinking again and degrading his girlfriend, Natalia, in last week's troubling sex scene. They reunite via Face Time, and after seeing her in distress, Adam runs after Hannah, shirtless, to rescue this troubled woman hiding under her covers. He kicks in her door, because that's how helpless she is.
It's unfortunate that Hannah's crumbling mental state has now become the focus of the show, and the friendships between these four women -- which built to an interesting climax at the end of season one -- have been brushed aside. It now feels like Hannah's personalities quirks, which were irritating, yes, but served a purpose in the bigger story, have been quickly reduced to mental illness to wrap up a season.
But Dunham's smart, and she knows we know this isn't a traditional love story ending. She's pointing out that no matter how much we try to "grow" as people, and cut out negativity in our lives, we often wind up reaching out for those who are as broken as we are. Season three will hopefully spell out what happens to those people when their free fall catches up with them.