With “Home Birth”, Lena Dunham and the rest of the Girls team end what has been a strong, but somewhat disjointed season in peak form, delivering a fantastic season ender that could have easily, and satisfyingly, served as a series finale. The episode is creative, moving and laugh out loud rewind-the-DVR-repeatedly-and-belly-laugh-each-time funny (more on Ray later). Even better, it services all of its main characters, putting them in moments of crisis and forcing them to make what could easily become life-altering decisions, all while feeling natural to the characters’ journeys.
Jessa’s realization, while moving, is the most likely to dissipate in season five; she doesn’t have a great track record with follow through. Maybe I’m just a sucker though, because it seems like her decision to become a therapist will stick. Her work with Beadie feels like a natural precursor to this and her cool head in crisis and assertive, confident handling of Caroline and Laird speak for themselves. Jemima Kirke is always fun as Jessa, but her performance as Jessa processes that Caroline and Laird have named their daughter (partially) after her is beautiful. Jessa has been defined by her hedonistic, selfish behavior throughout the run of Girls. Even just this season, she managed to make Hannah’s decision to go to Iowa entirely about her and carelessly threw Mimi-Rose at Adam to try to get Ace for herself. Seeing her focus so intently on the needs of others, even just for a night, is exciting, as is watching her realize that she’s actually really good at this.
As the youngest and least traumatized, it’s fitting that Shoshanna’s choice is the simplest and finding out where her arc has been heading retroactively adds depth to her journey all season, particularly her relationship with Scott. Even the casting of Jason Ritter in the role suddenly makes more sense: Scott needed to be a cute, intelligent, sweet guy who fit naturally with Shosh and who she could easily see being The One. He needed to be played by someone likable and sincere enough that Shosh, and by extension the audience, could legitimately consider his reaction and find it endearing. Don’t take the job, Scott argues, because, “I’m gonna be in love with you soon.” On paper, that’s downright offensive. Give up your only job offer, your dream job, because hopefully a guy you’ve been dating for a few weeks will fall for you soonish? Yet coming out of Ritter, it’s earnest and warm and the start of something wonderful. He sells the crap out of it and his and Zosia Mamet’s chemistry is strong enough that it nearly works. Thankfully Colin Quinn is back, a wonderful surprise in an episode full of them (welcome to the recurring cast, Aidy Bryant!), so Hermie can set Shosh straight. Their exchange is one of the comedic highlights of the episode and leaving Shosh on that note, until her end of episode tag with Jessa, works well.
Then there’s Marnie, who is apparently getting serious career traction with Desi. It would have seemed that her big choice of the season would be deciding to marry him, but it’s not even close—sitting up on stage alone with her guitar is a far more courageous act and the series earns her success by having every previous time Marnie’s touched a mic end in awkward, painful, cringe-inducing terribleness. Allison Williams does a great job in the build-up to Marnie’s decision to go it alone, at least for that night, and while Marnie’s, “I’m pretty good too” is a bit on the nose, she’s grown enough over the course of the season to sell the moment. The Marnie of the season premiere, heckled out of a jazz brunch by children, could never have done this and it’s incredibly satisfying to see her take charge of her career and stand up for herself, just as she did earlier in the season when she broke off her affair with Desi. Here’s hoping this sticks longer than that did (and that Desi doesn’t come back).
Speaking of Desi and satisfying moments, Alex Karpovsky all but steals the episode with Ray’s epic and long-overdue takedown of everyone’s least favorite Pacific Northwesterner. Ebon Moss-Bachrach is excellent in the scene as well as Desi bites off so very much more than he can chew, but it’s Karpovsky who shines, thanks to another sterling performance and the fantastic dialogue given him. The speech starts with the finale’s first belly laugh, “You’re not gonna get that assurance from me because I fucking hate you” and ends with a heartfelt and cutting assessment of Desi’s character and Marnie’s worth. Ray is speaking for the audience (well, at least with the first half of that equation) and it’s thrilling to see him let loose. His encouragement of Marnie later is icing on the cake and assuming season five picks up six months later, fingers crossed the audience will be spared a courting ritual between the two. After this finale, any fans who weren’t aboard the good ship Raynie are likely swimming out to join the party.
While Jessa, Shosh, Marnie, and Ray are treated to punch the air moments in “Home Birth”, Hannah’s triumph comes at a higher cost and is all the more special for it. Throughout the second half of the season, Hannah’s been faced with bigger and bigger stressors, from Iowa to Mimi-Rose to her father coming out, and as is so frequently the case with successful finales, the test presented recontextualizes the trials she’s faced all year. Now we see why “Sit-In” needed to be so brutal and final. More than just being a great episode of television, it needed to set up Adam and Hannah, standing on either side of Jessa-Hannah, and allow Hannah to be able to say no. The scene is raw and moving and, as in “Sit-In”, simply directed. The score drops out and the room becomes still—no beeping of monitors or whirring of machines—while Adam opens up and tries to get back what he imagines he’s lost. The camera holds on a two shot of Adam and Hannah (or more accurately, a three shot—their positioning on either side of Jessa-Hannah is no accident) for much of their conversation, starting from Adam’s reach over to Hannah. As she watches his arm approach, Hannah makes her choice and the piano score comes in, a low, simple, and melancholy melody that is resolute, but soft. The chords hang and decay in the held silences between the former couple, building tension. They lead up with Adam’s pressing, a quiet but desperate hope, only to resolve down with Hannah’s reaffirmed no and repeat as Adam finally accepts her answer. If the viewer doesn’t know what’s coming from Lena Dunham and Adam Driver’s powerful performances, the score lays it out.
As Hannah calls her parents—reminding the audience of just one reason Hannah has to not take back a man who has hurt her and might do so again, 30 years down the road—the score drops out once more, building tension back up and highlighting the lack of resolution to Loreen and Tad’s relationship, and how that’s affecting Hannah. It’s nice to see Becky Ann Baker and Peter Scolari back however briefly in the finale, particularly considering how heavily their fractured marriage weighs over Hannah throughout the beginning and end of the episode. For the rest of the finale, thankfully, Hannah is subject to the farcical whims of Caroline, injecting some needed comic relief into what could be a dour last episode, for Hannah at least. Dunham’s use of the camera throughout the home birth sequences is delightful, as are every one of Adam’s reactions as he just about dies of exasperation at his pain in the ass sister (Driver particularly nails the delivery of: “That’s what I fucking told you”). Adam fainting out of frame comes closest to challenging Ray’s line quoted above for laugh of the episode, with the group’s attempt to walk Caroline to the hospital not far behind, and the POV shot of Jessa’s head underwater is the shot of the finale (she’s right by the way—they are all pussies, every one of them). With such a dramatic and draining final Hannah and Adam scene, the audience needed to laugh and have fun with Caroline and Laird and the balance of comedy and drama is spot on throughout.
As for the pre-credits tag, it feels unnecessary. While it’s heartening that Hannah and Fran are together six months down the line, this is all but meaningless without context. Season five may very well undercut all of the finale’s massive developments and victories: Jessa could fall off the wagon and lose any chance at becoming a therapist. Shosh’s exciting new job in Tokyo might suck. Desi could show up the next day and Marnie might take him back, and the same is true of Hannah and Adam, with enough time. Showing Hannah and Fran seemingly happy might have had more weight were this a series finale, but with at least another season coming, it’s an odd choice. Despite this quibble, however, “Home Birth” is one of the series’ most satisfying episodes and a beautiful and entertaining end to an engaging, if at times meandering, season. It will be nice to have a little time off from the frequently tiring protagonists of Girls, but come season five, this critic will be back with bells on, hoping to Dunham that at least a couple of them make it through the next year unscathed.