Spoilers ahead for the series finale of Girls.
Girls ended its six-season run Sunday night with Hannah Horvath upstate, struggling to raise her baby with a little help from a friend. The episode functioned more as a coda to last week’s penultimate episode, which wrapped up the girls’ friendships as we know them and sent Hannah on her way to start her new life. Matt Zoller Seitz spoke with creator Lena Dunham and showrunner Jenni Konner, who also directed the final episode, to talk about breaking the girls up for good, this season’s strain of sadness, and Hannah’s final pants-free shot.
One of the many complaints about Girls was that this particular group of young women didn’t seem convincing as good friends. And now we look back on the run of the series and see that a big part of it was about how friendship is actually ephemeral.
Lena Dunham: We were compared all the time to Sex and the City, which, of course, that was a huge influence, and we got some of that with the friendship thing. Our characters weren’t as convincing as friends, but Carrie and her group were older.
Jenni Konner: There were reasons why the women on Sex and the City had a successful friendship and ours didn’t. I think the reason they sought each other for friendship every week is because they liked each other more than our characters like each other, and because they found each other as adults. They found each other when they already had jobs and they already had identities, not because a random computer database put them in a room together when they were 20.
LD: They also had boundaries. I remember somebody saying to me when I went to college that the friends you make the first week aren’t going to be the friends you keep. And that was totally true. But what they didn’t say to me was the friends you make the next three years might also not be the friends you keep. I also think that, in general, what works for you in your 20s may not work for you in your 30s. And that’s okay. We were trying to say, with the penultimate episode, it’s okay to let go of those friendships.
And the reason we made that episode and then jumped past it was that we wanted to be able to give that due and honor those friendships and show where those people were going. But we also thought it would be so unfair to have Hannah’s be pregnant all year and you never get to see what it looks like when she has a baby. That would feel like the most massive cop-out.
There’s a persistent strain of sadness in this final season at recognizing the impermanence of things. You see it not just in the way the friendship between the main female characters on the show breaks apart, but also the way that Hannah and Adam realize they can’t be together.
JK: We needed to give them one more shot, and it made so much sense to us that Adam would feel like he had to try to go back and make this work, to offer his help raising the baby. His character would think, This is the right thing to do, this is the honorable thing to do. And I am the man for the job. I am equal to the task.
It was Judd [Apatow]’s idea to have them realize they can’t be together while they’re having a normal conversation. We were worrying about this relationship. How do we close it? How do we finish it? And Judd said, let’s just have them be talking, and they both start crying because they both realize at the same time that it’s just not going to work.
That scene reminded me of something that actually happened to me, right down to the fact that it happened in a diner.
JK: You know, it’s funny: We get that a lot. People tell us things on the show remind them of things that happened to them. After the Matthew Rhys episode, people have reached out to me and said they went through something like that. After the episode that ends with that scene in the diner, a few people have said what you said just now. “I had a very similar experience trying to like recharge with an old boyfriend or girlfriend.” This scene captures that feeling of trying to make something work that was clearly done.
When we shot the scene, everybody was feeling that. I’ve never seen our crew so melancholy.
This is a show that’s about the energy, but also the entropy, of youth. These relationships can’t hold. They’re eventually going to go away. Was that an idea that you came upon organically as you were making the show, or was it always the endgame from the start?
JK: I don’t think we knew exactly how we would end the show or what the formation of the characters would be. We knew Hannah would have a baby. We didn’t know exactly which of the characters would wind up staying friends and who wouldn’t. But the whole time, we always thought, Are these people meant to be friends? From day one.
Marnie and Hannah especially. Is this what a friendship should look like? That’s kind of why I think it’s so sweet that they do wind up staying friends. I can’t promise that it’ll be forever. But Marnie — the direction I gave her when she was saying, “Yes, I won! I did!” I was like, Say it like you won the Olympics. That’s all she cared about: outlasting everyone else in the contest to determine the important friends.
LD: I think their friendship will last. It will just look different from the way it looks in the last episode. Like, part of figuring out friendship is realizing that you don’t have to either be roommates who spend every single moment knowing where the other is or stop speaking entirely. There’s a more mature version of being connected. And at the end of the episode you start to feel like Hannah and Marnie could get there.
The fact that Marnie went out there — that was remarkable to me. Because at first I felt a shudder of horror, and not just because Allison Williams was sort of playing Scary Marnie in Get Out. And yet, once she was out there — I have to say, it was very profound for me, this episode, because the friends who have meant the most to me were the ones that were there for me when I was at my lowest. And they weren’t always the ones I would have guessed would be there.
JK: No, it’s both things at once. That’s the exact right way you should feel about that character.
LD: Marnie shows up. Certain friends, they show up.
JK: That Marnie moment where she says, “I’m coming with you,” even before it she surprised her — we originally conceived of the conversation happening somewhere else [in the story], but the idea was always to create a feeling like at the end of The Graduate when they’re on the bus, and it’s like, “Well, okay … great.”
Yeah: “Now what?”
JK: But if Marnie hadn’t been there during that episode, I just can’t even imagine what would have happened to Hannah.
Structurally, the last episode is unexpected. You basically wrap things up the week before, then you give us a little taste of where Hannah’s life is going after that, and it’s really a three-character play, with Hannah, her mother, and Marnie.
JK: That’s a big Judd.
What, you mean that it was Judd Apatow’s idea?
JK: Yeah. Judd was like, “We’re going to do a finale, and then we’re going to do a finale.”
LD: He said that, and then Jenni was like, “And I’m going to direct it like a [John] Cassavetes movie, not like an episode of television.” And it was a really interesting thing to be in as an actor. We wrote that episode all together, but then when the time came to shoot it, I felt like I was like in some auteur’s movie. I came to work and was like, “All right, there’s going to be a fight scene in a house and we’re going to cover it simultaneously with four cameras, and I’m going to storm naked down the stairs? Awesome!” I loved the fact that we have a show where on our 67th episode, someone could go rogue.
That part of the episode reminded me more strongly of a Woody Allen film than any other scene in the run of the show, which is saying something. The way it’s blocked lets people be audible even though you’re not seeing them at every single moment.
JK: We thought about Woody Allen, we thought about Robert Altman. When we did that scene during the first table read, it was so passionate, kind of like the Adam and Jessa fight [at the end of season five]. I just wanted to shoot the whole thing five times without ever stopping. And it’s such a long scene, like, if you shot that in one room you’d kill yourself unless you were a really good European filmmaker, which I’m not.
LD: Sometimes people have been so busy asking us what it’s like to be loved or hated or this or that, I feel a need to remind people that we have really incredible actors and craftspeople working on this show. The renewed or new interest in the show during the final season has finally made that happen, to an extent. It has called attention to the skills of the actors and the filmmakers. That’s gratifying. There were times when I felt as though my presence, or the specific kind of political approach to criticism that gathered around the show, was drowning out creative accomplishments, and that was something that privately made me very uncomfortable.
Can you talk a little bit about the way that you write these episodes that are perched on the edge of being metaphorical a lot of the time? This finale felt that way to me, like it was actual and figurative at the same time. The episode with the doctor, “One Man’s Trash,” was certainly that way. The episode with the creepy writer played by Matthew Rhys was another. And there were many, many scenes throughout the run of the show that felt that way as well.
In the very last episode, you’ve got that conversation that Hannah has with the teenage girl out on the street. Hannah basically is sounding like the responsible parent she hopes she’ll become someday. And at the same time, she is her own mother having a conversation with Hannah. It’s almost as if her mother has inhabited her body for a moment! The show almost frames it that way, but not quite. Do you know what I’m saying? Does that make any sense?
JK: There’s also an element of symmetry to that scene that isn’t super intentional. Remember, in the pilot, it’s her parents saying, “We’re cutting you off.” And then in this episode, it’s her saying to this young woman, “Be nice to your parents, it’s hard to be a parent.” We’re trying not to hit it on the nose too hard, but that’s the moment where we’re supposed to think maybe Hannah will be able to do this.
LD: It’s fun, the idea of Hannah fighting with a teenager.
JK: It’s very Hannah-ish. Because right at the moment where you think, “Oh, wow, she’s so grown-up,” she says terrible things to the teenager.
And then after that, she’s walking down the street in the suburbs with no pants on, getting pulled over by a cop.
LD: [Laughter] Exactly. That was our last-ever shot, that pants-free-walking shot.
That was the last shot you did in six seasons of Girls, period?
LD: Mmm hmm.
That feels appropriate.
JK: It wouldn’t be Girls if Hannah had pants on, right?
Did you ever do things during writing or production that were meant to address criticisms of the show?
JK: Give me an example. You can’t hurt my feelings.
Bringing in Donald Glover in season two, after people criticized the show for being too white.
JK: That was a weird thing. The conversation about race happened after we’d already cast him. We were shooting season two when that whole conversation started. But we weren’t shocked that it happened. We realized we had a problem. I had worked on network shows where diversity was a bigger priority. But the point is, we were already addressing it by the time people started really getting mad about it. But the real story with Donald Glover’s character was that he was a Republican.
You’ve gotten constant criticism that the characters are shallow, narcissistic, selfish. It seemed pretty clear to me that you weren’t approving of their behavior, just showing it. But I still wonder: Was Hannah’s pregnancy in any way a response to the question, “What could make this character care for another human being more than herself, and really commit to that?”
JK: It’s funny that people are like, What’s the political nature of that choice? Remember, we already dealt with abortion twice in a pretty hardcore way. Lena and I have both publicly and through the show made our opinions about reproductive rights very clear. And I think the interesting thing is that in the second episode of the show ever, there’s an abortion, and we never speak about whether it’s going to even be a choice. Jessa just is getting an abortion. That’s it. There’s no question about the morality of or the necessity of it. She’s just getting one. And it’s about the throwing of the abortion party, and the girls fighting at the abortion party, and her being raped at the abortion party. And then the first time Hannah finds out she’s pregnant, Joshua assumes that she’s going to give it up or have an abortion, and I think that’s the first moment this very contrary person thinks, Fuck you, maybe I’m not getting rid of it. Maybe I’m having this baby. That’s quite an evolution to go through.
I ask about this because, politically, people have been trying to get a handle on the show since it started. Is it liberal? Is it conservative? Is it a conservative show pretending to be liberal? I started to think about this again during the last few episodes where Hannah starts talking about New York City as if she’s Travis Bickle.
JK: Yeah. [Laughter.]
It was shocking to me to hear Hannah, who’s such a quintessential New York character, talking about New York like my 80-year-old stepfather. Granted, sometimes you have to say that you really hate the thing you’re leaving even if it’s not true —
JK: To feel better about it, yeah.
But it still seemed like there was real anger, real disappointment at the city. And I wonder, aren’t you worried that some people are going to interpret this as saying that to grow up means to have kids and move to the suburbs or a small town, and become reactionary and hate the city?
JK: Well, every other major character is staying in the city, and to me that’s more what Hannah’s decision is about: Why is she leaving and everyone else is staying? There’s this like pact that we all secretly make to each other. We move to New York after school or in our 20s, and we never say it out loud but it’s like, This is the toughest city in the world but it’s also the best city in the world, so we’re going to all just stick it out, no matter what it takes. And as people slowly start to move to L.A., or move to Chicago, or go back home, or make different life choices, the people who decided to stay in New York feel abandoned. That happens in life.
So that hatred you hear in Hannah’s voice is her trying to convince herself, and trying to convince everyone else, that it’s enough already — that she’s tried it and she didn’t become the voice of a generation, so she’s out. We wanted to show the difference between people like Hannah, who’ve just decided they’ve had enough, and people who are trying to make it work there. We’re showing Jessa in all her madness who’s trying to make it work there, and so’s Shoshanna, you know? They’re the ones sticking it out. Hannah is making excuses.
At any point during the production of this series, did you feel like, What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?
JK: You mean in terms of public response?
Yeah. And just as you’ve said before, to Vulture among other outlets: You’re engaged in making a work of art that is necessarily going to be imperfect, and you’re kind of learning as you go, but it’s being treated as if every single word you write is being carved into a stone tablet after years of deliberation. I can’t think of another show in my entire career with such a comparatively tiny audience that’s been subjected to this level of scrutiny, after almost every episode.
JK: I’ve always said I’d rather have this kind of scrutiny than anyone yawning.
LD: No kidding.
JK: I’ve worked a show where maybe three people like it, or no people like it, so the scrutiny is certainly better than nothing. But that’s interesting you feel that way. What’s the name of that author who just wrote about watching Girls for the first time for The New Yorker?
LD: Jia Tolentino, whom I love.
JK: A big part of it was basically, “I can’t believe everyone is so committed to thinking that these are real people and are so outraged when they do things that they don’t believe they, personally, would do.”
LD: We got so used to that after a while.
JK: We really did.
LD: And look, it would be pathetically low of me to be like I’m having a really hard time because my successful TV show is subjected to too many think pieces. I’m not going to do that. But that being said, there was a level of denial about what you’re describing on our end while we were making the show. There had to be, because it was the only way we could go on making work in that kind of situation. I mean, to be scrutinized at that level, I don’t know … it’s just—
JK: One thing that bothered me the most, and that always will bother me, was the constant questioning of what right Lena had to show us her body. It never stopped. In the first season I was like, “Go ahead, talk all you want in the media about Lena’s body and why it’s a punk rock thing to show it the way she does. Great.” But after that first season I was thinking that if we’re still talking about this, then all you guys need to go watch more television. Or stop writing about us and go write about Chewing Gum instead. It’s like, Are you kidding, it’s season four and you guys are still talking about Lena walking around naked?
The worst was that press conference where that idiot from The Wrap [Tim Molloy] said, “My girlfriend and I watch the show. We’re wondering why you think you have to get naked so much.” And I lost my mind because — Google it! — by that point we’d answered that question 25 times!
But some of the other stuff has been interesting and helped us grow. It’ll be really interesting to see what people think of the show once we’ve all gotten some distance from it. I loved reading that New Yorker piece because the writer had only just now started watching the show. I’m excited to see what people think about the show in two years when they’re just watching it, or in ten years when they’re just watching it. I want to know what Girls looks like without all the noise around it.