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The Rise of Elijah on Girls

Andrew Rannells in “The Bounce.”

Elijah Krantz makes his first appearance on Girls in the third episode, “All Adventurous Women Do.” In it, he reconnects with Hannah, insists that he did not give her HPV when they dated in college, confirms his homosexuality, and then puts this insightful-in-retrospect punctuation mark on their conversation: “It was nice to see you. Your father is gay.”

This easily could have been both an introduction and curtain call for Hannah’s ex. Instead, over six seasons of Girls, Elijah, played by Andrew Rannells, has grown in stature from occasional supporting player to one of the show’s major figures, a fact solidified by this week’s episode, “The Bounce,” which spends as much time on Elijah’s audition for the White Men Can’t Jump musical as it does on Hannah’s baby-daddy problems.

Girls may be centered on Hannah and her circle of female friends, but it has always invested deeply in its male characters, too. And in its final season, at least up to this point, Elijah has become the primary masculine focal point — Ray, who also has gotten a solid amount of screen time lately, comes in close second — and one of the most reliably delightful parts of the series. By the time Girls concludes next month, we will likely have seen more of the former Obertone this season than we will of Shoshanna or Jessa.

There is a practical narrative reason for this. Hannah is estranged from both Adam and Jessa, whose relationship essentially led to the fracturing of Hannah’s entire social network. All of these people don’t hang out with each other as much as they used to, but because Elijah is Hannah’s roommate, she sees him more often than anyone else. Since Hannah remains the nucleus of Girls, we, the audience, see Elijah more often, too.

There are other practical reasons why Elijah has become increasingly front and center over the course of Girls, most notably the fact that Rannells became a series regular in season four. As an actor he brings so much to the part — charisma, commitment, a propensity to frost every word he speaks with thick, salty dollops of attitude — so it’s not surprising that Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner wanted to feature him more prominently.

I mean, consider what he did just in Sunday night’s episode: belted out a stunning version of “Let Me Be Your Star”; demonstrated how gifted he is at dance-slapstick involving basketballs; made an impressive “I’m over you” speech to former boyfriend Dill (Corey Stoll); and delivered another finger-snapping “I’m talented” monologue to the woman he met at auditions. Honestly, he had me at his blatantly dishonest delivery of the line, “That’s why I straight up ghosted his ass.” If someone decided to make a Girls spinoff all about Elijah and his burgeoning acting career, with occasional episodes devoted entirely to Elijah and Loreen Horvath roaming around Manhattan after consuming edibles, I would totally watch that.

In many ways, Hannah and Elijah — a straight woman and a gay man who were once a couple — are like Tad and Loreen when they were younger, except that Hannah and Elijah had the sense to break up, and Elijah found the courage to come out. (He also benefited from a more supportive culture than Tad faced decades earlier.) That’s another reason why it makes sense that Elijah is such a prominent figure now, as the series ends its run.

If Girls is a look at the millennial generation’s relationship to the world, and that’s certainly one of several valid ways to characterize it, then the contrast between that demographic and their baby-boomer parents is an important thing to consider before Girls reaches its conclusion. If there’s one thing that defines Hannah and her peers on this show, it’s their openness, which sometimes manifests itself in social-media oversharing or a tendency to walk around either half or completely naked. But it also manifests itself in the way these people handle their relationships. Tad and Loreen lived a lie for decades and didn’t fully see each other. Hannah and Elijah are much more honest and uninhibited with each other and themselves. Their happy co-habitation this season is symbolic of the gift their generation enjoys: the sense that they’re more than entitled to live their lives out loud.

This is why I’m certain that, at some point, both Hannah and Elijah will decide it’s a terrible idea for her to raise her baby while continuing to stay in that apartment. If the two of them were to start playing real-life house, even within the context of a strictly platonic relationship, they would essentially be engaging in a slightly altered version of the Tad/Loreen marriage. Part of Hannah’s journey, or any young adult’s journey, is to try to break the patterns set by her parents. How Hannah decides to handle her living arrangement with Elijah strikes me as key to that kind of pattern-breaking.

Another central aspect of the slide toward maturity is the tendency to compare oneself to one’s friends. In our 20s, it’s okay if we don’t feel grown-up, until and unless our closest friends start to seem more grown-up than we are, either because they’re married, or more successful in their careers, or having babies, or living in an apartment with furniture that isn’t made out of particleboard. When we feel like we’re losing in this imagined adulthood contest, we start to panic. Girls has depicted that sense of panic at various times, but it’s focused more deeply on it this season, particularly via Elijah.

When Elijah found out Hannah was pregnant, he was immediately outraged, partly because she didn’t give him a heads-up, but more because her apparent readiness to become a parent reflected poorly on his own ability to push his life forward. Even in Sunday’s episode, Elijah hilariously lies about his age, partly because that’s what actors do, but also because he expected to have done more with himself by 28. In a lot of ways, the issues Elijah is struggling with this season may be more relatable to the Girls target audience than what Hannah is handling. Not everyone gets pregnant in their late 20s and decides to keep the baby, but almost everyone feels aimless, hungry for purpose, and desperate for tangible evidence that they’ve gotten this whole grown-up thing at least partially right.

Elijah could very easily have become one of those classic gay-best-friend characters, a flamboyant nonentity whose entire purpose within a TV show or movie is to act as a support system for the female protagonist while making catty comments to add comic relief. To be clear, Elijah is, thank God, never at a loss for catty comments. But he’s also, to Girls’ credit, his own person, a guy who has never hesitated to call Hannah on her shit, and a character who, thanks to Rannells’s thoughtful portrayal, many viewers have come to care about as much as they care about Hannah or any of the show’s central female characters. In effect, Girls has wisely done what Elijah sing-asked those White Men Can’t Jump producers to do: let him be a star.

The Rise of Elijah on Girls