The thing about ranking Girls episodes is that the stuff on the bottom of the list is often as notable as the stuff at the top. Even when the characters were drawn too broadly for the comedy to really work, or there were plot twists that felt out-of-the-blue, the series was rarely boring. The episodes at the top of the list are remarkable, stand-out TV, and the episodes near the bottom are the moments when the series didn’t seem to know where it wanted its characters to go. Missteps from its characters are such a part of the Girls DNA that it can be hard to tease them out from the aimless moments in the series. In other words, some of the show’s gutsiest episodes are the ones at the top. But there’s plenty of pluck at the bottom, as well. Here, then, is a ranking of all the episodes of Girls, running the gamut from the great to the infuriating.
62. “Bad Friend” (Season 2, Episode 3)
Hannah decides to do coke so she can write about the experience. We meet Laird. None of it is great, and the scenes with Hannah and Elijah high and dancing in a club get an underwhelming slow-motion haze edit. Oof.
61. “Triggering” (Season 4, Episode 2)
This episode is Girls as a self-aware commentary on itself, when that commentary is more mean and lacking in empathy for everyone involved than you’d ever want. It’s a show that often makes us question how important it is to root for people in fiction, except for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop students, who no one wants to root for.
60. “Close-Up” (Season 4, Episode 6)
Adam flips out when Mimi-Rose tells him she had an abortion, and Hannah makes a weird, ungrounded zigzag into a teaching career. It’s the peak of Girls mid-series identity crisis.
59. “Hannah’s Diary” (Season 1, Episode 4)
Charlie and Ray snoop through Hannah and Marnie’s apartment and end up reading Hannah’s diary, which Charlie turns into a song about how much Hannah hates him. Somehow the diary invasion becomes secondary, as does everyone’s weirdly cavalier attitude about Hannah’s gross, touchy boss. Hannah spends most of the episode with terrible drawn-on eyebrows.
58. “Incidentals” (Season 3, Episode 8)
Girls is not really a show about realism, but Hannah growing worried about Adam’s Broadway career because Patti LuPone tells her to is a stretch. On the other hand, Elijah’s Broadway advice to Adam is a highlight: “Don’t come crying to me when Kristin Chenoweth passes out because you forgot to feed her.”
57. “Iowa” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Marnie and Desi’s musical career is more interesting when it’s collapsing than it is in the early days. This is the early days. Also covered is Hannah getting ready to leave New York for her new life in Iowa, which is not one of the show’s stronger arcs.
56. “Daddy Issues” (Season 4, Episode 9)
The show is often strongest when it lets characters be complex, thoughtful messes rather than hollow ones. Hannah’s parents don’t always get the complexity you’d like them to have, and “Daddy Issues” is a moment when Tad’s earlier lack of depth feels like a liability — the effort to make his coming-out story funny and terribly awkward ends up feeling unpersuasive and too broad.
55. Leave Me Alone (Season 1, Episode 9)
This first-season introduction of Jenny Slate’s character is hollow and underwhelming, especially retroactively, knowing the glory of Tally Schiffrin in season five. Plus, the episode works up to an ending with Hannah and Marnie yelling, “no, YOU’RE the wound!” at each other.
54. “Queen for Two Days” (Season 5, Episode 5)
A companion to “Daddy Issues” in Horvath parental parody, this time from the mother’s side. Except this one is both worse (Hannah dips her toe into lesbian sex) and better (Shosh works at a cat café in Japan).
53. “Dead Inside” (Season 3, Episode 4)
When Hannah’s editor dies, we enter what may be a nadir for Hannah as plausible human being. Here, she finds herself utterly incapable of summoning reasonable feelings about his death.
52. “Only Child” (Season 3, Episode 5)
At her editor’s funeral, Hannah’s thrilled to be among the literary elite and mostly worried about her own future. Marnie hooks up with Ray for the first time. The problem with this plot is not necessarily that it makes Hannah unlikable, but that it’s a more hollow, less complexly drawn portrait of Hannah Horvath than we’ve seen in the past.
51. “I Saw You” (Season 3, Episode 11)
The main plot here is Patti LuPone convincing Hannah to get herself fired from her GQ advertorial job, but it’s a useful episode for demonstrating how the non-Hannah characters got lost in season three. Marnie flounders around between Desi and Ray, and somehow Jessa’s charisma substitutes for strong character direction.
50. “It’s About Time” (Season 2, Episode 1)
The series’ attempts at self-awareness are often successful, but they sometimes fall flat. This one, which starts the season with Hannah having sex with Donald Glover, feels proudly on-the-nose as commentary and doesn’t work so well as fiction.
49. “Female Author” (Season 4, Episode 3)
The continuing adventures of Hannah and other unpleasant people in Iowa, all of whom are overly self-serious in a way that should make Hannah’s frustration with them funnier than it is.
48. “Painful Evacuation” (Season 6, Episode 4)
The low point in an otherwise stellar sixth season; Hannah learns she’s pregnant, Hermie dies, and Adam and Jessa want to make a movie. The preamble and aftermath of this stuff is all great, but using a single episode as the lynch pin for it all feels clunky and underbaked.
47. “It’s Back” (Season 2, Episode 8)
As is sometimes the case, Girls handles the aftermath and long tail of a plot much better than it does the initial kick-off. It’s certainly true for Hannah’s OCD plot, which begins with a series of inauspiciously clunky and sudden tics.
46. “Weirdos Need Girlfriends Too” (Season 1, Episode 8)
Hey, remember Thomas John? This is where he comes from! Also, Adam pees on Hannah in the shower. The episode title can be taken pretty literally.
45. “Free Snacks” (Season 3, Episode 6)
I respect the honesty of Hannah showing up at her new well-paying job at GQ, a position that suits her talents and supports her, and being mostly excited about the break room offerings. It doesn’t make for the most fascinating Girls installment, though.
44. “Boys” (Season 2, Episode 6)
I understand that the women of Girls can be a lot to deal with, but the efforts to hand over major narrative moments to the male characters rarely succeeds (except for Elijah). Adam and Ray trek out to Staten Island to return a dog and talk about life, but the episode reaches for more than it achieves.
43. “Video Games” (Season 2, Episode 7)
Hannah goes upstate with Jessa to visit her estranged father. This is an odd out-of-the-city interlude for the series. Many rabbits are eaten; much painful urination takes place; Jessa disappears.
42. “Together” (Season 2, Episode 10)
On the one hand, Hannah’s OCD gets some more subtle and thoughtful treatment. But the grand romantic gesture of Adam and Hannah swooping back to one another, while endearing in the moment, feels weirdly sudden in retrospect.
41. “Females Only” (Season 3, Episode 1)
Hannah and Adam are back together, Jessa’s in rehab, Marnie’s spinning out of control. Neither great nor terrible.
40. “Truth or Dare” (Season 3, Episode 2)
It’s a road trip to spring Jessa out of rehab; the highlight is Shoshanna buying an Amish rocking chair from a stand at a rest stop.
39. “I Get Ideas” (Season 2, Episode 2)
Before season two had really figured out what it wanted to do, we spend some time with Jessa and Thomas John’s deeply delusional marriage. Sandy gives a snobby reading of one of Hannah’s essays, which he deigns to describe as “well-written,” although not really about anything.
38. “Sit-In” (Season 4, Episode 5)
Part of the problem with Girls’ middle seasons is that its storytelling seems too tied-up with Hannah’s aimlessness — they, too, seem a little lost. It’s visible in this episode, which features Laird and Caroline’s weird new baby prep and Hannah sleeping in a storage unit. It’s otherwise not particularly sure what it’s doing.
37. “Cubbies” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Hannah’s Iowa misadventure comes to a halting conclusion with Hannah fleeing back to Brooklyn and discovering Adam with Mimi-Rose. Only Hannah is stunned by this.
36. “Old Loves” (Season 5, Episode 4)
Fractures appear between Marnie and Desi as well as Hannah and Fran, while Jessa and Adam finally sleep together. The three-pair symmetry of the episode is nice, but it’s not a particularly strong outing for Hannah or Marnie.
35. “She Said OK” (Season 3, Episode 3)
Hannah’s 25th birthday, which features both low highlights (Marnie’s horrible music video) and “literally, you are too high, buddy” lowlights (Hannah’s inebriated editor ending up in a brawl with Ray).
34. “Tad & Loreen & Avi & Shanaz” (Season 4, Episode 8)
Relationships fall apart: Hannah’s father comes out, Hannah and Fran get on one another’s nerves, Marnie and Desi somehow get engaged even though it’s a horrible idea. A nice little set of stories about making and breaking delusions.
33. “Good Man” (Season 5, Episode 2)
Various visions of what dating desirable men might look like: Fran, Hannah’s father’s attempt to navigate a gay dating scene, and Elijah flirting with Dill Harcourt. Meanwhile, Ray yells at hipsters.
32. “Role-Play” (Season 3, Episode 10)
One of several times that Hannah and Adam fall apart; this one has the benefit of including Hannah’s idea of dressing up as a hedge-fund manager’s wife. And somehow Shoshanna fixes Jessa’s failed rehab compatriot, Jasper?
31. “Two Plane Rides” (Season 3, Episode 12)
The season-three finale manages to pull several strong threads out of a jumble of a season, especially Adam’s performance in Major Barbara and Shoshanna’s discovery that she won’t be able to graduate on time. Jessa’s relationship with suicidal Bedelia is a plot that never really goes anywhere, though, and this is also the kick-off for Hannah’s ill-fated trip to Iowa.
30. “Wedding Day” (Season 5, Episode 1)
Marnie’s wedding to Desi is perfectly, beautifully Marnie, which means she ends up with drag queen makeup in her Laurel Canyon theme and it rains, and even though everyone knows the wedding shouldn’t be happening, the day itself ends up sort of okay.
29. “Japan” (Season 5, Episode 3)
Hannah and Fran’s relationship is more functional for the series than it is fun to watch, especially in bits like this where the plot revolves around Fran masturbating to phone photos of his ex-girlfriends. But – Shoshanna in Japan! What a great sequence it is for the show.
28. “Hard Being Easy” (Season 1, Episode 5)
An early sketch of Marnie and Charlie’s relationship, going from a flashback to their time in Oberlin to Marnie finally admitting to herself that she wants to break up with him now. There is also a “sex scandal” at Hannah’s temp job, which of course she causes herself.
27. “Ask Me My Name” (Season 4, Episode 7)
Much of season four involves rocky transitions for Hannah – from Iowa back to Brooklyn, from Adam to Fran, from writing to teaching. None of those sequences are among the series’ best moments, but things always get stronger for Girls when it then grapples with some aftermath. This episode, with Hannah finally hashing things out with Mimi-Rose, is a great example of that.
26. “On All Fours” (Season 2, Episode 9)
The truest test of whether you can handle Girls at its most intensely, paralyzingly painful. Sure, the bit everyone remembers is Hannah puncturing her own eardrum, but don’t count out Marnie singing an indie-folk version of Daft Punk.
25. “It’s A Shame About Ray” (Season 2, Episode 4)
Things are not going well for Jessa and Thomas John, and this episode includes a potentially inexcusable use of “Wonderwall.” It’s saved, though, by a truly beautiful scene between Shosh and Ray in the subway.
24. “Welcome to Bushwick” (Season 1, Episode 7)
Everyone ends up at a warehouse party (“It’s like Waterworld in there”). Shoshanna accidentally smokes crack; everything else seems, frankly, incidental.
23. “All I Ever Wanted” (Season 6, Episode 1)
Riz Ahmed is excellent as Hannah’s freewheeling surf instructor, but most of the episode is about Hannah’s moodiness being away from the city and thinking back on what Hannah wants her life to be. All the beauty of a summer camp episode, including the final, bittersweet bonfire.
22. “Homeward Bound” (Season 5, Episode 8)
Possibly the final point in Girls’ exploration of how unlikable can Hannah be?
She breaks up with Fran at a rest stop and then, confused and emotionally desperate, comes on to Ray on the ride home. Gruesome, and surprisingly gripping.
21. “All Adventurous Women Do” (Season 1, Episode 3)
The glorious introduction of Elijah, who first tells Hannah that he’s gay, and who then drops several truth bombs (including calling out her father’s sexuality). It’s the kind of episode that defines what Girls wanted to be as a series, especially the arc that involves Hannah angrily realizing she has HPV and trying to claim it as evidence of her maturity.
20. “She Did” (Season 1, Episode 10)
Jessa’s wedding to Thomas John is a glorious, over-the-top disaster, teetering back and forth between hilarity and catastrophe. The final scene with Hannah on the beach eating a wedding cake is beautiful, but surely the highlight is Shoshanna’s horrified realization that the surprise party is a wedding: “I wore white. To a wedding. Because how could I have known? Because nobody told me.”
19. “Flo” (Season 3, Episode 9)
Hannah’s trip to visit her dying grandmother is one of the stronger episodes in an otherwise hit-or-miss season. Its gut-punch ending makes it particularly effective — after seeming to rally, her grandmother dies the moment Hannah gets back to New York.
18. “Hello Kitty” (Season 5, Episode 7)
An extended meditation on whether or not anyone can actually see each other, accompanied by Hannah exposing herself to her boss and the early dissolution of Elijah and Dill’s relationship. Beautifully shot; occasionally very uncomfortable to watch.
17. “Full Disclosure” (Season 6, Episode 6)
Season six explores the show’s legacy in a lot of ways, but Adam and Jessa making an indie film about their past is one of the most self-conscious. The episode is a little scattered, but Daisy Eagan’s performance as alt-Hannah elevates everything.
16. “Vagina Panic” (Season 1, Episode 2)
So much of the series is about consequences, about whether and how they exist, and about the messy overlaps between bodies and brains. The second episode of the series — which revolves around Marnie putting things in order for Jessa’s abortion — is surprisingly sure-footed in this regard, telling stories about these characters dealing with female bodies and the possibility of bodily ramifications.
15. “The Bounce” (Season 6, Episode 7)
A farewell showcase for Andrew Rannells, who gets to be hilarious with a basketball and belt out a number from Smash. Strong enough to make everyone wish for an Elijah spinoff.
14. “Hostage Situation” (Season 6, Episode 2)
There are some weird moments in this episode, especially Hannah’s encounter with a mystical black woman who owns an antiques shop, and a Desi breakdown that’s a bit more tonally ambiguous than it maybe should be. It has some glorious final sequences, though, including an uncharacteristically triumphant Hannah-Marnie kicking Desi out of the house to Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris.”
13. “Goodbye Tour” (Season 6, Episode 9)
There are elements of the series’ endgame that stretch plausibility, but it’s hard to argue with the wrenching, thoughtful, difficult place it takes the show’s four lead women at the end. Hannah decides to leave the city, but this episode will probably be remembered for the scene where Shoshanna tells everyone else to buzz off, because she has had it. While they end amicably, it looks like they’ll end apart from one another, and that may be a good thing for everyone.
12. “Home Birth” (Season 4, Episode 10)
In spite of its aimlessness, season four pulls together for a surprisingly effective finale, driven by the weird, half-comedy, half-horror-movie vibe of Caroline’s seriously ill-advised home birth. Even better, it concludes with Shoshanna being sent to Japan, and Hannah kindly turning down Adam’s suggestion to get back together. The time jump ahead to Fran will later turn out to be a bad decision, but in the moment it’s one of Girls’ always-surprising gestures toward fairy tale.
11. “I Love You Baby” (Season 5, Episode 10)
The big story at the end of season five is Hannah figuring out how to make art out of her still-painful feelings about Adam and Jessa, but the episode’s best moments are with Adam and Jessa themselves. Their physical, emotionally draining battle is intense and beautifully shot, and it’s a fascinating companion for Hannah’s Moth debut.
10. “Latching” (Season 6, Episode 10)
The series finale pulls together so many of the show’s themes into a neat bow — neater, perhaps, than so much of the complexity and messiness of these characters seems to point toward. But it is a beautiful, remarkable final showing for Lena Dunham as an actress, for the farewell to Marnie and Hannah, and especially for Becky Ann Baker as Hannah’s mother, Loreen.
9. “Gummies” (Season 6, Episode 5)
After telling her mother that she’s pregnant, Hannah and Elijah end up chasing a too-high Loreen across Brooklyn. The closing set piece features Hannah and Elijah hashing out Elijah’s initial feelings about Hannah’s pregnancy while crammed into a tiny Chinese restaurant kitchen. It’s a great demonstration of how great both of these actors are, and how effective it is to cram them into a small box and make them duke it out.
8. “Love Stories” (Season 5, Episode 9)
The emptier, parody-shaped Tally Schifrin (Jenny Slate) of season one returns and is entirely reformed into someone with complexity and drive and flaws. In one of Girls’ more lovely explorations of the city, Hannah and Tally bike around Brooklyn and talk about how to be writers. Plus, the delightful b-plot of Shoshanna rebranding Ray’s café.
7. “The Return” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Girls doesn’t rely on flashbacks — there’s only one major one in the course of the series — but instead uses trips away from the city to create opportunities for escape and reflection and context. This trip back to Michigan, Hannah’s first trip away in the course of the series, demonstrates how well the show uses this structure.
6. “Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)
For a show about change, and whether or not change is possible, Girls is remarkably, preternaturally itself from its very first moments. In retrospect, even that final infuriating scene with Hannah stealing the money her parents leave as a housekeeping tip feels improbably in keeping with the longstanding preoccupations of the show — what does it mean to be young, and “good, “ and ambitious, and floundering, and how much of all of that is shaped by whether anyone’s watching?
5. “What Will We Do This Time About Adam?” (Season 6, Episode 8)
A beautiful, hazy, elegiac send-off for the Adam-and-Hannah relationship. It’s yet another example of how strong both Dunham and Driver have become as actors, but also how far the characters have come and how effectively the show is able to draw on their shared history to create a short, spare ending for them that still feels conclusive and fully formed.
4. “One Man’s Trash” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Divisive, stand-alone, beautifully constructed, funny and sad and pointed and self-reflective and deliberately contentious, “One Man’s Trash” is the moment it became clear that Girls was not and would never be “just” a millennial Sex in the City. Whatever else you may think, it’s the episode that forces us to confront the show as innovative and experimental in terms of form as well as its often-controversial content.
3. “American Bitch” (Season 6, Episode 3)
A really remarkable piece of television, from the acting to the direction to the writing, which encompasses Hannah and Lena Dunham and patriarchy and writing and fame and privilege and consent all in one stunning half-hour, guest-starring Matthew Rhys.
2. “Beach House” (Season 3, Episode 7)
The undoubted high-water mark for mid-run Girls. Everyone gathers together for what’s supposed to be a bonding weekend that becomes a rare, fully articulated group referendum on everyone’s relationships and flaws and goals. It ends with a gorgeous, singular image of the four leads, sitting on the side of the road, silently miming imperfectly synchronized dance choreography.
1. “Panic in Central Park” (Season 5, Episode 6)
In one of Girls’ several remarkable stand-alone episodes, Marnie fights with Desi and ends up wandering through the city with her ex-boyfriend Charlie. A particularly great example of the show’s ability to use an episode as a short film, and unquestionably the best showcase for Allison Williams’s Marnie. It’s also testament to Girls’ ability to find depth in all of its main characters, even when they’re often abandoned or hollowed out when we see them in relationship to Hannah. “Panic in Central Park” has the conceit of a gimmick episode — what if we dedicate an entire show to a side character? — but it takes on that idea in the most serious and thoughtful way.