All season I’ve struggled with what, exactly, I want from the end of this show. Should it look like it’s always looked, with Hannah continuing to struggle and failing and trying again and maybe making marginal progress toward adulthood? Should it end with a collapse, with all the consequences of all of Hannah’s decisions crashing down and crushing her? Should it be a fairy tale, where she magically gets everything she’s ever wanted, and everything her critics have always wanted for her? Should any of these four women even still be friends?
The beginning of Girls was about a failure to launch in the way the rest of the world seemed to want Hannah to launch. She was constantly failing at things, making terrible choices and thoughtless, self-focused decisions. It’s one of the things that truly makes Hannah Horvath stand out among protagonists, especially female protagonists: Her perpetual refusal to play along with what her audience seemed to want for her. Should the end of the series look like her finally playing along? And if it does, would that be growing up, or would it be giving in?
“Goodbye Tour,” true to its title, is a last hurrah, because Hannah seems to be finally doing all of those adult things we’ve watched her struggle with for six seasons. Not only is she having a baby, the most adult thing Girls can imagine a woman doing, she’s accepting a job. A real job, as a professor, teaching “internet” or something, that will come with 100 students, a house upstate, and a move out of the city.
So look: Before thinking about the rest of the episode and all of the interesting, thoughtful stuff that’s going on here, I need to address one thing first. If Girls is, indeed, going to end up as a fairy tale, it’s hard to imagine any more direct way of implying that than “Hannah magically lands an academic job at a college within commuting distance of New York City, on the basis of her internet writing career.” In just thinking about that as a plausible, real-life event, I began laughing out loud so hard that I had to stop for breath. It is possibly the most absurd thing this show has ever done, and I’m saying that with full memory of the fact that Marnie and Desi took a meeting with the music coordinator for Grey’s Anatomy. The only thing that somewhat mitigates its unlikelihood is that it does at least sound like a ridiculous position, teaching 100 students in 25-person seminars how to write with honesty, or something, and of course there are no details about how long Hannah would be expected to keep this job. But in any event, it’s hard to imagine anything more fantastical than Glinda the Academic Job Witch of the North (played by Ann Dowd, a.k.a. Patti from The Leftovers) floating down and giving Hannah a teaching position.
The majority of the episode is about something else, something ultimately far more important to the series than this one glaring improbability. “Goodbye Tour” is about Hannah asking herself all the questions I posed up at the top. Should she take this job? Should she leave the city and give up her idea of being a writer, first and foremost? Should she give up the dream of living an unstable, health-insurance-free but possibly more creative life, so she can support her child? Is this what the “right” choice looks like?
The answer is an unequivocal yes, as indicated by the joyful ending montage with Hannah literally dancing by herself, cut into the scene of her moving into a new place upstate, hugging herself and happily rubbing her pregnant belly while swiveling in a chair and surveying her new home. She chooses the road that looks like security and responsibility, the road with health insurance on it, and she looks thrilled. And to Girls’ significant credit, the episode makes it clear that after all this time, it’s not a particularly hard choice.
Hannah spends the bulk of the episode mulling the question of whether to take this job, and the only person who makes an impassioned argument that she shouldn’t is Elijah. Her father tells her to take the job without hesitation. She cannot get in touch with Marnie, Shoshanna’s number isn’t even the same anymore, and she refuses to speak to Jessa. It’s hardly even a difficult decision — “Goodbye Tour” makes it obvious that almost nothing is keeping her here now. The only person voting for staying is Elijah, and his reasoning is entirely rooted in his own need for reassurance and fear about the future. That disappears in an instant as soon as he finally gets cast in White Boys Can’t Jump.
Even Caroline, who makes a brief reappearance on the stoop outside Hannah’s apartment, recommends that Hannah leave the city. Caroline happily seems to have gotten the help she needed, which she ascribes both to having left the city and to a “short but very powerful stay” at a hospital. Whatever other messages she may be sending, Caroline hardly makes a powerful argument in favor of urban parenting.
So Hannah ends up knocking on Shoshanna’s door, and discovering that she’s drifted so far away from her friends that they’re all here celebrating Shoshanna’s engagement to a person Hannah didn’t even know existed. Hannah’s furious and hurt, and they all end up crammed into the bathroom for Marnie’s “group meeting,” a final conclave of the series’ four leads. It’s a perfect scene, not just for what it accomplishes, but for the way it’s done — they’re together in this minuscule space, and we wonder if maybe this will be a moment of reconciliation and forgiveness. It won’t. The cinematography communicates it even before the dialogue does: They hardly look at one another, and certainly never in an intimate, personal way. They’re all in this bathroom together, and yet each character occupies her own, separate visual box. (The exception is Hannah and Marnie, who share a wider shot together a few times, but who also almost never look at one another.) Still, it could be on its way to a happy, goopy reunion, but then Shoshanna comes along and blows the whole thing up.
Shoshanna, who’s been drifting further and further into the background of this series, ends up turning that narrative marginalization on its head. She is better without them. They are, she tells them, better without each other. None of them seems capable of interacting without making the entire relationship a self-centered, myopic nightmare. They have nothing in common. Shoshanna wasn’t marginalized or pushed into the background, she tells the other three women; she chose a happier, less narcissistic, less boring group of friends, and she recommends they all do the same. (She now has friends with “jobs and purses and nice personalities.”) Shoshanna is not wrong. She’s amazingly funny — the whole scene is, even while it’s also a little devastating — but she is certainly not wrong, and everyone else seems to realize it.
When they get back into the party, Hannah and Jessa do have a sweet reconciliation, and everyone manages to get along and have a good time. It’s not the sort of conversation where they now vow to be friends forever, though. It’s forgiveness; it is not swearing undying love. The bathroom scene gives us each of the women in her own box, separated from one another and unhappy. The closing dance montage plays the same visual trick. It’s a tiny apartment, and yet each of them is visually and narratively in her own space, apart from any of the other women. We get a few shots of Hannah and Jessa together, and a few brief glimpses of them dancing in each others’ frame, but they’re certainly not dancing with one another. At the end, this is not about four people dancing in the begrudging, synchronized choreography we saw them do at the end of season three’s “Beach House” episode. They dance by themselves.
Hannah’s magical academic job looks like a fairy-tale ending, something that appears out of nowhere to take away all the pain. It frustrates me, even though I know “Goodbye Tour” would also make a very satisfying, fitting finale episode. (Girl learns to support and be happy for herself, fin. There are worse conclusions, regardless of how improbable.) Here’s why the unreality doesn’t matter so much, though: For one, the real ending here is not about Hannah’s job, but the end of these four characters’ relationship with one another, and Hannah’s relationship with New York. And that ending is far more complex, and thoughtful, and sad and effective and right for the series.
The other reason is that this was not the finale. In almost every respect, Girls has wrapped up Hannah’s life into a neat little bow of achievement and expectation and sent her off into the future — except there’s still one episode left. We’ll have one last chance to see Hannah actually have to grapple with the consequences of her choices. “Come with me,” Hannah sings as she drives away from the city, maybe for the last time. “I’ll take you home.”