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'Girls' has gone crazy this season

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Craig Blankenhorn/HBO

Who, I ask you, who is going to kill Marnie? This is the only question I have going into this weekend’s Girls finale. Will it be Desi, her stubbly singer-songwriter crybaby motorcyclist fiancé? Desi always had big dreams of playing modern American folk with an indie edge. But Marnie keeps insisting that they’re more like She & Him. (Ideal stage name for Marnie: Phooey Deschanel.)

Wikipedia claims that She & Him’s genre is, quote, indie pop, indie folk, sunshine pop, doo-wop, rock and roll, surf rock, R&B, jazz. “None of those genres are Modern American Folk with an Indie Edge, Marn!” you imagine Desi yelling, hacking away at Marnie with an artisanal prosciutto slicer while Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes sing “Better Days” in the background. “NONE OF THOSE GENRES ARE MODERN AMERICAN FOLK WITH AN INDIE EDGE!”

Just imagine the headlines on the indie music blogs! But Desi is too obvious, a red herring. Couldn’t Marnie’s killer be Ray, her lovelorn ex-friend-with-benefits? Oh, Ray has tried to funnel his unrequited passion into positive pursuits. The man’s a veritable Jefferson Smith. First he marched on the council meeting, desperate to save his beloved corner of Brooklyn from the blight of sound pollution. Then he pushed the fat cats right out of office, winning a seat on the city council after an incredible week-long campaign.

Perhaps, in the season finale, he’ll learn some dark truths about the political system, with a little help from his HBO political brethren. “Councilman Ploshanshky,” a voice will say, “welcome to the shadow world.” Out of the darkness steps President Selina Meyer, Governor Tommy Carcetti, John Slattery as that politician with the urine fetish from Sex and the City, and I dunno, maybe Joe Kennedy from Boardwalk Empire. Horrified by the corruption of the political system, Ray runs to Marnie, the only person he trusts—but when he finds Marnie abed with Desi, Ray’s driven mad with blood rage. (The murders are covered up by Ray Donovan, on lone from Showtime.)

Still too obvious? Marnie could get killed by Shoshanna, an unemployed college graduate with no discernible life goals, haunting the streets of New York City. See Shoshanna on some corner in the LES, outside Welcome to the Johnsons or Sons of Essex, holding up a ripped cardboard box with words scrawled in black marker and red blood: “WILL INTERN FOR FOOD.”

Or maybe Marnie’s killer will be Jessa. Remember when Jessa was a hedonist hippie, floating in and out of New York City with the wind? The last two seasons of Girls have made the case that Jessa is, in fact, a supervillain—possibly a supernatural Satan anti-being, possibly just a Joker-esque Agent of Chaos whose only purpose is disorder.

Like, to the extent that Girls has had any actual story arc this year—beyond the mystery of Who Will Kill Marnie—this season has been defined by the second break-up of Hannah and Adam. A few weeks ago, Jessa revealed that she basically puppet-mastered that break-up—setting up Adam with TED-talking avant-artist Mimi-Rose Howard. Why would Jessa do this? Because of Ace, the dashing toothbrush-chompin’ backwards-hat-rockin’ incongruous-short-shorts-modelin’ ex-partner of Mimi-Rose Howard.

Ace is played by Zachary Quinto. Zachary Quinto has played some of the most evil men in history. He was Sylar on Heroes. He was Bloody-Face on American Horror Story. He was Sal “Slapper” Slapowicz on The Slap. Ace makes those guys look like Huey, Dewey, and Louie.

You how in Species II, there’s the evil female alien and the evil male alien, and if they have sex then the Alien Anti-Christ will destroy the world or something? This is basically the story of Jessa and Ace, and it is entirely plausible given the fictional universe Girls now inhabits that the season finale will feature Jessa giving birth to Ace Junior the Space Satan, an event which will destroy the world as we know it and therefore almost certainly kill Marnie.

“Who Is Going To Kill Marnie?” is a game I started playing midway through this season, when it became clear that Girls was going cuckoo bananas. Now, when a good show goes bad, it’s cause for alarm. When a good show goes crazy, pass the popcorn.

I’m talking Friday Night Lights season 2, when a sensitive show about a small-town football team became a sudsy procedural about murder cover-ups and the unlikely medical benefits of shark DNA. Sometimes a good show will go only a little crazy, in some segmented plot arc: think Mad Men season 6, with those weird Dick Whitman flashbacks that felt like deleted scenes from an unfilmed Roger Corman movie, I Was a Teenaged Brothel-Rat!

Plenty of good shows suddenly go crazy right at the very end: Dexter and the hurricane and the lumberjack, How I Met Your Mother and the death and the divorce. And some of the best shows on television try to bottle the crazy, turning insanity into fuel—same thing Doc does with trash at the end of Back to the Future. Like, Empire exists in a world where a billionaire rapper calls the president in the morning, pulls a gun on a rival in the afternoon, raps about love with his family in the evening, then betrays two-thirds of his children by midnight. And somehow, someone still finds time for Courtney Love.

Girls and Empire don’t share a universe, but they exist in the same crazypants multiverse. I don’t know when it happened, precisely. This time last year, Girls was showing some telltale signs of mission drift—half the characters didn’t have jobs; Patti Lupone gave Hannah dating advice. To its credit, the show seemed self-aware: In the devastating “Beach House,” characters who barely seemed to like each other anymore had a very explicit conversation about how they barely seemed to like each other anymore.

And season 3 still had a handle on Hannah as a human being. Her attempt to self-monetize led her to an unglamourous sponsored-content gig. That was the show’s inside-baseball instinct—it can feel like Girls’ entire viewership is young bloggers, old journalists trying to figure out how to become bloggers, and recent college graduates who think “blogger” sounds old-timey, like Girls is actually Chicken Soup For The Freelancer’s Soul. But it was also an example of how the show could really challenge its characters, and make merry out of watching their dreams die. Sex and the City was aspirational because that life looked pretty awesome; Girls was aspirational because it maked aspiring look cool.

But season 4 just went crazy. Hannah went to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, had hilarious misadventures with campus life. Elijah flew out to join her, lived with her for awhile, didn’t seem to be doing anything besides waiting patiently for Hannah to show up—all of which would seem to prove the long-running theory that Elijah is actually Paul Bettany in A Beautiful Mind. (Actually, Elijah’s more like The Great Gazoo.)

While Hannah was in Iowa, everything was going crazy back in New York. Jessa urinated in public and then got in a fight with the cops—and the image of a rich white girl getting into a fight with a black NYPD officer was one of those weird moments where something feels vaguely topical but also entirely tone-deaf, like if Law & Order: SVU did an episode where it turns out Andrew Jarecki framed Robert Durst because ISIS. (Possible evidence that Girls is trolling us: When Jessa got arrested, she was wearing an Ice-T shirt!) And Marnie was busy transforming her corner of Girls into the New York scenes from Tremé, except with more brunch. And instead of jazz music, it was horrible music. And Ray was yelling in the streets because all the honk-honk-honking was driving him cray-cray-crazy.

But that’s all sideline stuff. Girls has always been Hannah’s story, and so it makes sense that Girls has gone insane right as Hannah has gone insane. You might’ve thought the show sent her to Iowa to find her footing as a writer, or to discover something new about herself. When Hannah initially wasn’t fitting in, the show appeared to be setting us up for some moment of grown-up self-realization. Then the writing class turned meta, with the class taking Hannah to task for just writing autobiography—agoof on how so many people treat Girls like it’s this thing that just pours out of Lena Dunham’s brain.

Again, so far, so good. But then Hannah got drunk and went on a rant that I think we were meant to take entirely seriously:

What a little rich whiny white guy, thinks he’s Updike, thinks it’s a revolution that he hates his parents…I don’t know why you’re laughing, Dexter, you’re a tragically hip Gasian who is writing Manic Pixie Dream Girl pseudo Weetzie Bat bullshit…you were blessed with an exotic name…this patron saint of the streets thing? It’s bullshit. This is not a hardened criminal. This guy’s never been to jail. Can I see your record? CAN I SEE YOUR CRIMINAL RECORD?

This was a true sight to behold: Lena Dunham creates one-dimensional characters, then walks onscreen and accuses them of being one-dimensional.

The gag was supposed to be, I think, how it’s wrong to play with identity politics in art. Or maybe the point of the rant was: “The life behind the art doesn’t matter. All that matters is the art.” This is a bit rich coming from a show that staked its reputation on the True Life Story of the wunderkind who created it. But it would’ve totally made sense, if the show had made any of these people vaguely human beings. Instead, in the very next episode, Hannah got in a loud argument with the entire class about how they were making her feel defensive, and then she just left Iowa altogether.

With some justification, the episode that followed got the “Return To Form!” hallelujah. Girls has always been weirdly good at structural shake-ups—so Hannah sitting in her old apartment, visited by her old friends one at a time, played a little bit like a one-act play. You were primed for more of that—and then Hannah became a substitute teacher, and then Hannah started hanging out with a high schooler, and then Hannah took a teenager to get her tongue pierced. These are not the activities of a struggling twentysomething human being. These are the activities of a capital-C character. This is Adam Sandler doing his man-child thing. This is Laggies.

And then, apropos of nothing, Hannah’s dad came out of the closet. [cue remix of theme tones from Lost and Empire]

It’s hard to tell if the problem this season is too much or not enough. Dunham directed three episodes, but only has co-writing credit on four—a far cry from season one, when her name was on every script. Maybe that explains the echo chamber effect, There’s a sense that we’re seeing Girls fanfiction now, that this is what would happen if J.J. Abrams rebooted Girls forty years from now.

You can complain about it; the show sure isn’t what it was. Maybe this weekend’s season finale will retroactively make it all look sensible. Previews show Adam’s wacky sister giving birth in a bathtub; I find this both discouraging and encouraging. Bring on the crazy, I say! Become the Gossip Girl of Bushwick, Hipster Dynasty, modern American Horror Story with an indie edge!

And please, I beg you, finally answer the question on everyone’s lips: Who is going to kill Marnie?

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Counterarguments? Complaints? Email me at darren_franich@ew.com, and I’ll respond in next week’s Geekly Mailbag.

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