Into each life — even the extended 20-something adolescence of premium cable’s most oblivious Brooklyn navel-gazers — a little maturity must fall. So as season 5 opens, our Girls are doing all kinds of ostensibly adult things: getting married, living abroad, shaping young minds, staying sober.
But, as the first minutes of episode 1 reveal, some things haven’t changed. Bride-to-be Marnie (Allison Williams) is still a mascara’d pipe bomb of passive aggression, fuming beneath her flower crown when the weather and the wedding entourage refuse to cooperate with her perfect Pinterest-boho vision for the big day. (Her directive to the makeup artist, played with bemused cluelessness by Inside Amy Schumer’s Bridget Everett: “Let’s do, like, a Ralph Lauren Joni Mitchell thing — artistic but also with a nod to my heritage, which is White Christian Woman.”) Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) still vibrates with the intensity and excess energy of an anime woodpecker; Jessa (Jemima Kirke) remains a nicotine-fueled free spirit, always a little above the fray; and Hannah (Lena Dunham) is, well, kind of an a–hole.
Somebody adores her though: It’s her new man, America’s Boyfriend Jake Lacy. As Fran, Hannah’s fellow schoolteacher and (literally) better half, he’s the platonic ideal of a good guy: Cute, calm, easygoing but not a pushover — and able to roll in strange situations, like a wedding that seems to consist entirely of Hannah’s immediate circle of friends, aside from one token guest on the groom’s side.
By the end of the fourth episode, Fran’s patience will be severely tested by Hannah’s behavior (it involves her highly proactive management of what she deems acceptable masturbation material, and later and less pornographically, a clash in their respective teaching styles). Otherwise, Hanna is generally more high-functioning than in the past — she’s got a steady income, and the OCD goes unmentioned — but she also seems to have abandoned her ambitions as a writer. Instead, she’s mostly occupied with introducing her students to the NC-17 wonders of Philip Roth and handling her freshly out-of-the-closet father (Peter Scolari), who is as vulnerable and ungainly in his new gay life as a just-born foal. Jessa and Adam, meanwhile, are doing their own tentative dance around a romance, though Jessa continually resists it, mostly because she is reluctant to betray Hannah; Adam thinks that if Hannah was in her place, “she’d just throw herself right at whatever she wanted.” In a lot of ways, these two make much more sense together than Adam and Hannah ever did; aside from their shared sobriety, they have the same sort of strange, gonzo honesty, as well as a tendency to leave scorched earth behind them in nearly all their relationships. (Which also makes Jessa understandably wary — and again, Adam doesn’t care.)
The most intriguing revelation of the new season, though, may be Shoshanna. Early on in the first episode, Jessa notes that her high-strung cousin is “somehow even more like a cartoon” — and it’s true; despite Mamet’s valiant commitment, she’s always felt like the cast’s least dimensional character. But as episode 2 opens on her expat life in Japan, she seems, for the first time, to have found her natural habitat. Tokyo Shosh is a brave new girl: Buzzing around her candy-colored, so-kawaii apartment, crushing on her boss, and exploring the city’s public baths and underground sex parlors like she’s ready to star in a less existential sequel to Lost in Translation. It’s her and Jessa’s plot lines — and a surprisingly tender one involving the blossoming romance between Elijah (Andrew Rannells) and an Anderson Cooper-like newsman played by guest star Corey Stoll in a multi-episode arc — that feel like the season’s new emotional center. It might be that Dunham is too busy overseeing the series as a producer, writer, and director to give as much attention to her own character’s development. But it’s disappointing too, to see Hannah still spinning the same wheels, even if she does get some of the show’s best standalone lines. (There’s a pretty great riff on the Philip Roth stuff, and a fantastically uncomfortable scene with a guy her dad picked up on gay.com).
When Dunham announced that next year’s sixth season would be its last, she told one interviewer, “I started working on this show when I was 23, and now I’m going to be 30, so it kind of feels right.” The people who have always hated everything she and her crew have stood for will no doubt continue to rail against the show’s narcissism and nudity and general right to exist in the larger pop-culture universe. Girls will never be for them, and its stars might not graduate to onscreen womanhood soon, or ever; to wrap up their stories so neatly would probably feel both sitcom-y and dishonest. But it’s still pretty great to watch them flail — in all their messy, misguided, ridiculous glory—towards something like it. A-