Say what you will about the second season of Girls, which saw Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath descend into an OCD-induced hell, hiding behind her bed with a manically cut new hairdo and a Q-tip-punctured eardrum, but it certainly exposed Dunham and company’s willingness to go to some pretty dark places, often in favor of easy-to-land laughs. Season three opens with a now-signature dolly shot of Hannah in bed, which, as in previous seasons, establishes her current living arrangement: This time she’s cuddling contently with her on-and-off-and-on-again boyfriend, Adam (Adam Driver), seeming collected and basking in what resembles mature domesticity. But it’s ultimately just a ruse, as Girls remains just as disaffected and misanthropic as ever.
Hannah is increasingly oblivious and self-involved, blinded by her obsession with turning all of the so-called torturous moments of her life into fodder for her great white whale of an e-memoir. (Spoilers herein.) She deems a road trip to pick up Jessa (Jemima Kirke) from a rehab facility in upstate New York “unremarkable” and “just not a metaphor,” and tactlessly solicits publishing advice from a grieving widow at a funeral. But while Hannah the egomaniacal careerist may be even less immediately sympathetic than in previous seasons, her flaws, though inflated for dramatic effect, represent universal anxieties to which most of us can identify (foot-in-mouth disease, fleeting moments of self-entitlement). Even at her most pathological, as in a scene in which she chillingly retells an already-revealed-to-be-untrue story about a dead relative to Adam as if it’s her own, her motivation—to be liked—is still very much relatable.
Rather than remaining a cohesive group, the titular girls are now out there floundering on their own. Hannah and Marnie’s (Allison Williams) relationship has deteriorated to the point of civil contempt, and it certainly fits with Dunham’s refusal to grant easy resolutions for her characters. If, as she’s said, one of the ultimate functions of Girls is to be a love story between Hannah and Marnie and chart their estrangement and eventual reconciliation, then happier times apparently await, but for now they’re both still too immersed in their own solipsism. Marnie continues to function as the show’s punching bag, a monster of hideously inflated vanity who’s continually knocked down for our amusement. She starts the season with a broken heart, marooned in the suburbs of New Jersey and living with her mother, at one point dismally admitting to a kitten that it’s her “best friend.” The dimension the character has lost is disappointing, but Williams throws herself with absurd commitment into even the most humiliating scenarios, including a recurring bit involving an embarrassing cover of Edie Brickell’s “What I Am.”
By midseason, Girls eventually gets around to reminding us that these characters can be talented and charming, and thus capable and worthy of great things, but they remain cloaked in their usual haze of chronic self-involvement and ultimately fail to grow at all emotionally—even when they try. Adam’s free-spirited yet unhinged older sister, Caroline (Gaby Hoffman), who squats at Hannah’s apartment after escaping an abusive boyfriend, serves as a kind of cautionary portrait of where the girls could end up if they can’t manage to shake their self-delusion and face the harsh reality that their dreams may not be so practical. When the freeloading Caroline mentions having an acting career, Hannah, demoralized after a crippling professional setback, lashes out with, “You don’t have an acting career!”
The development of Driver’s character, however, remains the most fascinating part of the series; Adam has grown from an animalistic sexual deviant with a heart of gold into the group’s voice of reason—albeit a slightly unhinged one, but it remains to be seen if his outbursts are simply born from frustration or a more serious pathology. He chastises Hannah for her blasé attitude toward Jessa’s addictions and for seeming to hold her writing in higher esteem than any sort of moral code. When he discovers that Hannah learned the details of a supporting character’s death from Gawker, he responds with disgust and disappointment, asking how she would feel if she were eulogized by a bunch of hateful practitioners of snark who are “celibate against their will.” It’s a pointed, meta jab at both the media and Dunham’s critics, another example of her ability to turn current pop culture into character subtext. In a season bitter with resentment and cynicism, Adam and Hannah’s relationship remains the one dependably sweet, hopeful, and rational bright spot. Putting them through another breakup may not only be the end of Hannah’s fragile sanity, but the audience’s as well.