On last night’s penultimate episode of Girls, trapped in a cramped bathroom with the three toxic narcissists she used to call friends, a newly engaged Shoshanna Shapiro lays it all out. “I have come to realize how exhausting and narcissistic and ultimately boring this whole dynamic is, and I finally feel brave enough to create some distance for myself,” she declares. Explaining that she has new friends now (“pretty girls” with “jobs and purses and nice personalities”), Shosh announces that she is done trying to hold on to whatever this is: “I think we should all just agree to call it,” she says, as the camera pans over her friends’ stunned faces. For a show that has always reveled in ambiguity, this is a pretty clear closing statement. Girls, it turns out, was a show not about a lasting friendship but a disintegrating one, and Shosh is its icy, truth-telling hero.
For years, critics have questioned whether Girls’ central foursome actually made sense as friends. There have only been 12 scenes featuring all four main characters, and these group interactions tend to exacerbate the feeling that, as Margaret Lyons once put it, “there’s no way” these people would still be hanging out together. This dissonance has been particularly pronounced when it comes to Shosh, whose weird, over-the-top comic mannerisms have often made it feel like she was beamed in from another show, if not from another planet (last season, the show sent her to Japan; this season, she got less screen time than Desi). Yet as we learned last night, the women’s distance from one another, and Shosh’s peripherality, are no accident (and Dunham and her co-writers are much more savvy and self-aware than people tend to give them credit for). Where has Shosh been all season? She’s been falling in love with a guy named Byron that she met at a Sprinkles vending machine, and she’s doing just great, no thanks to Hannah Horvath and her Teen Mom overalls.
Girls has always been a show about the complex, messy process of growing up and finding oneself, a road riddled with backtracks and false starts (like last season, when Shoshanna seems to return from Japan a more mature woman and then regresses spectacularly, blowing up her relationship over an omakase lunch). But as the finale approaches, it’s looking like the show will allow some of its characters a degree of self-actualization — and that at least for Hannah and Shosh, the characters who have evolved the most, finding oneself is as much about letting go as it is about building something new. If this episode is Hannah’s version of the “Why I’m Leaving New York” essay, it’s Shosh’s take on “Why I’m Leaving the Friend Group.” Forced to step out of her own engagement party to legislate a friendship crisis between three people she barely sees, Shoshanna finally says all the things that viewers have said all along — that her friends are selfish and immature and toxic — and that she needs to leave them behind in order to become the person she wants to be. “She learned from her mistakes,” Allison Williams told Vulture of Shoshanna’s evolution. “She watched all of us flail against the world and was the only character that was capable of learning from the mistakes that people made around her. She’s the least narcissistic.”
As Kathryn VanArendonk points out, the scene is in many ways a callback to the group scene from season three’s “Beach House” episode, where we saw Shoshanna (albeit a much drunker, angrier Shoshanna) beginning to realize how unhealthy her relationships were — even if she wasn’t yet ready to take her own advice and cut the cord for good. “You treat me like a fucking cab driver,” she told the girls back then. “Seriously, you have entire conversations in front of me like I’m invisible, and sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me instead of a bunch of fucking whiny nothings as friends.” (Some pretty girls with jobs and nice purses, perhaps?) When Hannah responds by deriding Shosh as “unstimulating,” Shosh claps back: “Unstimulating? What, are we in a fucking Jane Austen novel? What, do I want to be like you, like mentally ill and miserable?” It’s a prescient sentiment. Hannah always saw her life as fodder for some thrilling personal-essay collection, a tortured artist who prioritized being interesting and miserable over being boring and happy, and who falsely viewed the two as mutually exclusive. In choosing to leave the city and take the teaching job upstate (a life choice Elijah derides as “something your family makes you do when you’re too deep into crack to stop them”), and by breaking their contract “to suffer and be miserable in this godforsaken rathole together,” Hannah is finally, belatedly taking Shosh’s advice: to give up on what she thought her life would look like and listen to what she really wants.
Last season on Girls, during Shoshanna’s time in Japan, I wrote that it had finally become okay to “be a Shoshanna” — to identify with a character who had previously felt more like an amalgamation of quirky mannerisms than a fully fleshed-out individual. In Japan, Shosh finally started to feel like a coherent person with clear wants and desires, and last night — happy, confident, excited to “become Mrs. Byron Long” — she couldn’t have been further from the awkward hanger-on we met in season one. As she coolly made her case for breaking up with her crappy friends — this time without the drama and tears of that “Beach House” confrontation, but with the clear-eyed confidence of someone who knows what’s good for her — Shosh proved that she has definitely outgrown the show that spawned her. If Girls is a show about how we find our way in the world, Shosh’s arc suggests that sometimes, if you’re not part of the story you want, the best thing you can do is write yourself out.