If there has been an overarching theme to the third season of "Girls," it has been about boundaries. Whether it's trying to find success within them (Shoshanna's carefully plotted life plan), falling outside of them to disastrous effect (Jessa's addiction, Marnie's streak of bad decisions) or vacillating between the two (Hannah who can't help but step over lines of appropriateness any time her life is thrown into minor turmoil), the titular quartet have been both defining and stretching the limits of their young adult lives, and in the third season finale "Two Plane Rides," each of the girls are pushed into new territory as the framework that defined them is stripped away.
But before the episode finds its footing, it wobbles out of the gate with the return of Adam's (Adam Driver) sister Caroline (Gaby Hoffman). After being booted by Hannah from her apartment, she has returned to the building and is shacking up with Laird (Jon Glaser), with whom she's expecting a child. It's an oddity of a cold open, and more curiously for this show, one that is never called back to or has any real bearing on anything except to offer up a counterpoint to a later subplot involving Jessa (Jemima Kirke), who is asked by her new boss, the artist Beattie (Louise Lasser), to help her kill herself. Even by "Girls" standards, it leans towards being unnecessarily provocative, which is only underscored by the fact that though played for laughs, the assisted suicide tangent is neither funny or insightful. If there was supposed to be some kind of comedic poetry in Jessa (rather suddenly) kicking her drug habit, only to help someone else kill themselves with drugs, it never gets across. But everywhere else, the episode runs on a high, with all the plots pivoting around Adam's opening night performance in "Major Barbara."
All season long, Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) has been the one who seemed to have her shit together or least was aware of how she was going to get her shit together. The aforementioned life plan was in full swing, and after her year of sexual and personal freedom, she settled on Parker (Evan Jonigkeit) as her boyfriend (though he was never seen again after episode six). And now, graduation is looming, but Shoshanna has learned that she's been failed for one course, instantly crumbling everything she had been building toward. She returns home and trashes her apartment, only to soon find out that things get much worse. Marnie (Allison Williams) arrives ready to fess up about her sexual dalliance with Ray (Alex Karpovsky) after getting caught by Hannah, and as you might expect, Shoshanna doesn't take it well screaming, "I hate you!"
But Marnie doesn't seem all too concerned about hurting Shoshanna, with her eyes clearly fixated on Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), after their musically creative enterprise went over well at last week's open mic performance. Even as Marnie tells Hannah that she's more than aware she clings to men for some kind of validation, she makes a beeline for his dressing room before the show, offering him a gift: James Taylor's guitar pick. (A hilarious choice that adds yet another layer of douche to that already skin-crawling Desi). He's touched...and shirtless...and makes a move, and starts making out with Marnie, who slows his advances, but by the big, wide grin on her face, she is more than pleased, and immediately tells Hannah and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) her news.
However, that backstage bombshell doesn't match what Hannah dumps on Adam right before he's about to go on stage. Once again, she ignores his pleas to give him space so he can prepare for what could be a life-changing moment for him, and reveals a bit of news that probably isn't best served to anyone about to go perform in front of hundreds of people: Hannah has been accepted to graduate school at the revered Iowa Writers Workshop. "It'll mean moving away possibly, but we'll work it out, and thank you for everything you've done for me, go have a great show...." — that's a paraphrase of what Hannah tells Adam, but provided in the same scattershot spirit, and it's not a surprise that after the curtain drops, Adam is furious.
Having kept it together to get through the show, when he meets Hannah outside after the performance, he's incredulous at her actions, and steamed that her pre-show visit led to a terrible performance (at least by his own estimation, though the audience seemed to love it). Not only did she again not respect the privacy he needs to prepare, she's now completely upending a relationship that not too long ago, she was desperately fighting to save, fearing it was falling apart. Hannah freaked when Adam moved out for a few short weeks to focus on "Major Barbara," so his confusion that she's suddenly to going to jet off to Iowa leaves him dumbfounded, and ready to end things. "I"m sick of trying to work it out. Can't one thing ever be easy with you?" he says, with Hannah walking by herself into the night. It should be noted Adam Driver is utterly fantastic in this episode, giving some of this best work in this series so far. And if we do lose him in season four thanks to "Star Wars: Episode 7," he's going out on top).
Meanwhile, Marnie's moment of happiness is given a reality check when she runs into Desi's girlfriend Clementine (Natalie Morales) in the bathroom. "Can you cut the shit, please? I know what you're up to, it's written all over you," Clementine says. "I don't blame you, he's fucking sexy, but if he hasn't realized yet, and he's going to soon, that you're just a sad, pathetic mess." But even as that comment cuts, Marnie continues to cling to hope, following Desi and Clementine to the after party from a discrete distance, only find them spilling out into the street having an argument. How sad and pathetic Marnie is could be debated, but it's clear that she needs some kind of male presence in her life as an anchor. And she's not the only one.
In one of the episode's more heartbreaking moments, Shoshanna confronts Ray, and during the intermission of the play, they decide to talk it out. And while Shoshanna had been boiling with fury, it tames as Ray reminds her that she broke up with him, and then she finally admits she wants him back. And while Ray admits she brought out the best in him (and Shoshanna says the same), he knows their goals are different and it just wouldn't work for them to get back together. But Shoshanna pushes harder, telling Ray she loves him, begging to take her back. But it's not to be. Shoshanna, who has always been been as organized as she is opinionated now faces a gulf of uncertainty, with no one to cling to for guidance.
But there is no uncertainty for Hannah. Iowa awaits, Adam or no Adam, and the closing shot of Hannah holding the acceptance letter to her chest and smiling is a brilliant one. Once again, Lena Dunham has made a choice for Hannah that doesn't make the character particularly likeable, but is dead on authentic to the experience of someone that age. This isn't about Hannah dumping Adam, but about embracing her future and her dreams while she has a chance before she works for a "pun factory" as she put it so perfectly when quitting GQ. Relationships at any age can sometimes be complicated by school and careers, and opportunities that will take you halfway around the globe. Perhaps when you're older, those decisions can be made against the roots that have been planted in whatever city your live, and the bonds forged with partners, friends and colleagues. But when you're in your 20s there's less room to negotiate; graduate school is the choice you make so that later in life, you have more options. And this means diving into something even if you end up living in Iowa, but pursuing a future of endless possibility.
"When opportunities like this arrive, you figure it out. You say yes, and you figure it out, that's how this works," Hannah's Mom (Becky Ann Baker) advises her. And indeed, that will be true for all the girls. They will have to figure out what opportunities — or lack of them — have in store for them. The funny thing about boundaries is how easily they can be redefined, reshaped or junked altogether. For all of the girls, as we head into season four, they will have to build those boundaries and codes of living back up again, figure it out, and find out how this works as they enter adulthood. [B]
Songs in this episode: Punch "Do It Yourself"; Michael Penn "Good Girl Down"; planet of sound "We Are Together"