WHAT IT’S ABOUT The fourth season of “Girls” ended with a few hanging storylines — all immediately picked up Sunday, which opens on Marnie’s (Allison Williams) wedding day. She’s well-prepped for the big day, but no one else is, most notably fiance Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). Meanwhile, Hannah (Lena Dunham) is struggling with her parents’ deepening problems; Jessa (Jemima Kirke) and Adam (Adam Driver) develop a platonic relationship; Ray (Alex Karpovsky) and his espresso bar have to contend with a particularly difficult new competitor; Shosh (Zosia Mamet) has a new career opportunity and new hairstyle; and Elijah (Andrew Rannells) is broadening his social circle.
Also: Corey Stoll — as mysterious power broker Dil Harcourt — has a cameo arc.
MY SAY The fifth season of “Girls” is the penultimate season, and penultimate seasons of major series are saddled with all sorts of stuff — beginning with that ungainly word “penultimate.” Mostly they’re just freighted with our expectations. We become so tied to shows — along with their rhythms, language, values and above all, characters — that they almost become organic things that we assume must have a beginning, middle and end, like a human life, or at least a beloved pet’s life. You hope they end well, although that word “well” can be open to broad interpretation. After all, sometimes they don’t end well.
How will “Girls” end? One observation that should lard our expectations is that this series stopped being conventionally funny a long time ago. What’s difficult to pinpoint with precision is when it started being so sad. With the fifth season as solid evidence (four episodes were available for review), “Girls” is now officially, even emphatically, melancholic — a dirge to the futility of relationships, and the folly of love.
In an exchange that takes place a few episodes in, Hannah observes that “maybe all relationships have a finite life span, like Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson.” Dear, foolish Marnie brightly upbraids her: “People who work on things stay together! Otherwise, they end up alone, like Cher . . . ” The exchange is funny; they often are here. It’s the fury that lurks just beneath the surface that really resonates.
Feeding that sense of futility is the circle of life and storylines — these lives and these storylines in particular. Adam remains devoted to Hannah, and Hannah — on some level she doesn’t want to acknowledge — remains devoted to him. Ray remains devoted to Marnie, and Marnie — on some level she doesn’t want to acknowledge — is devoted mostly to her self-delusions.
The circles go round and round. Hannah catches a glimpse of the future — maybe even her own — in her parents’ lives, and certainly doesn’t like what she sees. Her parents catch a glimpse of their own past in her, and bitterly reprove themselves for their utter failure. There’s a scene with Hannah and her father, Tad (Peter Scolari), seated in a restaurant, both in tears. It’s heartbreaking — but the scene of her mother, Loreen (Becky Ann Baker), raging while she works on a fifth of vodka, is devastating.
Let’s not get carried too far away here. “Girls” this season remains sharply funny in places — though nothing at least yet on the level, say, of Gaby Hoffmann’s (who played Caroline, Adam’s sister) bathtub scenes last season. (Remember? Babies and doulas? Oh man . . . ) The season opener is terrific but — hey — it’s a wedding episode. Those write themselves.
Ray, meanwhile, has what must surely be the sweetest line in the whole history of this show: “Love is about sacrifice and destiny and making a sacrifice for the one you love that allows them to find their destiny ... ”
That line alone should lard our expectations, too. Shows with this much heart deserve to end well.
BOTTOM LINE So very sad, when it’s not so very funny, “Girls” has one more season after this and you can almost taste the bittersweet end.