The moment Hannah squeaked “You’re here” and Adam cavalierly replied, “well, I was always here,” I cried…. I cried, and my girlfriend, who always heckles me when I cry, said “are you crying again!,” and I said “yep…because everyone needs to be rescued sometimes.”
The season finale of Girls, aptly entitled “Together” (in part because it was co-written by Dunham and Apatow), was all about the politics of being rescued.
Is it feminist to want to be rescued, to allow oneself to be rescued? Or is this romantic narrative the bane of feminism’s existence?
These questions hearken back to the crack episode in which Hannah unapologetically confesses that she wants a wedding and at least 12 cake-tastings, and she doesn’t care if these normative desires conflict with hard-line feminism, because she thinks they don’t necessarily need to.
The trope of being rescued, so firmly ensconced in the romance narrative, is one that each of the show’s three couples negotiate in this final episode. The question of how this trope agrees or conflicts with feminism is obviously debatable but it is a question that nevertheless demands the rescued-person figure out how and why she desires or demands to be rescued. In other words, people are not islands; we all need assistance in life. (“It takes a village.”) But at the same time the human imperatives of self-sufficiency and of caring for oneself cannot be trumped by the idea of the rescue. To be rescued, in this capacity, is not to be rescued from one’s self but to be rescued from an event (such as a relapse).
The refusal to rescue because the underlying need is consists of being rescued from the self is precisely why Shoshanna does not rescue Ray. She cannot deal with his “black soul” or the fact that he likes nothing except her. “I don’t think this is working,” she says, “I love you so much…but sometimes I love you the way I feel sorry for a monkey.” That is, she loves him out of pity, out of compassion for someone in need—and this kind of love isn’t romantic love nor can it be the basis of it if the romantic relation is to have any longevity. “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed woman.” Shosh is leaving Ray behind, offering the consolation that maybe they can be together again one day after she becomes the “fully formed woman” of her imagination: “Maybe I can deal with your black soul when I’m older. Maybe we can be in love then.”
Shosh has become the valley-girl accented voice of reason of Girls.
Unlike Ray, who unconsciously needs rescuing, Marnie, who’s had “the worst year ever,” consciously desires it, and, specifically, desires it from Charlie, who she always wanted to assume a more “masculine” role in their relationship. Now that Charlie has “a shitload of money,” a tan, and has grown back his hair and a matching scruffy beard like ALL THE GUY-HIPSTERS!, he seems primed for chivalry. During brunch at Roberta’s in Bushwick—which, I should note, is conspicuously half-full; Roberta’s, home of the $14+ individual pizza, never has so much free space to move around in—Marnie actively assumes the vulnerable position; she makes herself available to be rescued:
Marnie: “This has been the worst year of my life…. I want you. And I’m a mess but I want you. I want to see you every morning, and make you a snack every night, and eventually I want to have your little brown babies, and I want to watch you die.”
Marnie avails herself to being rescued and in doing so rescues Charlie back—this is the function of vulnerability in a relationship. We can only wait to see if the relationship holds—if Marnie truly “doesn’t care how much money [Charlie] has”—next season.
Hannah’s rescue is more vital; it is complicated and born out of her recurring OCD. The episode begins with her sitting in bed, frantically typing hypochondriac-inspired questions onto some Q&A engine online. Her OCD has come to full fruition; she is unable to write her manuscript, and the weight of failure hangs in the room like dirty Brooklyn air.
Her creativity has been arrested by her anxiety. She needs rescuing, but, in typical Hannah fashion, does not know how to position herself in that vulnerable place in order to be rescued. Instead her attempts feel contrived (the contrivance magnificently rendered in Hannah’s “no one really cares if I get cut with glass” diatribe) which both her father and Laird chide her for on separate occasions during the episode. After Laird renders her bad self-haircut even worse, Hannah as newly-shorn-pageboy sees an opening to use Laird for the larger rescue by laying on the ground and melodramatically telling him to “be reasonable” because she doesn’t “have the strength to fight [him] off this time.” Smartly, Laird shirks her passive-aggressive advances. In this scene, Hannah as pathetic-pageboy-maiden reminds me of Hero from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, the insipid female character who faints at every obstacle she encounters. She is annoying, and Laird sees straight through Hannah’s ruse, telling her that she’s “the most self involved, presumptuous person” he’s ever met, and that she has “rotten insides”: “I think it’s a pretty dark scene in your head.”
Hannah then hilariously attempts to contact Jessa via voicemail —“You fucker, where did you go!”— which is pointless because Jessa never listens or responds to voicemail. Her final resort is to ring Adam, who is coincidentally at home unleashing his pent-up sexual frustration (Natalia doesn’t like kinky sex-talk) on his ramshackled boat-in-progress.
Adam immediately senses something is wrong, and this intuition is validated when he observes Hannah’s OCD in action: “is this the stuff from high school…that O.C.D.C. shit?…. Kid, I thought you were done with that.” Hannah thought so too, and then unconsciously and non-manipulatively places herself in the vulnerable position to be rescued: “I feel like I’m unraveling, Adam. I’m really, really, scared.”
And with that—with that honesty—he’s off. Running down the street, shirtless, to the subway, while keeping her on the phone (FACETIME!) in order to demonstrate to her that he’s not going to disappear; that he’s “always there for her.”
When he arrives, however, Hannah refuses to leave the bed to let him in. The rescue, for her, is also a test. He knows better than to take the bait; he knows her, and proceeds to break the door down. Seeing a human form lumped under the bedsheets, he uncovers her:
And with that he lifts her out of bed. She wraps her arms around him and they kiss.
It is at this moment that John Cameron Mitchell’s invocation of my favorite e.e. cummings poem, “somewhere i have never traveled,” at the beginning of the episode makes sense:
“(i do not know what it is about you that closes
Hannah’s vulnerability is honest—is “real”—this time because it is as if her body knows she can be in this position with Adam. Because even if her complex mind is unsure her body knows that Adam “understands” her. He sees through her and calls her on her bullshit and at the same time is not judgmental of her. And for that she loves him. For that she opens herself to him.