Last night I watched the season two finale of Girls, and was compelled to share some of my thoughts about it. This isn't about why Girls is such a damn fine show, whether or not Lena Dunham is a feminist hero, or even about how brave she is for showing her naked, "real" body on camera every week.
My love of Girls has always been an intensely personal one, and this blog post is personal as well. I do think this is a high-quality show and am always happy to have a spirited debate about what makes it such from a critical point of view. But that's not what I'm writing about at the moment.
My initial interest in Girls was piqued by a New York Magazine piece that referenced the painfully awkward sex scenes and the "realness" of the main characters' naked bodies. I was skeptical of the promised gritty, realistic portrayal of how 20-somethings live, and watched with the expectation of being proven correct in my assumptions.
But I liked the show immediately, so much so that I proceeded to hold regular viewing parties with friends, in Beijing during season one and in Chiang Mai during season two. My friends and I would debate the merits and flaws of the characters and divulge who our favorites were. Each of us confessed that the character we found most endearing was the one who reminded us most of ourselves.
From Hannah's first monologue, in which she declared that she thought she could be the voice of her generation, or "a voice of a generation", I knew I had found a kindred spirit in this character.
Throughout both seasons, I have winced at her willingness to debase herself for a man, cringed sympathetically when she was called out on her self-absorption and empathized perhaps a little too well with her spiral into anxiety, OCD and presumably, depression.
I saw some of my own worst qualities reflected back to me and much as it pained me to watch them, I also thirsted for more. Here at last was a character who reflected not the traits I was proud of or aspired to possess, but the things I feared and was finally ready to see in myself.
It's been nearly a year since I entered into a period of emotional upheaval, intense reflection and many months of emotional extremes. In some small way, the presence of Hannah Horvath in my life was a comfort, a validation. I was mortified by some of my internal thoughts and insecurities. I didn't want to tell other people about what I saw then as the horrors in my head. Instead, I could watch Hannah and take some comfort in the fact that anyone who could write such a character must occasionally grapple with the same brands of insecurity, self-doubt and uncertainty that I was feeling.
The development - or regression - of Hannah's character in season two particularly resonated with me. Certainly I could relate to the messiness and futility of her relationship with Adam in the first season, but I didn't really need to see my own mistakes with men mirrored back to me to learn my lesson. I knew that what Hannah was doing was kind of fucked, much in the way that I knew my own behavior was every time I made excuses for a guy who had repeatedly shown he wasn't good for me, just so I could feel a little less bad about continuing to be involved with him.
It was the unraveling of Hannah's inner world that kept me hooked on the show during season two. Perhaps I projected some of my own life onto the character, but I related to her apparent fears of not being able to deliver on professional promises, of being a failure, of being alone. The sense of being disconnected from everyone around you. The harsh reality of sitting, alone, in your apartment in your pajamas, unwilling or unable to get out from under the covers and face the world. Were these not the very things I had been berating myself over for months in between bouts of lethargy?
Where Hannah had OCD, I had panic attacks. Seemingly out of nowhere, I would find myself imagining my own death by suffocation. This would lead to me hyperventilating, clinging somewhere in my mind to a thread of rationality even as I broke into a cold sweat or hot flashes, paralyzed until the all-encompassing fear had subsided. "You're not dying; you're alive and you're OK" became the mantra that kept me in the moment. These attacks became so frequent at one point that I briefly went on Xanax in order to make it through the day without going through the physically exhausting and emotionally draining process at alarming intervals.
I was embarrassed and it took me a long time to admit to my close friends what was going on. I probably would have continued taking the Xanax had it not exacerbated my depression. Instead, I started working with a therapist again and can happily say I haven't been back to such a dark place in months. But I remember it. And I'll always be able to empathize with what it's like to be there.
It's cliche at this point to thank Lena Dunham for presenting her audience with heavy issues in such frank and raw ways, but I thank her all the same. In Hannah Horvath, she gave me a character I needed to see and love at this point in my life, a character who has helped me better see myself. And through writing this character, she made me feel a little less ashamed and a little less alone on the morning I woke up viciously self-attacking for sleeping with a guy I knew didn't respect me, or the many days I could barely get out of bed because I felt so much like I had sold out as a writer and had failed at all of my goals and dreams.
There is so much to be said about the season finale of Girls, both about the writing and story lines and the potential social commentary. But my initial reaction to the show, and the season, was gratitude for a character who is, if nothing else, a very real embodiment of some of the most serious issues that many of Dunham's fans face.