One thing fans and foes of HBO’s controversial show Girls can all agree upon is that Hannah Horvath is a selfish protagonist. In the sublime season three finale, Hannah uses this controversial trait to pull herself up from certain despair demonstrating growth and ending the season on a hopeful note.
Girls seemed to be setting Hannah up for the same self-destruction that ended the first two seasons. She has just quit her stable writing job in an epically embracing way, she and Adam are on shaky ground and she’s humiliated Marnie, yet again. However, receiving a letter of acceptance from The Iowa Writer’s workshop turns everything around in a subtle and surprising way.
Despite purposefully walking in on Marnie and Ray having sex, Marnie is the first person Hannah shares the letter with. The two friends have been drifting apart since the first season, but the sheer joy that transforms Marnie’s face after receiving the news is a heartwarming beat that showcases how much these friends love each other. They may not always be best friends but the bond they share is strong when it counts. It is such an honest and relatable moment of friendship that humanizes Hannah and Marnie drawing from positive rather than negative aspects of their characters.
Hannah’s parents deliver an equally heartwarming reaction to the news. Hannah’s mother beams while jumping up and down with the toilet brush and her father does a jig in the kitchen. Hannah is surprised and delighted at her parent’s pride which is the perfect counterpoint to the opening of Season One. This time instead of cutting Hannah off financially, her parents squeal, “Say yes, and we’ll figure it out!” As the family jumps up and down exchanging shouts of glee it is clear that her parents’ belief in her was more important than she realized. This coming-of-age-realization shows a great deal of growth from a character who seemed incapable of change.
The final exchange between Hannah and Adam is where I was sure Hannah would implode. Adam is irate, blaming Hannah for a bad performance after she shares her Iowa news minutes before he makes his Broadway debut. Sure, it’s a typically selfish Hannah move, but she genuinely wants to share in Adam’s big night. She’s earned the right to be selfish here and she knows it. Adam refuses to acknowledge Hannah’s excitement both for herself and for him. He crushes Hannah’s enthusiasm by saying, “I’m sick of trying to work it out. Can’t one thing ever be easy with you?” Again we are given a fitting counterpoint to the end of Season two. Back then it was easy for Adam. Hannah was a mess and he was able to rescue her by beating down her door and carrying her to the safety of his apartment. Now the couple’s breakup seems imminent but the counterpoint comes in the final shot of the episode. Hannah returns home alone and grabs the acceptance letter. As she clings to it about to fall apart we can see her using this accomplishment to pull herself back together. As she soaks in the strength she pulls from herself we leave Hannah scared, hopeful and smiling.