The only worthwhile part of the Girls finale was its first 100 seconds. In the opening shot, the camera tracks over a bed, and two pairs of legs entwined on top of it. We see, when the dolly comes to a stop, that Marnie (Allison Williams) is sleeping softly behind Hannah (Lena Dunham), who awakes with a start and asks how Marnie got into her home while she was sleeping.
It’s a perfect (though mirrored) replica of one of the very first scenes of the series. In the pilot, which aired over six years ago, the camera panned over the same nested bodies. But in that episode Hannah was the big spoon, and neither woman was surprised to find the other there when they woke up. Even the music playing through these bookend scenes was the same. It helped to highlight the fact that Marnie has been Hannah’s one constant throughout the series — a point that Marnie herself has no problem driving home in the finale.
When Hannah asks why she’s there so early, Marnie says calmly that she wants to help Hannah raise her baby. Hannah, who just heard this shtick from Adam a few heartbreaking episodes ago, rolls her eyes. But Marnie persists. She says she doesn’t have a lot going on, but she has a lot to give, and she’s the only person ready to show up and put in the work for her friend.
“Who’s here?” she asks, gesturing to the empty apartment in general. “Elijah’s not here. Jessa sure as hell isn’t here. Adam isn’t here. Shoshanna literally despises all of us. Who’s here?” And now she gets serious. The camera stops cutting to Hannah’s reaction shots. It’s just Marnie’s growing intensity; her still, calm purpose. “I’m here,” she says. “I win. I’m your best friend. I’m the best at being your friend. I love you the most.”
These last words come out slowly, tightly — like drops of poison sucked from a wound. Hannah only shrugs and says “Okay.” But the relief on Marnie’s face is bare and heartbreaking. She’s made her declaration and it’s paid off: she’s the best friend. She’s the one.
Friendships are hard to talk about. We’re not taught to define or discuss them the way we are with romantic relationships. There is no “Where is this going?” talk between friends, no establishment of boundaries or labels. People simply float gravitationally into meaningful friendships or they don’t — at least, this is how language about friendship allows us to conceive of it. In practice (or at least in my experience), friendships are much more fraught. There are always imbalances of love, social circles that don’t link up properly, diverging paths and changing values. But we don’t talk about them; someone is a friend or they are not, but “friend” is a name oceans wide.
In part because friendship was its primary subject matter, Girls has long dwelt in the land of the unspecified. The writing savored the ambiguity and apathy that arise when people choose not to (or fail to) set definitions and boundaries for themselves. The resulting feel of the show has often been one of incestuous codependence. (This is common among situational dramedies set in New York City, but was exacerbated on Girls due to the amount of time the characters spent in the nude.) So the choice to make Marnie vocalize her need to be the best friend in such blunt, competitive terms was unexpected and thrilling, especially since every other relationship on the show seems to have disintegrated.
In the penultimate episode, “Goodbye Tour,” Hannah says goodbye to more than just New York City. Her roommate Elijah (Andrew Rannells) despairs that, in moving away, they will no longer “be miserable and suffer in this godforsaken rat hole together.” He doesn’t call their commiseration a friendship. Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) also avoids the word “friend” when she suggests that the four central characters should probably call it quits. Whether by circumstance or harsh bathroom monologues, Girls shows us some of the common ways in which friendships tend to lie down and die.
So if the nameless, tenuous bonds that held the show together for the past six years have evaporated or been slashed, what’s left? Marnie’s left. Marnie’s here. She sits cross-legged on Hannah’s bed and presents herself as a prize. The struggle to stay relevant in your best friend’s life can be brutal and unhealthy, especially if, like Marnie, you see friendship as a competition. When you base your worth on where you rank in someone’s life, you set yourself up for disappointment.
Luckily, Marnie is not disappointed. Her brave gesture pays off: she’s the only “girl” we even see in the finale, which shows Marnie and Hannah living together in a financially improbable house upstate. Their situation is just as invasive and codependent as the normal Girls material, but it feels somehow more secure now. There is comfort and stability to be taken from a relationship that began with firm commitments, with solidly drawn lines.
At the end of Friends, Rachel gets off the plane. At the end of How I Met Your Mother, Ted holds up a blue French horn outside of Robin’s window. I haven’t actually seen Sex and the City, the show to which Girls is most often compared, but I do know there was a capstone movie where Carrie married Mr. Big. I can’t help but see Marnie’s monologue as this show’s version of that “tying loose ends by tying the knot” trope. It’s her declaration of love. “I’m your best friend. I’m the best at being your friend.” This is a promise.
In a finale that leaves a frustrating amount of information up to the imagination (what becomes of literally every other character, for example?), Marnie and Hannah’s friendship is the one certainty. They fight, they clash on child-rearing philosophies, they stay just as wrapped up in themselves as they’ve been for the past six years. But they’re constant, committed. “I love you the most.” This declaration, followed by a snippet of the shared life that it launches, is just as binding as any marriage vow. And, Girls seems to assert, friendship done right can transcend. It’s more important than romance, more binding than family. It loves us the most.