Girls 4×10 ‘Home Birth’: Nowhere to go but up

Girls 4x10 Cover

Television shows always have to balance self-containment and serialization, and that balance is never more evident than in a show’s season finales.   Many shows will operate on cliffhangers, on keeping viewers coming back for more because they want to know what happens.  Netflix has been using this model with their self-published shows, like House of Cards, where the show operates largely on plot development aimed at keeping viewers coming back.  But, considering how television operates like a series of novels, with seasons as single books and episodes as larger chapters, every show does a little (or a lot) of this.  Every show also contains its stories to single episodes or clusters of episodes as well.  Look at Girls episodes like “Sit-In” or “One Man’s Trash” or “The Return”.  Those are consistently the best episodes because they are exponentially more focused than ones that work off of cliffhangers or sprawl in order to serialize the plot.

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Source: HBO

I talk about this because “Home Birth” displays how Girls both operates as a heavily serialized show and a series of short stories.  It’s an episode that feels like the beginning of a new chapter as well as a series finale.  It’s an episode entirely about breaking out of your shell, about the things that naturally happen to you that push you to move forward in life.  It’s self-contained, sure, because it revolves around the birth of Caroline’s baby and the recurring theme of moving forward, but it also builds volumes off of the history of the show and suggests something new to come.  One of the reasons that the show is able to do it is because Dunham knows that she’s looking at a Season 5 next year, but it works brilliantly to cap off a somewhat shaky season with what is honestly one of the best episodes Season 4 has to offer.

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Source: HBO

Marnie is a character that has been pushed to the back for a while now, as she wants to pursue her music career with Desi, but “Home Birth” places her in the spotlight by forcing her to understand her own capability without Desi in the picture.  She’s with Desi because he makes her comfortable, failing to realize just how he’s a crutch for her, something to hold onto to make her feel like she has a safety net.  He’s a “musician” and she’s insecure, so she can lean on him for support with song writing and she can blame bad songs on him.  It’s a way for her to dodge actually growing as a musician.  And Desi knows what he can get from her.  He gets security, somebody to blame bad songs on, regular sex from an attractive woman.  He has also deluded himself into believing that he’s a romantic guy when really he’s addicted to spectacle.  And so when Ray finally digs into him, something sticks.  Sometimes being told the truth helps you believe it long enough to make a change.  And so he bails on Marnie when she has to perform for the music producer, forcing her to take the stage herself.  And when the music producer tries to talk her into working with somebody else or trying again another day, Ray pushes Marnie to go solo.  Because Marnie has it in her; she just never realized it.  And going onto that stage alone is a step in the right direction.

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Source: HBO

Shoshanna is growing up as well.  She has spent the duration of the season hell bent on trying to find the perfect man for her, more so than trying to find the perfect job.  She started dating somebody, but when she was offered the job in Tokyo, he immediately tried to talk her out of it, telling her he would love her “soon”, telling her that she could work for him, telling her to move in with him.  Shoshanna has had a problem with men controlling her life, from Ray in Season 2 to her sexual adventures in Season 3.  But here, in Season 4, she’s spent time managing Ray’s political campaign, and even though that was largely in the background, we can see her confidence vastly improved as a result of that.  Instead of stay in America and work for her boyfriend, she made the decision to move to Tokyo, effectively beginning a new chapter in her life where she has more control over her destiny.  And for a character like Shoshanna, that is unbelievably huge.

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Source: HBO

Hannah and Jessa are both trying to talk Caroline out of having a home birth, not just because its an unconventional idea, but because there’s a serious chance of something going wrong and somebody getting hurt in the process.  Where Hannah mostly sits on the sidelines for the majority of this story, the way that everybody reacts says something about where she’s at right now.  Adam screams as his sister, Laird breaks down and cries, nobody really knows what to do.  Nobody except Jessa, who steps up and pushes Laird and Caroline to head to the hospital (her decision to go into therapy is an amazing push for her character because it actually feels like something that Jessa would be good at if she tried).  But think back to when Hannah was having a panic attack at the beginning of the episode, how Fran put a hand on her shoulder and calmly brought her down.  When Adam wants to get back together with her at the end of the episode, she replies that she can’t.  It’s not because she doesn’t care for him, but more because she needs to be with somebody that will help her move forward.  Adam uses Hannah as a crutch, a way to stabilize himself without really worrying about how to help Hannah actively move forward.  He almost infantilizes her, to a degree.  So when we see Hannah’s mother telling her to move forward with a different man, when we see Hannah with Fran after the six-month time jump, it makes sense.  It doesn’t entirely make sense for Fran, who has every reason to run far, far away from her, but he is right for her, and it’s good for Hannah to find a new man who grounds her rather than uses her to ground himself.

What works so brilliantly about all of these storylines is how the catalyst for the girls’ forward movement comes from the outside world itself.  It’s not events that they manufacture.  Things happen to them, and they’re forced to either step up or stand in place.  And while they’ve been standing in place for a long time now, while they probably will end up standing in place for a while after the time jump, they inevitably step up.  Because that’s what life is.  It’s standing in place.  It’s failure.  It’s trying new things and regretting them, failing at them, becoming miserable because pathways that you thought you had aren’t going to work for you.  But eventually, life happens to you and you step up.  Not because you want to, but because you finally realize that you have to, that happiness comes from finding success, finding strength, becoming something new.

And that’s something that we all need to remember as we stand in place.  We won’t stand in place forever.  We’ll move forward, inevitably, leaving people behind for bigger and better things.  And it’s there we’ll find true happiness.

Thanks for following my reviews of Girls this season.  It was kind of a shaky one, but man, there were some great episodes in there, just like last season.  Be sure to tune back in next year when I review Season 5 and see just what happens after the time jump.

Michael St. Charles

is just a Michigan State University grad who loves a good story. If he’s not off teaching the young ones how to solve quadratic functions or to write an expository essay, he’s watching old-school HBO shows, indie horror movies, or he’s playing Resident Evil 4.

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