The sixth and final season of HBO’s Girls kicked off Sunday night with a classic Hannah story in Montauk. As the first episode, “All I Ever Wanted,” begins, we see Hannah (Lena Dunham), fresh off her self-described “triumphant” Moth performance and publication of an essay in The New York Times, now finding enough success with her writing to land a vacation journalism gig at a female surf camp on The End.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? And it is, at times. But there’s also something deeper at play—possibly the beginning of a shift in Hannah’s worldview, her growing up, maturing and, for once, seeing beyond herself, if the show decides to go in that direction. Of course, Girls could easily end with a darker commentary, assimilating our heroine into the vapid, acerbic world of Manhattan professionals, but somehow it feels unlikely that Dunham would allow her beloved alter ego to go out like that.
The cringe-worthy moments begin right away during Hannah’s meeting with the editor of Slag Mag, who says she chose her for the fish-out-of-water article about the “super chill but kind of disgusting female surf camp in the Hamptons” because “I already love your writing, but even if I didn’t, I mean, we’re basically hiring you for your look.”
After Hannah explains her persona as “witty yet narcissistic,” how she hates and is “basically allergic to” sand, is “super against sun” and “super against sunscreen,” as well as “not into drinking water” and “not into watching people have fun,” the editor says she’s perfect for what they want—a story “bearing witness to these bored rich ladies who are taking surf culture, co-opting it, just turning it into some s_itty yoga, which they’ve already ruined.”
Set with her cynical angle in place, Hannah is off to Montauk where things go just about as viewers have come to expect from her, but somewhere along the line, with a bit of sage guidance from an uncomplicated surf instructor named Paul-Louis, there’s a shift.
Meanwhile, Marnie (Allison Williams) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) have been living together at her place after a blissful reunion, but she’s about-to-be-divorced from Desi (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) and says she needs some space, so it’s time for Ray to move back to the apartment he shares with Hannah’s ex Adam (Adam Driver). Unfortunately, Hannah’s ex best friend, who’s also Adam’s new girlfriend, Jessa (Jemima Kirke), is now living there and the couple is completely sexually inappropriate and oblivious of the discomfort they’re causing Ray. They’ve also shoved all his stuff in one corner of the apartment “for sex reasons.”
Unable to deal, Ray crashes at his ex and Marnie’s friend Shoshanna’s (Zosia Mamet) place. When Marnie drops by with coffee for Ray the next morning, she can plainly see how well suited he and Shosh are as they joke over Paul Krugman’s column in The New York Times—which is completely beyond her depth.
Working to conclude her divorce, Marnie visits Desi to separate their meager assets and they end up having sex after he tells her, “Before everything, before I even saw you as a woman, I saw you as an artist.” Who could resist that, especially from the completely earnest Desi, who means every word?
But this is really about the power of Montauk. So, back to the beach, as they say.
As predicted by her editor, Hannah is indeed completely out of place among the svelte, athletic surf campers and buff, surfer dude instructors at the Montauk Boardriders Surf School (which is real, by the way). After a wetsuit mixup and some inappropriate nudity, she attends her first class on the beach, which isn’t going well.
Hannah fakes an injury and manages to get out of doing any actual surfing. Instead, she hangs out by the pool and then hits the bar for some absurd, blue tropical frozen drinks. She met Paul-Louis (played by The Night Of and Rogue One star Riz Ahmed) earlier, and he joins her for a drink. As they chat, Hannah explains that she was chosen for the article “to not enjoy surf camp,” which clearly baffles the happy, easy-going and well-traveled Paul-Louis, though he acknowledges, “Surfing on Long Island is all just kook-city—posers, businessmen…”
Many drinks later, the two are partying at a nightclub, where in true Hannah style, she’s dirty dancing with Paul-Louis, inhibitions out the window, eventually spilling red drinks all over herself and sort of rolling around and making love to the floor—underwear and buttocks exposed for all to behold.
In spite of this absurd display, Hannah only sees Paul-Louis’ as truly worthy of her affections when he begins to rap behind the DJ booth. Entranced by his talent, she says to no one in particular, “Oh my God, you guys, I know him! He’s my surf teacher! I’m gonna f_ck him!”
The two end up having awkward, drunken sex in his bunkbed and she spends the night.
In the morning, Hannah vomits on his floor, but Paul-Louis takes it in stride. “They make everybody boot,” he says of the red drinks. Expecting him to no longer want her around, Hannah says she’s going to clean up the puke and go back to her room to cry (in a sort of existential way), but Paul-Louis, who senses her need for companionship and someone to break her out of whatever it is holding her back, asks her to spend the day touring all the great parts of Montauk with him.
Hannah and Paul-Louis check out the bay, drink some cans of Montauk Brewing Co. beer, collect shells, enjoy time on the beach and fool around in the sand—and he even gets her in the water, albeit against her will. With his worldview rubbing off on her, Hannah softens and begins appreciate the beautiful surroundings, nature and the solace it offers.
“This really is breathtaking,” she says, “And that’s not a word I have ever used before.” Hannah later adds, “I was so ready to hate this.”
“Why? What’s to hate?” Paul-Louis asks, delivering a moment of clarity for his new companion. “It’s so much easier to love something than to hate it, don’t you think? Love’s the easiest thing in the world.”
Hannah then tells him, “All my friends in New York define themselves by, like, what they hate. Like, I don’t even know what any of my friends like. I just know what they don’t like.” Realizing what she’s saying, Hannah adds, “God that’s so crazy. It’s like everyone’s so busy chasing success and, like, defining themselves, they can’t even experience pleasure.”
“That’s what we’re here for,” the calm surfer replies.
Completely taken in by this new experience, and Paul-Louis, Hannah later tells him she’s considering spending more time in Montauk to write and get to know him better, but he casually reveals that his girlfriend, though it’s an open relationship, will be arriving Friday. Even as he says this, Paul-Louis isn’t aware (or is he?) that he’s crushing Hannah’s fantasy. But she comes around, even if temporarily heartbroken.
“Why get mad at fun, right?” Hannah says, slowly breaking into a sad and then accepting smile.
The episode ends with Hannah truly at peace sitting between Paul-Louis’ legs by a beach bonfire as another surf instructor plays Tal Bachman’s “She’s So High” on acoustic guitar. Just before the credits, she glances back up at Paul-Louis dolefully—this trip has changed her, but it’s about to end.
The real question for the next episode is whether she’ll write about her positive experience in Montauk or resort to the snarkiness Slag Mag expects. The answer to this may provide a clue toward the bigger question of where Hannah will end up when Girls’ final credits roll.
If you missed the Girls Season 6 premiere on Sunday, you can watch it tonight at 8 p.m. on HBO2 East, on HBO GO or on demand through your cable provider. The final season of HBO’s Girls airs Sundays at 10 p.m.
Watch a trailer for Girls Season 6 below.