Five Essay Prompts for Girls 2×3: ‘Bad Friend’


Hannah contemplates where the magic happens. (Illustration by Alex Bedder)

(Illustration by Alex Bedder, who has a podcast.)

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Girls. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. The first scene this week has Hannah going to interview for a freelance job writing about drugs and experimental sex for a website called JazzHate, run by a woman named “Jame” (not Jamie). First of all, what the hell does JazzHate even mean, and secondly, which website will have the most convincing blog post claiming credit for the reference: XOJane, Jezebel, or Vice circa 2002?

JazzHate is one of those names that some guy at a startup who was “really getting into branding” comes up with, and then convinces them to adopt it by talking about how “evocative” it is, without ever having to suggest what it is that it evokes. Which, basically, is bad feelings and music that most people secretly don’t like or understand. Of course, websites with stupid names seem to work, because people will go there just to find out what the hell it is. (Wasn’t Marnie sort of doing that with Booth’s house?) But there better be something there worth reading, and the scene certainly leaves one with the impression that this particular site is all elusive phrases and enigmatic platitudes with little to back it up. Kind of like Jessa, who, notably, is in only one throwaway moment in this episode. Once you dig beneath the hard-to-pin-down surface, it is all trite inspirational posters like the “where the magic happens” “joke.”

2. This episode was all about boxes: Whether it’s the box of your comfort zone (outside of which you can find where the magic happens), the literal TV box installation where Booth Jonathan locks Marnie, or the way Hannah compartmentalizes the people in her lives by putting them into ill-fitting boxes (Elijah in his gay box, Laird in his junkie box, Marnie in her bad friend box). Please find three other examples of the kinds of other boxes on Girls. And yes, I just handed you that first one.

Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, it seems that this idea of putting people in boxes is central to the whole show. More this season than last, but from the very start, with Shoshanna trying to fit everyone into their Sex in the City slots, the characters’ clashes with each other have involved “category mistakes” rather than simple misunderstandings or conflicts. Hannah in particular is prone to this, and thus has now made two different housemates move out–and presumably they have to pack boxes when they do so–because they don’t fit the narrow interpretation she demands of them. Meanwhile Thomas John and Jessa are headed for disaster because they have such deeply incompatible ideas of which of each other’s boxes they fit in, neatly symbolized by the puppies in a box in the previous episode. I mean, really, who puts living things in a covered box like that? In short, eery time you see a physical box on Girls, look for characters to start shouting at each other.

3. Of his pet turtle, Hannah’s downstairs junkie neighbor Laird (comedian Jon Glaser) declares with equal parts bitterness and resignation, “I’ll never not have him.” (Presumably because turtles have longer lifespans than heroin addicts.) But is it actually Laird who is Hannah’s turtle? Or is Hannah’s everyone turtle? What does it mean to be the turtle versus the turtle owner? Food for thought: The symbolism of turtles in Eastern mythology; the meaning behind the phrase “Turtles all the way down”; the co-creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Peter Laird.

When you get out of rehab, one of the things they sometimes suggest is that you get a pet. It is supposed to help by making you learn to be responsible for something outside of yourself and assist you in rejoining society. The fact that Laird picks a turtle, which doesn’t really fit the bill, is telling: a mostly sedentary reminder of his own mortality. But Hannah is his real pet, as well as his new addiction.
This episode is really centrally about their connection, rather than Hannah’s other friendships, and for a relationship between near-strangers, it is pretty complex. Which one is the turtle and which the owner? They seem to switch off–not unlike the Ninja Turtles, who start out as pets and then mutate to become protectors. Sort of like how Hannah takes Laird’s creepy stalking and turns it into him being “basically my guardian angel.” In the end, neither one gets to be the pet and neither one the owner–and if Hannah realizes that, she might actually write something halfway decent, instead of “here’s the story of how I screwed my junkie neighbor for coke.”

4. It’s hard to tell if Hannah is becoming more selfish and unlikeable as the season progresses, or if her grievances actually justify her behavior. Mansplain who “won” the evening’s fights at Booth Jonathan’s house of terror: Hannah, Marnie, or Elijah?

Hannah started the series from a place of such utter unlikeability (she stole money from a poor person!) that it was really all uphill from there. I find this Hannah something of an improvement. At least now she is telling her friends exactly what she feels and why she feels it–she is jealous of Marnie and Elijah because “I was meant to be your last woman”–even if those reasons are selfish and gross. And considering the fact that she has zero legs to stand on in this argument (because Elijah is right, this is not about her), it is pretty amazing how thoroughly she wins both fights.

Booth Jonathan’s house is meant to be a sort of distorting-mirror funhouse. Marnie reacts to being locked in a box surrounded by stomach-turning images and one of the worst songs of the ’90s by getting turned on instead of nauseated, and she reacts to her best friend being offensive and irrational by getting nauseated and guilty instead of mad. But let’s face it: Hannah beat Marnie the moment she showed up to interrupt her freaky doll-sex semi-date all coked up and wearing that shirt. She gave Marnie a thorough verbal lashing, but really all she had to say was, “I’m here and I’m wearing a yellow mesh top. I win.”

5. In Hannah’s voice, please write one paragraph from her JazzHate article about the night she tried cocaine OR give five (5) plausible DSM-IV diagnoses that could be used by Booth Jonathan’s lawyers for an insanity plea when he inevitably kills a toddler “for art.”

I am an excellent dancer, but people often don’t realize this about me. It is probably because of my weird shoulders, or how concerned I am in that moment that my shoulders are looking weird. But not tonight. Maybe it was the music, or my amazing outfit, or how I knew there was nowhere else I was supposed to be just then, but it was certainly also the cocaine and, really, nothing but the cocaine. But I was dancing. I was writhing and spinning and glowing and suddenly I’d been dancing with this one guy, with a ponytail and some old-school ’90s moves, for what seemed like forever. He was wearing a yellow mesh tank top and I wanted to be wearing it, but before I could open my mouth, he said, “You want to switch shirts?” It was that kind of night.