Illustration by Alex Bedder.
These questions regard last night’s episodes 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. Hannah gets paid! (And is making it rain!) She’s interviewing stars, getting sweet hotel rooms on the company’s dime, and Adam finally (?) gets a part in a play! And it’s on Broadway! And it’s Shaw, no less! All that…hard work?…of Adam’s non-acting career is finally paying off! But meanwhile it’s Hannah’s “sellout” job which is still footing the bills. Major Barbara has some interesting things to say about the morality of charity and the lies we tell to get cash money. How can Shaw’s critique be applied to Hannah and Adam’s lifestyle?
Despite the moralistic narrative that runs through Major Barbara, Shaw believed that the end of his play was a happy one. (Also notable: This was one of the few epsidoes of GIRLS that ended on a relatively happy note.) Barbara comes to agree that it is OK to use the money from an industry she formerly hated in order to do Christian works—and Shaw thought that this was, overall, a good thing. No matter where the money came from, it can be used in the service of god.
Of course, if you take god out of the equation and replace him with buying nice dresses and celebrating your boyfriend’s success in a nice hotel, the logic of this goes flat. So yes, Shaw would say that Hannah is lying to herself. The real question is whether advertorial on its own is a bad thing—can it really be compared to the munitions factory of the play?—or if it simply constitutes selling out, because it is not what Hannah’s dream is and will most likely distract her from her real work. How seriously should we take Ray’s assertion that advertorial is actually evil?
Based on the “Field Guide to the Urban Man” stuff two episodes ago, these sponsored posts just seemed benign and stupid. But this episode really turned up the heat—Hannah has fully drunk the Kool-Aid and is now actively encouraging her interview subjects to lie to sell products. From that angle, it looks pretty damned immoral. Hannah claims to be a huge fan of Shaw, but clearly she’s not thinking of his stern judgment when she enthusiastically spends her bigger-than-expected salary for engaging in these shady dealings.
2. Not that anyone was confusing advertorials for journalism, but Hannah encourages Patti Lupone to straight-up lie for her Strenova bone density interview. (“You can have early onset Alzheimer’s, so I don’t understand why osteoporosis should be a problem.”) Then again, you have to wonder why a Broadway actress like Patti LuPone would agree to do an interview about a disease she doesn’t have (and throw in a fake dog, Pippin, for good measure), or why, for that matter, GQ would think getting the star of the original Evita to talk about osteoporosis in their magazine would be a good “get.” (And it’s going in the print version, no less!) In this theoretical advertorial-verse, imagine three equally absurd cultural icons/drug combos Hannah is asked to profile and tell me the tagline of the piece.
Well, GQ did not “get” Patti LuPone for the magazine. Strenova got her, and the pharmacuetical company is paying GQ for the privilege of putting her in its pages to talk up its drug. And we have to assume LuPone is being paid by the pharma firm as well to be a spokesperson. Money makes the whole system spin. And really, is this any more absurd than Claire Danes making commercials for eyelash-growth treatment Latisse?
More absurd would be:
Meryl Streep for Integra (anemia): “The Iron Lady had a secret…”
Michelle Obama for Mirapex (restless leg syndrome): “Let’s Move! But not all the time.”
Prince for Flomax (difficult urination): “He just wanted some extra time in his piss.”
3. Justine Harman wrote a piece for Elle called “Why Women Should Fear the Jessa,” in which she posits the character as sort of the new manic pixie dream girl. “For all of her aloof magic, the Jessa requires endless amounts of attention; like a fairy, she’ll die if we don’t believe in her.” But Jessa’s achilles heel has always been her posturing: She wants to present herself as both world-weary and bohemian, cynical and mystical, fun-loving and adventurous but also “over it.” How do these opposing interests work against her in this episode, and how do they figure into her decision to commit a couple misdemeanors with some guy she can’t even tolerate?
Jessa’s constant and complex posing usually makes it hard to get a read on her, but in this episode we finally got to see what she is like when she’s absolutely alone. And Harman is right: There’s a void there. Jessa almost literally doesn’t exist when she doesn’t have anyone to bounce her bullshit off of.
It’s suddenly very revealing that she is spending her days in a store for children, especially when we see her boredom-induced mothering of the child-mannequin, first rocking it and then spanking it. We’ve met her father, so we know that some basic things were missing from her childhood, but we rarely get to see the hole this left in her personality quite so clearly as when she is begging the UPS guy to stay and talk to her. Usually her personality is just a performance, but here she is staring into a void, and it is causing her real pain. No wonder she runs off with a father-figure-shaped distraction when it comes her way, and relapses hard.
4. “Every morning I wake up feeling good, like I’m ready to take on the day, like I want to say good morning to strangers or shit that I usually hate. Then without fail, something happens in the yogurt shop that fucks my whole shit up and ruins my whole day.” Marnie’s whining sounds a little too “It Happened to Me”-ish to actually fit her New Age self-actualization kick, but she’s not exactly wrong, especially considering the unceremonious way that Ray dumps her as soon as she’s done talking. Is Marnie just not “leaning in” hard enough? What makes her the arguably least successful of all her friends (and Soo-Jin), when she seems like she’s still the most put-together of all of them?
Marnie is “working on herself” and trying to improve her life, sure, but she is still the most spoiled, entitled person on the show by far. She operates from a position of assuming that life owes her everything, and is thus constantly aggrieved at the world because it is not conforming to the happy scenario that she so obviously deserves. If one conversation that doesn’t go the way you like can ruin your whole day, maybe it isn’t the world’s fault that everything doesn’t go your way, but rather your own fault for not being able to maintain some level of happiness through minor disappointments. (And what terrible event was that? A conversation with an acquaintance who is more successful than you are? Cry me a river. Nothing bad actually happened to you.)
It is this attitude, more than anything else, that is keeping the otherwise organized and put-together Marnie down. If she could have recovered from her initial shock that Soo-Jin’s gallery is in Noho not Bushwick and actually asked her from a humble place if she still needs help or is hiring, she might have gotten a job, or at least started the process of networking with a successful and obviously parent-funded friend in the gallery world. But Marnie can’t get there. She is so above everything and everyone that her only response is to feel the crushing weight of the world’s unfairness and respond with barely concealed jealous anger.
It’s all there in her response to Ray’s rejection. An actual relationship with him is so far below what she has decided she deserves. So when he dumps her, it stings even more, because he should be thanking his lucky stars that she deigns to be around him, whether eating pizza or not. Her response is more of the same: you can’t hurt me, I don’t even care about you, etc. If she could see or admit to the reality of a situation, rather than her fantasy of what she thinks she is entitled to, maybe she’d start getting some small measure of what she wants. All she does instead is shoot herself in her holier-than-thou foot.
5. Describe the hotel party from Shoshannah’s perspective as she tells it to Jasper, where it’s “The Truman Show” and “everyone is a walking American Apparel ad.” What was the high point of the evening? How soon until Sutton Foster shows up to be her new bestie? Who is watching THAT program? (Actually, it might have better ratings…)
Shoshanna sounds like she’s saying negative things, but really there is nobody who would want to live in The Truman Show more than she. It would mean she is a celebrity, and everyone is paying attention to her—who cares if it isn’t “real”? She lives her whole life as if it is a series of stage sets anyway. And so the high point of the evening for her had to be when she met an actual actor who had been on a show she loved, because there is little difference between characters and people for Shosh. If we could see inside her head, this party would likely look like some sort of celeb-filled hotel gala. In fact, we don’t have to imagine it—we’ve seen it many times before, on lots of shows. For example, on Shosh’s favorite, Sex and the City, which did indeed have much better ratings. (But it never had starfish sex or a lizard shirt, so…)