Five Essay Prompts for GIRLS Season 3, Episode 6 : ‘Free Snacks’

Illustration by Alex Bedder.

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. They say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but for Hannah Horvath, every urban male street guide comes with its bag of thirty pieces of Sunchips. As we see our protagonist unravel in this episode—from overly-eager brainstormer at her GQ/Neiman Marcus meeting, to the epitome of Sad Desk salad (minus the salad)—how would New Hannah explain her predicament to the Old Hannah of Season One, who was still considering sleeping with her dentist boss “for the story”? Why would she be so conflicted at a job that is creative, pays well, and engages her interests, just because it has a corporate sponsor?

On a show whose characters generally don’t have arcs so much as jagged lurches from point to point, this seems like evidence of a gradual change in Hannah’s character. She has gone from someone who just thinks about how to fund her writerly lifestyle on a day-to-day, or doughnut-to-doughnut, basis to someone who has some stability in her life and finances and is now thinking about her writing in terms of a career and a future. And she wants that career to be more The New Yorker and less corporate shill—especially once Ray puts his characteristically biased reading of that difference front and center for her. Not to mention once she talks to her new colleagues and realizes how entirely the corporate writing has eclipsed their previous elevated pursuits. 
 
One thing that has not changed about Hannah is that she thinks of herself not simply as someone who writes, but as A Writer. In her mind, her creative work is coextensive with her life and her personality. She doesn’t even write fiction, just memoir. So the idea that it could be equally fulfilling to use her talents to do something that doesn’t have to do with her own life story is totally alien to her. And even thinking about it opens up a space between her life and her work that makes her incredibly uncomfortable. Hence the multi-stage meltdown she performs over the course of the episode—not to mention the focus on the free snacks. Hannah just wants to grab what she can from this job and leave it in her rearview, and the idea that she might be able to stay and make money and learn something and possibly move up in this company fills her with existential fear.
 
 
2. Hannah’s colleagues Joe, Karen and Kevin have all produced a much more substantial body of work than Ms. Horvath, despite their “selling out” to GQ’s advertorial pages. Please recreate a segment of their ouvres as described in the episode: Joe’s Talk of the Town, Kevin’s Yale Series of Younger Poets award, or Karen’s N+1 essay examining the Jersey Shore from an imperialist lens. Keep in mind: Kevin’s inability to think beyond “Mod Hatter” at the pitch meeting; Joe’s previous history as a character on The Walking Dead; the probability of that N+1 essay already existing.
 
Hah. I’d like to think that if I had the talents to compose a worthy parody of a Yale Series poem, or even a good Talk of the Town, I wouldn’t be writing marketing copy myself. (Which is to say, this episode hit waaaay too close to home, especially in the shrugging way the three coworkers mentioned that they’ve got some things in the works, but not really.) But thinking that way is a trap—the same one Hannah finds herself caught in here. Because in the end, it has relatively little to do with talent (after all, Janice says, “there are lots of [presumably also talented] people who would love to have your job”), but it is far too tempting to think that it does.
 
In fact, this whole office setting seems very obviously set up as a snare for Hannah, a trap literally baited with a kitchen full of free Sunchips. Not only do we have the whole “take the money and stop being a real writer” setup, but we are given three coworkers who are set up to play on Hannah’s immaturity, suggestibility and desperate need to be accepted. One who dislikes her for no reason, one who is cute and funny and seems primed to become her “work husband” but is very obviously into someone else, and one who pretends to like her but is so clearly trying to set her up it made my back teeth ache to watch (who else but a backstabber prefaces a compliment with “Nobody else will tell you this, but…” and then actively encourages you to go after your (and her!) boss’s job?). I doubt getting The Walking Dead‘s Michael Zegen to play Joe was really stunt casting, but there is the sense some horrorshow right around the corner here that is much worse than the non-writerly drudgery Hannah is imagining.
 
3.  This is the second episode this season where we’ve seen Ray develop an interest in both basketball and Marnie. How is his “court” technique similar in both circumstances?
 
At first, the idea of Ray playing basketball seemed incongruous (as did seeing him in those shorts). But then Shoshannah commented that he “has the respect of his peers” on the court, and it clicked. Shosh didn’t really know what she was seeing, but last week Ray mentioned that he plays point guard, i.e. he calls the plays. Just like he does at work. Ray loves being in his own element. Anywhere where he is comfortable knowing that he is aware of everything that is going on and can call all the shots. When he is in his own space—like his store—he becomes this steamroller who just blasts on through contrary opinions and imposes his will. Witness how effortlessly he needled his way into the truth about Hannah’s job.
 
The great thing about this burgeoning relationship with Marnie (as much as I dislike the idea of them together) is that it constantly knocks him out of this comfort zone. He is having trouble even maintaining his footing, much less calling the plays. And it is fun and instructive to see how this character who claims to be “wiser” than the others reacts in these situations. The short answer: not very wise. No, making fun of her taste in television is not a great way to tell a woman you like her. Yes, she does in fact know what the world doppelganger means and has a sense of humor about it. No, your opinion about third world aid is not the only legitimate one.
 
Now if it only seemed that Marnie was equally learning anything from this tryst.
 
4. GIRLS sometimes suffers from the sitcom syndrome, where the conflicts of certain characters are pushed aside after 30 minutes and never referred to again. So seems to be the case with Hannah and Adam: Though the teaser preview had a clip of Hannah and Caroline’s fight last week, and Adam’s reaction to Hannah kicking his sister out of the house, “Free Snacks” exists in a world where “Only Child” hasn’t happened. Give two plausible explanations for why Hannah is no longer whining about her book deal, and why Adam’s love of acting has now seemingly trumped his family drama…which may or may not include a sister now missing, and living on the streets.
 
This was the most jarring thing about “Free Snacks,” and it contributed more than a little to the feeling that this was a sort of filler episode, trying to set up storylines for future episodes rather than just carrying the whole narrative forward. Especially with the way the previous epsiode ended—Adam rushing out of the house, then fading into the ominous closing credits music of Matt Costa’s “Good Times (Are Coming to an End)”—we were led to expect some continuation of that story, and instead we get…Adam is an actor again? They might as well have just thrown all the principals in a locked closet together for a heartwarming bottle episode for all that this carried any of the previous narratices forward.
 
Plausible explanation #1: A significant amount of time has passed between the previous episode and this one. Jessa has clearly been working at that store for long enough that they’re letting her talk to customers unsupervised, Hannah has applied for and gotten a job, etc. So perhaps there has been time for the Caroline thing to resolve itself and Hannah to get over the limbo of her book and move on.
 
The obvious problem with this explanation is that Ray is clearly calling Marnie very soon after their sexual encounter, nor would have he had waited long if it was his goal to be “a gentleman and a squire” (not a phrase, dude). Not to mention that this would still be super-crappy storytelling. So:
 
(Much more) plausible explanation #2: The writers of GIRLS were afraid they had gone as far as they could with Adam and Hannah’s storylines without just spinning the same wheels a lot more, so they had to create a new plotline and a passel of new characters to get somewhere new  and build some momentum. And in a half-hour show, that means letting some other plots fall by the wayside.
 
To be fair, GIRLS has a tendency to subvert narrative convention in the service of being like real life, and in real life, this sometimes happens. Things that were all-consuming one day fade into the background the next. But that doesn’t make it narratively satisfying.
 
 
5. Seriously, what is up with Shosh? Is she okay? Does she need some kombucha? Sure, we’ve all been there—having sex with someone who we consider our intellectual inferior—but her Gretchen Weiner-level obnoxiousness is becoming less cute and more cruel. How does Shosh’s “ground-rules” laid down for her new beau mimic/parallel her own insecurities?
 

Whatever else we can say about the narcissistic characters on this show, most of them give admirably few fucks what the world at large thinks of them. Even Marnie, who hates to think of that horrible video being out there on the Internet, doesn’t try to make herself fit some external image of how she should be. But Shosh lives her entire life as if there is a script she has to follow, one written by television/magazines/the world at large. If it used to be cute, it was because it was played as comic relief—she’s the young one, who doesn’t get it, etc. But as her character gets older and more central to the story, it is just getting old. I need a boyfriend at this stage of my life, so I’m going to pick one who doesn’t challenge me at all, and for whom I have zero respect, and then tell him how many nights we have to hang out and what approved activities for those nights include while he screws me from behind? The scene might have been funny, but it was just way too sad. Her character is way overdue for a brutal wakeup call that does more than just knock her back for a few seconds. The others have gotten more than their share, after all.

 
At least her horrifying treatment of dumb-as-rocks Parker provides a counterpoint that actually makes the Marnie-Ray thing seem balanced and even sort of sweet. As opposed to Shosh’s pre-programmed five-year plan, they’re totally off-book and feeling their way forward.