Five Essay Prompts for ‘GIRLS’ 3×11: ‘I Saw You’

These questions regard last night’s episodes of HBO’s GIRLS. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE,

Girls 3x11
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. The theme of being seen vs. being invisible pops up over and over in this episode. Beadie the photographer says that now that she is old, people don’t notice her taking their pictures; Patti LuPone’s husband suggests that he is invisible to people when they go out, and so on. Both Marnie and Hannah struggle to make themselves seen in this episode, with very different results. How are their efforts parallel, how are they different, and why does everyone around them keep telling them to just relax?

Well, those two do need to relax…but they’re also the only ones who have people around to tell them how off their worldview is. (Jessa and Shosh living in one perpetual manic pixie dream state of apartment-sharing hell where they just feed off each other’s insane energy, while Ray is arguably just well-adjusted. Arguably.) But Marnie’s attempts to be seen this episode are actually successful: After she watches Jessa take a job from under her just by breezing in and having an opinion, she seems to have finally realized that she’s the biggest impediment to her own life.

Marnie is highly capable, pretty, put-together and not without a good set of lungs; what has always held her back was her fear of people like Elijah, who will laugh at her earnestness. (His impression of her as Gypsy Rose was kind of incredible, though.) And yes, she’s misplaced that earnestness in the past, singing Kanye at Charlie’s app party. But Desi is weirdly good for Marnie: he’s not afraid to tell her that her YouTube video is embarrassing, but his folksy style obviously plays to her strengths better than some hipster nonsense. Even Elijah is impressed.

When she goes over to Ray’s, his instinct, like hers, is to just over-analyze everything. To figure out why this doesn’t fit into his image of himself, or what his life should be. But for once (or twice, if we count her hooking up with Bobby Moynihan at the end of Season 1), Marnie isn’t going to overthink it. She wants to have sex with Ray, and her confidence turned out to be that crucial ingredient that she was lacking to actually be likable and/or successful. Go Marnie. Hope it works out well for her. (Spoiler: It doesn’t.)

Hannah, on the other hand, is acting out in order to get attention. She shows up at Ray’s house because she can’t stand the idea of Adam not thinking about her. She tells everyone she got fired from her job because she wants them to think she’s the artist with integrity. She Jerry Maguire’s her own exit from GQ because she wants everyone to see her as this important writer figure who has better things to do with her time than come up with yoga puns. But for all her efforts, she lacks the confidence that Marnie has, and it’s hard to tell what she’s more scared of: that she might end up like Mr. LuPone, or that Adam will leave her before she gets the chance to become his invisible stage wife.

2. Hannah often acts badly, but she is in rare form in this episode: insulting people to their faces, demanding attention, being openly manipulative, and so on. Of all of the terrible things she does here, which made you want to scream at her the most? 

Storming in on Marnie and Ray having sex. What was even the point of that? It’s unclear WHY Hannah is even that angry, or why she thinks that her friend having sex with an acquaintance is A) Any of her business or B) Some sort of moral victory for her. Hannah has been distancing herself from Marnie ever since their fight in Season 1, and the beach house episode served only to reinforce how far apart these two are. Marnie at least makes an effort in the friendship; Hannah just looks at her and rolls her eyes for trying.

Seriously, why was she so mad? Does she think Ray isn’t good enough for Marnie? Or that Marnie acts like she’s too good for guys like Ray? What the hell does Hannah care; it’s not like Ray is any reflection of her choice in men. It’s not like Marnie has been unduly judgmental of Adam (well, maybe at first, but only for the way he treated her friend). It’s a little baffling—sure, Hannah has no boundaries, but why does everyone in her friend group agree to let her act like this? Why didn’t Ray get up and slam the door, why didn’t Marnie just tell her to fuck off, why didn’t Adam STOP her barging into his roommate’s room? It’s a little disconcerting. It’s not like I’ve always related to Hannah’s actions, which can veer towards over the top histrionics, but I felt like I at least understood–even sympathized–with her impulses. But in that least scene as she screams that Marnie is never allowed to judge her again, I kind of recoiled from the monster of Hannah Horvath. I didn’t know that person at all.

3. If you did work in a “sweatshop factory for puns,” how would you try to sell Lululemon for men? We’ve already heard Kevin’s (horrible) slogan. If Hannah hadn’t interrupted with her tirade, what would Karen, Joe and Hannah’s suggestions have been? What would Janice have thought of them?

Joe would have gone with something ironically retro: Downward-facing Dawg.

Karen, who we don’t know that much about except her n+1 essays, might have gone more high-concept: one of those viral marketing things where it’s just a sexy guy doing hot yoga poses in a three-page advertorial where the name Lululemon doesn’t appear at any point and the tag is “Chakra up.”

Hannah didn’t have anything for the pitch meeting; that’s why she gets so aggravated. (I’m better than this! Also, I’m unprepared!) Watch her to try to pitch that Kabballer thing all over again.

4. Hannah didn’t actually set out to get fired, and she obviously does a lot of post-facto justifying about it. But with all the emphasis in this episode on pursuing your dreams, and how easy it is to lose sight of them, it is hard to avoid thinking that GIRLS in some sense approves of Hannah’s self-sabotage. What is the message here? Does the show really want us to think that quitting a well-paying job is the right way to be “a truly authentic person”? 

This is the same conversation Hannah had with Janice the first time around, when she quit and then begged for her job back. And I don’t think the show is making any judgement call this time either: Hannah is growing up and discovering what she is and is not willing to do for money. She won’t compromise her artistic integrity; that’s neither inherently good or bad, it’s just who she is. From the standpoint of art, it’s an amazingly bold move. More pragmatically, it seems incredibly young and foolish to give up all that money. But look, the choice isn’t the problem. It’s the way she did it, chastising all her coworkers for being sell-outs. Insulting Jack, who had been the first genuinely nice and non-transactional friend the show has introduced, and accusing him of only wanting her around as a chubby friend. Hannah, when she wants, can be an incredibly hurtful person, and here she is hitting each one of her colleagues in the exact place she knows will call the most existential suffering, just because she’s frustrated and unhappy. It doesn’t make her inauthentic, it just makes her mean. It was a very Jessa move.

Maybe she didn’t actively go into that meeting thinking she needed to get fired, but she definitely didn’t have the balls to just quit, to say, “Thank you, but this isn’t the right job for me.” She had to feel like the decision was taken out of her hands, because god forbid she takes responsibility for something in her life. This way, the events that unfolded happened to her; they’re a story she can tell, not something she actively did, which could lead to her being judged or worse, held accountable.

5. In one of the most poignant lines yet uttered on this show, Beadie (Louise Lasser) says, “I hate watching television, because all of the old women are shells. And it hurts to be a shell.” Though they are far from old, many of our protagonists are exhibiting shell-like qualities. Which of the girls is the most like a shell, and why?

What a sad, beautiful moment that was. In this season especially, GIRLS has tried to incorporate older women into its narrative: Patti LuPone, her grandmother and aunts, now Beadie. These women are shown being as flighty, selfish and self-aggrandizing as Hannah and her crew, but the important part, and what Beatie is speaking to, is that they’re played with any depth at all. Most shows about young adults feature older women only in parental capacity–and those “older women” usually stretch the limits of credibility on how early in life someone could give birth in order to have a teenage child at 30. The point GIRLS is trying to make, I think, is that even while the characters themselves might be too self-involved to find these older women that inherently interesting, Lena Dunham certainly does. A lot of her role models are people like Nora Ephron and Judy Blume. And say what you will, the show does attempt to listen to criticism it finds valid—like the lack of alternative viewpoints—and provide some voice for them. Now, is this the invisible minority that most people had in mind when they criticized the show? Probably not. But it is the overlooked group, and the reason that moment felt so jarring and out of place and uncomfortable is because we don’t want to think of how sad it is to be old and unrepresented in pop culture. But GIRLS is going there. Get ready for next season: Golden GIRLS!

In terms of a shell of a person, my instinct is to give it to Jessa, because what a monster that one is. But Jessa has opinions; she’s got a (however twisted) curiosity about the world. Her biggest problem, we’re finding out, is that she’s just bored. We might not like the person she is, but at least she’s recognizable as one.

Shoshanna, on the other hand, is a shell. She’s all exterior, which is why she’s always been a fan favorite: She’s all stereotype. She’s the overly-bubbly NYU girl, with her OMGs! and her emojis and intense non-sequitors about everything. What’s scary about Shosh is that it’s getting harder to figure out exactly where she stands…she’s become increasingly judgmental and almost vicious in her appraisal of the foursome, but the next scene she’ll be Old Shosh again, talking about graduation and neuron-burning and any old thing. (Whatever happened to her mentally deficient boyfriend, after all that?) Shosh is all exterior, a hard shell painted with candy colors to distract from the fact that she might be completely hollow inside. Five Essay Prompts for ‘GIRLS’ 3×11: ‘I Saw You’