So far this season, Girls has been delivering on its promise of awkward moments, personality defects, and unlikely charms. And, as only this show can be, the results have been both entertaining and irritating. (“Irritainment,” perhaps?) But this week’s episode was different, bringing together all of the series’ signature elements in near-perfect balance for the most masterful 30 minutes of premium cable I’ve seen this year. With nary an ounce of the usual frustration, “Free Snacks” finds season three hitting its stride, featuring moments that are alternately laugh-out-loud funny, deeply moving, and profoundly real, with plenty of character development for the whole ensemble. Let’s recap:
The episode begins with our hero, writer Hannah Horvath, doing a typically half-assed job at Ray’s coffee shop. News flash: Hannah believes she’s meant for better things than being a barista. So when she asks Ray if she can have a word with him alone, he correctly guesses that she’s giving her notice. Older, wiser, and more pessimistic than Hannah could even imagine, Ray is not supportive of her latest endeavor. Apparently she’s quit before and come crawling back. And he predicts this will be no different. Mustering his own crumb of human compassion, however, he asks her for the details of her new “bullshit gig.” Learning it’s GQ Magazine, Ray asks if they were looking for someone for a “before” picture in a makeover article. Ouch! But the jokes on you, Ray! Hannah’s got a real-deal writing gig, working for a news section called “Field Guide to the Modern Man.” Her small victory, however, is short-lived, as Ray – who can be borderline omniscient at times – surmises that her position must be a corporately-sponsored advertorial one (which is in his opinion “both morally and creatively bankrupt”), as she obviously wasn’t hired as a staff writer. And so she reluctantly admits she’ll be technically working for Neiman Marcus. Pushed into a corner, Hannah strikes back with increasing volume, making it clear that she doesn’t think the GQ gig is worthy of her “myriad talents.” “Do you think I’m fucking excited, Ray?” she asks. But what choice does she have?
SOME NOTES ON SHOSH AND JESSA
Besides the first two episodes, Shosh and Jessa haven’t had much of a presence this season. And frankly, I don’t care that much at this point. Shosh has always been the most cartoonish of the bunch, and it’s only become more extreme as of late. Although she gets a decent amount of screen time this episode, her scenes – while kinda funny – seem to be culled from an entirely different comedy.
When we first see her, she looks like a caricature of snobby, NYC cool, with her manicured updo, oversized sunglasses, and uber-stylish coat. She’s been spying on Ray, and her findings have put her into a self-conscious spiral. Not only does Ray have the respect of his peers on the basketball court, he has also been receiving positive reviews for his hip, new Brooklyn coffeehouse. Meanwhile, Shosh’s life is a mess! So she decides to quit sleeping around, and begin a serious relationship immediately. Her choice is some dude who is handsome but hella stupid. After a mildly funny interview of her candidate, there’s a later scene back at his place where Shosh is detailing her list of essential criteria for a good relationship, while – get this, folks! – they’re in the middle of doing it! Amazing right? He’s, like, totally doing her from behind, and she’s, like, all business! And I’m, like, all YAWN. Totally obnoxious.
Jessa, however, is a relatively fascinating character who simply hasn’t fit right into the narrative lately. So we only get surface glimpses of her. For instance, she’s now working at a children’s clothes boutique, and we watch as a mother comes in looking for a dress for her daughter’s Christening. Jessa – ever cool and effortlessly persuasive – manages to sell her a dress that is A) too small and B) black. See? Cuz Jessa is all about being A) provocative and B) a rebel. As glib and unlikely as this scene plays out, it’s par for the course in Shosh and Jessa’s seemingly separate Girls world.
RAY CHECKS IN AND SLIPS OUT
Last week, I was as thrilled as anyone about Ray’s unexpected tryst with Marnie. I was, however, hopelessly wrong about the likelihood of them getting back together for another round.
In what is perhaps the episode’s funniest scene, Ray dials Marnie to check in. While Marnie is merely surprised at Ray’s phone call – and not exactly pleasantly – we are made to feel every awkward beat of the conversation from Ray’s side of the line. Consider his position: Although he undoubtedly sees himself as Marnie’s intellectual superior, she has unexpectedly moved into the power position. He’s still lonely, and she still single. Now that they’ve had sex once, he’d be a fool to not try again. So he calls under the guise of gentlemanly duty to express his hope that their friendship won’t be affected by what has transpired. But, as Marnie points out, they aren’t really friends. Besides, she’s watching a very interesting television program at the moment. Ray feigns interest. Marnie calls his bluff and hangs up on him. He takes a few steps away from the phone before turning around and calling her back to tell her he actually does care to know exactly which shitty TV show she’s watching. “Prove it,” she says and hangs up, unexpectedly giving Ray the go-ahead to advance to the next level of gameplay. Score!
It is important to note that the intensely driven, nearly-manic Marnie who was bent on self improvement a couple of episodes back has significantly relaxed, perhaps taking a lesson from Ray’s private critique. Now, she is exuding a sexy nonchalance that could almost be mistaken for confidence. Whatever it is, it’s working for her. Marnie hasn’t seemed this attractive in quite a while.
So anyway… Ray shows up at her apartment with a couple of coffees and some vegan muffins. She introduces him to reality television. They have sex. And this time it’s much less sexy. We are treated to an overhead shot of Ray’s naked ass on top of Marnie. He pauses his sad thrusting for a moment to tell her that he thinks he may have “slipped out”. He thinks? Have both of them lost all sensation down there? Is poor Ray hung like a hamster? I’m sure I don’t want to know.
But as much fun as it was to hang with these two lovebirds, let’s get on the emotional heart of the episode, featuring Hannah Horvath in a surprisingly sympathetic turn.
HANNAH’S FIRST DAY (MIND BLOWN PT.1)
Though she may have been unsure about her new job, Hannah’s first day at GQ is fantastic. She meets Joe, an adorable little hipster who also works in advertorial. He kindly shows her where the bathrooms are, and then takes her to the extravagantly stocked snack room where he blows her mind, letting her know that everything is free. She is stunned with joy.
Then they are off to their morning meeting to brainstorm ideas for the Field Guide. Hannah arrives a few paces behind Joe with two arms full of goodies from the snack room, making an honest and appropriate first impression on her new co-workers, Karen, Kevin and Janice (each of whom are delightfully cast). But when Janice opens the floor for ideas, Hannah is on fire, raising her hands exuberantly to share one quirky, cool, and creative idea after another. Hannah is in her element.
She arrives home, glowing with excitement about her first day. Conversely, Adam defiantly blew an audition because he refused to smile on command. Hannah encourages him to actually challenge himself to, like, get a part. He counters, holding up some artsy hanging craft he created, declaring he can sell them to stupid people on Etsy for $20 a piece. Oh boy.
HANNA GETS A SHOCKING DOSE OF REALITY (MIND BLOWN PTS. 2 & 3)
Back at GQ for her second day, Hannah begins by trying to smooth things over with Kevin who seemed a bit miffed by her fantastic performance at the previous day’s brainstorm. But it’s no use. “I just don’t like you,” he tells her plainly. More specifically, he doesn’t like her face. And for that matter, her mouth, which he wants to rip off of her face. Kevin, clearly the oldest member of the team, has a problem with her pure, untainted energy. She is blissfully naive about the world she’s entered, whereas he’s a jaded veteran.
But before they hash it out, Karen enters the snack room with Joe and tells Hannah that she’s doing a “dope job” and she could really make a name for herself. She’s flattered but clarifies that she’s not really interested in such ambitions. GQ is merely a layover for her before she can begin her actual career. She’s a “writer writer.” Not a corporate writer.
And then her mind is blown in the snack room once again as Joe points out that they are all writers, and, in fact, they each have prestigious accomplishments in their resumes. And each accomplishment is incidentally far more prestigious than Hannah’s Jazzhate blogs or her unreleased e-book. Faced with this concentration of impressive talent huddled together in the GQ snack room, she asks them if they all continue to pursue their personal writing careers. Their answers are all equally unsatisfying. They’ve all been here, allowing their collective talent dry up for years. Hannah, now on the verge of a panic attack, retreats to the bathroom and puts her head in the sink.
She marches over to Janice’s office where Janice echoes Karen’s earlier compliments, adding that Hannah reminds her of herself 10 years ago. She explains, however, that it is her expressed intention to not be working for GQ in 10 years. She realizes now how easily one can become seduced by the money and the security and the free snacks, only to lose their soul in the process. Hannah was clearly expecting some encouragement from Janice to stay on board. She’s Hannah Horvath for crying out loud! She is an exceptional writer destined for greatness, right? Except Janice merely informs her that many other people would be more than happy to have her job. “That’s it?” Hannah asks. “That’s it,” Janice responds. Mind blown for a third time. Hannah is replaceable.
She walks out of her office only to turn around and ask for her job back, having had about 10 seconds to reflect upon the situation. Quietly weeping at her desk, Joe calls with the encouragement she was looking for. She can keep the job and be the writer she wants to be. All she has to do is keep her focus and write at home on nights and weekends. She is properly inspired.
Returning home, she finds Adam who is extremely excited to tell her all about a call back he received from an earlier audition. She is happy for him, but they can’t celebrate just yet. She’s starting a new routine: each night after work, she’s going to write for three hours. She’ll be happy to talk as soon as she’s through with her writing time. But after about a minute of lying on the couch, Hannah is fast asleep, exhausted from an emotionally draining day. Adam lovingly puts a cover over her and lets her sleep.
Damn, this was a great episode. One of the finest of all three seasons. If, like many of my thousands of devoted readers, you only read my recap and skip the show, I sincerely encourage you to check out this episode. You’ll thank me later. Or maybe you’ll merely be horrified by Ray’s naked ass. I don’t know. Either way, come back next week for more witty commentary and expert analysis.