Maybe, Finally, Girls Is Starting to Grow Up

Our roundtable discusses "Free Snacks," the sixth episode of the HBO show's third season.

This week's panelists: Ashley Fetters, Chris Heller, and Spencer Kornhaber

Kornhaber: When Hannah quit her brand-new job on tonight’s Girls, it was a sad moment—not for Hannah, but for viewers. Once again, it seemed, the show had introduced an interesting new situation (in this case, the GQ workplace) only to quickly end it on account of some main character’s stubbornness. (Previous examples include Donald Glover: Boyfriend and Jessa: Rehab Patient).

But wait! Seconds later, Hannah reconsiders. "I’m putting copper pipes on my house, I really can’t deal with this right now," replies Janice, the awesomely sphinx-like head of advertorial. "Wanna just email me and let me know if you still work here?"

This is a huge relief for a few reasons. One is that the GQ offices, with its pitch meetings and snack tables and rivalries, make for good TV. Anyone else crack up at “Neiman Marcus doesn’t sell a widow’s peak, but, worth considering”?

The other reason: By opting for new stability over her life’s status-quo chaos, Hannah might, maybe, be growing up.

What could growing up mean on Girls? “Free Snacks” centered around one answer: compromise. Hannah opts to stick with her “corporate advertising, working-for-the-man kind of writer” job, vowing to keep her artistic career going outside of the nine-to-five. Shoshanna wants to end her “wild months” of singledom so she summons a hot-but-idiotic undergrad to the library for negotiations about starting a relationship (“I’m down for whatever,” he shrugs). Marnie and Ray both find each other obnoxious, but maintain their “non-friendship” after a big fight because they have no one else to lunch with. Adam refuses to degrade himself by actually trying at auditions, until finally, he sullies his conscience and lands a gig.

As with most things on Girls, these developments trigger mixed feelings. But they’re a new sort of mixed feelings. For one episode, at least, we’re not laughing and cringing at train wrecks. We’re laughing and cringing at people making the difficult decision to settle.

The depiction of the magazine world, in particular, was great. (As an aside: Think-piece-bait points go to to Lena for working in native advertising, yet another bit of the zeitgeist that’s, ahem, controversial.) The notion of writers getting sidetracked from their true passion by stable, creative-ish day jobs—and by, per Buzzfeed’s most recent masterpiece, life—is one that a lot of people in the media industry can recognize. And the underlying tension that Hannah faces is one that people across industries can recognize. 

Working in an office with people you like, getting perks, being praised for your accomplishments, pulling down an adult paycheck—for the first time, Girls seems to understand why folks in the real world stay in the real world. But it’s also unflinching about the tradeoffs. When Hannah tells Janice that she doesn’t want to wake up in 10 years having ditched the chance at a soul-satisfying writing career, her boss doesn’t offer comforting advice. She doesn’t say that you can be creative and do office work. She just says that lots of people would love to have Hannah’s job. “That’s it?” Hannah asks. “That’s it.”  

By the end of the episode, when her ridiculously optimistic “three-hours-a-night” plan has failed within seconds, I’d felt more sympathy for Hannah than I’d felt in a long time. We’ve come to understand by now that her ambition isn’t empty—she’s self-centered, but she’s also talented. Her getting her life together would be nice to see; her giving up her dream would be tough to see. For what feels like the first time in a long time, there’s a conflict on Girls to really care about.

Importantly, that conflict that doesn’t feel confined to a time or place. For a while now, the show’s seemed less interested in commenting on a certain type of millennial and instead has been keying on bigger questions—responding to death, navigating difficult relationships, and now, facing real career challenges. So—programming note to readers—that’s why, for the time being, we’re moving away from our generational-gut-check format and instead will focus more on discussing this resonant, frustrating, original TV show as, well, a TV show.

Ashley, Chris, how’d this episode land for you?

Fetters:  I love the way you put this: “Finally, there’s a conflict on Girls to really care about.” This episode felt to me, too, like a turning point for the show.

All season long, we’ve seen these characters hit some varyingly ridiculous low points and finally get chastened for how insufferable their behaviors have been. Hannah gets kicked out of a funeral. Jessa gets kicked out of rehab. Marnie gets stern talkings-to from her mom … and from Ray … and finds herself telling a cat that it’s her best friend. To me, these moments seemed like mounting evidence that these characters' flaws were just calcifying.

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