It’s an occupational hazard of any writer writing about a writer trying to be a writer. Girls has never been as concerned with being “relatable” or “real” as some expect it to be, but any series has to have conflicts most of its audience can, well…care about. And Hannah’s venture into the world of sponsored content smacks of some serious inside baseball, a dilemma few people outside of a few hundred Manhattan media types even know exists. I kept asking myself just what percentage of this show’s audience even gets jokes about n+1 and advertorials. If it’s any higher than ten, I fear for its ratings.
Anyway, this week picks up some undetermined amount of time after Caroline drops off the face of the earth, or at least gets far enough away from Hannah and Adam to erase any trace of their fight over kicking her out. (She’ll probably come back around episode nine or so, just in time to dynamite their relationship for good.) Hannah’s recovered enough from the shock of losing a book to quit her day job, or at least get a better one: she’s been hired by GQ! But before the aforementioned ten percent of the audience can so much as say “If a single xoJane-type essay could land someone a Condé gig, I’d be editor-in-chief of The New Yorker,” we find out that her new job is more of a copywriter-type position at the glossy’s sponsored content division.
Their first task is to brainstorm “A Field Guide to the Urban Man” on Neiman Marcus’s behalf. But before we meet the advertorial division’s Jenna Lyons-played overlady, “H. Horvatt” gets an office tour from a friendly co-worker, the highlight of which is the snack room. The I’m-down-with-food routine is now a well-worn trope of the Female Sitcom Lead canon, but Hannah’s Leslie/Mindy/Liz moment does manage to have a greater purpose beyond demonstrating that, yes, ladies do eat. With its brand-name snacks and Russ & Daughters lox, the refreshments symbolize the temptations of what Ray calls a “morally and creatively bankrupt” job, one that threatens to lull Hannah into complacency, one brainstorm session at a time.
Despite her protestations that she’s “a writer writer, not a corporate, advertising, working for the man kind of writer,” Hannah’s actually pretty good at devising “Kewl Dads” and “Kaball-ers.” And as far as day jobs go, wouldn’t she rather be paid for making words than pouring out some hipster’s multisyllabic beverage? In Joe, her good-natured, pragmatic coworker (and onetime New Yorker contributor), Hannah has the devil’s advocate she so desperately needs. There’s no reason why she can’t be both a literary writer and a person with health insurance. All she needs is a decent work ethic.
The issue, of course, is that Hannah is the last person anyone trusts to have the drive to finish a book while working full-time, particularly if that book is supposed to be based on life experiences she won’t have much time to actually experience. She’s so exhausted by even the idea of writing for three hours a day that she passes out on the couch before she can so much as open her laptop.
While Hannah is busy worrying where she’ll be in ten years, Shoshanna is struggling to put her life back on that fifteen-year plan she mentioned a few weeks ago. A healthy bout of ex-stalking sends her into a panic, toting TONY spreads that mention Ray around in her purse and frantically searching for a significant other. The problem is that she’s much more concerned with the quality of the relationship than the person she’s in it with, to the point where she grabs the nearest meathead and reads off a laundry list of conditions over the library table. She’s even coldly mechanical about the sex, ordering him to keep going after she’s decided a partnership that hasn’t begun just isn’t working out. Probably because if Girls has an overriding philosophy, fifteen-year life plans are its polar opposite.
Which leaves us with Marnie, whose bout of hate sex with Ray has blossomed into a surprisingly tender relationship. They’re still too ashamed of each other not to panic when they see a few Hannah and Adam lookalikes on the street and the sex they’re having may not be mind-blowing, but it’s light-years ahead of her submissive fling with Booth Jonathan, or hasty couch hookup with Elijah, or even plain-vanilla fare with Charlie. As Ray points out over lunch, they’re too insufferable to have anyone else to turn to, a situation that may make zero sense in the real world but makes perfect sense in theirs (i.e. a world populated by only half a dozen people, plus a handful of recurring players).
At the end of “Free Snacks,” I’m intrigued by the idea of Girls focusing more on Hannah’s professional life now that her personal life is relatively stable. From the merits of Gawker Media to writers’ overreliance on confessional memoir to intellectual property rights to sponsored content as the new selling out, Lena Dunham seems determined to make her opinions known about the current state of the words industry. And it’s one of the few honest takes on that industry as it exists right now, rather than as it existed fifty years ago, available in pop culture.
But by becoming a show about the artistic evolution of a writer, Girls gives up what little claim it ever had to being “a voice of a generation.” How many members of any generation, after all, are more interested in the ethics of sponsored content than, say, how the protagonist handles a breakup? That might be for the best, giving it a more specific and interesting trajectory than twentysomethings self-sabotaging and intermittently coupling up. It also proves more than ever that Girls doesn’t want to be Sex and the City, a series that did everything in its power to make its viewers forget its main character was an artist of sorts.
Still, it’s hard not to watch recent episodes of Girls without realizing my interest in them stems from my involvement in the narrowly tailored world it depicts. Girls’s target demographic has always been small: urban, affluent, and almost entirely white. Is making it even smaller worth the narrative payoff?