The article below contains spoilers for “Free Snacks,” the February 9th, 2014 episode of “Girls.”
So Hannah (Lena Dunham) finally has a job — a job job, not the coffee shop gig she’s been half-assing or the personal writing that’s her passion but that, even with the now dead ebook deal, is unlikely to be something with which she’ll be able to pay the bills quite yet. No, in the most promising storyline of the season, she’s started working in a full-on office at a national magazine, GQ — not in the editorial department but in advertorial, a less glamorous but also less cutthroat section in which she’ll be churning out sponsored content for a “Field Guide to the Urban Man.”
It’s a nicely chosen, believable sort of full-time employment to toss Hannah’s way — the kind of writing that actually does tend to get paid for in a regular fashion. And as Ray (Alex Karpovsky) pointed out in the cold open, there’s no way someone like Hannah would end up in one of the extraordinarily rare and highly sought after staff writer positions, given how little experience she has. Instead she’ll be turning out peppy copy purchased by Neiman Marcus and posing as an article, something Ray deems “morally and creatively bankrupt.” (Between that judgment and Adam’s (Adam Driver) Gawker treatise in “Dead Inside,” this season of “Girls” has some strong opinions on changing journalistic ethics.)
Hannah expressed aware this isn’t “the best use of my literary voice and my myriad talents,” but “Free Snacks,” which is written by Paul Simms and Jamie Babbit (“But I’m a Cheerleader”), makes it clear that she’s actually good at this work. Despite her approaching the job as just something to sustain her along the path to literary stardom, she could potentially make a career in the ever-expanding world of native advertising, with all the company-provided food, health insurance and a steady salary a girl could want. The job could be something she enjoys, though it’s also where dreams go to die — or at least be seriously reshaped.
“Free Snacks” serves as a more complex companion to the season two episode “One Man’s Trash.” Instead of Patrick Wilson as a temporary fantasy boyfriend who leads Hannah to the less-than-shocking realization that she likes being treated kindly and staying in a swank place, there’s a more bittersweet and alarming revelation at the end of this one. Hannah found out that she totally could be a normal office drone, that it’s not bad at all, that the people she’s working with are, save Amir Arison (“The Blacklist”)’s character, who hates her face, pleasant and talented — among them Michael Zegen (“Frances Ha”), Jessica Williams (“The Daily Show”) and J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons making her acting debut as their boss.
They turn out to not be just pleasant, but to be more like Hannah than she’s comfortable with, setting off a very entertaining panic attack when she’s told that they, like, her, harbored “writer writer” aspirations — they’re poets, they’ve been published in the New Yorker, they’re smart and at one point had ambitions similar to hers, thought theirs are slipping away. Like her, they took the GQ gigs to pay the bills when writing n+1 articles that offer an “unpacking of the ‘Jersey Shore’ through an imperialist lens” failed to lead to something more financial substantial in terms of the type of work they’d come to New York to do — and none of them seem to pursue that work anymore, instead comfortably ensconced in day jobs that are losing the “day” part.
It’s not just terribly deflating to Hannah in her own sense of self-importance, it’s a painful example of just how few people make it to being full-time writers, no matter how talented, and how the work you do to keep yourself from living off cans of beans and having to set your own broken bones can drain the energy you planned to put toward more creative pursuits. It’s “Girls” at its most insightful — a grown-up realization of how hard it can be to stay hungry.
Elsewhere in the episode, Ray and Marnie (Allison Williams) continue to be lonely together, a “Real Housewives” and casual sex scenario that’s going to be most compelling when it inevitably blows up, though in the meanwhile they get some good digs in at each other over Chinese food (“you have no one else to eat lunch with, and neither do I”). Aside from spending hate-hangout time with Marnie, Ray’s doing well, and has been inadvertently making his ex Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) doubt her own choices and her “wild months” — “I don’t have any more time for frivolities.” To make herself feel better, she sets out to find a “solid, mature, committed relationship with someone who understands my goals and values” by bulldozing an attractive but dumb guy into something resembling commitment. Adam’s actually making headway in his latest career venture, acting (unlike Hannah, Adam’s never going to be tempted by the allure of an office job) and Jessa’s currently engaged in bullying people into buying high end, inappropriate children’s clothing. Mary Tyler Moore they’re not, but hey, at least they’re bringing in some money.