Following a few episodes of emphasizing supporting characters, “Free Snacks” returns Hannah (Lena Dunham) to the spotlight. With her book in a limbo that could last years, Hannah has parlayed her professional experience into a job writing for GQ Magazine. She’s actually been hired to write copy for those annoying ads that are meant to resemble regular magazine articles, which is to say that she’s undergone a transition from theoretical artist to marketing huckster in the unwitting blink of eye—a metamorphosis that will resonate with every drama student currently paying the bills as a white-collar pulley in the elaborate system of, say, Capital One.
Dunham takes this premise one step further into a realm of surprisingly tough parody, implying that Hannah’s confessional art was little more than inadvertent marketing material anyway. Hannah’s relentless self-absorption and her empathetic blindness render her just another consumer, though one with an interest in creative writing, which is to say that she’s born to spin ad copy, and she loves it, but hates herself for loving it. Hannah is a master at reducing people to stereotypically marketable quadrants because she only sees people in terms of how they can fill out her stories, or how they can benefit her. She has the eyes of a corporation and she’s just beginning to come into that knowledge. An editor asks for a series of dude clichés for an upcoming piece, and Hannah can rattle them off at the speed of ticker tape. Her metaphorical water has found its level.
But Dunham doesn’t belabor this theme. Composed of a series of crisp, funny vignettes, “Free Snacks” is lighter than air, and it affords Dunham the opportunity to lighten up as an actress, which flatters her lack of experience. Hannah is unusually charming in this episode because her self-delusions have become surprisingly relatable, and the slapstick with the free snacks is only a mild exaggeration of the food obsessions that many people develop in order to grapple with the boredom of an office job. But that boredom also offers the comforts of stability, which is something that the disgustingly hypocritical and judgmental American incarnation of The Office never truly understood. Hannah immediately takes to the little internal dramas with her co-workers because she can be a part of something she understands. This kind of job resembles, in key ways, many of our college experiences, which are shrewdly geared to training us to be good, obedient worker bees to begin with. Girls is on to something here, and let’s hope that this plot isn’t just another portion of a larger narrative sampler course.
Marnie (Allison Williams) and Ray (Alex Karpovsky) also benefitted from this episode’s lightness of spirit. The sex scenes in Girls have often been over-praised, as they’re usually too rigidly programmed to engender controversy, but Marnie and Ray’s encounter this week was poignantly terrible. We only get one shot, of Ray on top of Marnie in the missionary position, and it’s all we need. It’s the definitive image of people who want to connect, who want to give and receive pleasure, but who might not quite know how to fuck yet—or, at the very least, fuck each other yet. It’s a classic human problem, and, for once, Girls doesn’t play it for cheap shock or laughs. Marnie and Ray don’t have much of a chance as a couple because they’re essentially damaged in the same way: They’ve both realized that they have problems allowing people to see who they actually are internally, and so they’re both lonely and a little desperate. But they’re trying, and that gives them stature. And the same can be said about the series.
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