“Do you think I think this is the best use of my literary voice and my myriad talents?”
It may not be a question for the graying philosophers, but it is one of immense importance to a floundering twenty-five year old trying to leave her mark on the world. There is this maddening middle ground between getting what you want and being complacently stuck in a safety net that is likely to zap all of one’s species-being until it’s a thing of the past. The kids call it “going corporate”. Girls presents a load of new predicaments. The grayness of the situation our idealistic protagonist finds herself in causes for an entire rethinking of her life goals. So many what-if situations bombard Hannah here--she is the type to over think, over stress and end up chopping off her hair. We don’t want that to happen again, but is that where this season is heading? Another mental breakdown, or is this just a red-herring sort of deal. “Free Snacks” succeeds in highlighting the bleakness of the future for all characters involved, but it also constructs various new roads for them all to travel on if they so desire. Some of these new paths however are coated with sweet things to make the hollow journey less miserable than it is in all reality.
Hannah’s got herself a new gig at GQ magazine. Sounds awesome, but she’s not really working at GQ--she is, but she isn’t. Hannah works in the advertorial section of GQ. As Ray so adequately put it: “It looks like a real article so they trick you into reading it. But then you find out it is a paid advertisement, which is both morally and creatively bankrupt.” Hollow writing…”for the man” type of deal. And before Ray bursts Hannah’s bubble, she actually tries to see it in a more positive light. It’s not her work--it’s not her memoir, which she was so close to getting published, but it’s something--it’s a paid job that isn’t working at Ray’s coffee shop. So that’s something. Yet, in that same sentence, Hannah is forced to take five steps backwards in order to move forwards. But there are some perks: the titular, free snacks. Because what better way to highlight the perks of a sub par safety net than to supply your staff with a wealth of high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, food dyes, and delicious GMOs. What’s so great about Hannah being “stuck” in this new gig is that it highlights her own foolish idealism and the corporate traps that truly to leave some stagnant--their dream falling by the wayside in lieu of professional validation. Meeting Hannah’s co-workers puts this idea into perspective…
These new recurring characters (or at least I hope they are recurring) open up a whole new universe for Hannah to explore. One would argue that this is her first real “adult” job Hannah has had in which she’s really had to sacrifice her idealistic wants for something that detaches her from herself and the fellow creators around her. Is this what most young people have to look forward to before climbing their way to the top and realizing their dream? Hannah meets Joe (Michael Zegen), Karen (Jessica Williams), and Kevin (Amir Arison). All of who are very interesting and charming new characters, but more to the point fellow creative minds with bigger idealistic dreams themselves. They’ve been working in the advertorial section of GQ for years now. They have a wealth of knowledge about navigating the corporate spheres and soaking up the perks that come along with it. Joe is Hannah’s guidance throughout her first few days at GQ and he gives her a good deal of advice throughout, but it’s all practical advice that doesn’t really help solve any of her problems with a quickness. Idealism is thrown out the window in this workplace and replaced with sugary distractions beyond the free snacks, like health insurance, dental, and that lovely corporate gym membership. All great perks of the safety net that still doesn’t help a creator reach their ultimate potential which could very well leave them stagnant. And that is what Hannah sees when she asks her co-workers about their own creative journeys, which have halted. That is Hannah’s biggest fear and it is a very understandable fear that haunts many, not just idealistic youth, but everyone!
If this is a “real adult job” then what is Hannah’s idea of a dream job? Does that make her dream job nothing more than fluff and foolish idealism? And if one is making that assumption, does that mean growing, idealistic youth is to be ironed out as they make it up the “corporate ladder”? I don’t think so. One might assume that this is the necessary step in waking Hannah up to some of the harsh realities about work and creativity around her, which can no doubt help her become a more conscientious creator and writer. This is an experience--the beginning of Hannah’s experience in a detour from her original plan. If navigated with diligence and patience, Hannah could come out of this detour a changed woman in a lot of ways. Instead of realizing that she’ll have to working extra hard to get where she wants to be, she immediately panics (understandable) at the thought of becoming stagnant and seduced by her perk-filled environment. Still, she has to be grateful to even be able to have the job she has. It’s nothing to jump up and down about, especially after transitioning from nearly getting one’s work published to writing corporate advertorial pieces about men’s clothing. Which is another thing: Hannah proves herself very early on that she is rather great at her job. It’s not like she’s faltering in every aspect. She’s getting paid, she’s excelling, she has most of her co-worker’s respect and her boss, Janice (Jenna Lyons) even likes her. It’s a generic, but rather constructive and productive workplace set-up that many would kill for. Do you know how many people would kill for health insurance, dental, free snacks, and a corporate gym membership even if they didn’t have a dream workplace set-up that Hannah has? So while one might understand Hannah feeling trapped and claustrophobic in this detached work environment, she still has a lot to be thankful for in ways that others don’t. Take Adam for example…
Adam’s situation is interesting because he’s aimless. All of the things he attributed to his sister, Caroline in the previous episode, about her being directionless and trying on different professions for momentary experiences of passion can be traced back to him. Adam auditions for plays to gather experiences. But unlike Hannah, he does not look to capitalize on them. They just remain his experiences. This might make him look lazy, but at least he’s enjoying his own species-being and exploring what he wants to do. And there is a difference in “doing something” and doing something for a living. Adam doesn’t want the corporate perks and furthermore he certainly doesn’t want to be restricted in his work. His work is his work. Hannah very passively nudges at Adam to just consider having a job--and it’s a little selfish on her part because of the reason she does so, which is based on her want to leave her new hollow GQ gig. However, Adam can’t live constantly without a job. One day his grandmother will die and that $800 a month he gets will disappear. His assumption that people will buy $20 dreamcatchers on Etsy may have some validity to it, but that does not sound like stability for Hannah. And that is half of what she needs right now. In a weird way, Hannah’s co-worker, Joe is providing more stability for Hannah than Adam at the moment. He insists she write during the weekends and for a while after work. Very nice advice, but it proves a lot harder than it sounds. Hannah comes home, her mind set on writing, but she has to deal with being excited with Adam’s new acting gig, her friends, being tired and all of the other stuff in her life that comes after work. There’s not enough time in the day. Lying stagnant in that corporate safety net sounds good after a long day. This is the problem--the gray and the idealistic clash…
Elsewhere, Marnie and Ray continue their new bewildering and weird relationship. Ray’s courting of Marnie provides most of the episode’s humor, while enveloping these two in an unlikely, but strangely charming relationship. They clash inevitably in nearly every situation. Every conversation turns into an argument and they end up looking and sounding like an old married couple that are on the verge of divorce, but are too lonely to actually leave one another. They’re filling holes for each other basically. Marnie is filling a Shoshanna-shaped hole while Ray fills a Charlie-shaped one. Neither fit perfectly, but they seem to be trying to mold one another’s perspectives about each other in a way that makes for a truly involving new dynamic that no one would look at with open-eyes and ears. In Marnie and Ray’s friendship circle, the picture of the two together doesn’t make sense and there would be teasing and never-ending questions thrown at the pair of them if Hannah, Adam, Jessa, and Shoshanna ever found out. Those Hannah and Adam doppelgangers were brilliant, by the way! But Ray isn’t the only one trying to move on. Shoshanna makes some interesting strides in displaying she is in a good place herself.
After realizing that Ray is in a good place--he’s become the man she thought she always wanted--a success, and now she doesn’t have him. Foolishly, Shoshanna feels the need to prove to herself that she can do well and be good, even if it’s with a beautiful idiot. What’s interesting is that Shoshanna totally misses the point here. She’s insists that the only way to prove herself she’s good with Ray being good is to have a boyfriend. Shoshanna truly believes that that is the answer--the symbol--to being “good”, which totally matches up with her character’s shallow disposition. It’s another one of the episode’s key humor points as Shoshanna throws thinly-veiled insults at her new idiotic beau, Parker (Evan Jonigkeit). She doesn’t call him dumb, except for all the times she calls him dumb, even in mid-coitus. Shoshanna’s outlook on the world maybe exceedingly shallow, but she continues to unveil some of the most interesting and contradictory aspects of herself and her generation. There is no doubt some glorious symbolism in Jessa working at such a charming little children’s boutique. I just don’t know what it is yet. Do you?
The third season of Girls is already half over and it has made some surprising and mature moves in developing the character arcs and dynamics that continue expanding the universe around the scrounging, idealistic twenty-somethings. Hannah’s new safety net has many perks, Marnie and Ray’s new budding relationship has lovely observations, and Shoshanna’s new boyfriend situation holds promises for even more unpredictable shenanigans. These are new, unraveled roads for every character and every one of them are taking detours. Luckily every single one of them has something sweet to satiate their hunger for something more substantial. Some may get there, while others falter and become stagnant. For its leveled, humorous, yet at times bleak observations of idealism vs. harsh reality as it pertains to its flawed characters, “Free Snacks” gets 4 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2014