In the past, it’s seemed that for any thoughtless or ill-informed life move the Girls crew might make, there was at least a learning experience or two around the corner. And after moments where the self-serving levels of Girls’ third season couldn’t get any higher, here’s where reality puts its heavy hand down for all four of our delusional crew.
In a surprise twist, Hannah has a job at GQ at the start of the episode. Well, not really GQ, she’s writing ad text—a clear distinction between regular GQ writing, her new co-workers point out. But as she discovers early on, Hannah’s pretty good at this ad-writing thing. She becomes a clear frontrunner in her own editorial team, but as a young woman with clear writerly dreams—read: making money for words that have nothing to do with ads in GQ—this isn’t enough for the 25-year-old. She put her feelings out on the table early on, explaining to Ray that she was taking on a writing gig with Neiman Marcus and quitting her coffee job. “Do you think this is the best use of my literary voice and myriad talents?” Hannah, who hasn’t had a for-real gig since working in New York (save that doomed ebook), actually said as she was quitting a coffee shop job.
The job has perks, though, as she learns early on. Most noticeably, this place has snacks. And a solid paycheck. After taking in the whole office, Hannah stumbles upon a stacked snack table that—if only for a fleeting, hunger-fueled moment—has Hannah reconsidering this whole corporate job thing. Stability has its own perks. Another workforce reality: the writers who Hannah surrounds herself with have been here for years. Many have given up on writing in their free time.
It’s a horrible, tear-filled realization for Hannah, who promptly attempts to set out her exit strategy in front of her boss, who delivers a Devil Wears Prada-cold truth that hundreds of people would be chomping at the bit for her job. It won’t be hard to replace her, and they’ll find someone else to eat up all these snacks. Hannah resolves to write for three hours after work every day as to not give up the dream. But as most of us do after a loaded work day, she collapses on the couch, unable to carry on with her writerly dreams—on day one.
Similarly, the rest of the Girls characters are taking deep stock in the art of compromise. Marnie is finding comfort in Ray, of all people—and it’s clear early on that the two have no business dating each other after a blowup in a restaurant. Shoshanna has resigned to dating a guy who she repeatedly calls dumb, a guy who she says can’t find his way to the library. She later outlines the rules of their relationship while they’re banging away—noting that communication in a relationship is key, and if they can’t talk while having sex, when can they? And Jessa’s working through what must be unbearable boredom for her in a retail job.
For as much as I love these characters, there’s something relieving about seeing these reality checks. If there was a time when we desperately needed an episode like this, this was the season for it. After all, we saw Hannah’s inexcusable behavior about her ebook—not to mention that awful, fake anecdote about her sick cousin—as well as Marnie’s friendship-killing karaoke stunt. “Free Snacks” was the necessary slap we all needed to keep this season of Girls from tumbling down a black hole of narcissism. If our characters take anything from these events, maybe we’ll all look back on this and laugh. I hope we will, at least.
Tyler is an assistant editor at Paste. His only experience with Girls comes thanks to HBO. You can follow him on Twitter.