By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist February 9, 2014 at 10:30PM
Compromise. It's something that, as you get older, you learn to navigate with the pragmatism of being an adult. But when you're younger, it can be difficult to understand and exercise. In "Free Snacks," it finds Hannah (Lena Dunham), Marnie (Allison Williams) and Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) all trading off grander aspirations for what they can realistically acquire at the moment, though it will be met with difficulty, pain or just cold indifference.
For Hannah, it seems that as one door has closed—with her e-book in legal purgatory—another has opened at GQ magazine. Quitting her job at the coffee shop, Ray (Alex Karpovsky) can't help but quip and ask her, "Did they need someone for a before picture in a makeover article?" Rather, Hannah reluctantly reveals she's been hired to write advertorial copy for a Neiman Marcus campaign, which Ray declares as "morally and creatively bankrupt." But it's a well-paid writing job in an arena where there are few to come by, so Hannah is eager to take it on.
Meanwhile, following his random hookup with Marnie in last week's "Only Child," Ray attempts to do the right thing and call. "I'm trying to follow the protocols of a gentleman and a squire," he declares to a cold Marnie, who doesn't tolerate the pleasantries. But Ray heads to her apartment anyway, trying to show that he does care about Marnie and her interests. As he soon tells her, he does know that she's going through a hard time, even if she doesn't want to admit it to herself. And so they settle in to watch reality TV—a new experience to Ray, with the closest he's gotten such programming being Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary series. But he'll lower his standards to watch "The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills" with her, because, after all, they will fuck afterward.
And they do, and follow their afternoon delight with some Chinese food, but it doesn't take long for them to start bickering, with the status of African aid serving as the keg that explodes between them. It's Ray who, as always, doesn't suffer who he perceives to be fools, and even calls Marnie dumb at her "spiritual core." But he apologizes for flying off the handle, and she decides to stay and they finish their meal together. The pair have forged an odd, secret union based on loneliness, sex and a curious opposites-attract allure. Nothing about it makes sense, and perhaps that's part of what makes it interesting to them. But both Ray and Marnie are smart enough to know that, for the moment, the rest of the gang doesn't need to know and wouldn't understand their arrangement. And they probably need to understand it themselves first.
And it seems Ray can't stop affecting the lives of those he's come in contact with, because after glimpsing him playing a game of pickup basketball on the street, it's the straw that breaks the camel's back for Shoshanna. With Ray's coffee shop newly profiled in a magazine, Shoshanna is feeling like she's being left behind while her ex moves on to bigger and better things. "Ray is being written about in popular surface publications and my life is a mess," she tells Jessa (Jemima Kirke). So she's going to do something about it. Her plan? Find a stable relationship immediately, and her choice is Parker, who is available, but isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. "He's so stupid, I'm afraid our children wouldn't get into preschool," Shoshanna admits about her new mate. He may not be the best option at the moment, but it would seem he's better than nothing. And so she brokers a deal with Parker (who is down for whatever, to paraphrase)—with the details worked out as she's bent over and he's fucking her from behind—with the number of hang times and activities listed out almost like a contract.
As for Hannah, she takes to the job hand-in-glove. She makes fast friends with her coworkers, and her boss Janice (played by J. Crew creative director Jenna Lyons) seems to like her ideas. But after a great first day, Hannah's second brings with it a crashing wave of discouragement. She learns that her co-workers Joe, Kevin and Karen are actually writers too, but found themselves falling backward into a 9-to-5 job doing corporate advertising. And they're accomplished—having been featured in major publications (New Yorker, +1) and won awards (Yale poetry)—and immensely talented. Suddenly, Hannah has a horrible vision of her future. She tries to tell Janice she's not going to stick around for too long, to which her boss replies nonchalantly that there plenty of other people that would love her job. Hannah takes back her premature resignation but is reduced to tears at her cubicle. For the salary, free food (which she is utterly astonished by, hence the title of the episode) and perks, it's not worth her dreams being put on hold. But Joe manages to buoy her spirits, telling her that weekends and evenings are still all hers, and Hannah is slightly rejuvenated with a new focus.
She returns home to tell Adam (Adam Driver) her new plan—3 hours of writing each evening—but her boyfriend has his own news. He's been out at various auditions trying to land an acting gig, even though he hates the process entirely. So why does he do it? For the challenge. "I just like reading emotional cues from strangers in high pressure situations," he explained. But his unhurried attitude paid off as he received a callback for an audition he was almost too late for, and only had ten minutes to spare to read the sides. He's ecstatic, and so too is Hannah, so she settles on the couch to start writing...only to fall asleep, hugging her laptop.
You feel for Hannah, because for anyone who has entertained notions of an artistic career and seen it come against the cold reality of making a living for the first time, it can be a minor devastation. With plans to jam on weekends, write in the evenings, sketch during lunch breaks...they turn out to be promises that aren't easy to exercise. Or, like Hannah's co-workers, the dream is replaced by the comfort of a steady income and routine. How Hannah handles things next will be interesting to see—can she manage a steady job and her dream of writing her own work, or will one have to replace the other? As for Shoshanna and Marnie, both embarking on relationships to fill a void in their lives, perhaps they'd be well advised to take Adam's approach of simply not caring and winding up falling into something great. Life can be practical, but love simply can't. [B]
Songs in this episode: Big Black Delta "Betamax"; Duffy "Stepping Stone"; Wale ft. Tiara Thomas "Bad"; Hannah Georgas "Millions"