2.05- "One Man's Trash"
My first thought as the credits began to roll for “One Man’s Trash” was that I really hated this episode. My second thought was that if this had been an episode of Louie, I would have loved it. Louie is the only show on television that consistently rocks this episode’s unorthodox narrative formula, which is as follows:
- Louie unexpectedly finds himself in a strange, almost dreamlike situation.
- Over the course of the episode, he forms a surprisingly intimate relationship with another person in the same situation.
- He ultimately torpedoes the delicate bond they’ve established by speaking too honestly or getting overtaken by anxiety.
- He retreats back into his comfort zone, hopefully having learned a lesson or at least added a weird memory to his collection.
It’s an interesting way to tell a story on TV, and I tend to think it yields great results on Louie. So why did I initially hate this episode of Girls? I think it might have to do with tone. Hannah’s brief idyll with Joshua (played by Patrick Wilson, whose name I had to look up because all I could think of was Will Arnett) has all the narrative components of one of Louie’s bizarre short-story episodes, but it lacks the contemplative, leisurely beats that Louie is known for. Louie is soundtracked by jazz; it relishes the notes that aren’t being played, the things that aren’t being said, and the paths that are considered but not taken. Usually, Girls is soundtracked by pop or punk music—the sounds of desperation, emptiness, and angst. Its characters are constantly seeking purpose and validation, to the point of seeing it where it doesn’t exist. They make up grand narratives for their own lives and slot their unwilling friends into roles that suit their personal stories. So I guess I wasn’t really prepared for this episode to close with plinking piano notes and a meditative walk into the distance by Hannah. I was irritated that the show had challenged me to interpret its events in a way that I don’t often expect from Girls. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m okay with this episode, even if I didn’t love it.
In a season that has so far been characterized by simmering resentments and the explosive arguments that resolve them, this episode is surprisingly built as a stand-alone detour from the overarching plot. Hannah quits her job at Ray’s café, or bakery, or juice bar, or whatever the hell it is, and wanders into what she describes as a “Nancy Meyers movie.” An attractive, married-but-separated doctor has a lot of sex with her and seems to be drawn to her worst aspects. Hannah comes to realize that the two days she has spent with him have brought her genuine happiness, and, perhaps overcome with awe, she begins to think out loud about this experience. That’s when it all falls apart.
The episode’s pivotal scene, a stream-of-consciousness monologue from Hannah that reflects her conflicted feelings about the past two days, is a complicated thing to process. It winds its way through a series of ideas that are sometimes honest and sometimes insincere. Hannah veers wildly between sympathetic and rude throughout the speech, and Joshua’s reactions to her words are totally unreadable. First, she concludes that she wants to be happy, and that she’s tired of pursuing experiences just so she can write about them and share them with others.
Of course, that’s equal parts revelation and bullshit. Hannah has gotten in the way of her own happiness on lots of occasions, but it hasn’t been for the sake of her writing. She’s just a psychological mess, unwilling to manage her stress and anxiety and therefore incapable of controlling their effects. She has never alchemized a shitty experience into a great piece of writing on this show, or at least if she has, we haven’t been shown that. We’ve just seen a chain of shitty experiences. The only difference between the ones that came before this episode and the one in this episode is that Hannah’s not with her childish friends this time around. She’s with a high-functioning, smart, patient man who seems to genuinely like her. Therefore, it’s clear that in this case, she is the entire problem, and I think that’s why she comes across as so unbelievably ugly.
Because I used the word “ugly,” I do want to take a brief moment to address the fact that Lena Dunham is naked more often in “One Man’s Trash” than in any other episode of the show. It’s not really an important detail, but I know that a lot of the show’s detractors really hate how frequently she strips down when her body is not sexually appealing to everyone. But in addition to the fact that she’s having a two-day sex romp with a new lover, the nudity seems to be a key cog in what makes this a sort of dream lifestyle for Hannah. She has always owned her body, and she’s never been too hung up on whether her partners find it attractive. But the clothing-optional nature of her time with Joshua is an extension of his overall acceptance of her. Wear clothes or don’t, he doesn’t care. Go on crazy rants or flex your sharp wit—either way, he’ll listen.
Shower. Don’t shower. Eat fruit. No, eat steak. Being with Joshua is utter freedom and unconditional approval at all times. And I think that’s why Hannah leaves at the end.
Hannah doesn’t want to be happy. She isn’t ready for happiness. And, in the ugliest revelation of the episode, it becomes clear that some part of her probably looks down upon people like Joshua. Happiness is such a simple goal, and living with it is such an easy thing to do. But someone as “smart” and “sensitive” as Hannah is destined for a more ambitious and therefore more pained existence than a Nancy Meyers movie. She doesn’t leave Joshua’s apartment because it’s all too much for her. She leaves because it’s too little.
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.