“I want all the things.”
Do you really, Hannah? Do you? In which Hannah takes part in the world’s most complicated and prolonged “sexit”. This is a very unexpected episode of Girls, in a lot of ways. Special to the point that it doesn’t feel like your regular episode of the HBO comedy series at all. One has a random sexual encounter that feels like a dream sequence and it all starts from there. It’s a strange change of pace that disrupts everything and gives us a complex look into the character of Hannah and what she really wants in her life, even if it is far beyond her foolish reach. Extremely divisive and surprisingly poignant, even as nothing significant really happens. At first glance, this is a random, almost pointless episode about a privileged white girl in New York whining about her life and her own self-indulgent experiences. It is the pinnacle of nearly all the criticism this series gets altogether. But that’s just a very simple viewing; however, when delved into and dissected meticulously, “One Man’s Trash” is an episode that is reminiscent of one of the more reflective episodes of Louie--a dreamy, rare look into something that feels oddly and rightfully out of place. Like trash that is illegally misplaced, this strange episode is a lightly bewildering experience that should have viewers either confused or praising its revealing truths. And that’s what makes Lena Dunham so fearless…
It starts out like any old episode of Girls, with Hannah rambling on about some odd foolishness that any adult would dismiss as childish yip-yap; however, it doesn’t take long before the episode takes an interesting turn and presents Patrick Wilson as an annoyed neighbor who has been plagued with unwanted trash from Café Grumpy. First off, let us just take a moment to realize Hannah’s misplaced excitement about inventing the word, “sexit”, which is apparently a real made-up term which means “to make a hasty exit after the act of intercourse.” Ray is right; nobody uses that word because it is in fact terrible. I’d also like to take a minute to point out Ray’s irrational rudeness to the complaint made by Patrick Wilson’s character, Joshua. Last week, we discovered that Ray is not the most well off guy in New York. He’s essentially homeless and stays with Shoshanna. Ray has this self-loathing side of himself because he is a thirty-three year old man with nothing of significant value in his life besides a great, quirky girlfriend whom he truly loves. The guy’s constant grumpy disposition certainly stems from his life’s failures.
Ray might have his head on straighter than most of the other characters in the show, but he doesn’t really have much in the way of shelter and material value to show for it. And in a world where materials and glorified symbols rule, Ray would be considered a nobody. So in comes a successful man who is about around Ray’s same age and who also happens to have a home and his own material items and a trash bin to complain about. Ray is of course instantly defensive towards this guy just for that reason. Ray could care less about Hannah throwing garbage into Joshua’s trash bins at this point. All Ray sees is a man who he would like to be, but due to unfair conventions of the world, isn’t. Ray’s rant against Joshua is totally irrational and rude and uncalled for, but hey…that’s Ray. He wants the adult life too. After that verbal throw down, Hannah decides that she is in the position to be a chooser and parts ways with the “toxic work environment” that Ray has established and goes to randomly apologize to the neighbor she’s been plaguing with trash. Which leads us into the episode’s big turning point…
Hannah finds herself in this normal, pretty New York neighborhood (which she has clearly been in before given the implications of this entire everyday situation) and decides to do the adult thing by apologizing. This is when things get sort of dream-like, for lack of a better word, and a light yet strange soundtrack cues that very shift in direction for us. The entire tone of the episode changes. The plot is very simple: Young woman stumbles upon an experience with a handsome forty-two year old successful doctor named, Joshua who prefers not to called Josh seeing as how he hates someone named Josh (does he despise a part of himself? His life?). This dashing older gentleman is just separated from his wife for “boring reasons” and he just so happens to fall into a spontaneous experience with our lost and foolish young protagonist.
The casual, ultimately uneventful small talk between Hannah and Joshua is charming and endearing to a noticeable point, which is when Hannah makes the first move and kisses Joshua. And it all escalates from there. In fact, it escalates in such a dreamy way that it is somewhat unrealistic, but still plausible enough to be perceived as a real situation. Honestly, there are moments in this episode where I felt as though I was watching an installment of Mad Men or Six Feet Under, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why, but there is almost an airy feeling to it that feels like it can go anywhere at any moment. And for a series like this--a series that has such a consistent tone of its own, this alteration is a bit off-putting, yet compelling risk in the storytelling.
There is a moment in Hannah’s charming confession in which she explains why she’s been dumping trash into Joshua’s trash bins that speaks a great deal about her own character and why she does the incredibly foolish things she does from time to time. Hannah explains this illegal trash dumping as her “vice” and something that feels like a rush in the moment. Something that she knows she should not be doing, but does anyway. It sounds incredibly self-indulgent, and it is, yet there’s a desperation to Hannah’s behaviors. Hannah does and says stupid things frequently. We’ve seen that. We’re very aware of that. But she’s not stupid. Hannah has been doing these things, indulging in experiences to somehow show that she is evolving into herself as a woman and as a person. We also have to remember that Hannah is a writer who has been adamant on having a multitude of experiences so that she may finally finish her memoir. The thing is, Hannah’s experiences are ones she thinks she’s supposed to have. She’s idealistic to a fault and she is so self-involved that she cannot truly comprehend anything beyond her reality. In her own little world, Hannah is queen. But in this episode she invades someone else’s--Joshua’s world. And he’s just about as lonely and lost as Hannah is.
Hannah ends up spending two entire days with Joshua, peering into his “grown-up” life. A life that he may take for granted--a life that Hannah could see herself in one day, maybe. Joshua seems out of place in the world of Girls, but more to the point out of place in this whole setting. He despises his noisy, younger neighbors and barely seems interested in his job. Joshua probably would never have made the first move on Hannah if she wouldn’t have kissed him first. He honestly seems sad and in some ways trapped in his life. Hannah is an odd dot of color in Joshua’s otherwise dull grey existence and I think he is intrigued by her foolish and forward youth. That said, this encounter with Hannah is just fleeting. Do I think he ever had any intentions of being with Hannah long term? No. Maybe the occasional fling, but nothing more. It’s as if he just needed a thrill to keep him from possibly killing himself. Joshua seems bored and depressed and rich, so Hannah is a welcome change to his normal everyday drag. Joshua has everything, but is essentially empty and has nothing. Is that where Hannah wants to be also?
Hannah literally spends most of her time with Joshua having sex or sitting outside. There is also the occasional half-naked ping-pong segment that shows distance. It is ideal to notice that these sex scenes between Hannah and Joshua are arguably the only “sexy” sex scenes Girls has ever had. They’re almost romantic and perfect and worth envying. You know, besides the fact that its Patrick Wilson who Lena Dunham has the pleasure of making out with. It’s almost as if Hannah is getting a pleasant taste of what happiness and a healthy adult relationship would be like. Even though these few days together are--once again--simply fleeting. There is a hollow intimacy shared between Hannah and Joshua that feels like both of these sad people, from completely different generations are self-indulgently “trying-on” a new life as if it were a fancy hat or something. It’s all so evident when Hannah asks Joshua to beg her to stay with him and he does. Both of these lonely characters are engaging in sex and quality time together, but they are still alone in their togetherness. There is an aching to gain something significantly adult and healthy from all of this, but it never happens. Probably because neither of them really know what they’re looking for.
Joshua is a “grown-up” in Hannah’s eyes and I think it is what allures her to him. It's the same thing that allured Jessa to Thomas John. The thrilling thought of becoming an adult. Hannah is so used to dating man-children that she’s taking a moment (in this case, two days) to indulge in what adulthood would be like. It’s almost as if Hannah is thinking, “Finally, I’m with someone who has achieved being a grown-up and I’m with them, so that must make me an adult now too, right?” Hannah tries to convince herself that she’s reaching adulthood in this moment even as she just lightly floats through it. Joshua has accomplished adulthood already and in a way that is the problem for him. There is nothing left for him to reach for, which is why he’s so alienated and lonely and bored. Joshua has had his experiences. Hannah on the other hand is a twenty-four year old girl still searching for her road to adulthood, and it may not come in the same shape as Joshua’s. It all comes to the point where Hannah is finally real with us and breaks down crying, admitting to Joshua that she really does want to be happy. It’s an uncomfortable, excruciating moment where Hannah realizes herself. It’s also a very self-indulgent moment in which Hannah explains her odd search for experiences and attention. This is the point that some viewers may become frustrated about. There’s the privileged white girl complaining about experiences she brought upon herself all for the sake of art. Boo-hoo. Well honestly, these experiences Hannah seems to be whining about aren’t as trivial as they seem, as they are signs of something more complex than a young person whining about life.
The trials of a privileged white girl can be perceived as incredibly pointless to a great deal of people. Twenty-something year old individuals and especially women (and I can’t speak for young women, but here’s my attempt at trying) whether privileged or not can all relate to wanting to be happy, yet being forced in another direction because the conventions of our society and of our world dictate otherwise. It is so easy to get wrapped up in what the world wants you to be during post-graduate life. In one’s mid-twenties you’re supposed to be successful and employed and close to starting a family and having a real adult relationship. We’re supposed to have it all together, living the American dream, much like it seems Joshua has attained. And if you don’t, then you are viewed as a fumbling twenty-something year old mess who just sucks at growing up. Or in a completely different light, if a young woman represses any aspects of what society says and generalizes is “happiness” for her, she is easily perceived as crazy or unstable, making some (weak) men avoid any deeper contact with her beyond sexual intercourse and empty small talk. It’s what these seemingly beautiful, perfect few days essentially are: A piercing sadness cloaked in inauthentic perfection and happiness.
Hannah completely opens up to Joshua in a real and deep way that for many people can be really uncomfortable and seem self-indulgent. Hannah realizes she wants something that she thought the world told her she didn‘t want or could not have. She wants happiness and that realization is heartbreaking because she feels like happiness isn’t supposed to be this easy. Hannah has always thought wanting to be “happy” was for weak, stupid little girls, which is why she does all of the ridiculous things she does. Hannah likes to struggle because it gives her experience and builds character. What does happiness do? None of those things. Being a messy twenty-something year old who sucks at growing up is more interesting, although the world may look at her as if she’s nuts. Hannah isn’t nuts, she just wants to feel it all. Just like Fiona Apple insists.
A revelation such as this is painful to watch unfold, but one has to realize that it takes a lot for another person to express themselves like that. And when someone reacts in the way Joshua does, by veiling a small panic attack and brushing off Hannah’s very real concerns, it is a low blow to one’s self-worth and self-esteem. It makes them seem trivial, like some stupid crazy little child. Hannah is a self-proclaimed artist/writer. What do artists and writers do? They put themselves out there--their feelings and ideals and ask people to pay attention to it and to potentially love their work. When people brush off those ideals and feelings and have the nerve to label it as pretentious or self-indulgent and trivial, it hits deep. It’s damaging and truly hurts. This emotional outlet from Hannah is the only time she feels like she can release her real concerns to someone. Unfortunately, the reaction Joshua gives her is nothing but crushing. Will Hannah ever have the will to open up like that to anyone else in a future relationship? If someone who has achieved adulthood dismisses her feelings so easily, then what hope does Hannah have of finding someone who will really listen to her and make her happy by doing so in the future? Much like the misplaced garbage she’s been invading Joshua’s space with, Hannah’s ideals--her feelings and concerns--are just unwanted trash to him as well.
The next morning, Hannah wakes up alone, much like Joshua probably does day-to-day and goes about the normal “adult” daily routine. Hannah steps into Joshua’s role in his absence: She gets the morning newspaper, eats a small breakfast while reading said paper, goes through the closet, makes the bed, checks the house before leaving and takes out the trash before returning to her normal life. And it is the saddest, most isolating experience the series has ever portrayed. This adult world is not what Hannah though it would be. It’s just someone else’s trash. A crushing loneliness and an aching for something else, but not knowing what that something else is. Maybe adulthood is just as trivial as the plights of a privileged white girl…
Is being grown-up worth it all if when the chase is over you become this successful yet bored, depressed, alienated, rich person trapped in a grey world complaining about too much trash being in your trash bins? Hannah has been aching to be perceived as an adult all season in a myriad of ways. This might be the first time she peers into adulthood and doesn’t really love what she sees or feels, which is nothing. At least with Hannah’s messy, ridiculous experiences she gets to feel something, which is much more than anyone can say about Joshua’s “adult life”. And that must be crushing for her. It’s a cold, dull reality once you’ve reached the end of the golden road that makes one a grown-up. But maybe Hannah’s version of adulthood doesn’t have to be Joshua’s. One man’s version of adult reality might not be a young woman’s. Hopefully Hannah will be able to realize this experience--this prolonged “sexit”--was more than just a dreamy letdown with a pretty face. It is more of a cautionary tale of some sort. A dream with a subtle warning. Hannah, although frequently insecurely arrogant, is exposed in every single way in this episode, and it is a surprisingly cathartic experience for this series.
This is quite an unusual, daring piece of television that could have easily flopped (and almost did for me during a few points) but it instead ended up being an unexpected masterpiece that even rivals the best episodes of the show thus far. I love how the series takes a rewarding risk by setting up a mostly implausible scenario and running with it in order to discover some poignant truths about its characters. Haunting and sad, it is a superbly daring move to place an episode of Girls like this one right in the middle of a season, but it works in an astoundingly reflective way. Downright brilliant and strangely poetic if you ask me! And for that reason, “One Man’s Trash” gets 5 out of 5 stars!
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© Patrick Broadnax 2013