Spoilers for last night’s Girls follow:
A lot of people, including me, have drawn comparisons between Girls and Louie: TV-auteur projects with a distinctly personal sensibility, driven by the voice of one writer-director-producer-star. “One Man’s Trash,” though is the first Girls episode that really felt like an example of what it would be like if Lena Dunham actually made an episode of Louie.
I don’t mean that as a comparison one way or another of the two shows’ quality (though I thought the episode was disconcerting, sad and lovely). Nor did the episode share Louie’s surrealism or dark, self-loathing humor. But like a half-hour of Louie, it played as much like a short story–a short film–as an episode of a TV series.
It didn’t have the same anarchic disregard for continuity as Louie does; it reminded us, in small ways, that it was still part of the same larger timeline as the rest of Girls. But at the same time, it took Hannah outside her own story–separate from
Hannah Marnie, Jessa and Shosh–and stood apart from the series while hitting the same raw themes (a little like last year’s “The Return,” also the fifth episode of that season).
The realization that this will be a departure from Girls’ usual structure dawns gradually. The showdown between Josh (sorry, Josh-UA!) and Ray is a typical Girls conflict that spirals upward (“Take a big fucking bite out of that information!”), but it goes on unusually long for an opening setup scene. When Hannah walks into Joshua’s fabulous gut-renovated brownstone, it’s a little like she’s stepping onto another planet–real-estate science-fiction–and we won’t be leaving this alternate plane of existence until the episode’s final sexit.
It really is another world Hannah is getting to visit: a clean world of neatness and order, of lazy topless ping-pong with a doctor who looks like Patrick Wilson. And a world, let’s be honest, of money. From Jessa’s short marriage to Hannah’s parents to Elijah’s sugar-daddy relationship, Girls has been frank about the fact that somebody has to pay for all these hipster good times. It’s no coincidence that Hannah says “This place is unbelievable!” as soon as she walks in.
But it isn’t only about money so much as comfort: material, but also emotional. Playing house for a brief indoor vacation, Hannah gets to try on stability for size. She gets to be that person, with a trash can for her trash and a front stoop to set the trash can by and, up that stoop, somebody waiting inside. With, maybe, a non-toxic relationship and actual good, non-creepy sex. And she finds–terrifyingly–that she likes it. “I want what everyone wants, I want what they want, I want all the things.”
One of the foundational ideas of Girls is that your twenties are an experimental time in your life, a time of practicing and making mistakes. It’s even in the marketing: “Living the dream. One mistake at a time.” “Almost getting it kind of together.” It’s true. To an extent. (And again: these are characters with the sort of class background that means they can afford a lot of trial and error.)
But it’s not totally true. Yeah, maybe your youth is for mistakes. But mistakes too are a luxury. (In another world, 24 makes you a grown-ass adult; people have kids, have careers, die in wars at 24.) And those mistakes can still count. They can still hurt. They can, you start to worry, set you on a path that will eventually become permanent. Maybe those experiments are taking you somewhere great, eventually. But are they so necessary? Would it be so terrible, so lame, so boring, to just skip them and get to the part that comes after?
“One Man’s Trash,” directed by Richard Shepard, has a kind of dreamlike feel, and at times it feels like Dunham is not so much playing Hannah as she is playing a character in a separate short story idea. (I don’t think the episode is meant to be read this way, but there is just the slightest possibility that none of this ever actually happened; it seems a bit like a short story that Hannah, or an older Hannah, might write about a character based on herself.) And honestly, Dunham doesn’t have quite the dramatic presence to completely sell the near-breakdown that Hannah has, as she exposes her doubts to a near-stranger.
The scene is written brilliantly, though, right down to the way Josh-ua shuts down, unable to process Hannah’s sudden confessional–and the way Hannah dismisses his story of being sexually touched at age 9, then forgets the few details of his life he’s shared with her. And it’s something to watch Patrick Wilson’s emotional windows roll up as he realizes he’s in bed with a 24-year-old who has just dropped all her baggage since age three on him, feels she’s basically just like Fiona Apple and, when he doesn’t respond with sufficient feeling, reminds him his stupid name is just Josh “with an extra sound at the end.”
It’s, yeah, weird. But the weirdness is also captivating., and poignant And maybe it’s necessary. Maybe it’s only by entering an alien world—just two block down the street from Cafe Grumpy—that Hannah would admit out loud a truth about herself: it’s that she wouldn’t mind skipping the whole difficult “Hannah” phase and just become Lena Dunham already.