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Girls Watch: Last Sexit to Brooklyn

An odd, poignant episode takes a detour, and Hannah finds herself wondering whether all her mistakes are worth it.

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HBO

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.

30 comments
Chris_Kw
Chris_Kw

Show should be called Hannah and Her Friends. Not Girls. Seriously, Hannah had more screen time in this episode than Shoshanna and Jessa have had the entire series (A small exaggeration, I know). Also, Lena Dunham stripping down every episode is getting kind of old. Not criticizing her body so don't yell at me. I would have the same complaint about any actress being nude so often.

judy_gaul
judy_gaul

@katewdt @TIMECulture Thanx 4 the article. I'm still mot sure about episode 5 but enjoyed seeing PW in his deliciousness.

clarkiecrawford
clarkiecrawford

@adam_doster um yeah, so many answers to the question: "But what has two thumbs and really loved the episode?"

bedlamite
bedlamite

Like Louie this is a great show but one that sometimes gets lost in its navel gazing. Last night's episode was too precious by half. And must she those little pinkie man boobs at every slight provocation. All that display of nudity is getting overmuch and beginning to seem gratuitous. And I'm no prude.

katewdt
katewdt

@poniewozik sometimes it's nice to have a dream come true, even for a day,makes you believe in yr world,the way you live it, keep searching.

Galen
Galen

You can analyze it to death!

She is very VERY talented, and its great entertainment with subtle lessons, and I am an older guy.

EXCELLENT! 

kitninj
kitninj

@pricharm Yep, all of it- the good, the bad, the embarrassing - makes you who you are.

CuppaJJJJ
CuppaJJJJ

@emilynussbaum @poniewozik. Interesting writing about this show I haven't seen but can't help thinking is explosively fun-ny material

mmuhlee
mmuhlee

If I were to write a review of last night's ep, it would be this. RT @poniewozik: GIRLS Watch: Last Sexit to Brooklyn http://t.co/xKmPZBB0

Buzzkill_Ed
Buzzkill_Ed

@tres_michelle I agree that it's good to think about it in the context of multiple seasons.

Jeanette607
Jeanette607

@poniewozik Ep left me feeling sad,again,making me recall my own past,but feel it was an emotional breakthrough for Hannah/Lena.Truly superb

kmc1213
kmc1213

Agree wholeheartedly. I want to watch it again and again.

laurenzee
laurenzee

Me, too. RT @televisionary Absolutely agree with this assessment. MT @poniewozik GIRLS Watch: Last Sexit to Brooklyn http://t.co/lRYhVePs

tmwinsett
tmwinsett

@poniewozik Spot on review! (paragraph 3, readsHannah...separate from Hannah, Jessa, & Shosanna. Did you mean Marnie, Jessa, & Shosanna?)

turnapage
turnapage

After last night's @girlsHBO, this recap provides perspective RT @emilynussbaum: Cool Girls recap by @poniewozik: http://t.co/P0U1tOn7

Nina_Rinaudo
Nina_Rinaudo

@poniewozik of Hannah's "world" and the odyssey she's put herself in to get to the things that "everyone wants".

Nina_Rinaudo
Nina_Rinaudo

@poniewozik Always and again, thank you for another great read! :) I watched the show last night and this post is in my opinion the essence

caro_whitetower
caro_whitetower

@AlessandraRo no leas nada ni siquiera el titulo entonces, velo YA.

katewdt
katewdt

@judy_gaul @timeculture @BonnieMerwin : wow! I need to finisn watching:))

pricharm
pricharm

@kitninj So no skipping anything? Darn!

Galen
Galen

@Jeanette607 

And maybe for you!

poniewozik
poniewozik

@tmwinsett Oh, yeah--sounds like I meant something much fancier than I intended. Thanks!