Girls, Season 2, Episode 5: “One Man’s Trash”
Written by Lena Dunham
Directed by Richard Shephard
Airs Sundays at 9pm ET on HBO
Hannnah Horvath can be a deeply tiring individual. She’s self-centered almost to the point of pathology, she has a probably-inflated sense of her own talent, and she has an infuriating tendency to reject those who genuinely want the best for her, simply because they’re nott constantly conforming to her worldview. All that makes “One Man’s Trash,” the second episode in which we focus more or less solely on Hannah’s side of things (the first being the first season’s excellent “The Return”), a daunting prospect for anyone who has even the slightest doubts about whether or not they really want to spend 30 minutes a week in the company of a character like Hannah. Structured more like a short film than any previous episode, “Trash” is the ultimate Girls litmus test.
It opens innocuously enough, with Ray losing it at a man named Joshua (Patrick Wilson) despite his very reasonable complaint: someone’s been putting Grumpy’s trash in his trashcans. Hannah follows him home to his gorgeous, refurbished brownstone, where she confesses that it was her, on one of her many attempts to experience something new. They kiss, and Hannah spends the better part of two days living a dream, of sorts.
The slyest thing about “Trash” is the way it’s constantly undercutting its own sense of fantasy. It’s made clear repeatedly that Joshua (not Josh!) isn’t going to be entirely forthcoming about his failed marriage, which won’t sit well with Hannah, for whom absolute disclosure is a part of life. It’s also clear early on that while Hannah is deeply infatuated with Joshua’s wealth and status – she clearly relishes literally looking down on his hipster neighbors, the sort of people she usually spends time with – but that infatuation clearly won’t be the bedrock for even much of a one-night stand, let alone a fiery affair. Indeed, by the end of the second night, Hannah’s neuroses are out in full force, and Joshua’s emotional limitations have come to bear, and the next morning there’s nothing left for Hannah to do but leave the fantasy behind.
Back when Game of Thrones‘s first season was making the rounds, a thousand thinkpieces were launched on the show’s use of “sexposition,” sequences in which plot and character beats played out simultaneously whilst characters had sex, or at least hung around in the nude. Girls‘s version of sexposition is markedly different. Hannah and Joshua’s sex scenes quickly and effectively sketch out the arc of their initial attraction, infatuation, and finally disconnection. Look at the way Hannah responds – or doesn’t – to Joshua’s command to “make [him] come.” She seems to realize in that moment that she has the ability to command that herself, and in that moment of clarity she chooses to prioritize her own pleasure instead. He acquiesces, but it’s a clear indicator of where the relationship is – and isn’t – going.
The only real shortcoming of “Trash” is that it doesn’t really advance our understanding of who Hannah is and how she views others in the context of relationships. We know she’s selfish, we know she’s ambitious (or at least wants better things for herself), and we know that she has a voracious appetite for new experiences, just so long as they don’t contradict her worldview. “Trash” restates these attributes, along what’s meant to be a revelation in the form of her declaring that she earnestly wants to be happy – but it doesn’t feel like we’ve broken new ground with Hannah. In a telling music cue, Father John Misty’s “Nancy From Now On” emanates from somewhere in Joshua’s house on their first morning together. Audible: “I’m going where my body leads me / I can fend for myself / with what looks I have left.” (Later, a mention of “a place under the sun.”) “Trash” is a hugely disciplined, frequently beautiful half-hour of television, but it may point to a larger limitation at the heart of Girls, one it will need to address at some point in its future.