This week’s installment of Girls is probably the most categorical bottle episode in the series thus far. We get a few minutes with Ray in the beginning, but really this half an hour is about Hannah and her experience with Dr. Joshua (guest star Patrick Wilson) in his beautifully restored Brooklyn brownstone. On one hand, the pared down cast (Dunham, Wilson, Karpovsky) lets us really focus on Dunham’s acting chops, and on the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on Dunham as the show’s creative lifeblood. So how was “One Man’s Trash”?
Hannah meets Joshua (not Josh!) when he comes to Grumpy’s to complain about someone dumping trash in his cans. Ray adamantly refuses to take the blame, but Hannah abruptly quits. It’s not hard to see that she feels guilty, so when she follows Joshua back to his house it’s hardly a surprise. At first, her attitude is playful, and it’s the same old devil-may-care Hannah we know and love. Joshua invites her in and she says, “I could really be putting myself in a Ted Bundy situation. He also looked handsome, clean and probably had a brownstone.” But when the conversation between them goes from pleasant to awkward (there’s only so much one can say about a failed solarium) Hannah pulls a fast one and kisses Joshua. Now, we’ve seen her do this before—just a couple weeks ago she kissed her neighbor, potentially just to stop him from talking—but this time we get to follow that kiss to its inevitable end.
Sometimes Girls is about landing jokes, and sometimes it’s about skewering Brooklyn culture, but “One Man’s Trash” is a brave attempt at getting at some of the strange revolutions that life makes in your mid-twenties. Even though a young woman having a fling with a newly-separated older guy isn’t a radically new story to follow, we get a pretty insightful take: Hannah’s not just helping herself to his lemonade and having sex on his hotel quality sheets, she’s playing at having that kind of life. When she looks at herself in the mirror in Joshua’s spa-quality bathroom, we know that she is wondering whether she is dreaming or not. That’s why the little details in this episode are so important; playing ping-pong, eating a clementine in his yard, and grilling a steak on his deck are all pristine snapshots of Joshua’s life. That’s also why we get a fairly explicit, extended sex scene between them—we need to breathe in the scenario because Hannah has to remind herself to breathe too. She’s not used to asserting herself and being met with pleasure instead of disappointment.
At the same time, Joshua is living through Hannah. His marriage ended because he wasn’t present, so it makes a lot of sense that he exerts a lot of effort to be present with Hannah. He takes the day off work, he rescues her from a steamy demise, he wants her to open up to him. Joshua is a pretty simple sketch of a guy in his early forties that seems to have lost touch with himself and his emotions, living in a Restoration Hardware simulacrum of a life instead of the life he thought he’d made for himself. When he looks at Hannah, he sees a vibrant Manic Pixie Dream Girl™, someone strange and impulsive enough that she might bring him back to himself. But Hannah isn’t as unmediated as Joshua hopes; when she finally does open up to him, it’s to admit that she really wants what everyone else wants—to have it all, to feel it all, and to be happy. The realization that she isn’t different, that she just wants a normal life, is crushing. Hannah is despondent.
That revelation does bring Joshua back to himself, but that means waking up from the dream of being with Hannah in all her MPDG™ glory. He lets her stay one more night, but he’s gone in the morning. She goes through the motions of getting his paper and having toast out in his yard, but when she takes out the garbage on her way out, we know that Hannah is right back where she started. You can’t live a different life, no matter how much of a voyeur or impressionist you might be. And as finely as Dunham has sketched the rupture of the experience out for us, it’s hard not to look wistfully back at Joshua’s brownstone as Hannah walks away from it to cross the street.