About halfway through last night's episode of Girls, "One Man's Trash," I wrote in block letters in my notes, THIS IS WEIRD. And the episode, yes, it was "weird." Aside from Ray, who appears only in the first scene, it involves only Joshua, a character introduced for the first time (Patrick Wilson); Hannah, who of course we all know; and some next-door neighbors who Joshua describes as fratty, mostly because they're Hannah's age instead of his own (he's in his early 40s). Story lines with Marnie, Jessa, Elijah, and Shoshanna that have been percolating over the past episodes of the season (and especially in last week's episode) are put on hold as we spend one-on-one time with Hannah and this new character in his perfect brownstone in perfect brownstone Brooklyn. That in itself is strange, though not uncommon in TV-world. Hannah is, after all, our main character, and sometimes, like in last season's home-in-Michigan episode, we get to see her in a kind of "natural habitat" without the others.
But there's more to the weirdness than simply that. I've complained that it's hard to read this show: Is it parody or is it supposed to feel true, a realistic reflection of a particular time and generation? This time, though, the episode seems not parody but a form of acted-out fantasy, somewhere between real and not real, featuring the sort of behavior that usually takes place only in our own minds. It's a depiction of the kinds of things we would do, maybe, if there were no consequences for our actions. Who hasn't, for example, wanted to say goodbye to the toils and troubles of daily life and responsibilities and instead move into a castle, or brownstone, with a handsome older person who can take care of us and maybe even save our lives? It's a someday-my-prince-will-come story, but with a twist. The thing is, Hannah and her prince meet over the matter of garbage. And in the end, he's not her prince at all, any more than she's his sudden, unexpected salvation. They're just two people trying out a fake life for a couple of days, to see how it feels. Maybe there's the realism, right there.
The episode starts out normally enough. Hannah thinks she's created the term sexit, i.e., to leave a party to go have sex, but when she explains her coinage to Ray during a shift at Grumpy's, he turns to Urban Dictionary, which, of course, already has numerous entries for the word. Enter Joshua, who's come to Grumpy's to talk to the manager because someone from the store is leaving trash — stuff with the cafe's address on it, leftover pastries, coffee grounds — in his cans. Ray is rude; Joshua gets mad, then madder, and eventually stomps out, after which Hannah (plagued with her own guilt, we later find) leaves as well, calling Grumpy's a "toxic work environment." She goes to Joshua's house, and when she tells him she has something to say, he invites her in and gives her lemonade. Eventually the confession comes out: "I did it. I do it. I put trash in places it shouldn't legally go. It's kind of my vice."
Of course, Hannah's been putting trash (metaphorically) in places it shouldn't go for long before this episode, if you consider some of the awful things she's said and done over the course of series. Perhaps this is something of a growth moment in that at least she's admitting it. She tells Joshua it won't happen again, and then kisses him, and after a moment, he kisses her back. They have sex.
This is the part where we lapse into the fantasy, which is not to say that I don't think these two characters might in the "real world" get together and have sex. Over at Slate, David Haglund and Daniel Engber wonder, "Was that the worst episode of Girls ever?" and a big part of their concern seems to be that they don't believe a hottie like Joshua would go with so "defiantly ungraceful" and "sexually ungenerous" a girl as Hannah. Aside from that commentary echoing any lack of generosity in our character, I resent that we have to be thrown by this coupling. Hannah is 24, Joshua is 42; she's alone in his apartment, kissing him; he's separated from his wife and confronting the end of his marriage and where he fits into society as a single man. And, look, Hannah is not unattractive by human standards, though she may not look like the actresses we see more frequently on TV. Whether Dunham is directly confronting the old trope of hot women and their oafish male spouses as seen on prime time sitcoms or not, I think some of the most winning moments of this episode involve Hannah owning her sexuality, gallivanting topless as she plays ping pong with this handsome man, and, when the Joshua character tells her, "Make me come," responding, "No, make me come." All through the season, and the one before, we've seen the twentysomething female characters in the show have sex in various ways that seem, generally, not particularly pleasing to them. Why shouldn't we feel rather proud of her for changing that up?
I agree that Hannah is often insufferable, but that has everything to do with how she acts, not how she looks. And for a while, in this episode, she's not so insufferable at all. Everything seems perfect, a fantasy, as the next two days go by in a rush of faux-couplehood and sex, and our faux-couple gets on like gangbusters. He tells her he's separated, he cooks her steak, they chat, they laugh, they make out. She makes moves to leave and he asks her to stay. She asks him to beg her and he does, and there's more sex. In the morning, she wakes and finds him downstairs reading the paper. He suggests they call in sick, and they do. "Don't we deserve it?" he says. (This, FYI, is when I wrote THIS IS WEIRD, partly expecting his doctor shtick to be a lie and him to be an ax murderer after all.)
What follows is more fantasy, perfect life, perfect relationship fantasy. They play ping pong in their underwear. They eat fruit outside, reading the paper. They never fight or get mad or have to deal with chores or daily problems. They are in a vacuum, a fake world that can't be sustained, but while they're there, it's dandy. She takes a shower in his fancy programmable shower, and when she sets the heat too high and she passes out, he comes in and rescues her. "Next time, call me!" he says, patting her on the head and holding her. And then the fantasy world turns, as we knew it would, because it always does, no matter the cast of characters. She gets confessional, telling him that she just wants to be happy. "Everyone does," he says. "But I didn't think that I did," she says (insufferable alert): "I made a promise that I'd take in experiences ... but it gets so tiring, trying to take in all the experiences for everyone."
Ah, poor Hannah. In coming to that actually sort of important realization that she's like everyone else, that she's lonely, too, that she wants happiness just like the next person, and that it's maybe even O.K. to say those things, she succeeds in being more narcissistic and closed-off than ever. He tries to relate, sharing his own story, and she shuts him down so they can go back to her. "You think I'm crazy?" she says. "I just want to feel it all." Exhausted by this conversation, he tells her he needs to sleep, and she confronts him for not telling her anything about himself. The fantasy has ended completely, but it's late, and he tells her he wants her to stay. He may simply be too polite to kick her out, or maybe it's that he wants to hang onto the fantasy for one more night himself.
In the morning, she wakes up and he's gone. She gets the paper, makes herself an imperfect breakfast, and eats it outside. She makes his bed, takes out his trash, and leaves. In the harsh light of day, they might as well be strangers again, and she's walking down the street, returning to her regular life. Did either of them learn anything? I think so ... but we'll have to stay tuned, I suppose, to find out.
Winners: In the beginning of the episode, after they hook up, Joshua and Hannah agree that their coupling is weird, but not bad weird. If we adhere to the "it makes you think" or "it produces polarizing opinions" theory of good entertainment, even if this show was bad weird (I'm inclined to say it was actually sort of good), it's still interesting in a way that something less complicated would not be. Dunham continues to challenge us with a character who's unlikable much of the time, but Hannah Horvath is trying to figure shit out. She admits, late in the episode, that she wants to be happy, as if this is something she should be ashamed of. If I don't fully understand what the characters in Girls want, I want to see them explaining or acknowledging that they don't know in some form or fashion, and this episode did that for me. So Hannah, good for you.
Losers: Poor Josh(ua). Despite everything he has, he still comes off as the sad guy in this show, the oldest dude in his neighborhood, a self-described "old ghost." What he thinks about himself says more than anything viewers want to assume about his supposedly "unrealistic" dalliance with Hannah. These are just two lost people in the world who briefly found something that helped them in each other. But while Hannah can leave the brownstone, going back to her normal life, this is the house Joshua lives in. She can take out his trash, but he can't take out hers. There's a "sexit" for you.