Whether you thought it was the most brilliant Girls episode to date or the young show’s unquestionable nadir, “One Man’s Trash” was certainly unexpected, after the smorgasbord of plot development and Jessa/Shoshanna screen time in last week’s “It’s a Shame About Ray.” Actually, “unexpected” isn’t the right word for it: “One Man’s Trash” was downright strange, in the sense that it was a bottle episode between two characters, one of whom was totally new to the series and who may or may not ever appear in Girls again. But even more than just its structure, the episode was a big ball of weird tonally — after mixing hipster jokes and thoughtful coming-of-age commentary for a season and a half, this ep presented raw emotion, copious nudity and ping-pong table sex, refracted through a baffling odd-couple pairing that never really rang true. “One Man’s Trash” wanted you to feel everything. It was understandable if you felt nothing.
For starters, the episode got off to a clunky start in Grumpy’s, with Ray arguing over trash placement with local hunk Joshua (Patrick Wilson) as Hannah stands idly by. Hannah later calls out Ray for being “horrible,” and rightly so… but his horribleness didn’t make any sense! Even the biggest of curmudgeons would just yell at a staffer if they were dumping Grumpy’s trash in local cans, but instead, he calls the guy a “pink-o” and precedes to motivate Hannah into quitting. What happened to that aw-shucks love pronouncement at the end of last week’s episode, Ray? Hasn’t that warmed your heart at all? When both Joshua and Hannah storm out, Ray chides his customers for watching “panda videos,” and who doesn’t love a solid panda video? This is just Ray being grumpy at Grumpy’s, for no good reason.
But that’s only the tip of the “for no good reason” iceberg: Hannah follows Joshua back to his apartment, invites herself in, compares his ridiculously opulent abode to a setting in a Nancy Meyers movie (a fresh female film voice giving an elder her due props, no doubt), blurts out the fact that she’s been the one dumping her trash in his cans, and kisses the perfect stranger. Why? Aside from the fact that Joshua’s pectoral muscles possibly hold the key to the lost city of Atlantis, what’s going on here? Hannah is self-centered and vulnerable, sure, but she’s not crazy; following a stranger home, barging into his apartment and kissing him because he’s good-looking (and, yeah, rich) is decidedly loonier than, say, her one-night moment of weakness with Laird. Even if the idea of The Handsome Man is impulsively attractive to a 24-year-old misanthrope, she still lives in a rational world with social rules that she at least tries to abide by, however clumsily.
Anyway, Joshua kisses her back, because he’s 42 and he’s lonely and he’s oddly enchanted by this chatterbox who refuses to call him by his Christian name. Joshua’s lust for Hannah makes a little bit more sense once the circumstances of his separation are filled in, and his bristling at his cool-kid neighbors demonstrates that he’s become out-of-touch with dumb fun within his brownstone castle. It’s a little odd that this guy is literally begging for Hannah to stay with him, but he’s also clearly looking for an escape from his humdrum doctor life — and so, there’s some shirtless ping-pong amidst the impassioned intercourse, and Joshua is downright giddy as he calls out of work. (One note about the coitus in this episode: unlike nearly every other Girls sex scene, the nudity and R-rated ongoings are actually not awkward this time around. The scenes between Hannah and her new pal are actually steamy, and nicely contrast the neurotic, and even unpleasant, sex that she has had to endure with her ex-lovers. Underlining the differences between the nurturing Joshua and the brooding Adam through well-shot sex scenes is one of this episode’s best moves.)
Sadly, the euphoria cannot last, as Hannah has known all along. A too-hot shower makes Hannah pass out, and when she awakens in Joshua’s lap, she seems to have awakened in the real world — the one where sweet, hunky older gentlemen have to go back to work and cannot blissfully read newspapers on patios forever. Hannah’s problem is not that this particular fling has to end, since surely she would have assumed that “happily ever after” wasn’t in the cards for this 42-year-old and herself. Rather, the problem is that she wants that wedded fairytale to happen… maybe not with Joshua, but with someone, someday, and soon. “Please don’t tell anyone this, but I want to be happy,” Hannah confesses in the most telling line of the episode, and maybe of the series so far. It was a devastating moment for the young Brooklynite, and Joshua quietly but swiftly backs away from Hannah, her feelings and her Fiona Apple quotes. He has to go to work tomorrow. And Hannah has to go home.
Kudos to Girls for switching up its style and taking a risk that few viewers saw coming. However, the question remains: what have we learned from this explicit rendezvous? There were some interesting moments and clever one-liners, but Hannah’s desire for romantic stability and financial security has always been one of the touchstones of the show. This was a more intimate glimpse of Hannah and the gears churning inside her fragile mind, but Girls fans don’t necessarily need their protagonist’s inner feelings spelled out in a string of bedside declarations. The episode felt like a muddled setup in an effort to get to that “I want to be happy” line, and while that moment was a stunner, it wasn’t worth the journey to get to it.