Patrick Wilson: That's a good lookin' newspaper.
Love it or hate it, Girls fits into a specific, maligned literary genre, noted television critic Emily Nussbaum in this week's New Yorker. Nussbaum compares Girls to previous works about young women, most notably Mary McCarthy's 1963 novel The Group. Like Lena Dunham's show, critics at the time called The Group drivel about self-important, privileged young women. But that hasn't stopped dozens of women from continuing to publish similar stories. As Nussbaum writers:
These are stories about smart, strange girls diving into experience, often through bad sex with their worst critics. They're almost always set in New York. While other female-centered hits, with more likable heroines, are ignored or patronized, these racy fables agitate audiences, in part because they violate the dictate that women, both fictional and real, not make anyone uncomfortable.
This week's Girls episode, "One Man's Trash," reads like a short story from McCarthy, Sylvia Plath, or, I would even say, from Raymond Carver. It's a story that's based on the uncomfortable nature of two lonely people who just want to experience something else for a brief moment.
Starting with a confrontation at Grumpy's coffee shop, a handsome neighbor (Patrick Wilson) has a bone to pick with our favorite sarcastic barista Ray: Grumpy's has been dumping all their trash into the neighbor's cans. It's a pretty ridiculous argument. Ray is, you will remember, living in his car, and he's bubbling with resentment of having to take out spend his days dishing up nonfat mochas to people he considers privileged.
Hannah watches the whole escalating argument from behind the Grumpy's counter and it becomes clear from her guilty facial expressions that she's the trash-dumping culprit. That guilt is at odds with an equally motivating emotion: Hannah is super intrigued by this hot, angry neighbor that Ray dismisses as a "meatball." As the argument ends, Hannah tells Ray she's leaving and decides to come clean to the handsome stranger.
Through a series of events, Hannah confesses to the neighbor—over a glass of lemonade in his house—explaining that she lost her dumpster key and was afraid to tell Ray. Then, in a classic bold-absurd Hannah move, she kisses him. And he kisses her back.
We learn that this angry-trash-neighbor's name is Joshua (not Josh because he knew an asshole named Josh) and he's a 42-year-old doctor who likes rare steak. Joshua admits that he's going through a weird time right now because he's been recently separated.
The day leads to wine and dinner and Joshua complaining about his hipster-fratboy-Sean-Paul-listening neighbors. Hannah finally decides that it's the time of the evening where "you give some space" but Joshua doesn't want her to go. In an action echoing the infamous first season scene where she has Adam give her cab money while he's masturbating, Hannah tells Joshua to beg her to stay. He does—at first jokingly, but there seems to be something to the interaction that turns them both on. When he asks her to make him come, Hannah turns the tables on him, asking him to make her come. From what I can remember, this might be the first scene in the show where one of the female characters looks like she's actually enjoying sex.
The next morning, Hannah comes downstairs in his sweater (which cost more than her rent) and Joshua convinces her to skip work so they can spend the day together. They loaf around drinking coffee and lemonade and reading the paper. They play naked ping pong and then have sex on the table. But throughout the day, there's this undercurrent of impenetrable sadness.
It all culminates after a shower. Hannah turns the temperature up too high, inadvertently immersing herself into a steam bath situation. She faints in the shower and instead of watching the moon like they had planned, Joshua and Hannah lie in his bed while he strokes her hair. She unexpectedly starts crying, saying:
I want to be happy. I didn't think I did. I made a promise such a long time ago that I was going to take in experiences, all of them, so I could tell other people and maybe save them. But it gets so tiring, trying to take in all the experiences—letting anyone say anything to me. I'm not different. I want what they all want. I want all the things.
Hannah's selfish-yet-emotionally-resonate speech is where the fantasy of "playing house" with Joshua comes crashing back to reality. He looks at her wide-eyed as she continues to emotionally vomit, telling him she thinks there is something fundamentally broken within her, that she's been terribly lonely and didn't even realize it, that she wants to feel everything like Fiona Apple did in that incredible New York Magazine profile.
Joshua looks at Hannah like he's unsure what to do. He tries to comfort her by mentioning something he still feels bad about: receiving a handjob from another boy when he was nine. But it's pretty apparent Hannah's not interested in knowing about him, even though she asks why he didn't tell her anything about himself. He actually did, but Hannah keeps getting the details wrong, calling him Josh when he prefers Joshua, saying his ex-wife is in San Francisco when it's San Diego. For Joshua, it seems that his loneliness may just need another body beside him, whereas Hannah wants someone to confide in.
He has to work in the morning and the fantasy ends just like that. The next morning, he's left for work. Hannah lingers in his life—touching shirts in the closet, eating his artisanal jam on toast while reading the newspaper. When she's about to leave, she hesitates as if she's forgotten something, goes to take out the trash and walks back into her life.
The whole episode feels as if we've just read a short story about two lonely people who are briefly brought together.
But these are real experiences we have, meeting a person for a night, day, or a week and having a deep, intense connection with them that fades out as we return to our routines. Both characters here are using each other for their own reasons—fantasizing about what their lives could be like. For Hannah—that's not living as a broke twenty-something, of being with someone who cares enough about her to stroke her hair while she unloads all her feelings. For Hannah, class plays a major role in this fantasy: She constantly strokes Joshua's fancy possessions, commenting on the value of things and dreaming about one day having her own trash cans.
It will be interesting to see if a more considerate and motivated Hannah Horvath comes out of this strangely beautiful, indulgent literary encounter.
Quick List: Other Favorite Factoids from "One Man's Trash"
• Hannah and Ray's opening conversation is about the definition of "sexit." Hannah thinks "sexit" means leaving a location to go have sex. Ray find via Urban Dictionary that a "sexit" actually means leaving in the middle of sex.
• Hannah's always imagined Josh as a "cool, sports guy's name."
• Hannah, on how she doesn't usually have sex with strangers: "I always have sex with people I know. I might know they are bad but I know them."
• My favorite Father John Misty song "Nancy From Now On" played in the background of this episode.
• Patrick Wilson is pretty. As is that house.