By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist February 11, 2013 at 10:22AM
After rolling out of the gate for season two with solid, but not especially top-tier episodes, last week "Girls" finally stepped up and delivered the best effort of the season thus far. Incorporating the entire cast equally, it was both funny and moving, an emotionally real installment that pushed forward a handful of storylines into some interesting directions. But if that episode was Lena Dunham at the height of her powers, delivering the kind of material we've come to expect, "One Man's Trash" is an eye-opening preview of where this talent can go. Unlike anything we've seen in the series so far, last night's episode shifted in unexpected, near profound ways, opening up a new dimension for the series we hope to see more of.
But admittedly, the start is a bit patchy. It's essentially an (overlong) meet-cute of sorts, with the handsome Joshua (Patrick Wilson) coming into Grumpy's to find out who has been leaving garbage bags from the coffee shop in his trash cans. For some reason Ray (Alex Karpovsky) is even touchier than usual, and essentially unleashes a rant on Joshua that's rude if not borderline psychotic. Mostly, it's just plain unbelievable. But it provides an excuse for Hannah to leave the "toxic work environment," and she catches up with Joshua at his home. How does she know where he lives? Well, she's the one that's been leaving the garbage in his cans, initially because she lost the key for Grumpy's dumpster, but eventually just for the thrill. Hannah marvels at Joshua's "Nancy Meyers movie" house....and then she kisses him. And Joshua kisses her back....
And so begins a fascinating, Hannah-centered episode of "Girls" that grows her character in expansive ways, after attending to Shosanna, Jessa and Marnie last week (none of whom feature here). Almost serving as a one-act play, "One Man's Trash" takes place almost entirely in Joshua's house. He's a separated 42-year-old doctor, she's 24 and working at a coffee shop. They make out, the fuck, they eat steak, play ping pong in their underwear, fuck some more, read the New York Times, all over the course of a day and a half or so. What starts as an afternoon fling becomes something more when he asks her stay the night (Hannah makes him beg, which takes on a bigger meaning later).
At first, it's hard to know what to make of "One Man's Trash," and even halfway through, it almost seems like an indulgent exercise that shows next to no sign of a payoff. But the playful start gives way to a sober drama, and when the story really reveals where its headed, it's perhaps one of the most incisive observations of the expectations of young women we've seen in some time on the small screen. After pulling her out of his shower/sauna after she faints, Joshua sits with Hannah on his bed, gently stroking her hair as she lays wrapped up in one of his robes. And she begins to cry, and as she explains, it's because she's lonely, but it's also because she realizes quite simply, "I just want to happy." It sounds trite, but that happiness is provided by the comforts and security Joshua has, but moreover, by the simple desire he has to have Hannah in his home.
Hannah explains she's essentially been martyring herself, taking on experiences, so she could share them, and so others wouldn't have to go down certain dark paths. But ultimately, Hannah realizes she wants the same goals that everyone else has: to be loved deeply, to be cared for and taken care of. Again, it seems like simple stuff, but when you're in your mid-twenties, trying to figure out who you are and where you fit into the world, acknowledging that dramatically reorients how you approach nearly everything in your life. And while Joshua is taken aback by Hannah's raw outpouring of her innermost feelings (which includes being possibly molested at the age of three) and somewhat recoils, his mere act of asking her in the first place to stay over -- and his willingness to beg, no matter how playful -- points to a deeper core of wanting to be a provider, and to use his success to be the person that can take care of someone else. With his ex-wife out of the house, he too is left with a void to fill, even if it's left unspoken while Hannah's needs are articulated.
Joshua also represents the first "real man" any of the women in "Girls" have met thus far. Older and more mature and accomplished than Ray, Charlie, Booth or even Thomas-John, Joshua is almost a window to the future for Hannah, a representation of the kind of person she could spend the rest of her life with and who could deliver the happiness she craves. Undoubtedly, bearing witness to someone as mature and largely put together as Joshua is also a revelation of sorts for Hannah, who has thus far spent her time dating men who themselves are still figuring out their identities and working through their own issues.
It would be easy to call out Lena Dunham's observations of the role between men and women as coming from a bygone era, and maybe even regressive in terms of feminist thinking. But the writing here is so good that she taps into something far more primal. This is not so much a reductive argument that women want to find a man that will take care of them than it is a statement that we strive -- men and women -- for shelter, comfort, safety and happiness. That many people, throughout their youth, react against or reject those notions because they feel they don't deserve or want it (as Hannah does) or simply because of a larger fear of missing out on life. But there is a truth that ultimately what we all seek, if anything, is companionship; someone who will take this journey with us, and bear witness to all the ups and downs our lives take us through.
Melancholy, deeply thoughtful, smart and almost jarring in how radically different it is from anything "Girls" has done before, "One Man's Trash" marks a big leap forward and certainly pushes the boundaries of what this show is capable of. [A-]
Songs in this episode: The Fall "No Bulbs"; Sean Paul "Temperature"; Father John Misty "Nancy From Now On"