In “One Man’s Trash,” Joshua (Patrick Wilson), a handsome, disgruntled neighborhood man, confronts Grumpy’s manager Ray about trash from the café that’s being foisted into his personal garbage bins. Hannah follows Joshua back to his gorgeous Willamsburg brownstone and confesses that she was the culprit. They end up spending the next day and couple of nights together -- talking, having sex, and (mostly) enjoying each other’s company.
That’s the set-up of the episode. With the exception of Ray’s blowup in the opening scene, “One Man’s Trash” is a two-hander. It looks at Hannah and Joshua’s encounter as a sped-up microcosm of a real relationship -- a light-as-air honeymoon period dominates the first night, problems arise on the second, and the following morning sees a separate going-of-ways. Interestingly, Hannah’s “relationship” with Joshua echoes problems she had in her relationship with Adam.
Joshua is peaceable, sweet and seemingly very attracted to Hannah (not all qualities that Adam shares), but he’s guarded. He tells her little about his profession (he's a doctor), or his recent separation from his wife, who now lives in San Diego. When Hannah confronts Joshua about this, she both manages to call him “Josh” -- a shortened version of his name that he doesn’t like (and a running gag throughout the episode) -- and mistakes his wife’s new home for San Francisco.
In the first season, Adam accused Hannah: “You don’t want to know me … You want to come over in the middle of the night and have me fuck the dog shit out of you and then write about it in your journal!” And so it is with Joshua. Hannah, ever the self-absorbed navel gazer, actually has little interest in knowing her romantic interests outside the context of herself and her relationship to them. She also mistakes her oversharing for a sort of kindness that she’s bestowing on others.
Yet Hannah’s oversharing proves to be moving (even if Dunham’s dramatic acting chops aren’t quite up to the challenge). She realizes that she wants “the same thing everybody else wants” -- to be happy. Joshua probably isn’t, enduring the breakup of his marriage and seemingly at odds with many fixtures of his neighborhood. But his picturesque apartment, good looks and kindness to Hannah signal a “whole package” that she hadn’t articulated to herself she wanted. Part of the hipster credo is fancying oneself special, floating knowingly above the normalcy of the mainstream. When Hannah tearfully breaks down to Joshua, she cries for her day-to-day loneliness and for the realization that her deep desire to be happy is, though beautiful, also banal.
One thing that struck me during this episode is that either a) Hannah is out of touch with the events of her own life, or b) “Girls” is out of touch with its own plot points. When Joshua tells Hannah that she’s beautiful, her response is: “That’s not the feedback I’m used to.” What? Hannah’s been nothing but a heartbreaker all season long. The series indulges in wish-fulfillment (see: the entire Adam storyline), but then forgets all of the wishes fulfilled when it comes to Hannah’s self-esteem. This could be a believable twist in the labyrinth of Hannah’s self-perception, but it might also be a crutch for the show’s writers.
Dunham is the sole writer of “One Man’s Trash,” and I appreciate her willingness to play with structure and linger with two characters. But the episode doesn’t fully work: it drags in parts, and exemplifies that the second season of “Girls” lacks a clear aesthetic vision. One of the joys of the show’s first season is its cinematography by Jody Lee Lipes (Dunham's "Tiny Furniture"), who has left the series. He infused the frame with a naturalistic yet pastel lighting scheme, and consistently favored the slow zoom. While “Girls” is about young people still uncertain of themselves, the show’s first season was very sure of itself visually. The slow zoom returns this week, thrown in with mostly handheld work. While the episode looks fine, indeed better than average, the varying camera techniques seem without purpose. Instead of invoking a coherent visual whole, “Girls” now looks like, well, television. To borrow a phrase close to HBO’s heart: It’s not TV. Let’s step this up.
Bits and pieces: