Girls is such a prickly show, and never has there been a pricklier episode than “One Man’s Trash.” It’s an odd half-hour, odd even in the context of a fairly unusual show. It is, minus a short prelude, entirely focused on one character we know, and a stranger. It is reaching for a certain level of subtlety in its portrayal of emotion that is rarely attempted on television. It seems to actually pay attention to cinematography. And, despite all of this, I believe that it’s a failure.
But let’s start with the good in it. The beginning is simple enough, and believable, and there’s some great stuff in there about how Hannah grew to enjoy the thrill of dumping trash in other people’s trashcans. The set-up with Joshua, played by the always-welcome Patrick Wilson, may strain credibility for just a minute, but that’s where it becomes important that this is an episode in an ongoing series. We know Hannah, and how over the first half of this season, she’s been methodically removing the most important people from her life. She’s lonely, and we quickly come to realize that Joshua, too, is lonely.
So it’s two lonely people, each of whom comes to realize that they want what the other has. That’s simple, but has a great potential for power, and for a while, “One Man’s Trash” pulls it off. We see Hannah get used to the idea of a stable adult existence, and we see Joshua skirt the issue of the wife he’s separated from, or any details of his life at all. It builds, slowly and quietly, until we reach the point where Hannah breaks.
And this is where it all falls apart. On a strictly story level, this works; Hannah thinks she has an important revelation, that maybe the life she’s always wanted for herself isn’t as great as she thought, and maybe there are other options. What goes unrealized by her is that this other option she’s glimpsed in Joshua has the exact same potential for unhappiness. She thinks she’s moved forward, but she’s exactly as self-centered and naive as she’s always been. It could have been great, but Lena Dunham’s acting and writing simply don’t sell it. Her teary monologue on the bed feels false, and the way she falls apart feels false, and none of it worked for me.
This was the most important moment in the entire episode, the one point at which anything significant actually gets said out loud, instead of being let to bubble underneath, and Girls couldn’t stick the landing. And so the episode is, to me, a failure, but an interesting and worthwhile failure. “One Man’s Trash” is an experiment that’s rarely found in television, and I’m grateful for Girls to give episodes like this a try. Maybe next time, it’ll work. I may not like this episode, but I admire it, and so I hope I get to see a next time.