Our recent discussion about Girls and my unabashed love for the show (not to mention my slightly awkward daydream of becoming BFFs with Lena Dunham) has given way to an extended writing kick about the show, its meaning, and the reading of topics broached within it. In light of the response elicited from our earlier piece “Gay Girls on Girls” we’ve decided that a weekly recap of this critically-acclaimed “show of a generation” was imperative, and, since my admiration for Dunham knows no bounds and because the show consciously thwarts traditional story narratives and tropes, I knew that I had to write said recap—but with a difference. The following recap ain’t no summary; instead it, along with those that follow, will be focused around a particular element or elements that, I think, represent that particular episode’s central point. In this regard, the recaps will be written in the vein of my Pop Theory pieces…without all that theory…. Well, OK, without most of that theory.
Remember in season 1 of Girls when Hannah tells Adam that she just “wants someone to hangout all the time and thinks [she’s] the best person in the world and wants to have sex with only [her]”? AKA, the lofty dream many people have to be the center of their lover’s universe?
Well, in Sunday night’s episode she got it.
Dunham describes episode 5 (aka episode 15), “One Man’s Trash,” which she wrote “in a fever dream,” as dream-like: Hannah gets “lost in a version of what could be her life,” with the “stable, attractive man” and with the idea of happiness—rather than rabble-rousing storytelling through the medium of JazzHate—taking precedence in her life.
And this made for the most eerie, most surreal, and arguably best episode of GIRLS to date. The episode was so disarming that I spent most of the 27 minutes hiding partially under my covers, waiting for Joshua (Josh-uahhh) to in fact pull a Ted Bundy and hack Hannah into fun size Hannah-pieces.
(Tiny Furniture for everyone!)
In the opening scene Hannah’s debate about the etymological origins of “sexit” (“leaving a party to have sex, a sexy exit”) with Ray at Cafe Grumpy (which, I should note, is not in fact the real Cafe Grumpy but an unoccupied business at the end of the Meserole Street block from the real Cafe Grumpy) seems typical Girls banter. But this “normal” scene escalates into an argument Ray has with neighbor who complains that his trash bins are being “occupied” by Cafe Grumpy’s trash. Ray then goes batshit crazy (“Let’s sing Kumbaya and cup each others balls!”) and Hannah, disgusted with Ray’s immaturity, quits her barista job and heads down the block to said neighbor’s house to apologize…because, duh, she was the perpetrator of the Greenpoint mystery, “Occupy Trash Bin.”
The moment she apologized I said (to both my dog and my girlfriend), “oh man, they are so going to have sex now.” And they did. And this is typical Hannah behavior—remember Hannah’s addict-neighbor Laird, who she randomly bones after her crack-filled night dancing to the gay duo Andrew-Andrew and telling Marnie that “[they] can still be friends as long as [Marnie] knows [she’s] the bad one”?
The typicality or normality of this Hannah-sex-narrative is the “homely” aspect of this episode, which is quickly matched and made uncanny by the “unhomelyness” that follows: Joshua begs Hannah to stay, “this night and every night,” and never leave, ever.
This gesture, as I noted above, is the romantic ideal Hannah expresses to Adam in season 1; one she suppresses (as all romantic ideals are), and yet one that unquestionably emerges as reality in this new dalliance with Joshua. As a result, it resurfaces in Hannah’s mind, making her realize the extent to which she craves love and happiness—as un-ironically as possible. (Or, in hipster parlance, as “ironically-unironic” as possible.)
It is this reality that is presented to us—the gorgeous man with a successful career (as a doctor), who owns his own home (in Greenpoint), who seemingly has it (emotionally) all together and does indeed desire to have sex with Hannah and only Hannah and thinks that she’s beautiful—that makes the episode eerie, uncanny.
Be careful what you wish for: Hannah realizes in a semi-melodramatic (in a Gen. Millennial sense of self-conscious melodramatic acting) breakdown post-shower-faint that she has struggled to suppress the glorified, “normative” feelings of happiness—of hetero-happiness (remember, she wants marriage and the veil and the cake-tasting…). With her head in Joshua’s lap she begins to cry, “Please don’t tell anyone this, but I want to be happy…. I didn’t think that I did…. I want what everyone wants. I want all the things. [ALL THE THINGS!] I just want to be happy…. What I didn’t realize what that I was lonely, in such a deep, deep way…and I was reaching for all this stuff…. Do you think I’m a crazy girl?”
Joshua verbally affirms to her that she is not crazy, but his body language, which is what all Hannah can read, expresses otherwise. He leaves the bed, telling her he needs to sleep because he has work in the morning. She is angry that she has made herself vulnerable to him and he responds by walking away.
Hannah feels rebuked. But Hannah, who is always—like most cerebral, creative types—in “Hannah’s world” (which is primarily the domain of her head) isn’t at all cognizant of her “self” outside of herself. She has such a stilted ability to really listen to other people and to understand their positionality—their feelings and their positions in their interactions with her. This failure does not happen on an intellectual level of understanding but on a more primary, aural level (of a kind of aural perception). This failure is translated into moments of ignorance and/or disrespect: her refusal to call Joshua by his full name as he prefers (rather than Josh); her accusation that Joshua hasn’t told her anything about himself or his divorce and then follows that statement by misremembering where his ex-wife lives (San Diego, not San Francisco); and her outright dismissal that Joshua’s homo-handjob was not traumatic because “it was [his] choice.”
In this regard, the familiarity of character—here, Hannah’s typical emotional immaturity—is juxtaposed with the unfamiliar situation—an affair with a mature, and particularly an emotionally mature, lover—to create that odd sense of the uncanny.
The most uncanny element of this episode is the mutually dependent feelings of, and emotions related to, escape and entrapment. Hannah escapes work by quitting. She escapes her (emotionally, economically) fragile, precarious life by following a mysterious man on a whim and then telling him to beg her to stay. When life is too hard, when we are too unhappy we escape to a projected idea of happiness. In this surreal episode, Joshua was that projection. He was that escape. But looming within the fantasy are the very real feelings of entrapment—feelings that are coyly emoted to the viewer, say, when Hannah peels an orange while nervously staring at Joshua. Or when, standing on the balcony above, Hannah watches the hipsters in the yard below doing queer hipster things like lounging in rickety, broken lawn chairs and blasting their hipster music. Or, after their first night together, Joshua tells Hannah to skip work (even though I though she quit) and stay in his house….forever and ever.
This dual element of escape/entrapment, I think, happens to a lot of young people: your 20-something life is unstable, so you shack up with someone older who has that stable life and who by association can provide you with that stability, at least superficially, all the while assuming that your seemingly stable life will automatically result in happiness.
The feelings of entrapment, as subdued as they are in this episode, still surface in particular moments when the camera is focused on Hannah’s face and also, I think, when the camera lingers on window shots that show us the outside world.
Hannah’s idea of escape—as for all 20 (or 30…) something people whose lives are a bit precarious—is one of entrapment.
But we don’t witness her negotiate these feelings. Instead, on the second morning, she leaves Joshua’s house after lingering there to eat some toast and read his New York Times.
Only future episodes will reveal how how this particular experience will transform her life…but at least we know she has learned to put the trash in the “legally correct” bin.
On a side note, Dunham excels in creating a very distinct, and very seamless multi-layered narrative. While this episode has a particular, telescopic focus on an alternative Hannahverse, Dunham knows how to create a fine harmony of tone and of feeling. This episode, as uncanny as it seemed (matched nicely by the cinematography, the overcast setting and languid piano music, not to mention the claustrophobic-feeling of Joshua’s house), still managed to subtly (and not so subtly, like when Hannah completely dismisses when Joshua opens up to share his homoerotic hand-job experience when he was nine years old) blend gradations of humor and pathos. Even though the setting fixes us in this alternative reality, with a man who even calls himself “an old ghost,” the episode succeeds in not being one note.