Accused by some of whitewashing Brooklyn and beloved by others for depicting the harsh truth of post-college New York life for over-educated women in their 20s, Girls may well be TV’s most talked-about comedy. Considering that most of those conversations hinge on how realistic the show is or isn’t, this season we’re recapping Girls by asking three writers who should know — our interns, Chloe Pantazi, Alison Herman, and Julia Pugachevsky — how real each episode felt. Read their responses to last night’s episode, which focused entirely on an unexpected romantic encounter between Hannah and an older man, and let us know what you think in the comments.
Alison Herman: In the grand tradition of Game of Thrones — a show whose only other shared trait with Girls is its penchant for showing boobs a few more times per episode than absolutely necessary — last night’s episode was a one-off, following just one character through one encounter over the course of one unhurried half hour. In a complete reversal from last week’s full-to-bursting montage of major turning points for half a dozen major characters, “One Man’s Trash” gave the viewer room to breathe. And it gave Hannah room to let all her crazy out.
The plot is simple: our antiheroine finds an actual adult to go home with, spends a happy 36 hours finding out how the other half lives, and floats away, hopefully (but probably not) more self-aware than she was before. There’s barely even five minutes in the way of exposition; with just a few misplaced trash bags and a brilliant one-liner from Ray involving panda videos and coffee-shop WiFi, the episode is off the ground, taking us to new heights of pretentiousness and Millennial self-importance.
What fascinated me about this episode wasn’t its unflattering portrait of the Hannah we’ve come to know and mildly dislike. At this point in the series, the audience isn’t surprised that she bails on her only source of income because it’s “a hostile work environment,” or that she has no idea how to tactfully approach the subject of divorce. Rather, “One Man’s Trash” is successful in moving Girls forward as a series because it gave us an unusually unfiltered look at Hannah’s self-mythology, a curious mixture of the 20-something who grew up putting her life on display and the dutiful student of the Summer Finn School of Manic Pixie Dream Girlhood.
The episode’s emotional climax, in which Hannah bemoans the artistic burden of constant observation, tells us what JazzHate and its like hath wrought better than even Hamilton Nolan’s Gawker rant could. The Hannah Horvaths of the world are now convinced that having awkward experiences and bad sex aren’t natural parts of life, but ways to martyr oneself in front of a live audience, whether it’s their Facebook friends or blog readers. And when they realize they actually “want to be happy,” not a hot, famous mess, they’re crushed.
Julia Pugachevsky: Chronicling Hannah’s brief tryst with Josh/Joshua, this episode felt much more like a short film than a part of the series. In fact, you could have never met Hannah Horvath before, and this episode would almost tell you everything you need to know about her. Hannah, like many aspiring 20-something writers who think experience outweighs hard work , spends her days at Grumpy’s trying to invent words like “sexit” (which apparently already exists) to feel smart, even for only a split-second, as she excitedly explains the definition of her new slang to her less-than-interested coworker. When she’s not doing that, she’s dumping store trash into strangers’ cans because she lost the dumpster keys and, more importantly, she enjoys the act. That’s the thing – when you’re hungry for topics to write about, you’ll cling to anything that can seem meaningful. Up until she gets caught, Hannah congratulates herself for finding such a simple task so poetic, and now that she has someone to confess to, she naturally takes the next step: kissing a complete stranger and sharing all her most personal thoughts.
It makes sense that this episode only focuses on Hannah and her 42-year-old divorced lover – having such an affair can be so isolating. If Hannah shares this story with her friends, chances are she’ll end up with a polite nod from Shosh, a scolding look from Marnie, and maybe a pat on the back from Jessa (whose love life isn’t exactly something to emulate). Hannah may even be secretly admired for her ability to “live it all,” as she says, but no doubt jumping into these short-lived interactions is an incredibly lonely way of living, as reflected by the slow-paced cinematography of the episode and the beautiful-yet-hollow appearance of Joshua’s home. And when Hannah sits on Joshua’s bed and tells him about her scattered childhood memories and her need to feel everything, even if it hurts her, because she wants to be different, it becomes clear: the girl is losing her mind. The misleading notion that artists must be ready — no, begging — to suffer has made Hannah embark upon a life that will become littered with temporary relationships and possibly dangerous sexual encounters. And the saddest part? She’d still be a dime-a-dozen writer.
Chloe Pantazi: Hannah taught us a new word last night. A “sexit” is the action of leaving a party to go and have awesome sex. However, Urban Dictionary has a different definition; “sexit” means leaving during sex – a pre-hit-it-and-quit-it run for the hills for when you decide you already regret having sex with a person while having sex with them.
Hannah then makes her own attempt at a glamorous “sexit,” to run after Joshua, the handsome 42-year-old she meets in Grumpy’s, complaining about finding the café’s rubbish in his garbage. It turns out Hannah, having lost Grumpy’s trash key, was the culprit. When she goes to apologize to Joshua, he invites her into his gorgeous brownstone, where they wind up having sex, grilling steaks, playing ping-pong, having more sex, playing more ping-pong, and so forth. If only for a short time, it’s bliss at Joshua’s. There’s butter and Bonne Maman on toast for breakfast, and he’s a Times subscriber. His sweater supposedly costs more than her rent – which I highly doubt, since Hannah lives in a lovely two-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint (and I also live in a two-bedroom apartment in Greenpoint; so, in a sense, I almost pay Hannah’s rent, and I know that would be one wildly expensive sweater).
Soon enough, things go wrong, leaving Joshua – who might have wished he’d made his own Urban Dictionary-style sexit sooner – comforting Hannah as she offloads more trash onto him. Admitting that she wants to be happy, Hannah tells him she doesn’t want to just have a string of experiences to tell her friends about for the sake of it. Her honesty’s both refreshing and frustrating; while her monologue’s a real insight into the kind of conflicted person she is, Hannah’s problems still come off as indulgent and selfish.
It doesn’t help Hannah’s case that she doesn’t remember Joshua isn’t Josh – which she thoughtlessly calls him throughout – and doesn’t really listen when he talks about his broken marriage, and a traumatizing moment in his childhood. She shuts the latter down with impeccable disregard: “Oh, but that was different, you allowed someone to give you a hand job as a child.” (Does anyone say that in real life? Really?!) And when Joshua tells her she’s beautiful, she needs confirmation – although it does show that she’s insecure, ergo human. In moments, Hannah reminds us she’s as real as the rest of us, though most were spent hoping we don’t resemble her at all.