“One Man’s Trash” feels like an episode of Louie. It has a similar ersatz Woody Allen vibe, with shots of well-kept New York streets and tony brownstones, and a score that eschews Girls’s typical indie rock in favor of slightly jazzier compositions from Michael Penn. It also lifts Louie’s most prominent motif, with two potentially antagonistic people from different cultures attempting to understand each other over the course of lengthy conversations. But this is still an episode of Girls, so those conversations are broken up by lots of sex and in the end Hannah and the rich, handsome stranger whose trashcan she’s been filling up don’t really know each other any better after a couple days.
Need a plot recap? Just read that last sentence again. That’s basically it. But if you need a longer version, here you go. A rich neighbor played by Patrick Wilson comes to the coffee shop Hannah works at to complain about their garbage filling up his trash cans. Ray (the only other regular character to appear this week) is immediately hostile towards him, and after the men yell at each other a bit Hannah follows Wilson home to admit that she’s been dumping trash in his cans. She asks for forgiveness which turns into two days of lounging around Wilson’s swanky brownstone while making love, eating steak, complaining about how annoying Hannah’s generation is, and playing topless table tennis. Wilson’s lonely because his wife left him, and Hannah gets a glimpse into why his wife left him when he quickly becomes cold and distant when she gets serious and emotional. Hannah leaves quietly the next morning and then the credits roll.
Now, a white 24-year-old hipster and a white 42-year-old yuppie don’t have quite as many cultural barriers to punch through as, say, a wealthy American comedian and a group of Afghani goatherds. If Lena Dunham really wanted to wail on that Louie riff while also addressing one of the more common critiques of the show, she could’ve replaced the successful white doctor with a representative from one of the various immigrant or non-white communities that have been displaced by Brooklyn’s gentrification. Of course that’s pretty much a horrible idea—there’s no way it wouldn’t feel forced and acknowledging the outside world could easily undermine the show’s relatively fragile foundation. At this point it’s probably best for Girls to remain as obliviously cloistered within the world of white twentysomething self-involvement as its characters.
That’s why “One Man’s Trash” differs substantially from the Louie episodes it resembles on the surface. Patrick Wilson’s rich doctor isn’t that far removed from the culture that Hannah grew up in. He’s actually an aspirational figure, the type of person Hannah wants to be when she’s 40: a successful professional with a cool job living in an awesome house in New York City. As she admits to Wilson, she might think she’s a cool arty Bohemian, but in the end she wants to own nice stuff. Serving coffee, writing Vice rip-offs for jazzhate.com and living in an apartment with furniture paid for by her ex-roommate’s ex-lover are all just stations she’s passing through while accumulating “experiences” en route to her own restored brownstone and Noguchi tables.
Hannah realizes this in Wilson’s apartment, after passing out in his absurdly large shower, and during her almost teary, almost delirious soliloquy we can see Wilson mentally disengage from this relationship. He’s not interested in Hannah’s life beyond this brief time together. It’s basically the “manic pixie dream girl” trope from the pixie’s POV. As soon as the real-life girl he viewed as some kind of quasi-mystical totem of youthful irreverence starts to talk about money and success and sharing lives, the sad, lonely, straight-laced doctor shuts it down. If that’s how he treated his wife when she would talk about her hopes and emotions then it’s no wonder she’s back in San Francisco Bay or wherever.
This is a brave episode, but it’s also maybe an episode in love with how brave it’s being. Dunham casts every other regular aside, takes a break from the on-going storylines, and focuses on this one single (and highly improbable) affair. It’s basically a one-act play that could easily stand alone outside not just the show’s current continuity but the entire show itself. And honestly I thoroughly disliked it up until that key scene when the “magic” between them died. It felt like another one of Louie’s frequent tricks, dropping moments of fantasy into the show’s “reality” without announcing them as such. It’s like a dream sequence started once Hannah entered into the guy’s house. We gradually learn why he would invite her in, and why such a handsome and successful man would almost immediately have sex with this random person, but it still feels a little too implausible for what is otherwise a relatively realistic show. (Although maybe not more implausible than the Thomas-John/Jessa instamarriage.) It’s saved by smart writing and especially by that one scene, which showcases perhaps Dunham’s best acting yet and nicely contrasts her effusive and important self-realization with Wilson’s subtle shift into emotional lockdown. The script and that climax kept this from turning into perhaps the most annoying episode of Girls yet.