‘Girls’ season 2, episode 5 review: Lena Dunham turns trash into magic

GirlsWhen we talk about awards season, a show worthy of recognition should do more than just be really good most of the time. It should have a few moments where it is outstanding, and does something that makes us wonder something about ourselves or about life. “Community” season 2 made us do this on a number of occasions, as did “New Car Smell” and the one that followed from “Homeland” last fall.

Now, you can add “One Man’s Trash” to this list. This was the defining episode of “Girls” thus far, a tour de force even in spite of the fact that there was technically only one girl in the episode. Lena Dunham’s approach in writing this half-hour was minimalist: you had three characters, and if you cross of Ray it was really just about two people: Hannah, Joshua (Patrick Wilson), and the perfect paradise that they created for themselves within the span of two short days. This is an episode we could talk and debate about for hours on end just in going through the dozens of layers that Dunham wrapped through so many of these scenes.

This also serves as a fine example that a half-hour can be relatively standalone and still be brilliant: we don’t know if Joshua will ever turn up again, or if this is an experience Hannah will talk about ever with her friends. What it was really about was a transcendent experience where Hannah tried to step outside of her life and question what it means to be happy. Can she be satisfied with waking up one day and suddenly having it all, especially when she realizes that this is not of her own accord?

For this weekend, Hannah found herself in paradise: detached from her world, her friends, and with a man who begged her to stay despite only meeting her thanks to yelling at her boss at Grumpy’s over trash. She felt understood and appreciated in a way that she never had; she also played ping-pong without a top on. You can call this and many other scenes gratuitous if you want, but this was the quick-to-burn instant love, lust, or whatever you want to call it. This is what happens when two people connect in a way that moves the earth on its axis, and thus more realistic than most want to admit.

So how did all of this change so fast? It was a brilliant move to give no firm explanation for Hannah’s departure from the house, but we imagine it as such: the moment Josh Joshua said that he had to return to work, a light bulb when off in her head that it wouldn’t just be days of her and her new man lounging around for whatever. She loses part of her life for a life where she has everything else she could want, whereas he loses nothing and adds her. He feels no need to be vulnerable, since he can just go to work the next day. There are times when we find Hannah irrational, immature, and even frustrating, but this week we fully understood her. This is a feeling of emptiness that any man or woman can experience regardless of their age: you can have everything in the world, but does it matter when you identify with none of it?

There’s no beating around the bush here that “One Man’s Trash” is the finest piece of television crafted in 2013 thus far. You may be cynical about “Girls” (we were at first) as a part of some sort of counterculture movement to bash what is young or hip, but this is an episode that speaks to the human condition better than 99% of anything ever showcased in the medium of television. Few shows would be so brave to take a premise of so little, and then turn it into a work of such depth to the point that your feet can never hit the ground.

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Photo: HBO

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