Put Your Trash Where It Belongs

I’ve been agnostic, skeptical even, about Girls. It’s a large club, and I’m in it for all the same reasons as everyone else. I find the characters insufferably selfish. I instinctively resist broad-brush depictions of something awfully close to my own experienced being. I really, really hated that the last season ended with sad cake.

I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to being a Girls fan, or a Lena Dunham fan, and I can’t tell if the show has turned some arbitrary corner because who knows where we go from here. But I loved the Patrick Wilson sexit trash episode.

I appreciated the subtlety and quiet from a show that’s often fueled by accidental crack in a Bushwick loft, intentional coke at a noisy DJ set, or lots of screaming for no clear reason. I liked the way they fit an entire relationship—the intense and bewildering beginning and euphoric, self-imposed isolation; the moments of distress followed by gradual unburdening; the revelations of incompatibility and the desire to maintain the sense of safety in the face of an obvious end—into a space that’s compact in whichever timeline you look at it. A brief twenty minutes of screen time or a somehow-briefer two days of in-episode time turn out to be ample for exploring a range of experience that more commonly occupies months or years.

I read this episode as an allegory–a fairy-tale shortcut that lies to tell the truth. Real relationships don’t begin, middle, and end in two days, but an unreal relationship that does can reveal more. In this case, we see that the things Hannah thinks make her special are actually a little ugly. Conversely, we see that the things Girls agnostics dislike about Hannah are traits she considers beautiful. Her tearful monologue reads as almost pathologically solipsistic. You want to feel everything for everyone and then filter it for them through your writing? It’s hard to blame Patrick Wilson for his “get over yourself” face.

And “get over yourself” is what Girls fans have been saying all along. I think this episode is smart for surfacing that dynamic. It’s hard to like Hannah, as a character, because she’s based her life, her friendships, her relationships on the very things that torment her and make her unhappy. Because she thinks those are the things that make her special. I no longer think I can fairly distance myself from the Hannah character—the unattractive things she believes about herself are too similar to the unattractive things I believe about myself. I’m much too busy staring at my own navel to be a thoughtful critic of anyone else’s gaze.

Hannah spends a lot of this episode putting trash where it doesn’t belong. It’s the catalyst for her tryst with Joshua and continues when she dumps her metaphorical trash on his pristine white sheets. It’s what makes the final cut of her carefully depositing Joshua’s garbage in his trash can poignant.

I do hope for a little more editorializing on that metaphor. I could accuse this episode of unfairly painting “baggage” as a woman’s issue, and a stinky, cockroach-filled one, at that. I wonder what it really means, in practice, to find the appropriate containers for one’s emotions. Plenty of people have plenty of opinions on what it means to responsibly process difficult emotional states, and I think the garbage can image might be too basic to describe an unburdening process that can comprise a range from radical psychotherapy to Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

Girls wouldn’t be Girls if it didn’t summon this sort of criticism from its target audience—after all, doesn’t every one of us harbor the deep conviction that we’re the writer who will figure “it” out for everyone else, whatever “it” is?

Problematic simplifications of female emotions aside, I took the message of this last episode to be surprisingly meaningful. Whoever you are, however you do it: Find a way to put your trash where it belongs.


(I wrote this last night and won’t revise at work, but want to shout out these two articles for being things that, maybe, someday, I’ll come back and incorporate here:  http://www.vulture.com/2013/02/attractiveness-least-interesting-thing-about-this-weeks-girls-patrick-wilson.html, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/02/that-sex-scene-on-last-nights-girls.html#ixzz2KiGZYwTM. I haven’t seen any of the body talk they refer to, but I’m super interested in the bottle-episode/fantasy element that both these writers address.)

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