On last night's episode of Girls, Hannah had a two-day fling with a conventionally gorgeous, wealthy doctor (Patrick Wilson) who was so into her that he begged her to spend time with him in his equally gorgeous brownstone eating steaks, drinking wine, and playing topless ping pong—and he didn't seem grossed out at all by her body. Imagine that! Apparently some viewers couldn't.
For me, the reaction to "One Man's Trash" was more interesting than the actual episode. And I'm thinking that was part of the point that Dunham was trying to make here.
Quick synopsis: Joshua (Wilson), a guy who owns a brownstone in the neighborhood, went to Café Grumpy to complain to Ray that somebody was throwing the business's trash into his garbage can. Hannah followed him home to confess that she was the culprit (it started because she forgot her dumpster key, but she continued for the "thrill" of it). He invited her into his "Nancy Meyers movie" house where she apologized and explained herself in all her weirdness. Then out of no where she kissed him and they had sex right there on the kitchen island, which turned into a two-day fuckfest/hang-sesh after he begged her to stick around and call out sick from work. The fantasy soured, though, the next evening after Hannah got a little too real for him with her patented, messy mix of machinated bullshit and actual problems. The next day, when she woke up, Josh had already left for work and Hannah spent a little time lingering in his dream home before walking home.
Featuring just Joshua, Hannah and Ray (and only in the beginning), it was one of those stand-alone episodes that didn't do much to propel the story lines of any of its characters. So what purpose did it serve? Well, there was a clue, I think, in one exchange:
Joshua: You're beautiful.
Hannah: You really think so?
Joshua: You don't?
Hannah: I do. It's just not always the feedback that I've been given.
It's no mistake that this dialogue took place in an episode that was probably the nudiest yet for Dunham (which is really saying something). So let's take some of that "feedback" today from some recappers for whom the topless ping-pong went totally over their heads.
Basically, nobody thought that it was remotely plausible that a successful doctor who looked like Patrick Wilson would be into a girl who looked like Lena Dunham. One writer at Entertainment Weekly went so far as to suggest that the tryst was not real, but that the whole thing was a dream, even though the writer recognized that "nothing in the series thus far would support the 'fantasy' reading of the episode—everything we've seen has always been rooted in reality. But didn't something seem off?"
Another writer at Esquire also thinks the whole thing is a dream, because it's just too fantastical to believe otherwise, likening it to The Cosby Show episode where all the men are pregnant and Cliff gives birth to a hoagie and bottle of orange soda. Seriously, he compared a man giving birth to food as being in the same realm of ludicrousness as Joshua telling Hannah she is beautiful and wanting to spend the day with her.
"Even she has to be doubting this, right?" he writes before finishing with:
If the first couple of episodes of this season were a response to criticism that there were no black characters on the show, it's hard to explain what this one might have been a reaction to. It's not like anyone was complaining about the lack of self indulgence.
Oh my God, how could he not know? How could people not see it? Lena Dunham is literally standing naked in front of them and daring them to say that she isn't deserving of a gorgeous, successful man. And then they did!
The most egregiously misogynistic interpretation comes from Slate's "Guys on Girls" recap.
I felt trapped by my unwillingness to buy into the central premise…In sum, the episode felt like a finger poked in my guys-on-Girls eyeball, or a double-dog dare for me to ask, How can a girl like that get a guy like this? Am I small-minded if I'm stuck on how this fantasy is too much of a fantasy and remembering what Patrick Wilson's real-life partner looks like?
I mean, at least these guys recognize that they are being dared to ask that question. But then they do! They try to backpedal, saying, "[Hannah's] rudeness is the real problem here, I think."
And what is that "rudeness," exactly?
She's rude ("What did you do?" she asks Joshua, referring to his broken marriage), self-centered ("I'm too smart and too sensitive"), sexually ungenerous ("no, make me come"), and defiantly ungraceful (naked ping-pong).
So according to them, she had the nerve to want to come first, she played ping-pong naked with her kind of body, and she dared to ask Joshua what he did to fuck up his marriage. (She did that because if he really was as perfect as he purported to be, why would any woman want to actually leave him?) It's like, well, since she did manage to bag a guy like Joshua, then she should be so grateful that she should be simultaneously sucking his dick and stroking his ego just for the opportunity to be with him. (For example: Jessa is just as much of a shit head as Hannah, but nobody questioned her venture capitalist's husband's interest in her unemployed, entitled ass.)
They capped off their haterade with this barf:
It felt like an episode of Sex in the City, but one that had been infused with some mutant DNA. It's that twist that made the story so unsettling, a willingness to futz with gender and genre.
But this is the brilliance of this otherwise kind of boring episode: the discourse it's sparked. It's not enough to simply acknowledge that, like the Slate guys, you're prejudiced against the idea of a physically imperfect woman being able to enchant a hunk like Joshua. You should be asking yourself why that is. Because if we're going to talk about privilege when we talk about this show, then we should talk about privilege in all respects: like how value is assigned to a woman by how she looks. And how that valuation determines the level of bullshit that people will tolerate from her.
It's a conversation worth having, and a tip of the hat (or flash of the tits?) to Dunham for having the ping-pong balls to challenge not just her critics, but those kinds of appraisals.