Five Essay Prompts for <em>Girls</em>: ‘One Man’s Trash’

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s Girls. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE,

Illustration by Alex Bedder
Illustration by Alex Bedder

These questions regard last night’s episode of HBO’s
Girls. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. This is the first “bottle” episode of Girls we’ve seen, as it exists mainly between two characters in essentially one setting. But because this episode involves a new character and an unfamiliar environment, it seems less like an episode of Girls than a self-sustaining parallel universe created outside that of the show. Describe in detail the alternate world or multiverse that Hannah enters. What does it look like, smell like? How is beauty defined in this alternate world? What values are lauded? Who do the residents worship?

Funny you should call it a bottle episode: the whole point of a bottle episode is generally to save money on sets, extra actors, etc., so that a show can use that money to spend on other episodes (especially big flashy season finales). But that certainly doesn’t seem to have been the case here, what with the big-name actor and the amazing lavish new set. And even if dressing that set wasn’t insanely expensive, it is hard to avoid the scent of money that pervaded everything in the episode. This world was really an alternate world for Hannah, in other words, a world of money–richness of a kind and to a degree that she had never known. That was this world’s beginning and end, even if she fooled herself into thinking it was about being seen as beautiful or about feeling happy. That’s not to say her realization wasn’t profound, but the show certainly didn’t shy away from how the root of everything she was feeling lay in the value of the objects she was in contact with, the sweater and the shower and the sheets and the steaks.

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The important thing about alternate universes, as we all learn from The Wizard of Oz while we’re still young, is what they teach us about the real world we must eventually return to. This episode, a kind of independent short story about money, highlights the theme that has run beneath everything else in Girls from the very start, not just in their struggle for employment or to make rent, but crucially in the way each character sees herself: as someone who deserves, or doesn’t deserve, her life.

2. Find the missing adjective: “Patrick Wilson is the ____ man’s Bradley Cooper.” Things to consider: The “same plot, different outcome” of the thriller Hard Candy; Cooper’s recent appearance in a SoulCycle in Brooklyn; your personal feelings about the Watchmen film.

“Internally conflicted” comes closest. Where Cooper sails by on charm, Wilson has a too-beautiful smoothness (it is impossible to imagine him unkempt or unshaven, isn’t it?) that borders on chilly, but seems troubled by an internal tremor whose flickers you always just miss seeing. (I’m thinking of his roles in Angels in America and Little Children more than the diverting but one-note Hard Candy or that travesty of a graphic novel adaptation whose name we shall not speak.) If I wanted to create a character who was a powder keg and then have him go off, I could do worse than Cooper, but if I wanted to hint that he was a powder keg but have his triggering endlessly, frustratingly deferred beyond the end of any theoretical film, Wilson would be at the top of my list.

3. Joshua is a pretty symbolic name: The Hebrew word for it is Yeshua, meaning “he who saved.” Translating it from Hebrew to Greek back to English, you actually get the word “Jesus,” and a Joshua figures into almost all major religions. How does this name apply to Brooklyn Joshua’s relationship with Hannah, and what does he “lose in translation” every time she tries to call him “Josh”?

The word ‘savior’ keeps popping up here: Joshua is a doctor, someone who saves lives professionally, and he literally saves Hannah in the shower. And she also seems to suggest that she is going through a kind of true (if materialistic) emotional redemption here, thanks to him. But let’s remember that Hannah is a biblical name too, a woman of words, who arguably invented religious poetry. The real dynamic that emerges here is Hannah explicitly trying to let go of her own savior complex, the feeling that she is somehow supposed to redeem her “generation” through her writing. When she reduces him to “Josh,” especially when she quips that it is the same name with an extra sound at the end, she fights against this letting go, grabbing back at what she knows: the sounds of words, the names of things. Whatever desire Hannah may express to give up the “promise” she made to herself, she is far from ready to do so.

4. Outline a semi-plausible back story for a gorgeous, 40-year-old, separated doctor who inherently trusts strangers to come live with him for days at a time in his gorgeous Brooklyn brownstone, blows off work to listen to their problems, and spends his spare hours rifling through trash found outside his house in order to discern its original owners. Make it Not creepy.

Bonus: Find a way to include the one time Joshua was jacked off by another boy, while still making it NOT creepy.

From the bottom: Joshua wasn’t actually jacked off by a boy; he just felt like he was losing control of the situation/conversation and wanted to insert his own (far too clichéd) story of a sexual peccadillo.

I didn’t get “creepy” from Joshua at all–although when Hannah tells this story to her friends later, it will seem so to them, and probably would to anyone. He just seemed bored and sad. (This is, again, down to Patrick Wilson’s acting; he doesn’t look or act sad at all, and yet we know.) And Hannah didn’t necessarily make him happy, but she was diverting, and she certainly didn’t make him more sad. Until she did. And then he shrank away and disappeared.

Hannah is, and has really always been, the creepy one. Joshua going through his trash is sensible–he’s trying to find the culprit. Hannah getting addicted to throwing out her trash at his house, on the other hand? More than just eccentric (and kissing him certainly doubled down on the creepiness). The episode ends with her trying to banish whatever lingering creepiness remains, normalizing her actions by taking out his trash, as if this was what she’d been doing all along.

5. For independent young women who spent the first season trying to find equality in their relationships, Jessa, Marnie and now Hannah have spent their “happiest” moments this season while playing house with much richer men. (Thomas-John, Booth Jonathan and now Joshua.) Is concubinage the new dating? What are the trade-offs to this type of interpersonal living situation, and what does it say about the children of this generation–who are not just women … gay Elijah had the same setup with his boyfriend, and Ray has positioned himself as Shoshanna’s live-in boyfriend–that they have no qualms blurring the lines between sexuality and materialism?

One of the most compelling things about Girls is the fact that (see answer to #1 above) it does not shy away from the ways in which money distorts its characters’ lives. And this “concubinage” represents the way that its lack makes these people feel helpless, like they have lost their agency. These temporary living situations illustrate very well the temptation to simply give one’s will over to another person, a temptation that has not disappeared from the world just because it’s the 21st century and we have feminism and progressive politics. And the fact that they are young and thus relatively irresponsible drives it home: there is a dark side to footloose and fancy free, and it rears its head whenever you think about who is picking up the check.

Five Essay Prompts for <em>Girls</em>: ‘One Man’s Trash’