The Girlfriend Experience season 2 premiere recap: Money, power and control


Photo credit: Starz/The Girlfriend Experience. Acquired from: Starz Media Room.

The Girlfriend Experience’s phenomenal second season premiere established the series as one of 2017’s must-watch shows.

Before getting into the recap, I wanted to make a note about the second season of The Girlfriend Experience. Breaking with last year’s format, the show’s second year will tell two different stories. Every Sunday for the next seven weeks, two new episodes of the show will debut, each following one of the second season’s new protagonists. Creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Siemtz are individually writing and directing each of these season’s storylines.

Erica and Anna’s Story

This season’s first Kerrigan-led episode, set in Washington D.C. in the midst of the 2018 election, introduces Erica (Anna Freil) and Anna (Louisa Krause). Erica is the finance director of a powerful Republican super PAC and Anna is a GFE provider who maintains a client list of Washington insiders. Recently, Anna has been working for Mark Novak (Michael Cram), a dark money fundraiser. Through a third-party, Erica has been paying Anna to secretly record Novak’s conversations.

More from Drama

After having a meeting with Novak where he effectively demands subservience from any candidate his organization backs, Erica has her first meeting with Anna. The GFE provider agrees to provide Anna with enough material to discredit Novak, partially for the money, partially because Novak is a profoundly misogynistic pig. We also learn that Erica’s personal life is in turmoil as her long-term girlfriend Darya (Narges Rashidi) recently has left her without explanation.

Although only running 30 minutes, “Leverage” did a fantastic job establishing the season’s new main characters, setting and tone. The Erica and Anna storyline is an icy political thriller, and as with the first season, its main characters are intriguingly opaque. We learned a lot about who they are and what they do, but their motivations are a mystery. Of the season’s two narratives, this one is certainly much more inscrutable, with both its characters and cinematography being decidedly cold and distancing. To be clear, those qualities don’t make the storyline unengaging, on the contrary, its inaccessibility makes it incredibly engrossing.

Bria’s Story

Set in New Mexico, the season’s Siemtz-helmed story is a fiery crime drama. Audaciously, it opens where most of these kinds of narratives conclude: with a bunch of federal agents raiding an opulent mansion. However, instead of capturing a powerful criminal into custody, the agents take his wife, former escort Sara (Carmen Ejogo), and her stepdaughter Katie (Morgana Davies) into custody. Sara has decided to turn state’s evidence against her soon-to-be-ex in exchange for admittance into the Federal Witness Protection program.

Watch your favorite shows on fuboTVWatch over 67 live sports and entertainment channels with a 7-day FREE trial!

Things get off to a bad start when it’s revealed that Sara and Katie will be relocated to a house that’s only 150 miles away from their old home. Also, Katie hates Sara for ripping her away from her old life. The pair’s handler, Agent Olsen (Tunde Adebimpe), get Sara, renamed Bria, a low-level job at local bottle plant. Aggravated by the boredom and drudgery of her new life, Bria joins a sugar daddy website and makes plans to meet with a new client at the end of the episode.

Like “Leverage,” “Admittance” successfully introduced a new cast and scenario, but it benefited from a tighter focus. With only one protagonist, Bria’s introductory episode was very effective at making her a three-dimensional character. While her decision to go back to sex work is obviously reckless, the episode makes her motivations very sympathetic. Because of its bold color palette and melodramatic score, Bria’s storyline feels somewhat a dark fairytale about a once powerful Queen who is forced to become to be a peasant. It only makes sense that she’d risk everything to reclaim the throne.

First Impressions

Taken together, the first two episodes of the Girlfriend Experience’s second season constitute one of the strongest hours of television produced this year. Although very different in style, tone and genre, the narratives introduced in “Leverage” and “Admittance” are equally compelling. They both felt like the first acts of two very different films about the same subject. Although it was a bold choice to change the series this much in only its second season, the format shift has produced major creative dividends. I can’t think of another recent television show that became this unpredictable and engaging in its second season

Erica and Anna’s story draw some fascinating parallels between the worlds of sex work in politics. Although ostensibly very different, both are fueled by money, power and control and the desire for the same. Erica and Ann both have money and power, but they lack control. I suspect that both women will sacrifice a great deal to gain that control, but they might find that the risks aren’t worth the rewards. And following the show’s tradition, I think they’ll find that using intimacy to further their professional goals is messy business.

Next: Watch the provocative trailer for The Girlfriend Experience season 2

Conversely, Bria’s story looks to be an examination of money, power and control but from a different perspective. In her life as Sara, she had all three, but as Bria she has nothing. She’s using what she has left, namely her beauty and ability to cultivate intimacy, to reclaim some control and make some money, but she’s playing with fire. Reengaging in sex work could lead to the termination of her deal with WITSEC or even bring her ex-husband back into her life. Still, as was made clear “Admittance’s” spellbinding opening sequence, Bria is at her best when she’s danger.

The Girlfriend Experience airs on Starz Sundays at 9/8c.