The Girlfriend Experience season 2, episodes 5 and 6 recap: Edging toward disaster


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

As this season of The Girlfriend Experience reached its mid-way point, each of this season’s protagonists edged closer to disaster.

Erica (Anna Freil) and Anna (Louisa Krause) grew closer but lurking enemies and ex-girlfriend threatened their newfound happiness. And Bria (Carmen Ejogo), obsessed with regaining control of her life, allowed a possible sexual predator into her home. While I once wondered if the show’s trio of main character would end the season by getting what they want, I’m now concerned that they might not get out alive.

The Heart of the World

Billionaire financier Steven Becker (Matthew Bennet) told Erica he’d be willing to support her organization’s candidates, but only if he had input in setting their legislative agenda. Mark Novak (Michael Cram) hired an investigative firm to dig up information on Erica and Anna. Darya (Narges Rashidi), Erica’s old girlfriend, apologized to her treating her badly during their relationship. Afterward, Erica began acting coldly toward Anna. Novak’s investigators uncovered evidence that Erica’s assistant Sandra (Emily Piggford) had lied on her resume. Subsequently, Novak’s assistant confronted Sandra and offered to make her a deal.

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“Solicitation” was a compelling mix of intrigue and heartbreak. The intrigue came from Novak’s investigation. I was expecting that his team would uncover the fact that Erica and Anna were dating, but what actually happened was almost worse. Erica knows to be guarded when she’s with Anna, but she has no reason to suspect Sandra of anything. With her feeding Novak incrimination, it’s easy to imagine Erica losing everything with remarkable speed.

The heartbreaking aspect of “Solicitation” was seeing the beginning of the end of Erica and Anna’s romance. Part of the issue is that Novak is circling and wants to get revenge on them both. The other more critical issue seems to be that the couple is drifting apart. Despite what Erica said, she clearly still has feelings for Darya. The look on Anna’s face after she had the Darya discussion with Erica was just devastating. Within the space of a few frames, you saw her character come to realize that Erica had gotten away from her. It was a beautifully directed scene by Lodge Kerrigan that should garner Louisa Krause an Emmy nomination.

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

The Edge of Civilization

Following her risky behavior last week, Bria crossed more lines this week. She began taking on additional clients with no Girlfriend Experience involved just parking lot sex. And she finally acquiesced to Paul (Harmony Korine) to take her and Kayla (Morgana Davies) out on a date. He rewarded her with a necklace – which she pawned – and tried to buy Kayla’s affection with a tablet. Kayla used the device to find out her father was charged with several serious crimes, which Bria confirmed he committed. Bria finally began pre-trial prep and it was revealed her ex was an international meth and arms dealer.

Last week, I started to get concerned that Bria was putting herself and Kayla in danger by dating Paul and the feeling only go more intense this week. Paul disinterest in having sex with Brea coupled with his desire to be seen as a father figure by Kayla is extremely disturbing. At best, he gets off on playing daddy for emotionally vulnerable women. At worst, he has a sexual interest in children. Either way, Bria needs to extract herself from the situation before it spirals out of control.

As unsettling as the Paul character is, Korine deserves a lot of praise for his phenomenal performance. As creepy as he is, I get why Bria has ditched him yet. He’s very charismatic and his neediness is expressed in such a childish way that doesn’t come off is obviously malevolent. Plus, his frankness and intuitiveness make him an excellent manipulator. He’s the kind of guy that everyone has a nice thing to say about until they find out he has a bunch of bodies in his basement. Together Korine and writer/director Amy Siemtz have created TV’s most compelling new monsters.

A Study in Contrasts

More than any of Girlfriend Experience’s other double shots, these two episodes really showed off how different season’s two stories are. While Bria struggles to gather together enough money to buy a used car, Erica negotiates million-dollar deals before lunch. Everything Bria feel is right there on her face while Anna and Erica hide their emotions beneath a thick veneer of professionalism. And where every room in Washington DC feels like a place where the air conditioning is turned up too high, New Mexico feels bathed in sweltering heat.

The two storylines have starkly contrasting mise en scène. Erica and Anna’s story is mostly shot in tight close-ups and expansive longshots that emphasize negative space. As such, it feels simultaneously voyeuristic and distant. Its characters are captured in intensity intimate situations, but their expressions are so opaque, you can only guess what they’re actually feeling. It’s a style of cinematography that is designed to be provocative and inscrutable instead of reassuring and elucidating. And it’s the opposite of how 95 percent of American television a shot. By so aggressive breaking with convention, the Girlfriend Experience has established itself as one of the most visually ambitious series on television.

Next: The Girlfriend Experience season 2, episodes 3 and 4 recap: Risky business

Bria’s story also feels cinematically ambitious but in a different way. By contrasting the wide desolation of the Mexico desert with the claustrophobic interiors of the safe house, the viewer can’t but view the world from Bria’s perspective. Denied bodily autonomy, she’s a prisoner in her own home, and her attempts at forming any meaningful connections are continuously stifled. Her oppression is so visceral, it’s uncomfortable to watch. That’s another quality makes the Girlfriend Experience feel less like a cable TV show and more like a revelatory independent film

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