The Girlfriend Experience season 2, episode 7 and 8 recap: Danger everywhere


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

The Girlfriend Experience raised the stakes with a pair of episodes that put its protagonists in serious danger.

While not an erotic thriller in the conventional sense, The Girlfriend Experience has some surface similarities to the genre. It focuses on the traditional erotic thriller themes of sex, power and money. And the season a few characters who are unraveling due to their various sexual obsessions. But although the series features a great deal of sex and nudity, it’s not particularly erotic. The distant, transactional nature of the sexual encounters seen on the show negates their eroticism.

Conversely, The Girlfriend Experience excels at being a thriller. Both of this season’s narratives are suffused with intrigue and tension. Erica’s (Anna Freil) and Anna’s (Louisa Krause) story is a twisty political thriller full of blackmail and high-level corruption. Bria’s (Carmen Ejogo) story of someone of a supporting character in an epic crime movie after the movie is over. But while the danger and violence inherent in most thrillers have been on the periphery so far, this week’s pair of episodes brought all mortal jeopardy to the fore.

The lies we tell

This week’s Lodge Kerrigan-helmed episode of Girlfriend Experience saw Erica’s life undergo a number of major changes. The first was that she resumed her sadomasochistic relationship with her ex-girlfriend Darya (Narges Rashidi). At the same time, Erica began acting increasingly cold toward Anna. She was also offered $25 million in dark money from an ambitious and corrupt billionaire financier. Sensing their growing estrangement, Anna desperately asked Erica to have a child with her and she agreed. The episode ended with Anna having sex with a male client without a condom.

More from Drama

I was really struck by how much content this episode packed in the 30 minutes. This episode featured more plot developments than half a season of most prestige cable dramas. In the space of a few days, Erica’s life got significantly more complicated and considerably more dangerous. Anna is going to find out what Erica’s been up to with Darya and her reaction is bound to be explosive. And at the same time, she’s getting into business with a shady client just as Mark Novak (Michael Cram) demanded that her assistant start informing on her. There’s no way she’s getting out of the season intact.

And in a way, I don’t necessarily want her to. I knew that Erica was a mercenary from the way she dealt with Novak but she was astoundingly cruel to Anna this week. She is not only lying to her girlfriend, she’s also cavalierly cheating on her. When she told Darya that she wasn’t seeing “anyone special,” it was one of the most quietly devastating things I’ve seen on TV this year. Still, The Girlfriend Experience isn’t interested in telling stories about likable people; it’s about telling stories that are interesting.

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

And the truths we can’t hide from

This week’s episode Amy Seimetz-directed episode shook things up by taking on the perspective of Bria’s handler Agent Olsen (Tunde Adebimpe). This shift brought about a number of revelations, including the fact that Olson had become sexually fixated on Bria and knew that she had gone back to escorting. After confronting her about her return to prostitution, Olsen coerced Bria into sex and then returned to the home he shares with his girlfriend. At the end of the episode, Bria was left shaken by her encounter with Olsen and unnerved by the news that her husband was now out on bail.

Like Erica, Bria also had to deal with her life becoming a lot more complicated this week. While always fraught with tension, her relationship with her handler has now become actively dangerous. Olsen’s compromising obsession with Bria has two immediate consequences; it impairs his ability to protect her and it makes her a personal and professional liability. Given how much he has to lose if Bria reveals his behavior to his supervisors, I suspect the Marshall will soon become just as much a threat to Bria as her ex. And on top of everything else, Paul (Harmony Korine) was beginning to act even more controlling and casually misogynistic than before.

Right now, Bria is caught in between the lust, loathing and obsession of three dangerous men and has no clear path to safety. She could gather up all of her escorting money and make a break for it, but that would leave Kayla (Morgana Davies). While the relationship is severely dysfunctional, I don’t think Bria would leave her quasi-daughter in such dire straits. On the other hand, given how desperate her situation, Bria might be capable of taking action that she previously deemed unthinkable.

Cinematic Sound

This week, I realized one of the main reasons The Girlfriend Experience feels like a movie and not a TV series. It’s remarkably silent. That is to say, the show uses dialogue sparingly and when its characters do speak, their conversations feel very natural. As a consequence, the series sometimes feels very opaque. The questions you want answered as a viewer go unaddressed because the show’s creditors don’t want to fill the show with inorganic exposition. That calculated withholding of information could be frustrating, but in practice, it just makes the series more captivating.

That lack of exposition goes hand-in-hand with another one of GFE’s cinematic qualities; it reveals character through action, not dialogue. The main characters from both of the season’s storylines rarely say exactly what they are thinking, but a careful viewer can suss out their intentions. The reason being we see Bria, Erica and Anna in their most private moments so we get glimpses into how they actually feel about their chaotic lives.

We know that while Anna can be anyone’s perfect girlfriend, she desperately wants a real relationship. We know that Erica is a 21st century Don Draper, a black hole of need concealed by an expertly crafted artifice. We know that Agent Olsen is a man who has let his power and boredom erode his morality. And we know that Bria will do anything to survive.

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

That’s an extraordinarily risky tact for a TV show to take. With insufficiently expressive performers, the show could come off as hopelessly oblique or melodramatic. But The Girlfriend Experience’s is nothing if not extraordinarily bold. And by giving their actors and actresses the space to give to performances of cinematic depth and complexity, Kerrigan and Seimetz have created a series is not one of television’s most daring but also one of its best.

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