The Girlfriend Experience season 2, episode 9 and 10 recap: Things fall apart


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

With only two more weeks of episodes left this season, The Girlfriend Experience went off the rails in the best way possible by thrusting its three protagonists into major crises.

One of the things I appreciate most about The Girlfriend Experience is how it continually goes against the conventions of TV storytelling.  Not only did the show’s second season move away from the protagonist it carefully developed in season one, it moved away from the idea of telling just one story. It even changed genre, shifting from being a legal thriller in its first year to a political thriller and crime drama this year. Making that many fundamental changes is something most TV shows do over the course of several years or not at all. But as both of this week’s episodes proved, GFE creators aren’t beholden to any of TV’s traditions.

The center cannot hold

This week’s Erica (Anna Freil) and Anna (Louisa Krause)focused episode opened with Erica accepted the $25 million offer from the corrupt billionaire. Anna revealed to Erica that she was pregnant with a client’s child and Erica coldly ended their relationship in response. The breakup caused Anna to have an emotional breakdown. Erica learned from one of her clients that the press found about the donation. Anna made one last attempt to reconnect but Erica made it clear she was happy with Darya (Narges Rashidi). Subsequently, Anna got an abortion. The episode ended with the Erica learning the media and Democratic politicians were alleging that donation was a payoff to stop a criminal investigation.

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Every so often, a TV show will present a scene that is so profoundly unsettling, it stops you dead in your tracks. Mr. Robot did it recently when killing off two long-time supporting characters. Channel Zero did it when revealing the true villain of its second season. And this week, The Girlfriend Experience produced one of those scenes when showing the aftermath of Erica and Anna’s breakup. There’s nothing overtly horrific about the scene; Anna eats an apple in her kitchen floor. It’s just that the way the scene was framed and the inhuman way Louisa Krause attacked at the apple, it felt like watching a wild animal tear into raw meat. It was a marvel of acting and direction and more viscerally frightening than most horror movies released this year.

While Erica’s storyline wasn’t as impactful as Anna’s, it was still very compelling. “Family” showed how quickly things can go wrong when you make the wrong decision at the highest levels of power. Right now, the media only knows that the Attorney General Erica’s Super PAC supports indirectly took money from someone he was investigating. Once they find out that at least some of that money came from a foreign national, the fallout will be devastating. Normally, a high-level operator like her would be able to bury the connection but her assistant is compromised. Because of that one bad call, her professional life will soon be over. And given Anna’s unstable behavior, I don’t expect her personal life to fare much better.

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

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

This week’s Bria (Carmen Ejogo) centric storyline open with her, Paul (Harmony Korine) and Kayla (Morgana Davies) playing with metal detectors in the desert. Afterward, Bria privately revealed to Paul that she was in WITSEC and the circumstances that led to her joining the program. She also asked to move in with him as a way to keep her and Kayla safe. Bria told Agent Olsen (Tunde Adebimpe) about her suspicions that her ex-husband was stalking her, but he ignored her concerns. It was revealed that Bria had quit her job at the bottling plant and Kayla was skipping school to hang out with some local stoner kids.

Bria learned that strangers were watching the house at night and begged Paul to take her in, but he refused. After discovering the bugs Agent Olsen planted in her house, Bria and Kayla fled and purchased a pair of guns. Bria and company went to Paul’s house and interrupted him in entertaining a woman and her two children. Feeling desperate, Bria used one of her guns to shoot up Paul’s car in order to get him to call the police.

If you watch enough prestige dramas, certain storytelling patterns begin to emerge. Characters will find themselves in increasingly desperate circumstances until their situation comes to head in either the season finale or the episode directly preceding the finale. This week, The Girlfriend Experience broke with the traditional pattern with a thrilling and surprisingly funny new episode. With a series of increasingly desperate decisions, Bria has effectively blown up the life she had made New Mexico. And now, I have no idea what any of this is headed and I love it.

The most thrilling aspect of this episode was watching Bria retake control of her life. In recent episodes, the men in Bria’s life have been in the driver seat. Her client Paul has dangled the promise of wealth and freedom just outside of reach. Her handler Agent Olsen has been coercing her into sex and neglecting her safety. And her ex is very obviously looming in the periphery. Faced with an increasingly untenable situation, Bria chose to set the whole thing on fire. I don’t know if that was the right choice, but given the circumstances, it was really the only one she could’ve made.

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

Despite how grim things got in “Living Like a Tornado,” was also the funniest episode of the season. The interactions between Kyla and her dopey stoner boyfriend Kyle were very funny. Specifically, Kyla’s earnest attempts to flirt with Kyle as her life fell apart around them. As were Paul’s meek efforts at placating his girlfriend when Bria crashed their family dinner. Although ostensibly powerful millionaire, Paul is at his core a complete dork. It was an odd choice to inject so much humor into what has been a very bleak season so far, it paid huge dividends.

The Girlfriend Experience airs on Starz Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.