THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE Review: Episodes 5-8

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Airtime: Sundays at 8PM on Starz
Episode: Season 1, Episodes 5-8

TB-TV-Grade-B+

Tweetable Takeaway: Christine sees the lines dividing her two lives start to blur in #GFExperience in @colasante’s part 2 review


As the first season of progresses, Christine starts to see all of her well-laid plans come undone as she faces adversaries everywhere she turns. The show remains an enigmatic, consistently compelling gem, and it’s only gotten better as the stakes for all of the characters have been raised. In the first four episodes, it was difficult to get inside Christine’s head and understand what made her tick or why she did what she chose to do. One aspect of her character that has been clear from the outset however is the import she places on the strict compartmentalization of the two personas she embodies. For her, there’s Christine, law student at Chicago Burnham and intern at the prestigious Kirkland & Allen, and there’s “Chelsea,” the escort and ‘girlfriend experience’ provider, and there’s no reason for either persona to intersect with the other. But as we see in these episodes, Christine is starting to lose control and the lines that divide these two lives begins to blur as foes on both sides threaten to expose her double life.

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In episodes five to eight we start to see the double lives of Christine and “Chelsea” intermingle in increasingly tense and uncomfortable ways. After relatively smooth operations in both of her professional spheres during the first batch of episodes, things are now getting rocky for Christine in every facet of her life. For starters, Avery, the only “friend” that we’ve seen Christine have, absconded after robbing Christine, which then led to Christine’s relationship with her madame Jacqueline blowing up. We also see that she’s starting to struggle in school; while Christine appears eminently intelligent when it comes to patent law, she’s told by her teacher that she’s one absence away from having to re-take her entire class over again. And if these problems seem bad, they soon prove to be the very least of Christine’s worries.

These episodes start with Christine growing close to an older client named Michael, who treats her lavishly and seems unduly smitten with her. When Michael suddenly dies, Christine is surprised to learn that she was named a beneficiary in his will, with $500,000 left to her. But of course there’s a catch. Michael never actually met Christine, so he left the money to Chelsea Rayne, her escort name. When she turns to her other client Martin, an experienced attorney, he informs her that Michael’s family intends to fight her in probate court for the money and that she’ll have to expose her identity as Chelsea in order to claim it.

While that problem seems arduous enough, it’s further exacerbated in a later episode when Michael’s estate hires a private investigator to document incriminating evidence against Christine, hoping to force her to withdraw her claim to the money. The PI, Simon Burcher, photographs her with a client, blackmails that client into setting up an appointment for himself with Chelsea, then nearly gets her to incriminate herself on tape before she becomes suspicious and leaves. Simon later confronts Christine outside of her work, revealing the depth of knowledge he’s accumulated about her and her illegal activity, and threatening to expose her double life to her family, her work, and her school.

Christine’s work environment at Kirkland & Allen becomes more hostile in these episodes as well. While she had previously been growing closer to her boss David, which culminated in the two sleeping together, that proved to be short-lived. Christine found herself suddenly frozen out at work, with David reassigning her to another lawyer and her losing access to his XHP files. But it would appear that Christine took a lesson away from her friend Avery, and that is to always have blackmail material handy in case of emergency. We see that in the process of trying to record herself and David having sex to use as a potential piece of leverage, after she had already sensed him pushing her away, Christine accidentally discovered David’s own double life, learning that he was intentionally mishandling XHP’s court case to ensure that it never went to trial, despite the millions of dollars that was costing his client.

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As if those issues were not enough, Christine has another problem to deal with in Jack, a client whose romantic overtures turn obsessive as he tries to infiltrate her ‘real life’ against her will. In the episode called “Boundaries,” we see a hint of what’s to come in the scene where Jack pulls Christine underwater, causing her to freak out and leave. Christine’s desire for control and need to compartmentalize her two identities faces its most pressing crisis yet with Jack.

While Christine needs control, that proves problematic with Jack, a rich guy used to getting exactly what he wants, when he wants it. Jack shows Christine an apartment he’s looking at and later tells her that he bought it for them, offering her a key and telling her she can fix it up however she likes. The ‘girlfriend experience’ Christine has been offering clients had worked without a hitch until this point; in these arrangements, both parties are tacitly aware of the artifice of it, but it’s mutually beneficial for them to derive as much pleasure as possible without trying to turn the relationship into something more than it actually is. When Christine rebuffs Jack, he can’t handle the rejection and lashes out, repeatedly calling her and showing up outside of her classroom one day. We see Christine take the first steps towards defending herself against him, installing cameras in her apartment and warning Jack’s friend Ann that she’s worried he could prove dangerous.

With the increased stakes and surprising plot developments in these episodes, The Girlfriend Experience has not disappointed one bit as of yet. I’ve been impressed by the propulsive nature of the plotting and its unwillingness to linger in the status quo. It keeps pushing forward with a dizzying momentum, continually subverting my expectations and making me recalibrate my expectations for how far the story is willing to go in its first season. In this stretch of episodes, I’ve also enjoyed the ways writers Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have fleshed out the supporting characters. While their true nature and motivations remain as elusive as Christine’s, I appreciate every glimpse we get of these characters interacting with one another without Christine in the room, as we slowly learn more about whatever shenanigans David and Erin are pulling with the XHP case.

With Christine getting assailed from all sides, I am curious to see just how she’ll manage to put out all of these fires. She seems well-equipped to handle Jack, and I think she’ll eventually realize that accepting Michael’s $500,000 is not worth all the trouble it will cause for her, but her major mistake in trusting Erin with the truth about David’s XHP collusion may bring about her downfall. I was shocked to learn that Erin was involved with David in the XHP case that’s being intentionally thrown, and for someone as resistant to letting her guard down as Christine is, her willingness to trust Erin with her knowledge of that information was a surprising misstep, one that will almost certainly lead to her ouster at Kirkland & Allen, if it doesn’t end up ruining her law entirely.

As The Girlfriend Experience heads into the home stretch, the main question I’m left asking about Christine is why, given the huge risks and the resistance she’s facing in every direction, is she still escorting? At this point she feels unsafe in her own home, she’s dangerously close to ruining her law , and her secret could be revealed to everyone in her life, which could potentially damage her sister’s as well. Even eight episodes in I have little idea about what makes Christine tick, which is part of what makes me excited to tune into each episode. As the stakes get more dire, will she reach a point where she realizes the risks aren’t worth the reward?

TB-TV-Grade-B+

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Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Twitter: @Colasante

Keep up with all of Eric’s reviews here.
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