Tweetable Takeaway: #GFExperience concludes its first season with Christine facing consequences and embracing her new life
As the first season of THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE concludes, Christine’s two lives collide and she’s forced to choose which life she wants to embrace. In this last batch of episodes, creators Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan ratchet up the tension considerably and demonstrate the irrevocable collateral damage caused by Christine’s actions. In it, we finally have our first opportunity to truly understand who Christine is, what makes her tick, and why she’s choosing to do what she’s doing.
From the beginning of the season, it was clear that Christine’s dual lives, one as a law student and intern at the prestigious firm Kirkland & Allen, the other as a high-paid escort providing the ‘girlfriend experience,’ would inevitably intersect at some point. The first half or so of the season saw Christine make several enemies who had the capability to expose her double life, like her old friend Avery, her ex-madame Jacqueline, and her ex-client Jack. In “Blindsided,” the season’s ninth episode, Christine finally faces the inevitable consequences, which ends up changing the trajectory of her character’s arc and the entire show itself.
Although I’ve heaped praise upon The Girlfriend Experience for the ways it subverts traditional television conventions, “Blindsided” may have been my favorite episode of the season precisely because it felt like one of those classic television episodes where the shit really hits the fan. I will say however, that it was novel to have the climactic event of the season take place in the 9th episode of a 13-episode season, which did end up surprising me due to the suddenness with which Christine’s life underwent a consequential change. This ran counter to what has become an established prestige drama convention in which the penultimate episode of a season usually features the biggest fireworks, with all of the season’s storylines finally converging.
In “Blindsided,” an email is sent from Christine’s work address to all of her coworkers, bosses, and family members featuring a video of her having sex with an unseen man, with her telling him in the video that she gets turned on by getting paid for sex. While the viewer knows that the man in the video, whose face isn’t seen and whose voice is modulated to avoid detection, is Jack, the spurned ex-client who grew angry with Christine when she started ignoring his calls and told his friend that she was afraid of him, the show never explicitly states that he was the person who sent the email. Instead, the writers do something far more masterly by ignoring that detail altogether, focusing instead on the immediate aftermath for Christine as she becomes the joke of her office and, even worse for her, becomes quickly forgotten about soon afterward.
While the story does continue to progress in episodes 10-13, I felt like episode 9 was really the culmination of The Girlfriend Experience as we had come to know it. After this episode we learn that Christine settles a $1 million sexual harassment lawsuit against Kirkland & Allen and eventually, that she’s abandoned her pursuit of a law career entirely to focus on becoming a ‘girlfriend experience’ provider full-time. Why I’m particularly drawn to this email moreso than what comes after it is that it may provide the clearest glimpse yet into who Christine is and what makes her tick.
In “Blindsided” we see Christine legitimately devastated and violated by the video’s dissemination to everyone in her office, as her natural reaction would be. The responses in the office range from her boss Skip’s legitimate concern, to two male co-workers’ predictable objectification of her, and to David’s hysterical attempt to turn the video into an opportunity to get rid of Christine before she reports his own double life to his superiors. David, who had been told by Erin an episode earlier that Christine was aware of their collusion with the opposing counsel in the XHP case, fully believes that it was Christine who sent the email. And believing that the video had something to do with him and her desire to take him down, he starts to marshall support against her within the office.
Because Christine is our protagonist and has been positioned against David this season, once we hear his suspicion that Christine sent the email, we’re naturally inclined to think he’s wrong, that there’s no chance she was the sender. Christine does get fired soon afterward, but as she leaves her boss’s office after learning the news, Christine realizes that her worst nightmare- everyone in the office talking about her sex tape- has been usurped by something even worse, no one in the office talking about her anymore at all. There’s a wonderful bit here where Christine scans the office, looking almost like she’s malfunctioning, as she tries to come out with a plan to get the attention put back on her. She then fakes a panic attack, drawing everyone in the office’s attention toward her as EMTs arrive to take care of her.
It’s this moment, along with some testimony from Christine’s mother in episode 12, that may have been the most revelatory moment the show provided all season about its protagonist. It led me to wonder whether it was Christine, and not Jack as the viewer is immediately led to believe, who sent the video. But would Christine send the video, and if so, why? And is it even reasonable to ask that about her, since she had just been violated in a terrible way? For pure plot purposes, it’s essentially rendered irrelevant who sent the tape. Christine ends up leaving Kirkland & Allen with a $1 million settlement, David’s XHP dealings and affair with Christine lead to his firing, and Christine decides she’s done with law entirely so it doesn’t end up hampering her ability to pursue that career anyway. But for the purpose of understanding our protagonist, the mystery of who sent that email remains fascinating to me.
In terms of evidence supporting that idea, there’s the fact that the email was sent from Christine’s address. While she could have been hacked, that possibility is only briefly mentioned and Christine doesn’t seem interested in pursuing that anyway. And the act of recording herself is something we’ve seen Christine do several times prior in the season, so it’s easy to believe the videos came from her phone, and not Jack’s, as we were immediately led to believe. But the real question is why would Christine do something like that, knowing it would damage her career and reputation? For that answer, Christine’s mother provided the crucial piece of evidence.
In episode 12, titled “Home,” Christine returns to her parents’ house to celebrate their 30th anniversary with them. She avoided talking to them for several months after the video was spread. We see two drastically different reactions to Christine from her parents. Her father immediately forgives her for the embarrassment and is completely on her side, positioning him essentially in the exact place as the audience. Her mother, on the other hand, is cold and unreceptive, and we learn later that she’s still incredibly disappointed by Christine. When Christine refuses to stay with her mother as long as she’s unwilling to forgive her, the audience naturally sides with Christine and believes her mother is being unreasonable. After all, we’re naturally led to believe that it wasn’t Christine who sent the email, so there would be no reason to be angry at her for something out of her control. When Christine tells her father as much, he’s happy because it validates the positive perception he’s always had of his daughter. But when he returns home and informs Christine’s mother that it was Christine’s angry ex-boyfriend who sent the video, not Christine herself, her mother immediately dismisses the idea. She tells him not to be naive, that Christine has always loved the attention and has never cared about how her actions affected anyone else.
While there was an additional episode after this, set several months later showing Christine fully immersed in life as a ‘girlfriend experience’ provider, Christine’s mother’s wonderful dose of truth about her daughter felt like the real coda to the season to me. It was the clearest diagnosis we’ve yet had of Christine and her motivations, and it helped me finally understand why she would be so willing to risk her law career to prostitute herself. Christine has shed one of the two lives she had been balancing this season and against all odds, she decided she didn’t care about school, or law, or anything that would make her mother or sister proud of her. Rather, it would appear that her mother was right, that Christine cares only about the attention and the control she can exhibit with her work as a ‘girlfriend experience’ provider. This is what Christine does now, and as we see in the masterfully orchestrated session she has with her new client in the season finale, she’s damn good at it.
Eric enjoys watching and making movies.
Eric Colasante | Contributor