Carol Clover coined the term “Final Girl” in the ‘70s to describe a certain trope she recognized in horror films, and more specifically in the increasingly popular subgenre of the slasher film. The Final Girl is the one character who eludes the killer and gets her revenge in the end. She’s the protagonist of the film, even if she isn’t established as such in the first section of the movie, and is the character with whom the audience empathizes. Whether it’s Laurie Strode in Halloween or Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we first identify with the Final Girl and then cheer for her to provide a violent end to her foes.
I mention the Final Girl trope because it seems particularly relevant to “Blindsided,” a perfectly-pitched waking nightmare of an episode. Written by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz (as all but one episode is), and directed by the latter, “Blindsided” is the most nerve-racking episode of the season thus far, in a season that seems to up the ante one episode after the next. I mentioned in last week’s review that “Provocation” felt a lot like a table-setting episode, and sure enough, “Blindsided” is the payoff. It’s when everything comes crashing down for Christine. But it also signals a shift. Christine, once a cold and distant character, is our protagonist now. She’s our Final Girl, and now we’re eager to see revenge.
What “Blindsided” manages to do in just 25 minutes is rather remarkable. The episode picks up right where last week’s left off, with Christine hanging up consistently on Jack while video of the two of them having sex makes its way around the office. It’s immediately uncomfortable, and from there Kerrigan and Seimetz, with a lot of help from Riley Keough’s stellar performance, manage to ratchet up the tension with each new scene. “Blindsided” is a psychological thriller on a small scale, and there’s no shortage of intensity, from David’s angry meeting with Christine where he wants all correspondence with her deleted, to Christine having a full-on panic attack at the end of the episode.
Part of what makes “Blindsided” such a tense experience is that the episode comes close to unfolding in real time. There are a few jumps in perspective—we move from seeing things through Christine’s eyes to David’s—but those only serve to underscore the tension caused by our inability to escape the situation. That’s no accident. Kerrigan and Seimetz want us to experience what Christine is going through, so the camera moves more than it ever has before, chaotically following Christine around the office as she tries to figure out how to handle the fact that the whole office has seen the video, and that since it was sent via her personal email account, they all believe she sent it for some sociopathic reason.
We’re there when Christine first sees the video in David’s office, a tear streaming down her face, anger starting to rise. We’re there when her boss awkwardly tries to send her home, and when she tries to gain some control back by throwing the word “quorta” in David’s face. We’re embedded in the nightmare with her, and it’s beyond uncomfortable. Part of that is due to the sound design. Phrases and noises from the video swirl around the office and in Christine’s head, providing a constant reminder of what’s happening and just how destructive it could be for Christine. The Girlfriend Experience has used its score and sound design sparingly through eight episodes, so when “Blindsided” practically bombards the senses with its crowded, chaotic mix of sex tape noises and office chatter, it stands out, truly underscoring Christine’s unenviable situation.
While “Blindsided” is largely successful because of how it focuses in on a single event and the huge repercussions that follow, it also manages to keep the plot moving in interesting ways. What’s fascinating is the way the plot is built around a number of misunderstandings and uncertain intentions. There’s the fact that David really seems to believe Christine sent the video, and then Christine’s assertion that perhaps David somehow sent it in order to discredit her before she gets any further into the shady XHP business. There’s Erin, always seeming to know more than she lets on while not believing Christine’s pleas of ignorance, and Kayla talking to David about how Christine wanted access to the XHP files. “Blindsided” is largely about a single event and how it changes Christine, but it also builds on previous mysterious plot points in order to reveal just a little bit more about what she’s wrapped up in.
If “Blindsided” operates at a high-pitch, the low-level hum throughout the episode comes from the way the show completely changes the perspective of Christine in this episode. “Blindsided” is a waking nightmare, as I mentioned above, and it’s hard to watch Christine stumble through part of her day and battle against emerging groupthink. In fact, the show is doing something really interesting and complicated with Christine. Sure, on the surface this is about how a leaked sex tape, which Christine didn’t agree to film, could ruin her life and career, but on a deeper level it’s about toxic sexism and the warped cultural view of sex work.
Up until this point, Christine has been a force in her workplace. She’s been confident, outspoken, and driven, and every scene in the office confirms that, generally speaking, the people around Christine see that and respect it. So, it’s jarring to watch how everything shifts once Christine is shown in a more sexual and, culturally speaking, “negative” light. Suddenly she becomes tainted, and an object about which people can openly discuss their disdain for. Nobody is shy about watching the video out in the open, even as Christine sits at the next desk, because the larger culture tells us that a sexual woman is an object, a thing to be ogled, poked, and prodded. Then there’s the cringeworthy scene where two guys in the office openly talk about what a slut Christine is, but how they’d probably still fuck her. When she approaches them, one of them talks all in sexual innuendos while the other laughs at each new line. It’s a sickening display of male gaze and power, where they believe that they have ownership over Christine now that she’s been sexualized. We’re put into Christine’s position, even emerging from around the corner at the same time as her to confront the men, which creates empathy and understanding.
Parsing this episode, and the series at large, for perspectives on sex work is messy business. There’s potentially something troubling about the show suggesting that Christine’s sex work is bound to fail because she never really has control; that plot point could be viewed as a declaration that sex work isn’t empowering or a reasonable choice for making a living. At the same time, “Blindsided” allows us to empathize with Christine in a way that was previously impossible. As Christine’s stares David down at the end of the episode, an oxygen mask on her face making her look like a straight-up badass Bond or Batman villain of some sort, we should feel for her, whether it’s empathy or anger on her behalf. “Blindsided” is constructed to put us on Christine’s side, to understand that her sex work is just another part of her life, and one that shouldn’t be used against her in any malicious way. “Blindsided” allows us to see just how toxic sexism is, from David getting on his high horse despite cheating on his wife with Christine, and the two men in the office feeling entitled to call Christine a slut while also admitting that they’d still fuck her. Men can be openly sexual in a way that women can’t, and “Blindsided” drives this point home, putting us in Christine’s shoes and asking us to understand who she is and what she deserves.
- A big reason why The Girlfriend Experience continues to succeed is the mess of intentions coming from David, Christine, Jack, Erin, and so many others. Everyone has their own perspective, their own set of motivations.
- You would think that Kirkland would be done with Christine at this point, but she just keeps recording conversations, and surely that’ll work in her favor at some point.
- So, does David really think Christine sent the video, or does he just see an opportunity to get rid of her?