One of the most prominent themes throughout the first season of The Girlfriend Experience has been the theme of control. These reviews, and many people in the comments, have engaged with what it means for Christine, someone who’s so unknowable, to have control over her life. There have been debates about Christine’s mental state, her ultimate intentions, her choices, and her seeming consistent ebb and flow between moments of control and moments of emotional and physical breakdown. The season’s penultimate episode, “Home,” brought that idea to the forefront, confronting Christine’s selfishness (or strength and independence, depending on your perspective), but only teased the full extent of her capabilities and resourcefulness. “Separation” is the full reveal, and it’s dazzling to witness.
There’s serious potential for “Separation” to be a divisive episode; it’s practically begging for a mixed reaction. All the players from earlier this season, from David Tellis and creepy Jack to Avery and Erin, don’t make an appearance. In fact, just about every plot thread from previous episodes is dropped without a resolution. There’s no mention of XHP, no word on whether David has found another position with a different law firm, and no more follow-up to the sex tape. Instead, “Separation” works almost like a one-act play, as the majority of the 28-minute runtime is made up of a single scene. It’s ambitious, elusive, mystifying, and completely compelling.
“Separation” sees Christine finally fulfilling her destiny,moving into the upper echelon of the high-end escort business. She’s practicing French in the back of her own car, which comes complete with a personal driver, taking her sister Annabel out for expensive lunches and splurging on $300-a-bottle wine, and finding her way into the fanciest of buildings to meet with clients. This is Christine in her element. Contrasted with “Home,” where it’s clear she felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the small-town normality, “Separation” sees her thriving; she’s the Walter White of the high-end escort business, and the 20-minute scene of her engaging in role play with a client and a male escort is The Girlfriend Experience’s “Crystal Blue Persuasion” montage.
It’s a bold move having the season finale not only removed from the narrative beats earlier in the season, but also made almost entirely up of a scene that contains so many layers. Everyone involved pulls it off though, from Lodge Kerrigan’s direction down to Riley Keough’s performance, the long scene that makes up most of “Separation” is intricately put together. There’s mystery, manipulation, fear, power, shame, lust, and intimacy coursing through the scene. When Christine shows up at a man’s apartment and he instantly begins yelling at her about being with another man, it’s jarring. “Separation” forgoes the setup and throws us right into the action, and for a short time it looks like Christine is in danger. Before long though the script is flipped. As more and more information is revealed, and as a nervous, very green male escort shows up, it becomes clear that this danger is manufactured. It’s all part of an elaborate role play; this client wants to be shamed, to feel inadequate next to Christine and her “lover,” and she’s more than willing to oblige.
As Christine works her way through the role-playing scene, we get to see her in complete control, and it’s absolutely thrilling. When the male escort shows some serious reservations, especially when the client hovers over them at every turn, Christine asserts herself and tells the client she needs a few minutes to make sure everyone is on the same page. She takes complete control of the situation, guiding the male escort through the entire scene, from helping him figure out what to say as the “lover” in the role play scenario, to telling him when to leave after the scene is complete. She’s surrounded by variables and yet she remains in control. She’s not the client handing over money, but she retains the power; more so than in any other sexual interaction this season, Christine shows that she’s good at what she does. She’s building an empire, and she’s succeeding.
There are certainly a number of ways to read that final 20-minute chunk of The Girlfriend Experience’s first season. Some will see something sad and distant; some will see empowerment; some will see a scene brimming with sensuality and eroticism. No matter what your reading might be, it’s hard not to see Christine as “at home” in this position of power. This is a job for her, and as clinical as that may sound, there’s also a certain amount of freedom in it. After executing the role play scene to perfection, overcoming all the obstacles presented by the client and the male escort, Christine takes a moment to herself. She sprawls across the couch, the panoramic view of the city in front of her, and starts masturbating. She’s in control. She’s the one calling the shots, taking control of her life, and making something of herself outside the influence of Kirkland, law school, and her suffocating hometown. There’s a palpable feeling of liberation as the season cuts to black with Christine in control of her pleasure and her profit.
- That cut from the lobby to the elevator, where the Muzak’s volume changes with the shift in physical space, had me smiling from ear to ear.
- “Do it. I want you to.” Christine has become adept at delivering the same lines over and over again.
- Still no word on whether this show is getting a second season, though Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have mentioned in interviews that they’ve envisioned the show as an anthology series if it does get picked up.
- Apologies again for the late finale review. Somehow the back-to-back episodes slipped under our radar. And thank you for reading and commenting every week. This show has been a blast to dig into and discuss with everyone.