One of The Girlfriend Experience’s most notable strengths is its ability to balance tones and approaches to storytelling. The show spent the first four episodes of the season building up this world only to then cast it in a different light, exposing a darker undercurrent that up until last week had remained hidden. It’s been quite the high-wire act to witness, as the show has pivoted its interpretation of Christine a few times. Where she was once in control she’s now starting to feel unbalanced, her worldview and day-to-day life continually shifting and moving in new directions. “Insurance” ups the ante and continues to do what The Girlfriend Experience does best: craft a compelling thriller and psychological study through unique storytelling.
The unique storytelling is integral to the show’s success, as the surface plot isn’t all that fresh or exciting. At its most basic, The Girlfriend Experience is about a part-time escort and law intern stumbling upon secrets in powerful sections of the culture. It’s an interesting story, sure, but what makes The Girlfriend Experience one of the best shows of 2016 so far is the way it holds back, the way it shows restraint when digging into the details of Christine’s life, her clients, and the unfolding drama at Kirkland. “Insurance” benefits greatly from that style, as it’s a disjointed, narratively manic episode that moves the story into new places.
Essentially, “Insurance” sees Christine’s life going through a serious shakeup. That happens early on in perhaps the best extended scene of the season. After taking a call from a potential client who got her phone number from Kevin, the camera cuts to Christine on Michael’s boat, enjoying the sunshine and a drink. The two seem genuinely at home with one another. Michael tells her that she’s of course free to see other clients, but Christine insists that she really wants to spend time with just him. The easy rapport of their conversation and lovemaking makes the following scene all the more cutting. The two jump in the water and for a minute or two after she surfaces, Christine can’t find Michael. It’s clear that she’s worried that he may have drowned. You can see the wheels spinning in her head, and Amy Seimetz drives her mental state home with shots of the water lapping against the camera, or positioning the camera so that it bobs along with the water as uneasiness settles into Christine’s mind. It’s a stunning sequence with an emotional effect that, even after Michael is found to just be enjoying the water, lingers.
This is where The Girlfriend Experience plays with time once again, cutting from a shot of Christine standing on a dock watching Michael pull away to a shot of her in the back of a car getting a phone call saying that he’s passed away from a heart attack and has left her a sum of money in his will. The problem is that the money has been left to “Chelsea” and the only information in the will is her phone number. Thus, Christine will have to decide if she really wants to collect the $500,000 he left her. If she does, her real name will be on the record, as her first ever client (and spontaneous legal counsel) tells her.
“Insurance” really sees Christine reckoning with who she is. It’s not just in the implications of proving she’s “Chelsea” but in smaller moments as well. She spends most of the episode trying to recover from the news of Michael’s death. She breaks down before a session with a powerful (and fairly nauseating) couple, Seimetz refusing to allow her face to come into focus when framed in the small bathroom mirror. She’s perhaps spinning out of control, as she calls David and has a late-night booty call with him that’s equal parts, desperate, angry, and intimate. That rendezvous turns into something else when she witnesses Holgrem seemingly dropping off files at David’s house in the middle of the night. It’s clear she’s not supposed to see this, and she plays it off well, acting like she doesn’t know the man is there. But, does she see an opportunity to take control here? It seems so, as the night is a catalyst for the events that unfold throughout the rest of the episode.
Despite David’s attempts to avoid Christine, even cutting her as his intern and placing her with Skip, she manages to work her way into his bed again. It seems like just another strange power play initially, where both David and Christine’s intentions are unknown. The final shot of the episode reveals more though, as Christine was taping the whole interaction. There’s audio of him on the phone talking about making sure the XHP case doesn’t go to trial, and there’s video of David saying he’d fire her if she didn’t fuck him. It’s playful, kinky discourse in the moment, but could absolutely be used against David if taken out of context.
“Insurance” reveals a lot about the plot of this season, unearthing more details about David, his promotion, his working relationships, the XHP deal, and Christine’s psychological state. Still, so much remains hidden, and there’s something to be admired in that restraint. The Girlfriend Experience is definitely slow-burning the plot, but the half-hour format means that the show also feels urgent. There’s hardly a wasted moment. Even something as innocuous as Erin having lunch with Christine turns into a tense game of hidden intentions, with Erin warning Christine about David’s rocky marriage and intense leadership style. It’s a warning delivered as helpful advice, but the truth of it runs deeper, as it’s clear that Erin perhaps has more experience with David than Christine, and may be hiding more than she could know. Look at how Seimetz frames their conversation. Christine is exposed and open while Erin is mostly hidden. That’s no accident. The Girlfriend Experience is playing with storytelling devices, especially visually, and “Insurance” is another fantastic example of how the show is committed to crafting a tense thriller and character study by holding back information and only revealing the necessary details. Everything else is in the glances, the composition, and the words left unsaid.
- So, did the guy calling Christine in the beginning sound kind of menacing to anyone else?
- “I’m not your friend.” That’s cold, David, and no way to end a booty call.
- It looks like David is being promoted to managing partner, but I’m not going to assume that’s true until it happens.
- I’d like to know more about Erin and David and their tense but close relationship. There’s something interesting going on there.