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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Everyone leans into their bad patterns on iThe L Word: Generation Q/i
Image: The L Word: Generation Q (Showtime)
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When it comes to Bette Porter and Shane McCutcheon in particular, watching The L Word: Generation Q in the context of the original The L Word is simultaneously frustrating and satisfying. It’s frustrating insofar as watching characters make the same mistakes over and over again—now literally a decade later—is a hard task as a viewer. It’s satisfying though for the same reason. Human beings really do make the same self-destructive choices over and over again, and while Shane and Bette (and Alice, too) have evolved technically in terms of their careers and lifestyles, they’re still at their cores the same people with the same flaws as before. In “Lose It All,” Bette thinks that she can win Tina back even though she has been making the same selfish and damaging choices as she used to make when they were together. Shane immediately regrets her decision to up her commitment to Quiara when it comes to raising a child together. It’s the same control-freak Bette. It’s the same impulsive Shane. Their circumstances have changed, but they haven’t. “Lose It All” directly confronts the bad patterns people fall into, especially in relationships.

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I go back and forth on how much to review this show in the context of its original, but in these characters, the show is so strongly rooted in the past. That’s especially true for Bette’s arc in “Lose It All,” in which she continues to confront her lingering feelings for Tina and the rejection she experienced when Tina left her for someone else. The show directly touches on the past when Tina brings up the main reasons for the failure of their marriage: Bette prioritized her career over Tina’s and made all of the choices in their relationship. Bette argues that she never asked for that and that Tina never tried to change the dynamic, but Tina asserts that it’s not that straightforward. Power dynamics get established early on in a relationship, and they’re hard to change even when they’re volatile. Bette can’t undo the past.

It’s fascinating to see a character so obsessed with control squirm in the presence of her ex-wife. Here, Jennifer Beals gets to show some of Bette’s vulnerable side. The dinner scene where Bette obviously wants to ask Tina to be in her life again and Tina reveals that she’s moving back and also engaged to her new partner absolutely oozes with the discomfort that this series really thrives with. The small detail of Bette frantically opening another bottle of wine and mixing white with red is pitch-perfect. We’re seeing an imperfect Bette, a ruffled Bette. When Generation Q dives into the murkiest parts of intimacy and relationships, it’s very successful.

While the show sometimes struggles with the specifics and nuances of casual dating and new relationships between younger people, Generation Q has been really strong when it comes to these longer term relationship and marriage dynamics between characters of a certain age. For Bette and Tina, their relationship is so lived-in, whether you’re familiar with the original series or not. Laurel Holloman and Jennifer Beals add a lot of authenticity and specificity to this relationship, convincing enough together that you don’t have to have that background knowledge.

When it comes to Alice, Nat, and Gigi, whose scenes together are easily the best parts of the episode, Generation Q similarly pulls at several threads of a long-term relationship. In this case, the focus really is on Nat and Gigi. Even though they’re new characters, their relationship similarly feels very lived-in. It’s tough to watch the scene where Nat apologizes for not doing more to fight for their relationship and when Gigi complains that she wasn’t given a chance to apologize, because Nat takes on way too much responsibility and Gigi is quick to absolve herself. For being a therapist, Nat is acting against her own self-interests and taking on blame that she should not. She gives way too much credit to her ex—who cheated on her with a mutual friend for long enough that their children asked for her—and if there are reasons why Nat contributed to the problems in their relationship, we’ve yet to see any evidence of that. But even though the way they’re talking is immensely frustrating and even a little confusing, it’s not bad writing. It gets at the idea that people default to patterns in relationships. It’s obvious that Nat is easily pulled by Gigi. She frankly has a similar dynamic with Alice, who is the one who really convinced her into the throuple. Gigi and Nat reconnecting isn’t romantic; it’s toxic. Maybe Gigi won’t cheat again (although on this show, everyone cheats constantly), but the problems in their relationship go way deeper than that, especially if Gigi is so willing to let Nat blame herself for the problems Gigi caused. When Gigi and Nat have sex, it’s incredibly hot, because these are two people who know how to fuck each other, but that contrast to the way they were just fighting before says a lot, too. A lot of times people can have intimacy issues in other aspects of the relationship and still have the sex be good.

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Alice’s reaction to seeing Nat and Gigi in bed further reiterates the ticking time bomb that was this throuple. While a part of me wondered if Gigi and Alice—who have immense chemistry together—might betray Nat, it’s actually a much more interesting direction for the story to go in to have Nat and Gigi betray Alice, because again, it gets at the way people repeat bad patterns in relationships. Nat used Alice to get over Gigi, and the second the door to Gigi reopened, it sent her spiraling. Leisha Hailey does some excellent acting when it comes to Alice’s pure shock over seeing them in bed together. It turns into fiery anger once she heads to Shane’s, but that initial look of heartbreak is devastating and real. Cheating, of course, also happens in polyamorous relationships, and Generation Q deals with the mess of these three very well, making each character complicit in its deterioration but also making their motivations clear. It’s very strong relationship writing.

There’s some solid relationship writing when it comes to Shane and Quiara, too, albeit with a few more holes. Namely, Quiara could be a much better developed character. The show is vague even about her celebritydom, which is her most defining factor. Shane and Quiara’s dynamic isn’t difficult to grasp or unbelievable, but it would still benefit from more detailed and dynamic writing when it comes to Quiara. She’s incredibly patient with Shane’s more impulsive and commitment-phobe tendencies, and that’s no doubt why their marriage worked for a while, but I’m still not clear on her own wants and motivations. Again, Shane is falling into an old pattern. She went from not wanting to have a baby with Quiara to wanting to have a baby with Quiara to now panicking about a baby with Quiara in the span of literally three episodes. But it tracks with the character’s past, and it even makes sense in the context of her choices in the present. She impulsively bought a bar without knowing how to run a bar (and promptly fucked one of the bartenders in it). She signed divorce papers on her 40th birthday. Shane is a mess, and while the season has done a solid job of showing some of the character’s vulnerability, there’s a bit left to be desired in terms of really seeing the ramifications of these destructive choices The fact that Bette and Shane keep falling into the same old patterns is a compelling story, but Generation Q hasn’t really confronted that directly.

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As I mentioned before, the show is much better at writing these more established relationships than writing newer ones. Micah and Jose so often feel like an afterthought on this show, which is especially frustrating since they’re one of the show’s mere two couples where both people are not white and since they’re the only relationship that features trans representation. At first, Generation Q seemed positioned to right some of the wrongs of the original’s (mis)representation of trans men, but it hasn’t delivered much on that front. “Lose It All” sets up an initially interesting storyline where Micah’s mom seems very open to his trans identity only to pull the rug out from that by having her repeatedly misgender him. Sure, trans people being misgendered by their family is absolutely a reality, but the execution of this storyline, where it’s almost done for shock value does a disservice to the character, who seems merely defined by his trans identity in the same way that gay cis characters on television shows that center straightness are often defined solely by their gayness. Micah’s arcs in each episode are all over the place. Jose is sweet with Micah, and there’s genuine chemistry there, but we know so little about either character for this to really take off as a compelling story. Generation Q seems to be falling into some of the same old traps as its predecessor.

Dani’s storyline in “Lose It All” complements Bette’s by holding up a mirror to Bette’s past. Bette tells Dani to rein it in when they’re at the coffee shop, because Dani takes out her work frustrations on everyone around her. She also markedly prioritizes her job over Sophie by not showing up to the hospital (although to be fair, Sophie asked her not to, and Finley rightfully calls out Sophie for getting upset about it anyway). It’d be overly simplistic to say that Finley, Sophie, and Dani are meant to be millennial versions of Shane, Alice, and Bette respectively, but the parallels between Dani and Bette are certainly palpable. Dani and Bette’s arcs both deal with the way professional and personal boundaries bleed together and muck shit up. Dani is so focused on her career that she can’t even see Sophie pulling away from her.

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Sophie, too, has fallen into an apparent pattern. Generation Q previously planted the information that Sophie left someone else for Dani, and while I am still not entirely convinced by Dani’s anxiety about that and the way it unfolds earlier in the season, it turns out this is at least a consistent aspect of this character. Based on her conversation with her sister, it doesn’t seem like Sophie thinks she has done much wrong here, even suggesting that she might not tell Dani. Grief can certainly bring out the worst qualities of people, and Sophie spirals in the face of her grandmother’s fall, but I’m not totally convinced by her falling into Finley’s arms. It’s a strange character choice for both of them, so explicitly foreshadowed by the previous episode and yet playing out so mechanically. Generation Q seems desperate to split up Dani and Sophie, and yet every episode presents a different possible catalyst for that split like the writers can’t even decide what it will ultimately come down to. And sure, most unstable relationships have a series of interconnecting issues rather than just one, but these have been all over the place and have left little room for really understanding why Sophie and Dani are in this relationship in the first place. The backstory is shaky, and it just doesn’t feel as dynamic and tangible as some of the other long-term relationships on the show.

The sudden shift from believable friendship to sexual tension between Finley and Sophie also lacks a strong foundation. Finley is occasionally a compelling character, but she’s also one-note. Her whole thing is just that she’s messy, but Generation Q remains a little flip about that mess instead of really burrowing into it (outside of a few really strong scenes from previous episodes, like when she calls her dad). It’s hard to believe this is the penultimate episode of the first season given how underdeveloped some of the characters still are. Still, Generation Q thrives in some of its relationship storytelling, always clearest at its messiest.

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Stray observations

  • Next week is the finale! I feel like the short episode order really made things difficult for the series considering how many characters it has. But at the same time, I’ve seen other shows come out the gate with a stronger sense of self in the same number of episodes (looking at Sex Education in particular).
  • At least it has been renewed for a second season! I feel like there are a lot of setups for strong storylines down the line.
  • The tension of this Bette/Tina dinner scene is a striking contrast to the famously sexy stir fry sex scene between the two characters in the original series.
  • “Bette Porter Is Not Afraid To Sleep With Your Wife”...this line from the attack ad on Bette should be a tagline for the series.
  • My god there is a lot of infidelity in the L Word universe.
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