About halfway through the first season of Girls there’s an episode where Hannah takes some time off from the big city and heads back to the quiet hometown where she grew up. She visits with her parents, connects with old friends (and non-friends), and tries to dissuade someone from moving to Los Angeles. It’s a beautiful episode of television because it adds layers to Hannah Horvath that potentially wouldn’t have been there had the show solely focused on her time in New York; the sudden shift to a quiet town in Michigan provides a great contrast in tone that illuminates the character.
I mention this because “Home” is a very similar episode, and while it doesn’t totally give away who Christine is, it does shift our perspective of her, her work, and the way it effects those around her. The Girlfriend Experience has practically lived inside a single world; hell, inside just a few anonymous-looking rooms. We’ve seen Christine entertaining clients, going to school, trying to keep her head above water at Kirkland, and then spiralling out of control as she loses so much in her life. So when “Home” takes Christine away from all of that, at least from the immediacy of it, the effect is jarring in a dramatically satisfying way. This is the series’ most quietly devastating half hour so far.
“Home” is effective as a quiet thriller largely because it starts off like a ticking time bomb. David’s at home with his wife, apparently after some time apart. “It’s good to be back,” he says to his wife while she cooks breakfast, the only real clue we get that some amount of time has passed since we last saw him tensely interacting with his wife in bed. More than the weird sense of time though, there’s an intensity and creepiness to the opening scene because before long David is up in the middle of the night touching himself while watching the video of Christine having sex. “Home” leaves it there though, cutting to Christine at the airport, the abruptness immediately establishing the uncomfortable tone of the episode.
Christine has a brief discussion with her sister about the video, which leads to her exclaiming “because I like it!” when Annabel says she can’t understand why she’d do something “so fucking stupid.” The video is absent from most of the discussions in “Home,” but its presence is certainly felt in every single scene. Where the video is openly watched and mocked in the city, there’s little mention of it here, despite the fact that “Home” contains perhaps more dialogue than any other episode this year. The increase in dialogue isn’t just another way of contrasting Christine’s life in the city and in her hometown; it’s also a way of showing how families are often filled with secrets, and empty talk is all that keeps them hidden.
So, there’s very little doubt that Christine’s parents love one another. They’re celebrating their 30th anniversary after all, renting out a hall to throw a big party with all of their friends. And yet everything going on around them suggests that there’s more than meets the eye. It’s the Lynchian idea of horror being hidden within normalcy. There’s nothing but domestic bliss and aching mundanity coursing through this weekend at home—Christine can barely feign small talk towards a math teacher who’s hitting on her at the party—but the fact that nobody really addresses Christine’s video directly suggests not small-town politeness, but rather a depth of other secrets that these folks have perhaps become adept at avoiding.
The closest “Home” gets to spilling the “truth” is when Christine is coerced by Annabel to give a short speech at the anniversary party. The speech is sweet on the surface, but knowing what we know, and understanding that her sister, mother, and father have all seen the sex tape and her name all over the internet, there’s malice hidden underneath. “I am who I am because of you,” she says, a line that really hits home. What’s remarkable here is that The Girlfriend Experience never really tips its hand, never really puts all the information out there. Instead, there are small moments like these that hint at the complexities of Christine’s various relationships. It’s just enough to help us understand Christine a little better—“don’t be naïve; she’s always wanted the attention” says her mother after her father insists the video was taped and released by a jilted ex-boyfriend—without completely removing the mystery of her intentions and who she was before law school, Kirkland, and the big city.
If the whole visit home isn’t enough to cause an emotional stir, the closing moments certainly project a sense of unease heading into the season finale. Once again there’s a time jump, as we flash forward to Christine shooting new photos for an escort service. A photographer tells her to spread her legs slowly while making small talk about how she found out about his business. As Christine poses in front of a window in lingerie, the scene cuts to black while the audio continues. “Does this kind of work ever make you scared?” asks the photographer. Christine doesn’t miss a beat. “No.” That may be Christine’s truth, but “Home” suggests our own truths may just blind us to everything going on around us.
- The anniversary party is filled with small moments that tell us about Christine, from her interaction with the math/physics teacher to her handing back a crying baby in near disgust.
- That father-daughter dance was more than a little awkward. The unspoken between family members can sometimes be the loudest statement.
- Or, you know, your mom could just lay into you and say “you’re on your own.”
- The season finale airs next Sunday. Be prepared, folks. It’s gearing up to be a good one. (Edit: As some of you have pointed out, Starz aired the finale after the penultimate episode last night. That somehow slipped under our radar. A review of the finale will be posted later today.)