The question of whether or not Christine Reade is a protagonist we root for is something that comes up a lot when discussing The Girlfriend Experience, both within these reviews and in the comments section. Some believe that Christine is a sociopath and that her actions disqualify her from being a true protagonist we can side with, that the distance between Christine and the viewer that the show imposes is a way of signifying that Christine isn’t our hero. On the other hand, some see Christine as both an agent in control of her situation and a victim of powers beyond her control. The Girlfriend Experience certainly stokes such ambiguity, and in fact, part of the show’s appeal is contained in the way it creates conflicted feelings from one week to the next.
The Girlfriend Experience, based on premise alone, could easily be some sort of morality tale, either a show about the empowerment of women through sex work, or swinging in the other direction and suggesting that sexuality as empowerment isn’t really empowerment at all. To its credit though, The Girlfriend Experience isn’t interested in taking sides, in crafting some sort of lesson or moral universe. Rather, Christine is a unique character, one who shirks our expectations and assumptions at every turn, and does the same to the people around her.
It’s Christine and her individuality that makes an episode like “Fabrication” so compelling. Christine, and Riley Keough’s continually stellar performance, carries this episode. Ever since the sex tape was leaked Christine has been on a slow-moving path of destruction, little pieces coming together so that she can build up a substantial case against Kirkland. She’s recorded audio and video of the men in her workplace, including David, as they hurl innuendoes and threaten firings. Questions abound: how long has Christine been planning this? Since the panic attack or well before? How much does her lawyer know? And what about her previous clients, one of which sits across the room in a restaurant while Christine signs a million-dollar settlement with Kirkland?
The Girlfriend Experience isn’t ready to provide the answers, and there’s a good chance none are coming, but it is using the lawsuit and Christine’s re-assertion of control to explore ideas of power and perception. What’s remarkable is that the show doesn’t take a moral stand so much as it complicates Christine’s motives. So, when Christine’s video of David gets him fired, we’re left with a potentially conflicted feeling. We know that Christine was leading the foreplay and dirty talk during their sexual encounter, but as Christine and her lawyer lay out later, we also know that David is operating from a position of power. There’s an imbalance to their relationship, and Christine knows that.
In fact, Christine is well aware of the system she’s working within. She knows how the all-male leadership at Kirkland views her, how women have to prove themselves tenfold compared to men in corporate positions, and how any semblance of sexuality can discredit all the hard work of any woman building a career. What “Fabrication” drives home is that Christine is interested in shocking the system, in confronting power imbalances. She takes back control with her clients, going back to webcam interactions while refusing to show her face, and in the episode’s best scene she confronts David in a heated exchange, laying out her intentions in the clearest sense yet. She says that she may have fucked people but that she never fucked anyone over, and that she’s tired of having to shape herself in some ideal image of those around her.
This is Christine reasserting herself and challenging the system. All around her she sees subtle violence and justifications for injustice, and yet she’s not afforded the same leeway as her male colleagues. David can sleep around with other women and cheat on his wife, and he can actively be trying to sabotage Kirkland’s XHP case, but it’s Christine who’s labeled “a fucking whore,” “insane,” and “crazy.” Over its last few episodes The Girlfriend Experience has begun to reveal a double standard, one that’s prevalent in our culture and in the corporate world. Two men in the Kirkland office can mentally high-five each other while talking about wanting to have sex with Christine, but it’s Christine’s sexuality that’s an issue. Everyone is free to watch and ridicule the sex tape, an act of sheer cruelty, but Christine isn’t allowed to be a sexual person.
What “Fabrication” underlines is that The Girlfriend Experience isn’t exactly a show that’s taking a stand on a number of issues, despite the fact that the subject matter is often politicized, and the current era of TV is heavily combed-over for political readings. That’s not to say the show isn’t interested in exploring meaningful issues—there’s certainly a lot to be said about sexism and female sexuality from one episode to the next—but rather that The Girlfriend Experience isn’t afraid to present something complex and suggest that there’s no clear way to untangle everything. With two episodes left I’m not expecting a tidy resolution, and that’s a wonderfully refreshing thing to say.
- I love the shot of David walking in the parking garage. All the black cars as anonymous and ordinary as the men at the top of the corporate ladder.
- So how does Jacqueline play into all of this? She keeps popping up.
- Another great shot: the panning down to the top of the building as David ponders his dismissal from Kirkland.
- And another: the tracking shot that sees Christine navigating her spacious new apartment, ending up in her cam-friendly bedroom.
- “Fabrication” really is all about Christine taking charge. She’s even exploring options for future business, including opening up offshore accounts and registering a business in Nevada.
- More on women in the workplace: Erin being used as a token woman in Kirkland’s defense against Christine.