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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The L Word: Generation Q gets nostalgic, with mixed results

Illustration for article titled iThe L Word: Generation Q /igets nostalgic, with mixed results
Image: The L Word: Generation Q (Showtime)
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Nostalgia: a powerful, sometimes destabilizing drug. “LA Times” has it in spades. And for good reason: It’s Shane McCutcheon’s 40th birthday. Birthdays and aging are sure to remind people of the passing of time, forcing them to reflect on the past as they look toward the future. More so than any episode of Generation Q so far, “LA Times” reaches back into the past.

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One of my favorite things about the storylines involving the original characters (Bette, Alice, Shane) is that we get to see three women so deep into their friendships. Their friendships were so thoroughly defined by the original series (which was always thoughtful and complex in the way it portrayed platonic intimacy), and now we’ve jumped ten years even deeper into those friendships. Sometimes I question why characters are friends with each other on television, especially when it comes to big ensemble casts where some friendships seem to be merely of convenience. But Generation Q makes these relationships feel very lived in, which is an even more impressive feat considering that these three weren’t exactly the three musketeers in the original series. Through some exposition and solid character work though, Generation Q has rather seamlessly contextualized why Shane, Bette, and Alice are so close in this stage of life. Tina left Bette, forcing Bette to rely more on friends (especially since she lost another huge part of her support system, but more on that later). Shane grew up and seemingly got her shit together (salon! mogul!). Alice traded in her quirky podcast (vlog?) life to, honestly, sell out (although I can’t tell how much the show believes that or if that’s just my own interpretation), which makes her more of Bette’s elite LA world than she was before.

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And in “LA Times,” these deep, years-long friendships are at the heart—for better or worse. Sometimes there’s no one better at enabling our worst habits than our friends, and that seems to be the case when it comes to Bette and Shane. They spend a whole scene together getting high and confessing about their dalliances with coupled women. Shane shares that she slept with Lena, and Bette shares that she’s still sleeping with Felicity. Bette assures Shane that it’s okay, and Shane assures Bette that it’s okay. Now, do I personally disagree with both of their cavalier stances on infidelity? Absolutely! But do I fully believe that both of these characters would think this way and would support each other’s bad choices? Absolutely! For one, it tracks with both of their histories. But supporting each other also allows them to justify their own poor decisions. Shane sees Bette’s affair with Felicity and doesn’t rip her a new one, because doing so would make her a hypocrite and also would force her to confront her long history of self-destructive choices. And the same is true for Bette. It’s frustrating to watch these two make some of the same mistakes over and over, but it’s convincing. It’s the kind of mess that this show revels in and that, frankly, I wish there was a little more of throughout. Jennifer Beals and Kate Moennig play the scene very well and do a lot of the work in making these friendships dynamic, specific, convincing.

We’re treated to some rather blatant nostalgia in the form of throwback photos from the original series at Shane’s surprise birthday that Alice and Bette throw for her despite protests. The party offers a convenient—albeit forced—way to put all of the characters on the show in one room together. The visual details are well constructed: Even the casting for the extras makes this look like a real queer bar party in LA. And the old photos work as a sweet, organic tether to the show’s past.

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Nostalgia creeps in earlier, too, when Shane reveals to Bette and Alice that she named the new bar Dana’s. It’s a sweet moment and one that’s sure to tug at the heartstrings for longtime Dana fans, but it’s somewhat undercut by the bizarre choice to have them all wearing sunglasses in the scene. It seems like a weird thing to nitpick, but it lends a certain awkwardness to the moment, creating a literal barrier to what should be a raw and vulnerable moment for all of them. Maybe it was an oversight. But it also just comes off as an acting copout: We never get to really see their facial expressions as they react to being reminded of their dead friend. The choice to name the bar Dana’s is an effective reach back into the characters’ histories, but the execution falters short of genuine emotion.

The same is true for the other big emotional reveal in the episode: Kit died of a heroin overdose. This reveal does a lot of things at once: It contextualizes Bette’s run for mayor (a personal reason has been hinted at since the pilot, and I actually like that the show takes its time unfurling it). It also contextualizes Bette’s unwillingness to let go of Felicity even though she could bring down the whole campaign in the process. She tells Dani that Felicity was there for her following Kit’s death. And grief can make people do all sorts of things. Again, this is an excellent narrative choice, even if it is one that breaks my heart as a huge Kit fan. But the execution sucks some of its power away. Because of the Dani of it all.

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There are three scenes in “LA Times” that are more confusing than clarifying despite their blatant attempts to grasp at character motive and stakes, and all three involve Dani. I initially thought this show had a bit of a Sophie problem, but Sophie is actually coming into sharper focus while Dani only becomes fuzzier. So maybe the show has a Dani problem. Two of those confusing scenes have to do with Dani’s work life storylines. The most perplexing scene in the entire episode is when Dani confronts Felicity in a car and yells at her about ruining Bette’s chances for mayor and Felicity fires back that Dani doesn’t know anything about marriage. It adds no new depth to either character, instead rather starkly rendering them mere plot devices who are just yelling out the conflict for us. Felicity is very underdeveloped as a character, rivaled only by Lena, whose entire purpose in this episode is to just make it very obvious that she cheated on her girlfriend with Shane. This whole scene in the car lacks nuance for sure, but it also just isn’t natural storytelling.

Dani reprimanding Bette before the Felicity encounter doesn’t make sense either, mainly because of Bette’s reaction. The original series and Generation Q have very diligently established Bette as someone who is going to do what she wants to do no matter the consequences. She’s stubborn, and she charges forward even when things get messy. She has control issues. She would absolutely not let someone who works for her—someone she has just met—lecture her on her bad choices. The way she takes it from Dani doesn’t ring true for the character, and it just makes the whole moment fall flat. When Bette does finally, later in the episode, reveal the truth about Kit and her attachment to Felicity, the writing is somewhat better, but because of those prior Dani scenes, it still feels off. It’s the most blatant example of the show struggling to marry the old characters with the new.

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But that brings me to the third confusing Dani scene in the episode: Dani with Sophie in the bathtub. I’m invested in the self-contained storylines that just involve the new characters, and Generation Q does a solid job of making sure they’re at the forefront of the narrative, but seriously, what is going on with the writing of Dani and Sophie? Last week, I complained that Dani and Sophie don’t seem to have a history. Well, this bathtub scene does give them a history...one that doesn’t really hold up when you look at both characters’ personalities and their actions leading up to this. Dani pulls away from Sophie at the beginning of the episode, something she apparently has a tendency to do. It’s classic avoidant attachment system behavior. Dani explains to Sophie that she is insecure about their relationship because Sophie had been in a relationship when they met and had been so willing to leave that other person for Dani. This would track if we had previously seen any sign of insecurity about the relationship from Dani, but we haven’t. It almost feels like this scene is attempting to address a conflict we never even knew existed instead of the actual conflict of these two being bad at communication and Dani letting her father make too many choices for her. It may have a history now, but this relationship is still underdeveloped.

Alice’s personal and professional storylines intersect a bit here, thanks to an LA Times profile being written about her that places pressure on her to really be herself (despite additional pressure from the show’s executives to be more “palatable” to a wider audience). But the profile also strains her relationship with Nat—my favorite messy relationship of the show so far. Nat off-handedly tells the reporter that she doesn’t think they have much work-life balance, which surprises Alice, even though it’s true. Their relationship is complicated, and Generation Q has intelligently poked and prodded those complications, making this one of the most lived-in romantic relationships of the show so far, even though it’s riddled with tension. Alice is a huge public figure who always has to be on at work, and Nat has two kids that she needs help raising. On top of it, the ex-wife is still very much in the picture. But we’ll get to that.

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The subplot with the talk show doesn’t work all that well, because it seems like the show thinks of Alice as more radical than she actually is. Her whole “was Harriet Tubman a feminist” line of questioning, while forcing a political candidate to either identify as a feminist or outright reject it, is cringe-worthy at best. Alice looks to Sophie like she has just launched a revolution, and Sophie approves, which also sells Sophie a bit short considering Alice is doing some pretty basic-level white feminist pontificating. I mean, sure, she’s certainly pushing boundaries way more than real-life lesbian talk show host Ellen Degeneres does, but it’s a strange scene all around, one that isn’t as incisive as it tries so hard to be.

Since it does bring everyone together into a tight, sweaty space, the party does provide some little character moments throughout the cast. Micah confronts Jose in a somewhat perplexing scene. He insists that he has been clear about what he wants and that Jose is the one being confusing, but has Micah been that clear about what he wants? I can’t discern exactly what he wants: a relationship? Someone to go on cute dates with? Emotional intimacy? Regular hookups? So I’m not really sure how Jose is supposed to know either. That said, I do find it believable for someone to think they’ve been more clear than they actually have been in a relationship/dating context. Open communication is hard. I’d like to see Micah’s character expand beyond just this back-and-forth dynamic with Jose though.

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Finley’s drinking problem is on full display at the party, too, and Jacqueline Toboni plays the character’s dysfunction very well. Finley is more than just a goofy grifter, and it’s clear that there’s a lot of pain beneath her carefree attitude—pain that she drowns out with alcohol. Her intimacy issues—rooted in religious trauma—are on full display at the start of the episode when she is seen going from hot to cold in bed with Rebecca. It’s clear, even before she tells Sophie about the swirly feelings, that she’s falling for her, but Finley’s being pulled in multiple directions. The feelings of love and the guilt and the repression all collide, and throw some alcohol on top, and it fully explodes. That contrast of her thinking that she’s doing some grand romantic gesture for Rebecca by showing up at her dinner party only to realize that she’s saying the wrong things and also wasted out of her mind is sharp and evocative.

The party also culminates in my favorite sequence on the show to date: a threesome between Nat, Alice, and Gigi that is equal parts hot and horrifying. There certainly have been little signs that this could be coming: Alice has a lot of chemistry with Gigi, and Nat doesn’t seem entirely done with their relationship. Alice already tried to fix things with Nat by letting Gigi and her hangout, so the natural next step? Bringing her into their actual sex life. Don’t get me wrong: It’s an incredibly chaotic choice. For both of them! Nat still likely has trust issues since Gigi cheated on her, and Alice has already shown some jealousy of Gigi. Generation Q’s showrunner Marja Lewis-Ryan has literally said she wants to create moments that make people scream at their TV when they watch together, and she has undoubtedly accomplished that here. This is the kind of self-destructive decision making that is perversely intoxicating to watch. It helps that it is, indeed, very hot. It reminisces of the original series—its own form of nostalgia for the sexy, explicit, indulgent sex scenes that normalized lesbian sex on television. The fact that there are real emotional stakes beneath the drunken threesome makes it all the more delicious. It doesn’t possess the realism or stakes of the Mrs. Fletcher threesome, but it is perfectly in-tone and visually right for this series. And it feels more at home than some of the more dramatic scenes in this episode do.

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Stray observations

  • Shane’s wife shows up in a dramatic entrance at the end, and I immediately need to know everything about her.
  • We get a glimpse of Shane’s birthday texts and learn that Angie calls her “Uncle Shane.”
  • I actually do hate the trope of a character insisting they don’t want to do anything for their birthday and then their friends doing something for them anyway. Listen to your friends when they say what they want!!!
  • I am legitimately very sad that Kit is dead, even though I saw this development coming the second Bette said she had a personal reason for running. I mean I know Pam Grier has a lot going on, but I was really holding onto hope for a cameo. Kit was one of the most interesting characters on the original series, and she was always more open to gender difference than some of the protagonists were.
  • Okay, fine, yes I did write a paper on Kit Porter in college.
  • Lena is bad, and I’m glad Tess leaves her. But I hope we get more from Tess? Jamie Clayton nails the scene of Tess dumping Lena’s cheating, lying ass. She’s too good of an actor to have this be all she gets to do.
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