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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The L Word: Generation Q's afterparty mess delights and disturbs

Illustration for article titled iThe L Word: Generation Q/is afterparty mess delights and disturbs
Image: The L Word: Generation Q (Showtime)
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After a wild party comes the cleanup and the come down, the reckoning of bad mistakes made, the untangling of new, alcohol-soaked messes. Shane’s party, for a lot of Generation Q’s characters, shook things up, pulled things out of them, and put them in unexpected positions. “Labels” deals with the aftermath, and the storylines that deal directly with those characters most affected by the thrills and twists of the party are the sharpest.

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The birthday girl herself reckons with the sudden arrival of her wife Quiara, played by Lex Scott Davis, and some of the blanks are filled in in terms of their relationship and their impending divorce. We already learned that Shane didn’t want to have kids with her, so Quiara waits until after they’ve had birthday sex to reveal that she is, indeed, pregnant. We don’t spend quite enough time with Shane and Quiara to really get a feel for their dynamic beyond the fact that they have undeniable chemistry. Quiara alludes to the fact that their relationship has never been traditional because she has always seen Shane clearly, which if I had to guess means that they had some sort of open/poly arrangement. She comes to Shane eventually in “Labels” and says that she doesn’t need her but just wants her. In other words, she wants her in her life but doesn’t need her to help her raise a kid. There’s not a whole lot laid out here as to what this really looks like, but “Labels” seems to be grappling with the idea of alternative relationship structures, although it just begins the skim the surface there.

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Which brings me to the new throuple in town. I did not predict that Alice, Nat, and Gigi’s drunken threesome would develop into them negotiating an all-out threeway couple structure, but I am delighted by this turn for the characters. It was inevitable that the three would have to face some complicated emotions following their little dalliance at Shane’s party, and “Labels” picks up right after, the three of them waking up hungover in a bed together, allowing us to see them process in real-time. A lot of the physical comedy in their scenes together is fantastic, heightening the awkwardness. The initial pull back to reveal that Alice and Nat are not alone in bed kicks this off, but it continues throughout their scenes, with all three actors giving funny but also convincing performances. Because there are several distinct dynamics evolving here. Nat seems weary of how close Alice and Gigi have grown (they share Thai food orders!). There’s a lot of baggage to that weariness: Gigi has betrayed Nat before, making it possible that Nat fears both betrayal from Gigi again but also from Alice, since Nat’s most recent relationship before her ended in an affair.

Alice seems the most carefree about it all, leaning into the nontraditional setup, but it also seems like she could be using this as an easy fix to problems between her and Nat. Alice and Nat seem to be doing fine on the sex front, but beyond that, their intimacy issues together are staggering, particularly when it comes to Alice’s reluctance to really parent and Nat’s lack of friends—two foundations for their tensions that have been well established over the course of the season. Generation Q has been smart and nuanced in its portrayal of this relationship as, while not necessarily toxic or even glaringly bad, fundamentally broken. Alice likes Gigi; that’s very clear in their interactions in “Labels.” She’s almost too enthusiastic about a threeway relationship, because she knows it means she has to be less involved with the kids and less emotionally involved in general. It’s almost like she’s shirking certain relationship duties, throwing them Gigi’s way. And Gigi, of course, is more than happy to join in, because she sees it as a way to finally receive Nat’s forgiveness. We know that Gigi was not ready for Nat to move on, as evidenced by her ring-on-the-nail night the first time Alice and Nat slept together, and it tracks that she wants back in her life in a more meaningful way beyond just co-parenting.

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And Nat sees it, too. Again, the acting, especially on the comedic front, is solid throughout the trio’s scenes together, but Stephanie Allyne stands out especially in the scene where Nat laments the fact that Gigi hurt her and still gets to keep her, still gets to have a piece of the thing that made Nat put herself together again. Gigi gets it all, and Nat’s right to feel fucked up about that. The emotions at play in this storyline are visceral and touch on issues of trust, connection, communication, and needs within a relationship. Nat, Alice, and Gigi really do all need each other in some way. I do wish some of these more emotional moments could sit there without the writers thinking they need to be punctuated by something funny or lighthearted, because I think that the relationship writing happening in this storyline is some of the finest on the show, outmatched only by Finley, Becca, and Tess at the moment.

Notice that I did not include Lena in that lineup, because even though she is technically a part of Tess’ relationship arc, she continues to be a non-character, a mere plot device. She’s not even seen at all in “Labels,” but her absence is part of the story. She doesn’t show up for Tess in a moment of crisis, and while it certainly isn’t Lena’s fault that Tess takes a drink, as someone who was in a long-term relationship with someone struggling with alcoholism, the way that she freezes her out in this moment is definitely harmful (and makes me have a lot of questions about their relationship that I don’t think are going to be answered, because there really seems to be no interest in developing Lena as a real character). I worried last week that the big dramatic breakup between Tess and and Lena would mean that Jamie Clayton was getting sidelined, and I’m relieved that quite the opposite happens in “Labels.” Tess and Finley make for the best, messiest, most compelling part of the episode.

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Right away in the episode, Tess struggles with her sobriety. The spinning shot of her on the phone with a sponsor is stunning, suffocating, and a little disorienting. Things get gradually—if not obviously—more intense for her. She finds Finley passed out drunk on a couch. She opens up to Finley about the end of her relationship. She talks about her past. She has to face Shane and rather directly calls her out for sleeping with her girlfriend. She has to run the bar without Lena. She can’t get ahold of Lena at all. All of these developments pressure-cook her little by little until she reaches for a bottle.

Forcing Finley and Tess together is a solid story move, casting some of Finley’s behaviors in a new light. Her drinking problem has been established since the first episode and has grown more and more overt over time. Around her friends, Finley can sometimes just seem like that drunk mess friend who likes to take shots. But Generation Q makes it clear that there’s a darkness behind that. Finley’s proximity to Tess makes her relationship with alcohol seem all the more glaringly unhealthy.

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Finley apologizes to Becca in “Labels” but doesn’t even know what she’s apologizing for. It’s clear that she has made this blanket apology for showing up drunk before; it almost sounds rehearsed. Becca breaks up with her on the spot, mincing no words. She thinks Finley needs to deal with her traumas before she can be in a relationship. And both the writing and Jacqueline Toboni’s characterization of Finley in this moment is very convincing. She doesn’t really understand Becca, so in denial about her trauma that she thinks it doesn’t even exist. She tries to call her family, and that one phone call does a lot of work with very little to show us some of the character’s emotional baggage.

So Tess and Finley get drunk together at the bar, and it is an absolute recipe for disaster. Finley’s look of concern when she sees that Tess has been drinking is quickly replaced by a smile and an enabling attitude. Eventually, it leads to them hooking up. The sex scenes so far on Generation Q have had a lot of layers to them beyond just being hot (but thankfully, a lot of them are indeed very, very hot). It’d be easy to get swept up in the sweaty ecstasy of Finley fucking Tess if it wasn’t so concerning. They’re both wasted. They’re both in terrible places emotionally, looking to escape. It’s, frankly, intoxicating to watch. Clayton and Toboni are great together, and they make these characters feel like much more than their alcoholism while still conveying the seriousness of that alcoholism and the way it touches so many parts of the characters’ lives and interactions.

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Micah and Jose also get a meaningful and layered sex scene, although this one is affirming and tender rather than being disturbing like Tess and Finley’s. Still, Micah is a hard character to grasp, and the writing of him and Jose is scattered. Leo Sheng brings specificity to the character, but the writing doesn’t do much work.

The fact that Tess and Finley have a more clearly defined dynamic and storyline together than Dani and Sophie do when they don’t even really interact with each other until this very episode underscores the show’s biggest weak spot. Some weird inverse character development thing is happening where the more we learn about Dani and Sophie, the more confusing they actually become. Last week, the issue was that Dani was insecure in their relationship. This week, it’s that Dani doesn’t know how to talk to Sophie in moments of distress. Dani tells off her dad after he tries to include a homophobic clause in their prenup that overvalues biological parentage, but in the car afterward, she shuts down. This relationship is doomed but not in the more nuanced and compelling way that Nat and Alice’s seems fractured. It’s almost like Generation Q can’t quite decide what to make the undoing of Dani and Sophie’s relationship, so it’s just throwing a lot of problems at them to see what sticks. Sophie barely exists outside of Dani, and Dani’s personality changes from scene to scene.

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Bette and Angie’s arc in the episode is quite sweet, Angie letting Bette come to the school play not to support her but rather her friend Jordy whose parents don’t care. The show finally delivers on some of the romantic tension hinted at between Jordy and Angie in the first episode, with Shane asking Angie outright if she likes her and Angie nodding shyly. It’s a quiet or beautiful scene, one I can’t really recall ever seeing on television. Queer kids are constantly asked about straight crushes, which can feel so restricting and, in some cases, only keep people in the closet longer. I can’t even count all the times extended family members, my mother, hairdressers, complete strangers asked me if there were any boys I liked in my class throughout my youth. The casual and unassuming and open way that Shane sees Angie is really powerful.

In addition to bringing all her lesbian friends in interesting relationship situations (throuple with ex-wife! No-strings-attached situation with pregnant almost-ex-wife!) to her daughter’s school play, Bette also spends this episode breaking things off with Felicity. The turn is sudden but believable: She doesn’t want to have to lie to Angie anymore. Bette Porter loves a lie, but both the campaign and motherhood are forcing her to change some of her behaviors. It’s convincing character growth. But the storyline also underscores how Felicity doesn’t really stand on her own as a character, a bit like Lena in how underdeveloped and plotty she is versus feeling like a fully fleshed out human. The breakup scene itself is mechanical and, despite the characters loudly declaring feelings, weirdly devoid of human emotion. In contrast, Becca and Finley’s breakup scene is so real feeling and harsh that it’s almost hard to watch.

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And then Bette just throws this show into...crime drama territory? When Felicity’s ex-husband comes around, drunk and looking for a confrontation, she pushes him down a whole flight of stairs. He doesn’t look dead, but bleeding from the head is still not good for anyone let alone someone running for mayor. To be fair, she reacted to him pushing Angie. But it’s still all an extension of the bad choices she made over and over again with Felicity. And now it’s catching up to her in a very real way.

It’s a very intense cliffhanger to end on—one that feels a little too season six of the original series—and it reinforces some of the issues this series has had in blending tones. Tonally, this ending doesn’t fit in with the rest of the episode at all. Sure, it’s intended to be a shock, but there are ways to surprise viewers that don’t involved, I don’t know, pushing a literal person down the stairs. Generation Q is trying to do so many things at once, and while mess is certainly welcome, structural and narrative disarray takes away from some of the more cogent parts of the story.

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Stray observations

  • Nat calling Gigi out for lying being one of her hobbies! I screamed!
  • I do need to know a lot more about Quiara. I like that she doesn’t really let Shane do her whole emotional-shutdown thing. She’s equipped to call Shane out, and Shane needs a match like that. But I still want to know more about her as an individual.
  • Okay, I will admit that, in a vacuum, the concept of “Bette pushes a man down the stairs” fucking rules.
  • I’m pretty tapped into fandom for this show, and there seems to be a divide between people who think Dani and Bette are going to hook up and those who adamantly do not think so. I started out thinking it would happen, but I’m now firmly on team Never Going To Happen. They’re too similar!
  • Jamie Clayton is the acting MVP of this episode.
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