At one point or another, The Girlfriend Experience was going to have to take a breath. The show has been moving at an impressive clip since its premiere, making sure to pile on the anxiety and tension each and every week. Oddly enough, “Provocation” does continue to build on previous conflicts, resulting in Christine being the most paranoid she’s ever been, while also committing to a tablesetting episode, one that spends a lot of time building to the final crescendo, which will surely have more immediate and unpredictable consequences in the final few episodes of the season.

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Now, just because “Provocation” takes a lot of time putting pieces in places doesn’t mean this is a bad episode. It just means that the depth and intrigue of the mystery, both of Christine and the shady dealings at Kirkland, isn’t exactly present here. This is the show laying a lot of its cards on the table, and often that’s not as exciting as the build, the steady crawl of paranoia that’s a large part of the show’s tone and appeal. At this point we know Christine could be in trouble with Jack, and that the Cilic children have most of the power when it comes to blocking her from getting the $500,000 left to her.

Still, even if the plot doesn’t move along at a furious pace like previous installments, Christine’s palpable (and justified) paranoia turns “Provocation” into an intense half-hour. When Jack shows up in the parking lot of Christine’s school, there’s a menace and desperation to his speech. “You’ve given me no other option here,” he says, slowly working his way closer to her before she speeds off in her car. Jack’s been looming as a threat for two or three episodes now, but it’s not until “Provocation” that things get really tense. His “no option” line is indicative of his character, a man who’s clearly not used to being ignored or turned down, who’s used to being in complete control. He’s got the entitlement that defines the worst of men, as if Christine owes him something simply because she exists and once offered her services to him.

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That encounter at the beginning of “Provocation” leads to some of the episode’s best sequences, as Christine moves through the same beats we see all the time, but this time she’s not at ease, not so sure of the control she has. The best scene comes when Christine is working out (which is shot in a way that parallels the sex scenes) and then heads to the dry cleaner to pick up her clothes. As the employee heads to the back to retrieve her clothes, Amy Seimetz holds the shot on Christine for an excruciating amount of time, as she keeps looking over her shoulder and out the window. As great as Keough’s manic performance is here, I’d argue that it’s Seimetz who’s really conveying the sense of paranoia and anxiety throughout the episode. From framing Christine within the plastic bags, as if we’re voyeurs peaking out at here, to scanning the apartment and all of its shadowy hallways and doorways, Seimetz makes sure that we’re searching the frame along with Christine, looking for signs of danger while never feeling comfortable.

Christine tries to take some of the control back, flipping through live video feeds before masturbating in front of the screen, only to then move out of the way and close the laptop. It’s a lone moment of Christine choosing her own fate in “Provocation,” and yet it’s ultimately fleeting. The thing is, Christine knows she’s losing control, and it’s causing her to lash out. She’s short with her professor, with her client/lawyer, and her hairdresser. Hell, she even snaps at Kayla in the office and gets kind of intense with Erin. It’s this last interaction that costs her the most.

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You see, Christine once again tries to exert her control in the only way she knows how at the moment: she goes to Erin with the audio file of David admitting he’s trying to keep the XHP case from going to trial, that he’s struck some sort of deal. It’s the last move she has right now, but it turns out to not be a move at all. Erin is in on to the whole thing, and meets with David and the opposing lawyer to try and come up with a plan. David isn’t worried though; he doesn’t see Christine as a threat.

Of course, Christine has proven herself capable of being sneaky, demanding, and more cunning than she lets on. She dodged the private investigator for a reason. But, as Christine deals with the increasing problems caused by Jack, as well as her secret line of work, her clear thinking begins to slip. She makes herself vulnerable by not thinking through her actions. There’s no real reason she should trust Erin—she even says “I know we’re not friends”—and yet she does. She lays everything on the table without considering that Erin is perhaps colluding with David.

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So, as much as “Provocation” feels like an episode just moving some pieces into place for a payoff later, it does end on quite the cliffhanger. Jack, we presume, has sent David video of him and Christine having sex. It’s video of the night when he got more aggressive with her, when he told her to say she liked fucking for money and that it turned her on. Those words could be the evidence the P.I. from last episode couldn’t get; but it all comes down to what David decides to do with the video. No matter what though, “Provocation” has paved the way for a conflict-ridden final few episodes of the season.

Stray observations

  • Jack is ruthless. Calling Christine’s mom, sending that tape. He’s seriously dangerous.
  • Blinds blowing next to an open window are always scary.
  • We’re hearing about “quorta” yet again in regards to the XHP case and the collusion.
  • I’ve been trying to avoid all talk about future episodes, but I have heard that next week’s episode is a doozy.

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