One of the more admirable aspects of The Girlfriend Experience and the way it’s telling the story of Christine Reade is the show’s ability to switch gears, not only from one episode to the next, but from one scene to the next. In its first season, The Girlfriend Experience has been a lot of things; an erotic, chilly noir, an exploration of office culture and corruption, a mysterious character study, and a panic-inducing psychological thriller. The show has embraced the tone and style of each of those types of stories, and the way in which its balanced them across 10 episodes is rather remarkable.

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“Available” once again sees the show shifting gears, but the seeming downturn into something more controlled and comfortable than last week’s brutal “Blindsided” is really an illusion. See, as the episode opens Christine is coming down from the panic attack (real or not) induced by the revealed sex tape. Before long, Kayla is in a cab with her, taking her home and getting her a cheeseburger on the way, and Christine is right back into some form of normalcy. She’s watching her masturbation video again, and perhaps that spurs her to take action, to, ahem, take things into her own hands. She sets up an ad on an escort site under the name Amanda Hayes and, after sifting through the many messages she receives, decides to head to Toronto to meet with a client named Dennis.

Christine isn’t just trying to move past the whole blow-up at work—she’s dodging calls from her sister and mother about the video too—but also trying to take some control back. Her privacy, intimacy, and control was violated, and now she’s trying to fight back, to block that out and move forward. It’s perhaps futile though, as Christine seems more lost than ever here, or at least unsure of what it is she’s doing. It’s probably not a huge risk going to Toronto for a few days, but it is outside of her comfort zone. She’s pushing herself, and that results in a few strange run-ins with clients. First there’s Dennis, who seems nice enough, showing off the dimming windows of his apartment, until things get awkward after they have sex. The sex here is more distant and stiff than usual, and Dennis asks her to leave immediately after it’s done. It would be misguided to read too much into the scene—Dennis says it’s “his fault, not hers,” but it’s not totally clear what he’s talking about—largely because it acts as a way of orienting Christine in Toronto. It puts her out of her element, and that sets up a more intriguing later interaction.

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So, “Available” establishes a sense of unease early on; the feeling’s not akin to the panic attack, but the episode does suggest that things can get much worse for Christine if she isn’t careful. Simply taking off to Toronto, with so little experience, puts Christine into situations she’s never encountered before. She’s getting angry, aggressive calls from potential clients that she needs to hang up on, but the real strangeness doesn’t come until later, when a man named Gary hires her. He asks her to meet at the Trump hotel, and makes sure that she’s okay with being with other women.

When Christine makes her way up to the penthouse, she meets two other escorts. A feeling of boredom and apathy courses through the room, as Gary watches Christine and one other woman kiss each other before taking one of them into the bedroom on his own. Christine and the other escort chat, and it’s here that the show once again shifts gears. There’s a tonal balance here that’s fascinating, as the rendezvous with Gary and the other escorts is tinged with both subtle threats and aching boredom. “Available” turns into a workplace drama of sorts, with Christine and the other escort sharing details about the job and their lives. It’s similar to any scene from an office drama where coworkers stand around complaining about the pay, the bad coffee, and their annoying colleagues.

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What’s interesting then is that “Available” shows sex work as work. I’d argue that while we’re meant to see Gary as a bit of a creep, we’re also supposed to read the string of scenes with him as dull. The standing around waiting for Gary to decide on what to do next is akin to eating a dry sandwich during your lunch break and dreading going back to work. Sure, being a high-end escort means that Christine holds some power, but this is still work, meaning there’s a hierarchy of power and Gary sits at the top. Even as the other escort refers to the job as an “ATM” that she’s been going to for six years, it’s clear that it’s not complete freedom. Christine is still tethered to the whims and manipulations of men in power.

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“Available” shows that there’s really no escaping past actions; that ignoring them and hoping they go away is futile. At the end of the episode, Christine gets a call informing her that a publication called the Chicago Lister has run a story on her “sex tape scandal.” It’s an immediate reminder that while she’s in Toronto things back home are still in turmoil. I’ll be honest: I don’t know where the show, and Christine, goes from here. It’s clear that if Christine wants this all to go away she needs to take action, to fight back against the powers that continually force her into servitude, into perceived roles based on her gender and sexual inclinations. There’s three episodes left in the season, and I don’t think Christine is done just yet.

Stray observations

  • As a Toronto resident, I’m pretty offended by the emphasis on the “T” when the characters pronounce “Toronto.”
  • Commenters: thoughts on whether we’re “cheering” for Christine or not? From what I can tell, many of you are divided on how to feel about her and her actions throughout the series. I, for one, want her to murder everyone and drive off into the sunset with a bag full of money.
  • There’s an emptiness that pervades this episode. After the tight frames of last week, this week goes back to the expansive spaces and buildings.

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