The Girlfriend Experience
Very little seems to happen in “Home.” There are no grand showdowns or shady comebacks in expensive restaurants. No artfully framed sex scenes. No more devastating revelations. But the serene nature of Christine’s trip to her childhood home quickly unravels.
I’ve grown to find Christine’s prickly, opaque nature rather fascinating. As I’ve watched The Girlfriend Experience, I’ve wondered about the psychology behind it. Why does Christine choose to be so disconnected from people? Why didn’t she turn to her sister, Annabel, when everything went down? The apparent answer: Her family, including Annabel, are cold-hearted, judgmental monsters. Her father James (Neil Crone) is awkward around Christine, but at least he treats her with kindness. The rest of them inspired a level of hatred I haven’t felt for television characters in a while. Sure, they don’t embody evil like Ramsay Bolton does on Game of Thrones. But after seeing how badly Christine has been treated since the video leak, it’s heartbreaking to watch as she navigates her parents’ anniversary party.
This episode is all about the idea of home. Is it where we feel the most safe? Or is it where our deepest wounds were made? For Christine, it’s undoubtedly the latter. Writers Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz (who also directs the episode and plays Christine’s sister) flesh out a lot of interesting emotional landscapes in the Reade family household. It’s clear Christine has no space at home. Her room has been turned into a “dumping station,” forcing her to sleep on the couch. Everyone sneaks around her as if she’s toxic. When Annabel picks Christine up from the airport, she barely looks at her. Her actions and words are curt, yet still cutting. Only after Christine presses for more does Annabel reveal how she’s feeling.
For whatever reason, Annabel believes that Christine actually meant to send that video to everyone. Why the hell would any woman do that? Annabel has to know, somewhere in her self-centered heart, that such an action is a mark of self-destruction. Why would Christine destroy her life? For attention? No wonder she doesn’t open up to this family. But Annabel doesn’t stop there. She pathologizes Christine’s escort work. (When did she learn the truth? That seems to be an off-screen development.) Eventually, Christine simply screams a defense back at her: “Because I like it!”
Since the series debut, Christine’s reasons for becoming an escort have been frustratingly unclear. “Home” gives Kerrigan and Seimetz a way to explain. Despite the tension in her family’s house, the episode isn’t an outright melodrama. It doesn’t indulge heavy-handed dialogue. Christine finally feels like a whole person, thanks to a bit of backstory that explains her family dynamics. Annabel switches from inauthentic kindness to judgmental at a clip. And, as we learn, their mother Mary (Vickie Papavs) is the most hurtful Reade of all.
Until “Home,” Mary had been an occasional voice on the other end of the phone. It’s clear that Christine keeps her at a distance for a reason. Look, no mother would be happy to get an email about her daughter’s sex tape. (And seemingly sent by her daughter, no less.) But you’d expect a caring mother’s reaction would be more empathetic. Wouldn’t her mind go to a jealous ex, given that it didn’t just affect Christine personally but professionally? Men leaking women’s nude photos and videos to get “revenge” is not a fiction. It’s an action that exists at the nexus of rape culture, patriarchal dominance, and women being policed over their sexuality. Unfortunately, Mary shares Annabel’s mindset and shows no concern about Christine. She’s just worried about how the scandal has affected her own life.
In one scene, Christine says to Annabel, “I’m glad you guys found a way to make it about you.” I wish she were able to say the same thing to Mary. The way her family is acting, you’d think that the video had no effect on Christine’s own life.
During her parents’ anniversary party, Christine seems totally out of her element. We’re so used seeing her in sterile environments, so this is a near-alarming shift. As she wades through a celebration meant to reaffirm monogamy and the nuclear family structure, the scene takes on a darkly humorous bent, with a faint air of tragedy. There’s even a moment when Christine watches her parents dancing. Is she wistful or just vaguely drunk from all the white wine she’s been guzzling?
The most layered scene in “Home” involves Christine being asked to give a speech about her parents’ marriage. It starts off incredibly sweet and sincere. Hearing that they grew up with money struggles goes a long way to explain why Christine decided to continue her escort work — and what attracted her to it in the first place. But as we’ve seen, The Girlfriend Experience subverts expectations. Christine ends her speech with a dagger: “I am what I am because of you.” On the surface, it’s a compliment. Underneath, it’s a thorny indictment of their parenting.
Of course, they’re not the only parents getting critiqued. The episode actually begins at David’s home, as he tries to mend his relationship with his wife and kids. It feels like a normal family scene, albeit a bit stilted. After David swoops in behind Megan to grovel more, the tension ratchets up.
DAVID: I’m really happy.
MEGAN: You don’t have to keep saying that.
If someone has to repeatedly say they’re happy to convince you, he probably isn’t. David continues to say so, but Megan isn’t having it. “Then just show us,” she tells him. David certainly doesn’t look happy. If anything, he acts like he doesn’t even want to be there. That coming home was a last resort. He certainly doesn’t respect Megan, considering that he watches Christine’s video at night and masturbates to it while she’s (probably) asleep. I was actually surprised to see David appear in “Home.” Where else will his story go before the season’s end? Will David try to contact Christine again?
Back at the Reade house, Christine tries valiantly to connect with Mary in the kitchen late at night. But Mary is cold to the bone, and once again shuts down around Christine. Eventually, she rips into her daughter. Mary was once proud of Christine; now she sees her sense of independence as a lie. There is a wounded quality to these interactions, which suggests a very complicated history that isn’t spelled out. This tense kitchen scene encourages Christine to retreat back to Chicago. There’s nothing here for her at home. In the car, she tells James that the video was leaked by an ex-boyfriend who hacked into her email. I don’t understand why this explanation didn’t cross any of their minds. How do they really feel about Christine if they believe she would torpedo her life like that? Perhaps the answer lies in what Mary says after James parrots the ex-boyfriend story: “Don’t be naïve. She’s always liked the attention. She doesn’t care how it affects us. She’s always been selfish.”
Wow. Seriously, Mary? You have such little respect in your daughter that you believe this? Is that really the kind of attention Christine craves? I think not. Christine enjoys watching herself and the performance that comes with escort work. But she doesn’t show the self-destructive tendencies that would push a person to release a sex tape for “attention.” After all, she broke into a panic attack after the video was released. Her fear and anger were genuine. Why can’t her family see that?
“Home” ends with Christine back in Chicago, barreling forth into her life as an escort. She does a photo shoot with a photographer she finds online. The sunlight between the drapery puts her scantily clad body in its own spotlight. Christine says a lot of half-truths throughout this episode, and even drops a few flat-out lies. It’s necessary, given the life she’s leading. But I wonder: Is her last exchange with the photographer just another lie?
PHOTOGRAPHER: Does this kind of work ever make you scared?
In a devastating way, “Home” draws Christine’s loneliness into sharp focus. The masquerade of escort work may be her only reprieve from this painful reality.