Riley Keough as Christine.
If a single line could summarize The Girlfriend Experience, it would be this: “Everyone is paid to be everywhere. It’s called an economy.” Christine’s comment is as much an indictment of David’s narrow perspective as it is a declaration of the show’s central theme.
When David invites Christine to lunch toward the end of “Fabrication,” they find themselves in very different places. He was fired from Kirkland after his bosses see the recording Christine took of them having sex in his apartment. The controversy hangs over him like a dark cloud. His marriage is in shambles. In many ways, David encapsulates how ugly and vicious the male ego can be when threatened. No matter who you are, you’ve surely met a man like him. Maybe he’s your ex-boyfriend; maybe he’s a former boss. Men like David share the same myopic type of toxic masculinity. But by virtue of being a rich, straight, white man, he’ll likely bounce back from the fiasco much easier than Christine will.
As we see in this episode, Christine is handling her return to Chicago as best as she can. When she asks Martin if she can get more than a $1,000,000 settlement from Kirkland over her sexual harassment case, he says plainly, “You don’t understand. You’ve already won.” Has she, though?
Christine may have won these short-term battles, but she’s trapped in a war much bigger than herself. The Girlfriend Experience has smartly transformed itself into a show about the prices women must pay when they wield their sexuality and beauty as weapons. The consequences of the leaked sex tape in “Blindsided” and “Available” can’t be easily reckoned with. Sure, she gets $1,000,000 and a lovely new apartment, complete with a second bedroom she can use exclusively for her cam girl business. Sure, she’s taking a hiatus from escort work. Sure, she doesn’t break under the gaze of the many, many men who are foaming at the mouth to call her a whore. But what about her long-term prospects? Will the video always haunt her? Every man, save for Martin, tries to put Christine in the place they imagine she belongs, all to discredit her personhood. It isn’t pretty.
One of the episode’s tensest moments happens between Christine and the Chicago Lister journalist, during an interview that’s meant to give her side of the story. With Martin’s help, she’s concocted a spin on the story, and says that an ex-boyfriend released the tape to smear her reputation. Whenever pressed about whether she’s an escort, she falls back on this half-truth.
In this episode, every character spins a story that suits them, so at least Christine’s serves an important purpose. Showrunners Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz have created a portrait of the ways patriarchal forces seek to control women and punish them for their sexuality. Or, like Christine puts it to the Lister reporter, “As a woman, it’s difficult to be seen as a sexual person and a competent professional at the same time.”
Christine is proving to be quite adept at handling this tragedy. But again, short-term success doesn’t ensure long-term stability. David may be aware of this, given how his failures affect his family as much as they affect himself.
David’s character gets significant focus in “Fabrication.” Although his increasingly smug face and incredibly selfish reactions don’t elicit an ounce of sympathy, he plays an important role on the show. His story contrasts with Christine’s, reminding us of the casual cruelty that men (and the systems they benefit from) do to women.
The scene between David and Christine is undoubtedly the episode’s centerpiece. His anger, which has simmered beneath the surface, quickly becomes apparent despite earlier niceties. Did this man really expect an apology? Apparently. He still doesn’t understand that he brought all of this on himself. Christine has carried herself with such an opaque affect throughout the season, so any burst of emotion still feels jarring — but when it comes out, it’s certainly fun to watch. Riley Keough has really come into her own with this role.
Christine doesn’t just match David’s anger in this sequence. She bests him. He tries to play the victim? She calls him out for it. He treats her like she doesn’t deserve anything? “I want everything,” she says unapologetically. He calls her a whore? She looks him dead in the eye, then throws water in his face.
Of course, David can still go home to Megan every night. When it comes to sex scenes, The Girlfriend Experience has only depicted one-night stands, business between clients and escorts, or extramarital affairs. “Fabrication” changes that: The scene between David and Megan represents sex within a defined, long-term yet fragile relationship. When it starts, the distance between them is evident. She isn’t into the stuff he does, but David, forever wrapped up in his ego, doesn’t realize it until she asks him to stop. She just can’t stop thinking about all the other women he slept with. Can you blame her?
One of the more interesting aspects of the show is how certain characters fade in and out of the narrative. The Girlfriend Experience lives in a very heightened sense of reality, but this aspect feels very true to life. It also reminds me of how small Chicago can feel once you’ve lived in the city for a long enough time. Given Christine’s very public fiasco, it isn’t surprising that people from her past would crop up, like Jacqueline, whom she runs into while meeting Martin. Their interaction is stilted. To put it bluntly, Jacqueline is the very last person Christine wants to see. Her oddly familiar, touchy manner suggests that she knows what happened to Christine. There’s a pointed quality to what she says, too. After a run-in like this, you’d want to turn to a friend. But Christine doesn’t have anyone in her life.
Christine’s lack of worthwhile connections means she has nobody lean on. How would things be different if she had friends? Would she be more emotional? Would she still decide to continue being an escort and cam girl?
There are no easy answers for Christine. She’s handled the immediate consequences of the video leak incredibly well. She’s got money and a new place. She’s navigating her future. But the judgmental gaze of the Lister journalist and the many other men in this episode raises important questions. What does Christine’s future truly hold? Will she ever outrun the aftermath of the video?