The Girlfriend Experience
In its first five episodes, The Girlfriend Experience doesn’t reckon with the real consequences of Christine’s decisions. We’ve seen hints of repercussions, but the show has insisted on a bleak worldview in which everyone is either a chilly automaton or an emotional fool, limiting its ability to explore the aftermath of any conflict. With “Boundaries,” the show finally gets honest about the murky sexual and gender politics Christine has to confront in her life as an escort.
It’s important to remember that the show isn’t just framing Christine as a woman having sex with these men. She’s giving them an experience. It’s an interesting dynamic, since she’s remarkably cold and aloof, even around clients. When she says platitudes about these men, she’s giving them exactly what they want to hear — but it doesn’t always come across as believable. I’m not sure if that’s a flaw in the writing or acting, or if showrunners Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz intend to make a point about the illusion of romance. That said, it’s surprising Christine hasn’t encountered more misogyny, either as an intern or an escort. Perhaps her chilly blankness is an advantage, since it gives her clients that opportunity to project whatever they want to see. This definitely seems to happen with Jack (James Gilbert).
But first, let’s cover the lingering story lines from the last episode. “Boundaries” gives us some development in regards to the money Christine inherited from Michael’s will. Turns out he was worth $22 million, but his family is willing to drag his name through the mud to expose her escort work — all to pressure her to drop any attempt to get the $500,000 he left for her. The episode also builds toward what will surely be a showdown between Christine and David. He’s acting incredibly distant around her, but she grows more obsessed with the X.H.P. case, bridging the distance that has formed between them. Considering how Christine can toss aside connections with such ease, the way she hinges on David’s every word is startling. But these two subplots are mostly on the margin of “Boundaries,” which instead focuses on what occurs between Christine and Jack.
Jack isn’t the first client who thinks he really knows Christine. He’s certainly not the first to behave like they’re in a genuine relationship. But almost immediately, we see a dark, possessive quality to him. First, there’s an awkward run-in when Christine leaves lunch with another client, Alex (James McGowan). Instead of just passing by, Jack milks the moment for maximum embarrassment. Later in the episode, after they have sex, Jack asks questions about Alex and her life. He tries to play it off as casual, but it comes across as prying. She blankly stares at him while he asks these probing questions, until he asks her for her real name. She lies, of course, telling him that her name is “Annabelle.” Jack’s desire to be more than a client heightens the growing sense that Christine may be in over her head.
He takes her to see a home overlooking a lake; it’s a property he’s looking to buy. “Would you like to live here?” he asks. It’s not a joke, even though he acts like it is. As we see more of Christine’s interactions with Jack, she starts to come across as far more warm and personable than she has with other clients. This isn’t because she’s feeling anything real; he simply requires a different approach. Jack seems fragile, as if, at any moment, he could explode with jealous anger. While touring the home, Jack reveals that he told his friends, Steve (Gord Rand) and Anna (Marcia Laskowski), about her. He said that “Annabelle” is his actual girlfriend. They even go on a double date with his friends, who throw an intimate dinner party for the group. Christine lies in front of them better than we’ve ever seen before.
Although Christine and Jack have found their own sort of routine, things take a dark turn while they spend time poolside at a hotel. He sees her talking to a young man when he has to take a call. The conversation seems brief and innocuous, but it sparks his jealousy. She decides to get into the pool and he sneaks behind her, pulling her deep into the water. Understandably, this shocks and upsets her. (The episode actually opens with this scene, though it’s shot from a different angle and without context.) Given her reaction, you’d think Jack would cool down. He doesn’t. He lacks self-awareness, which probably goes a long way to explain why he’s divorced.
Later, when Jack offered a gift to Christine, I thought it was his way of apologizing. Instead, it’s yet another jealousy-induced power play: He won’t give her the gift until she answers questions about the young man by the pool. The scene is constructed in an impressive way, particularly as it highlights Riley Keough’s skills. We can see Christine’s subtle calculations as they flit across Keough’s eyes — how she must play Jack as sweetly as possible, so as not to incur his wrath. Her answers are satisfactory enough to warrant the gift. When she opens it, she finds only a key. “I bought it for us,” Jack says. He has bought the lakeside house they toured. Christine plays things well, but the moment he can’t see her face, it becomes obvious that she’s terrified. Shane Carruth’s creeping score makes the sequence play like a nightmare.
When she leaves the next morning, she can’t find her phone and has to go back inside the hotel room. For a moment I was worried: What would happen to Christine? What might Jack do if it takes her too long to find her phone? Eventually, she just spots it hiding behind a pillow on the couch.
Living as a woman, there are often moments when it becomes clear the men in your life have no idea about boundaries. They don’t understand how their actions can come across less as romantic and more as threats. Jack continuously leaps over these boundaries, revealing himself to be dangerously possessive. He knows she works as an intern, but Christine wisely lies to him, saying she works at a much smaller firm. The way he looks at her, it almost seems as if he is studying her. Everything he does puts her one step closer toward a gilded cage. She’s not a facsimile of a girlfriend to him; she’s a plaything he wants to control. There is a careful arithmetic that comes with being a modern woman. Your beauty can be an advantage, but men may also think they’re smarter than you, that they can control you. That they can destroy you. The uneasy balance between Christine and Jack reflects many relationships I’ve seen play out in life.
Jack’s aggressiveness soon shifts their sexual dynamic. Though Christine is usually on top when she has sex with clients, things play out much differently this time. While she’s giving him a blowjob, he asks her to “take it all the way.” When he has sex with her from behind, he demands that she say being paid for sex is a turn-on. Ultimately, Jack proves to be even worse than a man who has no clear idea of boundaries — he’s also a stalker. At the very end of the episode, Christine gets a call on her cell phone at work. She doesn’t recognize the caller, but when she answers, it turns out to be Jack, who now knows her personal number and her real name. She’s rightfully vicious, telling him she doesn’t want him in her life and warning him to never contact her again.
Unfortunately, men like Jack don’t take no for an answer. They don’t truly care about the women in their lives. They only care about controlling them and contorting them to suit their desires, even when that means putting women at risk. As filtered through Christine’s ordeal with Jack, “Boundaries” delves into uncomfortable dynamics about power, boundaries, and control. It makes The Girlfriend Experience feel honest and urgent in ways it hasn’t before. Let’s hope the show stays that way.