Nicholas Campbell as Michael, Riley Keough as Christine.
Since the very beginning, The Girlfriend Experience has felt disconnected from the fraught gender and body politics that shape Christine’s life. It’s much more interested in telling a story that plays with the female gaze and a futile sort of capitalist-minded feminism.
As we’ve seen throughout the season, showrunners Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan often use Christine’s narrative to illustrate how women can use patriarchal expectations to their advantage. Coupled with the character’s opaque motives, The Girlfriend Experience enters uneasy territory. Who is this show actually for? Is it meant to challenge the male gaze? It is tearing down pop culture’s treatment of high-class sex workers, or adhering to the same tropes? When it comes to beauty and sexuality, do women really have the power?
The show is equal turns thrilling and infuriating, emptily sexy and oddly empowering. In “Blindsided,” The Girlfriend Experience challenges every expectation it carefully laid down. It’s the best episode to date, by far. In just shy of 25 minutes, “Blindsided” presents the tensest narrative I’ve seen in a long time. The episode thoroughly explores the perilous routes that women navigate. How a woman’s sex and beauty can easily be turned against her. How Christine’s emotionally distant way of life is a hindrance, not a strength, when tragedy strikes.
“Blindsided” opens where the last episode ends, albeit from a different angle. Jack is calling Christine incessantly on her work phone. When she decides to pick up, it’s David on the other line, calling her into his office. At the end of “Provocation,” David receives an email seemingly from Christine’s personal account (although, considering its contents, it’s obvious she’s been hacked). In that sequence, we didn’t see what David was watching, but it was clear that Jack recorded one of his encounters with Christine. In this episode, it’s clear just how explicit the video is. Jack’s face can’t be seen and his voice is altered; Christine is in full view of the camera while they have sex. If the video were only sent to David, it would already be difficult enough for Christine — but he isn’t the only one who got it. Everyone at the law firm received the email. “It’s all over for you,” he says.
At first, Christine tries to play it off. The longer she’s forced to watch the video in front of David, the more we can see her start to crack. Tears well in her eyes. Her voice no longer sounds as sure. She looks like she’s on the verge of some terrible breakdown. David orders her to delete all their correspondences.
It’s important to note that, just before stepping into David’s office, Christine decides to record their conversation on her cell phone. Every encounter is always recorded. She may be on shaky ground, but she still has her wits.
The sound design in “Provocation” is spectacular. Throughout the episode, we hear people’s whispers, fleeting moments of disparaging conversations, and snippets of the video again and again. Christine can’t escape the onslaught of judgment and mortification. Neither can we.
Christine tries to be brave, continuing her work and ignoring the leering eyes around her. This proves to be a nearly impossible task. Erin isn’t an ally, even though she turns to her for help. “I want you to tell me you believe me,” she says to her. She finds no comfort with David, either: He’s convinced that she sent the email.
Let’s talk about David and Christine’s relationship. It is one of the most confounding on the show. The choice to make Christine so impenetrable has severely undercut the drama with David. Why is she so hung up on him? It feels like I missed several episodes, given the way the two of them interact. Parsing out their issues is the only misstep in this otherwise brilliant half-hour. Perhaps Christine is meant to be symbolize women who dare to be inconvenient. Those who shirk the idea of fitting into the neat boxes the world creates for them.
The only character who shows Christine any kindness is Skip. He delicately suggests she should go home, rather than try to navigate the grueling judgment she faces. Halfway through the episode, as the story pivots back to David’s office to give a different perspective, we see an interesting moment with Skip. He tells David, “I don’t think she sent that email.”
And what woman would? Doing such a thing has torpedoed her career and goals and any sense of normalcy. If David could see beyond his own selfish desires, he would recognize that. But in his mind, he sees Christine as some crazed, scorned woman, akin to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. He thinks she did this to hurt him — and even calls his wife, Megan, to gingerly suss out if she also received the email. (She didn’t.) The truth, however, is that the only one hurt by this is Christine.
As “Blindsided” continues, Christine’s sense of herself becomes completely unmoored. She’s still cunning enough to record her interactions with everyone — including David, Erin, and the gross lawyers in the break room who express faux-concern between sexual innuendos. She’s fired, even though they skirt the word itself. This video has cost Christine her internship, any chance of getting a job at the firm, and the life that she has come to know. How does someone rebound after that?
Every woman has to navigate the murky expectations that are attached to their womanhood. How you speak, walk, talk, and dress can easily codify you in ways that can help or hurt, depending on the scenario. The Girlfriend Experience is as interested in the way Christine looks at herself as it is in the way men look at her. She’s never seen looking directly in the mirror. Instead, she wrestles with the expectations everyone has about her. The crude, painful judgment of her co-workers acutely expresses the traps that women navigate while seeking autonomy. It all boils down to power, sex, and female independence. “Blindsided” unequivocally confronts the fantasy that Seimetz and Kerrigan constructed in the first half of the season. We now know the truth: That specific image of power is a falsehood.
“Blindsided” ends with Christine having an outright panic attack. Skip calls an ambulance and slowly calms her down with an oxygen mask around her face. Everyone in the office encircles her. All eyes on her. Nowhere to go. In light of the way the show has played with voyeurism, this sequence reveals a darker side. Jack embodies male entitlement. His behavior reminds us of the repercussions women face when they try to assert themselves.
At one point in the episode, Christine says, “Everything will not be okay.” She’s right. It won’t be okay, and The Girlfriend Experience is all the better for it.