Spoilers below for Sunday’s episode of The L Word: Generation Q.
When I spoke with Jennifer Beals ahead of the L Word: Generation Q’s premiere in December, she was giddily overflowing with secrets about the new show. “There’s so many things I want to talk to you about, but I can’t,” she said, and asked if we could talk again after those shocking plot points had been revealed. She wasn’t exaggerating: True to its predecessor, Generation Q hasn’t skimped on soapy twists and turns. Eternal bachelor king Shane is married and a soon-to-be parent! Jenny wasn’t murdered by one of her friends — she killed herself! Bette’s beloved sister Kit is dead! Alice is part of a throuple that includes her girlfriend’s ex-wife! And perhaps most startlingly, in tonight’s episode, Tina (Laurel Holloman) — Bette’s ex-wife and longtime lover, who left her for another woman — showed up on Bette’s doorstep after Bette unceremoniously shoved a man down a flight of stairs and endangered her mayoral campaign.
Ahead of Sunday’s episode, Beals and I hopped back on the phone so she could give me the behind-the-scenes stories on all of these unhinged developments.
Hi Jennifer! So much to discuss.
Oh my God, I’m so happy to be talking to you. It was killing me, the first interview. There was so much I couldn’t say. I was dying. [Laughs.]
Let’s talk about Tina. I know you’re an executive producer on the show, but I’m not exactly sure how involved you are in creative choices. Can you tell me about the decision to break them up?
First of all, it’s a practical thing. Laurel Holloman has a very vibrant, important career as a painter, and is internationally known. And she has a long-lead schedule as a painter. So it’s not like an actor’s schedule, where you can be cast on a show that you’re working on two days from now. You have a show a year from now and you have to paint 30 pieces of art for that show, or whatever the number is. So the question is: How many episodes can we get her for? What is the parameter?
For me, as an actor, it was important to have Laurel as my scene partner. Because we work so well together and these characters have such an extraordinary history together. To not tell that story would be a gigantic mistake and a gigantic disservice to the series as a whole. And it’d be a very sad day for me, let’s put it that way.
What was behind the choice to have their storyline go this way?
The co-parenting story became really interesting. You don’t see that on television with a same-sex couple, with a lesbian couple, that I’m aware of. To show that complexity, where both partners have a love for one another and some amount of respect for one another, and their first priority is the safety and well-being of their child and figuring out how to navigate that between the hurt feelings and more complex and challenging feelings, is really interesting to watch.
Do I wish that Tina could have been introduced physically earlier? Yes. Definitely. As they say in kindergarten, “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” [Laughs.]
If Laurel hadn’t had these scheduling conflicts, would the writers have kept Tina and Bette together?
I don’t know! It wasn’t even in the cards. If she could have come back as a regular, that would have been ideal, for sure. But what if the 2016 election had been different? I can’t wish that. I am where I am.
In the years between the original show and Generation Q, how often did you and Laurel see each other?
We didn’t. It’s interesting: There are some people on the show that I maintain contact with, and some that I haven’t. And I don’t really know why. It’s not antipathy or anything like that. She’s traveling a lot; she’s had a whole life. I’m not always in Los Angeles; she’s not always in Los Angeles. But we still adore each other. Even when we first saw each other after a while, it was like no time had passed. Zero time.
What was your first conversation with her like? Did you discover what had happened to them over the years together, or separately?
She and I had dinner, and then Ilene [Chaiken, The L Word’s original showrunner] spoke with her, and then she spoke with Marja [Lewis Ryan, the new showrunner]. That dinner was epic. It was over three hours long. And it could have been longer, easily. But I think there was a template that Ilene and Marja had worked out, and then some drafts came in, and Laurel and I sat down with Ilene and Marja and really worked out the scenes.
How did you react when you learned they wouldn’t make it as a couple?
Well, I knew it was a reality because you can’t have Laurel for eight episodes, so you know that something is going to happen. I’m sad that they didn’t make it, but there’s another part of you that knows it’s really good drama to separate them watch those little filigrees of connection pass through the air. Because they’re still connected. Even in anger, they’re connected.
In that final scene, when you say, “Please stay,” are you playing it as if Bette is still in love with Tina? In your mind, would they still be together if Tina hadn’t left her?
It’s not a mutual thing at all. In Bette’s heart, Tina is the love of her life. She may have fucked it up, for sure, and Tina may have grown at a different time. Everybody’s growth comes differently. Tina, according to Ilene, was a late bloomer. Bette’s at this point where she’s running for office. And yes, it’s an incredibly painful time because her sister has died in such a terrible way, but she’s trying to rise to the challenge and change the system. The potential for growth is very intense, and as she says, “I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do and am willing to do whatever it takes.” For her, it feels like, “I just know what I want to do. Should I slow down because you don’t? Should I not be myself because you don’t know who you are yet?”
It’s ironic: Bette’s finally ready to settle down and be in this idyllic relationship, but her partner is attracted to somebody else. To find out who the other person is will be interesting.
I do want to talk about Kit, too. My fear was that Bette was running for office because Kit had died of an opioid overdose. What was behind that choice?
You’ll see that it’s not so simple. It’s not exactly what people think it is right now. People run for office out of ego or to right a wrong that they’ve experienced in their own life, and the more interesting people, by far, are those who are doing it because they’ve experienced a personal trauma. Who in their right mind in this day and age wants to run for office? You have to be propelled by an engine that won’t give out.
But the other shoe will drop for Bette. The breakdown will come. You can’t avoid the gaping, bleeding hole in your soul. Everywhere she walks, Bette is trailing detritus. She’s trailing blood and not paying attention to it. Eventually that’s going to have to turn.
She did have a bit of a breakdown when she shoved that man down the stairs.
Well, you don’t touch her kid. There’s no fucking way. No. That doesn’t get to happen. He’s lucky she called 9-1-1. Let me put it that way.
Have you had a chance to talk to Pam about Kit?
No, I didn’t get a chance to talk with Pam. Pam is so busy. All these people are working 24/7, you know? [Laughs.]
We briefly touched on Jenny’s death last time we talked, but now we can talk about it more explicitly.
I wish we’d been able to talk about it more [on the show]. There’s so much more that you want to do and I wish the writers had talked about it more. But you have all of these characters you’re trying to minister to, especially these new characters. They need time and space to grow and take root. But maybe it’ll come up again later.
Have you seen Mia Kirshner’s tweets about how she’s upset with the way Jenny’s death has been resolved?
I heard about that and I completely understand. It’s somebody who’s dear to her — somebody she’s inhabited for years and years — so it’s upsetting.
Do you foresee any additional conversations with her about it, or any further resolutions with her character?
How would you do that? Talk to me about how you’d do it. At a certain point, it’s about our relationship to death, too. You have to start exploring, what is your relationship to death? The fantasy of resurrecting people can be done on film, but to what end? What do you need to do?
I meant more as a flashback as a way of a resolution. Not a literal resurrection.
I’d love to dedicate more time to that and Kit, and to what happened with Tina and Bette. What happened with Tina and Bette?! We need time to do that. But you only have eight episodes. And you have all of these new characters that need to grow. My fantasy is that we explore what happened to Jenny, and what happened to Kit, and we explore truly what happened with Bette and Tina. But there’s only so much real estate. I understand their dilemma. As an executive producer who doesn’t write, you can’t go in and say, “Go do this.” [Laughs.] You can express your hope and desire, but the showrunner has to run the show.
Speaking of resurrection, you and Kate Moennig posted some great Instagrams of Erin Daniels visiting the set during the episode where Shane names her bar after Dana. How did that come about?
Oh, that was so much fun. Kate messaged Erin and asked her to come to set and didn’t tell her why. She came to the set and saw that Shane had named her bar after Dana. It was a really, really wonderful day.
Do you know what the writers have planned for Tina and Bette, or are you in the dark?
I know what I’d like to have happen. I want to see it explored more fully, for sure. I want to meet the person who would lead Tina away from Bette. I want to understand that and get further into their story.
Is there hope for them as a couple, or is it really over?
In Bette’s mind, there’s always hope! You never know.