We begin with Emily getting a FaceTime from Madeline, who doesn’t even go through the motions of being sorry for Emily for getting dumped by the Human Plot Device (“Doug”). Instead, she lets out a plaintive wail: “It’s gorgeous, you’re living my life!” And again I wonder: WHY couldn’t Madeline have this life?! There is in fact no reason for this! We are our own worst enemies in this nightmare world. Anyway, Madeline encourages her underling-mentor to go out and get laid. This is not the last time she will admonish her young charge for not having more sex. Interesting workplace dynamic!
I really wish I didn’t have to keep disappointing you with my reports of Emily’s social-media efforts, but she posts a photo of cool French girls smoking cigarettes outside a boutique fitness studio with the hashtag #smokin’bodies, which, in addition to being SO eyeroll-obvious, is not a functioning hashtag because of the apostrophe. Also, it’s kind of obnoxious when a show makes a whole thing out of how much a protagonist loves to eat when said heroine is quite thin. I call this Gilmoring, and it’s … not cute.
Emily’s adorable shower stops working, which brings us to one of my favorite people in her universe, even though she’s a walking stereotype: the crotchety building manager who speaks only French. I love her for saying my inner monologue aloud. “Why does she break everything? Can you tell me why she breaks everything?” she asks Gabriel, whom Emily has enlisted as translator. “She’s getting on my nerves. Nothing but problems since she got here.” Show me the lie! Emily washes her hair in a bidet, and the results are totally indistinguishable from the way her hair always looks, which feels like a real missed opportunity, story- and style-wise, but it appears this show is committed to Emily’s actions having no consequences soooo soft wave it is!
In a positive and necessary development, Emily has enrolled in a French-language class. The teacher correctly susses out that Emily’s professional situation “must be interesting” and says the pleasure of her company, which is obviously just an extra language lesson, is 50 euros an hour outside of class.
This episode, in my opinion, is when things really pick up, because we start to get some depth and dimension from Emily’s colleagues, especially the best one: Sylvie, the Über-boss. “If you keep smiling like that,” she tells Emily, “people will think you’re stupid.” She advises Emily to listen more and talk less — amazed that this show didn’t go for the Hamilton wink there, excellent and uncharacteristic restraint — and this being excellent counsel only makes me more confident that Emily will ignore it. For Emily is being brought along on a very important commercial shoot where she is not supposed to express any opinions, so you just know it’s going to grate on her Very American Sensibilities in a manner so abrasive she will have no choice but to speak her mind. Meanwhile, Madeline, further cementing her status as a very poor decision-maker, has sent the “corporate commandments” from the Chicago flagship to their little French duchy, and these commandments literally start with “thou shalt not” and consist of lots of insufferable corporate officebabble.
Sylvie spends the entire shoot dragging her American minion, which I find hilarious — “You’ll have to excuse her, she washed her hair in the bidet this morning” — and alternately flirting with and putting off Antoine, the Best Nose, who is still, for reasons, charmed by this sentient American Girl doll. Emily accidentally tells him she’s horny when she means to say she’s excited, and then we’re OFF with the advertisement: the Dream of Beauty campaign. A naked model walks across a bridge surrounded by men in suits, who appraise her adoringly or lustfully or whatever. “She’s not naked,” Antoine clarifies. “She’s wearing the perfume.”
Antoine insists that this is a woman’s fantasy: to be admired and desired by men. I mean, sure, I guess there are women out there whose specific fantasy is not just to be desired by men but to be desired by them in this exact setting, like that cringey Vanity Fair cover come to life. (It seems obvious that if this were a female-directed fantasy, those dudes wouldn’t be fully dressed either? Like, at the VERY least.) Emily suggests that, in this climate, American women won’t respond to this. So they stop the whole shoot (sounds expensive) to have a “freshman dorm at 4 a.m.”–level meditation on the nature of sexism versus sexuality. OF COURSE, Antoine is all: Doesn’t she really have all the power because she’s beautiful and naked? (Can someone please send him Emily Ratajkowski’s essay on this point? Merci.) He goes on: There is no bigger compliment than to be desired! And it should shock no one that Sylvie is like, “I’m a woman, not a feminist.”
Back at Emily’s apartment, the plumber cannot fix the shower. Emily summons Gabriel to translate, and it’s so obvious this will end up with her using his shower — will she decide that to be desired IS, in fact, her fantasy?! — yet we still spend a whole scene getting to this inevitable conclusion. What’s weird is, tiny spoiler alert, Gabriel doesn’t actually see Emily naked, so she doesn’t deal with the thematically appropriate internal conflict of whether nudity under the male gaze can be empowering or whether it is always degrading or what. Feels like a lot of setup here for basically no payoff.
At work the next day, Sylvie tells Emily, one, that she cost everyone time and money the other day AND that she is being “the prude police,” which is so uncool. Someone (Luc) drew a dick on Emily’s copy of the corporate commandments and left it at her desk. So Emily shouts to the office that she is going to a LONG LUNCH WITH WINE, which is one way to earn back everyone’s respect after lighting a bunch of money and time on fire with one of your most important clients.
Over lunch, Emily tells Mindy the least plausible thing in this wildly implausible series: “People like me! That’s my thing!” It’s official: I’m convinced we are supposed to believe Emily is delusional, possibly fragile, and/or broken in her brain. Mindy offers to throw Emily a welcome dinner at the apartment of her nannying charges, because shows like this only work if everyone bends to the protagonist’s needs, wants, and dreams, like flowers to the Parisian sun. (To keep within an Amy Sherman-Palladino lexicon, this is called Maiseling, and it is also never as cute as the show seems to think it is.)
When Emily returns to the office, she sees that, predictably, the commercial is dumb and nonsensical, but that doesn’t really distinguish it from the vast majority of perfume commercials. Luc pronounces it “definitely sexy.” Thank you, Luc. Emily suggests they put the commercial on Twitter with a poll: Sexy or sexist? Let the world decide! Publicity either way! I will hand it to her: This is a decent idea.
Sylvie continues to earn my respect and devotion by saying, “Sorry, I’m busy,” before Emily can even tell her when the dinner she’s inviting her to is going to be. If Emily watched half as much Selling Sunset as I have, she would know it is a mistake to attempt to socialize so much with your coworkers. Sylvie does Emily the enormous favor of being straightforward with her; she doesn’t want to get to know her: “You come to Paris. You walk into my office. You don’t even bother to learn the language. You treat the city like it’s your amusement park.” Emily ignores this and tells Sylvie dinner is at eight, but fortunately Sylvie doesn’t show, because the dinner party is real heavy on “party” and light on “dinner.” (Again, this is a missed opportunity for story and character development because wouldn’t it be more interesting if Sylvie DID begrudgingly attend only to find that Emily’s dinner was actually a rager?)
Emily rolls up in this dress that’s very bubblegummy and juvenile, and I still can’t tell how old she’s supposed to be but I can tell she is very out of place, which, of course, is the goal of this styling. A cute boy starts flirting with her, and she says, “Sorry, I’m an American girl,” as if that information is going to be disappointing. In my notes, I write, God I miss meeting cute strangers at parties. They stroll the cobblestoned streets and flirt and kiss and then he whispers in her ear, “I like American pussy,” and it’s a real record-scratch moment for her, which tells me … this is a girl who has been in a monogamous relationship for a WHILE. Not saying it wasn’t aggressive, but it wasn’t, like, soooo hard a pivot from how their flirting had been escalating, no? She bolts out of there to Gabriel’s restaurant, where he — the chef! — is 1,000 percent available to pour her wine and listen to her say she feels liberated by how little Paris likes her. Gabriel says there’s just one problem with that: He likes her.
In the morning, Madeline calls Emily to tell her (1) the poll is getting attention, though not all of it is positive, and (2) she needs to “Get that French D.” Wow, okay, that’s more mentorship than I ever got at work, so I guess that’s … nice?
At the office, there is a surprise little gift exchange. Emily got Luc a dick-shaped loaf of bread (honestly, strong move, I respect it), and Antoine got Emily lingerie from La Perla: “P.S. Is this sexy or sexist?” Emily tries to pass it off as a gift from some other friend, but there’s no way this isn’t Antoine’s signature move; surely, he did the exact same thing for Sylvie when they started hooking up. A love triangle with the boss and the client? I’m intrigued.
This is the part of the recap where I list the most egregious, eye-roll-inducing, come-ON-now clichés and then award each episode a special cliché rating.
• “Your life is croissants and sex.” This from Madeline, who majored in French and surely must know there is more to this experience than carbs and the burning off of said carbs.
• Emily wears a beret to French class.
• Emily says “C’est la vie!” to French people. She also describes a view as “magical,” as if she is the first to deem it so.
• Luc laments the arrival of the corporate commandments by shouting, “YOU WOULD LIKE TO DESTROY OUR FRENCH SOUL.” Right! That’s totally what I say about my Jersey spirit whenever someone changes the radio station when a Bruce Springsteen song is on.
• Practically everything Mindy says to Emily — “You told French people this? No wonder they hate you,” “That’s the French way, they’re very disagreeable” — belongs on this list.
Cliché rating: Slipping into lingerie to feel desired by men while you sip a glass of breakfast wine.