'The Girlfriend Experience' revels in its darker, more radical second season
Last season, we discovered that the world of an escort is overflowing with lies, secrets, scandals and the obvious: sex. Thanks to dynamic character arcs and a re-invented structure, the second season of Starz’s “The Girlfriend Experience” sets itself up to be even darker, bolder and more mystifying than the first. This time around, the dramatic thriller diverts from its singular storyline format and enables showrunners, Lodge Kerrigan (“Keane”) and Amy Seimetz (“Upstream Color”), to indulge in their individual inspirations and construct two separate narratives — which air successively, yet never intertwine. This autonomy, stemming from the creators’ desire to rupture the boundaries of premium-cable TV, not only allows audiences to explore the varying realm beyond the work of an escort, but also to consider the psychological complexity, corruption and divide between the socially high and low.
Kerrigan’s story, titled “Erica and Anna,” invades midterm election season in Washington, D.C., where Erica (Anna Friel, “Limitless”), the authoritative investment head of a Republican political action committee, drafts call girl Anna (Louisa Krause, “The Abandoned”) to dig up dirt and slaughter the reputation of her client and dark money donor, Mark (Michael Cram, “Flashpoint”). This account, through its themes of apathy, the connection between human relationship and currency and blatant coldness, is reminiscent of season one, and once again offers a glimpse into the twisted relationship linking sex, money, and power. The story is dark and sterile, both in concept and staging, as almost no light enters the hotel room or office where the drama ensues. This aura strategically mirrors the gritty nature of the clandestine plot and successfully promotes the show’s overall dismal tone.
Moreover, Friel and Krause’s discerning execution of their characters showcases an ironic, yet interesting, emotionality and honesty inside of two icy, success-hungry personas. Is Anna breaking confidentiality agreements simply to make money? To seek justice? And to what extent is she willing to expose and exploit to gain what she wants? The skillful cast of actors alone is enough to keep watching “The Girlfriend Experience,” and the weight of their paltry characters’ significance in a much grander U.S. affair is extremely relevant in our current political landscape.
On the other hand, Seimetz’s story, titled “Bria,” seems as though it will offer more drastic and introspective character development, using a humanizing lens to document the life of an escort. This narrative follows former GFE worker, Bria (Carmen Ejogo, “The Purge: Anarchy), who, along with her reluctant, bratty step-daughter, enrolls in the Witness Protection Program to escape the impending danger of her abusive relationship. She is trained by U.S. Marshal Ian (Tunde Adebimpe, “Portlandia”) to believably take on a new name, background and job, and is relocated to a small town in New Mexico to spend some time off the grid. However, halfway through her premiere, she is willfully tempted back into escorting and is on the hunt to make extra money from high-profile clients.
This story sheds light on the persuasive and addictive essence of escorting, and sharply juxtaposes Bria’s carefree, high-profile life with the culture shock that emerges after she is thrust back into a dull and unfulfilling environment. The acting is impeccable, the concept is intriguing and I envision this storyline as provoking even more hair-raising moments of screaming “No, don’t do it!” at the screen. Thanks to Ejogo’s nuanced portrayal, after just one episode I already find myself rooting for Bria, and hoping that she will come to realize the extent of the peril of re-entering the sex business.
Ultimately, the second season of “The Girlfriend Experience” has a lot of potential to comment on the deeper social and internal struggles of the leading ladies, chronicling their raw emotion in a stern and poker-faced world. The experimental structure leaves room for a multitude of twists and turns, and the expert acting brings characters normally left in the shadows to the forefront of their narratives. While the duo of unrelated stories may seem distant from each other, an underlying motif of deceit ties them together and further unearths the unique artistic value of this series.