“The Girlfriend Experience” is even more intense in Season 2. In the initial 13 episodes, following Riley Keough’s law school student Christine as she first started working for a luxurious and dangerous escort service, it was clear that Starz’s half-hour drama wasn’t messing around. Creators Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz built a boundary-pushing series specifically to immerse viewers in a world they likely don’t know and definitely don’t understand. It was powerful television and remains so in Season 2.
But the writers and directors who shared the initial workload have taken separate paths. Season 2 tells two autonomous stories, one from Kerrigan and the other from Seimetz: Kerrigan’s focuses on Erica Myles (Anna Friel), a finance director for a Republican super PAC who gets wrapped up in GFE services while she struggles to meet her goals during the midterm elections. The second moves from D.C. to New Mexico, where a GFE provider named Bria (Carmen Ejogo) is sent into witness protection after her beau is arrested.
In brief — and it’s best not to discuss “The Girlfriend Experience’s” layered emotional evaluations briefly — Kerrigan’s half feels like an amped up version of Season 1: more sex, more graphic depictions of sex, and more cripplingly cold relationships. Seimetz’s story, meanwhile, is a refreshing departure brought to life by the desert vistas of Bria’s new home and a tenderness absent from Kerrigan’s story.
The latter point isn’t necessarily a fault. Though totally separate from each other in narrative, it’s easy to see why they’re being released in pairs: One episode of Erica’s story airs and then an episode of Bria’s starts right after, each providing juxtaposition for the other both visually and tonally.
Erica’s political world is filled with cold, empty rooms. She works in an office that looks like it was pieced together in a minute and could be torn down just as fast. There are spacious business buildings with one TV positioned in the corner and a single cord running across the floor to an outlet. There are no photographs of family members or loved ones, and the viewers wouldn’t be able to see them if there were: Kerrigan captures most of Erica’s work life in unmoving wide shots. He keeps us at a distance because this profession isn’t personal; it’s designed to be removed from the real world.
Bria’s is incredibly human, but more than that, it’s restrained. Bria doesn’t have a lot of sex, despite her best efforts, and when she does manage to get what she wants, the camera either hones in on one telling spot of physical interaction or it gracefully rolls across writhing bodies; slowly and methodically sliding back-and-forth, like the DVD icon that pops up onscreen when the video has been paused too long, starting toward one objective before bouncing back to where it came, never reaching its goal.
It’s a nuanced and beautiful technique to portray Bria’s sexual frustrations, and Seimetz’s vision runs contrary to how Kerrigan captures his sex scenes. Those wide shots are nowhere to be found when Erica or her GFE partner Anna (Louisa Krause) come together, even though you might miss that distance once their inhibitions are shed. There are quite a few harsh, gut-churning, and lengthy sex scenes in Erica’s story, and while they can feel redundant over time — just as the story can seem a bit too familiar — the evocative power is undeniable. Kerrigan takes a two-by-four to your stomach, while Seimetz builds a house for you to examine.
The latter story is certainly the stronger of the two, but “The Girlfriend Experience” does exactly what it sets out to do: Chronicling these women either as aggressively as the world around them, like Kerrigan does, or with an open mind and unpredictable destination, in Seimetz’s section, makes for compelling and oh-so-provocative mini-seasons. Bolstered by more strong turns, especially from Friel, this remains a moving, bold experience worth sharing.
“The Girlfriend Experience” Season 2 premieres Sunday, November 5 at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.