“Love Shack” is easily Generation Q’s most ambitious episode to date. Mostly taking place on one night of wild karaoke at Dana’s, the episode places every series regular other than Jordan Hull in the same tight confines, each of their storylines spilling into each other like haphazardly clutched drinks on a karaoke stage. There’s romance, but it’s tempered with a heavy dose of drama and even cruelty as characters miscommunicate, self-sabotage, and make terrible choices. In other words, it sounds like just about every karaoke night I’ve ever been to. It’s also well within the show’s wheelhouse.
The karaoke setting is truly perfect. There’s something almost reality-adjacent about it, a theater of spectacle and emotion. Katrelle N. Kindred’s direction is simultaneously grandiose but also intimate, the camera fluidly moving between different pockets of drama over the course of the episode. Alice, Bette, and Shane take the stage for a rendition of “Love Shack,” and they sing the whole thing. It’s the most fun the show has had in a minute. There’s little restraint to it, and that actually works, the writing reveling in the discomfort and many different forms of tension these characters are experiencing in such a compact timeframe and space. Everyone’s drama touches each other. Everyone’s experiences are at odds with each other. It makes for a delightfully soapy rollercoaster.
Before we arrive at Dana’s for karaoke night, there are two scenes of exposition by rote. The first, between Micah and Dani, fleshes out their friendship and history together a little more but also seems to be setting things up for a different episode entirely, Dani talking about the moves she has made as the new CEO of her dad’s company, one of the season’s extraneous storylines. But that’s just boring, not necessarily frustrating. What is frustrating is that Micah blatantly misuses the term “trauma bonding” in a way that does not seem to be intentional misuse, especially since the character is supposed to be a therapist. Trauma bonding, which he jokingly says Dani and Gigi have done, is not connecting over something traumatic. It’s a specific, cyclical dynamic between an abuser and the person they abuse. It might sound like a small thing to nitpick, especially when Generation Q is guilty of misrepresenting all sorts of professions like, for example, the very fast-tracked and bizarre book publishing process Alice has been going through, but it does seem very different to add a little bit of Hollywood sheen to book publishing than to have a character who is supposed to be a trained therapist not understand and also make light of something as serious as trauma bonding. In any case, the scene, while introductory filler, is ultimately worth it for at least providing the line “I’ve actually been having this like pseudosexual friendship with Gigi,” which is so bizarre and funny and specific to the relationship chaos of this show.
One more scene of exposition between Alice and Sophie lets us know that Alice has been crying in the shower less and might be interested in Tom and Sophie has somehow not seen her roommate Finley in a full week. There does seem to be a lot of track laying to get us to karaoke night at Dana’s when the episode could have easily started at the bar. Because indeed, once karaoke night begins, “Love Shack” really comes to life. Shane starting the night off by saying she doesn’t want there to be drama is the perfect gay version of a Chekhov’s gun, her request for no drama guaranteeing that there will be drama in troves.
Of all the intersecting pockets of drama, Dani/Sophie/Finley are still somewhat the epicenter given the way this season’s framing starts with that epically disastrous wedding. They’re all at a strange crossroads now, still mired in each other’s lives but also struggling to figure out what they are to each other anymore. Sophie’s not sure where Finley’s at since she caught her hooking up with someone else. But Finley is still clearly, dizzyingly in love with Sophie, and it’s hard for her to move on without space from her. Sophie offers to help Finley untangle some cables while Finley’s setting up microphones, and it’s undeniably erotic, one of those unexpectedly sexy and fraught scenes that this show lands well. Obviously, there’s a lot of sex in the show, but sometimes these less obvious erotic moments end up being more memorable.
Karaoke night overall is less sexy, more emotionally messymess. Bette is very done with Gigi and talks about her dismissively to her friends, who all agree that Gigi wants to talk about feelings too much. So many of these characters are truly allergic to talking about feelings, which ties back to that central theme across these interpersonal storylines of self-sabotage. Bette’s obsessed with Pippa, which is perfectly in-character for her. She tends to confuse her work with love and sex. She also likes a challenge, and Pippa is certainly giving her that. But before Bette leaves karaoke night to continue her chase, she takes some nasty hits at Gigi, who simply wants to understand why they didn’t work. Bette could have let her down easy but instead pivots hard in the other direction, which really exposes some of her biggest flaws as someone who barrels over the emotions of others. It’s brutal out here!
Bette’s meanness is extreme, but it does track for the character. Meanwhile, I’m less convinced by the strange fight that goes down with Micah and Maribel. Micah and Dani are both hesitant to show up for obvious reasons. It’s hard for Dani to be around Sophie and Finley, and Micah feels like Maribel is avoiding him. That’s an understatement. Maribel has gone full ghost in the wake of them hooking up, and even though they both do talk about it, it’s never really made clear why she’s being so avoidant with Micah, turning down his suggestion that they get lunch and also accusing him of using her as an experiment to just try dating women. Whew, a lot of characters on this show don’t really seem to understand bisexuality or queerness that encapsulates attraction to multiple genders (I believe Micah identifies as queer at the moment). She says she was nervous, but her nervousness manifesting as her being so extreme about her rejection just doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it makes their conflict feel less organic than some of the other relationship webs spinning through Dana’s. Their arc in the episode mostly befuddles, but at least it ends in a genuinely bittersweet and affecting place: They both watch Love & Basketball alone in their respective homes, clearly longing for the night to have gone differently.
Karaoke night bounces between scenes and groups, mimicking the feel of an actual eventful night out at the bar. The two generations of characters are becoming more and more enmeshed. Again, Kindred’s direction grounds it enough so that it does feel like controlled chaos. So, back to the Dani/Sophie/Finley of it all. Dani spends much of the episode trying to insist to Gigi that she feels fine. She and Sophie had genuine closure in Ojai. But then Sophie mucks things up by sending Dani a drink. I do think her intentions are good. She’s trying to maybe show she can be friends with Dani. But the drink gesture does have romantic connotations, and perhaps all three of these characters attending the same karaoke night is not really good for any of their emotional states. But it is good for drama.
After the drink gesture, Dani asks Sophie if everyone cheats, and I’m not sure exactly what Dani’s getting at here, but the fact that it could be several things is actually part of what I think works so well in this episode. The drama is complex. The characters are steeped in a mess of emotions, and it all touches. Obviously, Sophie cheated on Dani, but she seems to be getting at more than that. Maybe she knows about Gigi’s cheating history and is reckoning with what that means about their growing chemistry. Maybe she’s wondering if Sophie is going to do the same thing to Finley that Sophie did to her. Finley of course witnesses this conversation between them and spirals some more. Jacqueline Toboni really nails Finley’s more emotional moments, bringing the character’s frustrations and hurt to the surface of every scene. There are several moments in the episode that place us so firmly in the frenetic headspace Finley is in, her growing frustration with Sophie eventually boiling over.
When that happens, Finley forces Sophie to be more direct. Sophie says it’s too hard, that she knows no one else wants them to be together. That clearly comes from a place of guilt. Honestly, no one is stopping her and Finley from being together but herself. But her trepidation makes sense. She doesn’t want to cause another scene. Finley crashed her wedding after all. It was a complete backfire of a grand romantic gesture, humiliating Dani and exploding the friend group. Finley has made it perfectly clear that she does not want to just be friends, so Sophie has to make the choice she couldn’t bring herself to make at the end of last season when she chose not to go to Kansas City. She has to choose Finley if that’s who she wants to be with. Finley’s done waiting.
Here again is where the karaoke setting shines, Sophie deciding to make a grand romantic gesture via a Tegan and Sara song, which is very on-the-nose of course, but the fun gay chaos of this episode really does entertain in spades. Sophie singing to Finley is played as a rom-com climax, Finley clearly overwhelmed with delight that Sophie has finally done something for her. But the scene is made much more interesting in the way it appears to Dani. For her, this is far from a rom-com moment. In fact, she bolts and finally admits to Gigi that she does not feel fine at all, that she feels like she has lost all her friends in this. Both things can be true: This can be Dani’s personal nightmare, and it can be a gushy rom-com spectacle for Sophie and Finley. The magic of karaoke night lives in these complicated, contradictory moments. Smashing together every single messed up relationship dynamic into this one karaoke night shouldn’t work as well as it does. It feels appropriately overwhelming but still captivating and grounded, propelling several new relationships forward with a mix of stakes and pacing.
With Dani and Gigi, the writing taking the slightly slower route. Gigi admits to Dani that her feelings have changed while they eat ice cream after leaving what quickly became a hellish karaoke night for Dani. But that’s all we get for now. Alice and Tom, meanwhile, consummate their more-than-work-pals relationship by episode’s end, their arc fulfilling some of the most satisfying parts of a friends-to-lovers rom-com trope. For now, they might have the least dramatic romantic plot. Finley and Sophie finally get to act on many episodes of sexual tension, but that relationship is clearly not going to be easy right away. Something’s still crackling between Bette and Pippa, and Micah and Maribel’s movement is not exactly toward a dating, but even though their fight is confusing on a writing level, it still feels like we’re moving toward something with them. For taking place largely in one set, there really is a lot of movement to the episode, some characters acting on steadily built tension and some laying the foundation for longer term arcs.
And then there’s Shane, the person who requested no drama and who naturally finds herself embroiled in it. Cherie breaks up with Tess, and Tess is convinced Shane had something to do with it. But instead of this just being another instance of Shane falling back into old patterns, she shows some growth by revealing that she did not sleep with Cherie. But she did interfere with the relationship. Because she didn’t want Cherie to manipulate Tess the same way she manipulated her, and she also knew Cherie was up to no good with that footsie poker moment. It’s another instance where a character’s intentions are good but also are ultimately flawed. It’s not entirely fair for Shane to have meddled in Tess’ relationship like that, especially if she’s still not going to be direct about the very obvious feelings she has for Tess.
Much of the dramatic stakes of this episode hinge on characters not being direct about their feelings and getting in their own way. There are moments where some characters successfully go for what they want, like Sophie serenading Finley and Alice finally just telling Tom she wants to be more than friends instead of dancing around it. But those moments aren’t without their complications either. At this point, the friend group at large has become a cesspool of messy relationships, and karaoke night leans into that.
Even though Micah and Maribel’s fight does feel forced, I love the earlier scene of Finley, Micah, Sophie, and Maribel all trying and failing to have a “normal” conversation. It’s so uncomfortable and real. There are consequences for the choices they’ve made along the way to this episode. Karaoke night was always going to be a disaster. And even when some characters get what they want, it’s messy. The extreme mix of moods and emotions makes for a wild ride. Karaoke night injects (almost) every main character’s arc this season with some much needed verve. It’s a sweaty, boozy mess of exes, new lovers, unspoken crushes, and friendships.
- We have to talk about Gigi’s sweater. Can it even be called a sweater? It’s just sleeves and neck? Is that even called something? It’s almost like a turtleneck...scarf? Perhaps this actually takes the cake for the most confounding part of the episode. There’s no denying Gigi can pull it off though. I almost feel like the costume designer is pulling a prank on us, and I’m here for it.
- Dani contemplates getting a dog, which reminds me of my very surface-level complaint that it seems absurd/implausible that the only character who owns a dog on the show is Shane! These are queer people in Los Angeles! Where are the pets?!
- Dani implies that she’s “working on” something that will involve Bette, which likely will marry their respective workplace plotlines. I am living for how tangled up in each other’s lives all the characters are becoming. This friend group is a mess.
- Sophie’s faked phone call is so funny.
- Speaking of humor, Leisha Hailey continues to fire on all cylinders with the physical comedy and her line readings.