It’s book launch day for Alice, and Generation Q is throwing character development to the wind. Some scenes play to the show’s strengths, including two indulgent, wonderfully erotic sex scenes (Gigi/Dani and Tess/Shane—finally!). The actual book launch party has its fun moments, too, Alice reading the Dana chapter she and Tom have been talking up. It’s not exactly as deep and raw as those two would have us believe, but it’s an easy grab at a tearjerker scene, Leisha Hailey nailing every bit of her delivery of that sad, funny, romantic monologue. But “Launch Party” suffers from doing too much and saying too little, obscuring the emotions of certain scenes to the point of being mechanical and empty.
The episode begins with the direct aftermath of Finley getting a DUI, Sophie arriving to pick her up from jail the next morning. Right away, the writing perplexes. During the scene where they get pulled over in last week’s episode, Sophie was markedly casual, assuming Finley could talk her way out of anything. Finley, meanwhile, gripped the steering wheel in panic. In the sober light of day, they’ve apparently...swapped bodies? Now, Finley’s the cool and calm one, and Sophie’s concerned. Finley’s flippant about jail and the DUI to the point of delusion. And something has discernibly shifted for Sophie and how she sees Finley, but the writing is muddled and cursory, making that shift feel less organic and more forced. At Alice’s book launch, Finley goes so far as to turn the DUI into a joke, and Alice and Tom are visibly uncomfortable with it. So is Sophie, but we don’t get to hear what’s going on internally for her, and sometimes you really do have to tell in order to show.
Because when Sophie finally does confront Finley, it isn’t grounded strongly enough in their history together or specific, well established character work. Shortly after Alice reads the Dana chapter, Sophie pointedly asks Finley if she’s drinking. The internal logic here is confusing for a number of reasons. Finley has literally been bringing drinks to the table all night for both her and Sophie. Sophie knows she’s drinking. During the launch party argument, Sophie says she thought the DUI would have maybe led to some changes, but this episode is literally the first time we’ve ever seen Sophie exhibit any awareness of Finley’s tendency to drink excessively. In fact, they often drink together. I’m not sure why Sophie, who usually does talk things out and doesn’t have as many walls up as most of the other characters on this show do, would assume that Finley’s behavior would change if that was not a conversation that was had after the DUI at all. The DUI seems to be a turning point for Sophie’s perception of Finley and not at all a turning point for Finley herself, but that isn’t very clearly articulated in the writing, so Sophie’s concerns end up coming off as abrupt. Again, she knows Finley is drinking at the book launch. There’s no real conversation about alcohol, sobriety, addiction, or any of the nuances of those things until she suddenly speaks up at the launch party. And that lack of build weakens the impact.
The dramatic tension between Sophie and Finley unfolds hastily. There isn’t enough emotional context, mainly because a lot of things are going unsaid. There’s a difference between writing nuanced, subtle narratives and being overly withholding. The latter makes it difficult for the big emotional moments to land. When Sophie tells a very drunk Finley at the end of the episode that she feels like she has been babysitting her all day, it would have a much bigger impact if we had actually seen Sophie babysitting Finley all day. At the book launch, Sophie just seems embarrassed and frustrated. Sophie also says she feels like Finley isn’t herself when she’s drinking. She says it’s like a light has gone out. As viewers, we’ve definitely seen this side of Finley. It’s clear Finley’s in deep denial about her relationship with alcohol. But up until this very episode, Sophie has been completely oblivious to it.
To a certain extent, that’s a realistic situation. The early, dreamy parts of a relationship can make it hard to see things as they really are, and alcohol dependency is in many ways normalized to the point of it being easy to ignore. But cramming all of this storytelling into the space of one episode and failing to really ground it in the writing does not do Generation Q any favors here. Sophie becomes very suddenly aware that Finley drinks too much, does not really attempt to talk about it with her until it all boils over, and then immediately shifts the way she views Finley with little by way of buildup or scenes that effectively convey the dots she’s connecting. Sophie’s words at the end suggest that this has been a pattern between them, that this is an old fight instead of a brand new one. But we haven’t been shown that. She tells Finley she doesn’t feel like she’s herself when she’s drinking, but just a couple episodes ago, Sophie confessed her love for a very drunk Finley at karaoke night. We don’t get anything in terms of Sophie reckoning with any blinders she may have previously had for this situation. Instead, it’s just sudden and confusing, a narrative reach that races through character development clumsily.
Perhaps the storyline would work better spread over more episodes, but trying to do too much too quickly is really an ongoing problem for this series. Alice and Tom’s relationship drama similarly perplexes. The season’s timeline is increasingly obscure. Tom has been away in New York, and it doesn’t sound like Alice has had much contact with him, but she’s also anxious to tell him about hooking up with Nat and chooses to do so at a wildly bad time. That bad timing is meant to create instant dramatic tension and a bit of comedy, too, Alice telling Tom bluntly that she slept with Nat as he’s stuffing appetizers in his face and also just before he’s about to walk onto stage to introduce her at her launch party. But the tension is cheap, because it relies on us buying into the idea that Alice has done anything wrong.
If Alice and Tom defined their relationship as monogamous and exclusive, it happened off-screen. If Alice and Tom’s relationship has consisted of more than just one post-karaoke hookup, that escalation happened off-screen. Generation Q consistently burns through relationships fast, and that’s not always a problem. But here, it completely undermines the conflict and also yields some very bizarre dialogue. Alice trying to make this about dating a guy for the first time since her twenties doesn’t track. Tom suggesting Alice should have assumed monogamy also baffles. In the end, Tom and Alice make up in the hotel room provided by her publisher, and Tom says he’s too old to play games. But in actuality, it seems pretty immature that he gets so riled up about her hooking up with Nat when, again, we were never given any reason to believe Alice did something wrong here. None of what they’re saying to each other sounds convincing or meaningful. And if their sloppy, incomplete attempts to define their relationship and its parameters are part of the point, that’s never made textually clear.
Micah and Maribel’s arc also moves with a dizzying quickness in “Launch Party.” Maribel is nowhere to be seen for much of the episode, and Micah instead connects with his coworker Claudia (Isis King! This show has truly great guest stars). “Launch Party” delivers a (too) speedy enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies arc here. Claudia is very quickly introduced as a foe for Micah at work, the two butting heads over one of Micah’s clients. They move from arguing to a romantic dinner date at Micah’s with whiplash-inducing speed. And that’s somewhat par for the course for this soapy, sexy show. But while there are some sweet moments there, it ends up being such a mechanical and crudely drawn arc.
Everything comes to a crashing halt when Micah pulls away from a kiss with Claudia and tells her the whole night has made him realize how much he likes someone else. She rightfully storms out. Especially because The L Word has a history of excluding trans femme characters, the fact that this is the first trans woman of color character on the series and she’s basically just used as a plot device in a main character’s arc doesn’t sit well. It’s all just an elaborate ruse to push Micah back to Maribel.
Relationship obstacles are obviously a major source of conflict for this series, but this is the second time the conflict between Micah and Maribel has felt arbitrary and inorganic. Micah already seemed pretty into Maribel; she was the one with reservations at karaoke night. It’s not clear why Micah had to flirt with someone else to realize his true feelings for Maribel when he has been the one with a crush on Maribel all season. That has been very established. Buying into this realization he has with Claudia asks us to forget about all that prior character work and flattens Claudia as a character. It’s just another example of clunky plotting that unfolds much too quickly.
Though Dani’s fraught relationship with her father and all the Núñez company drama have become redundant, stagnant plotlines, Dani and Gigi’s arc in “Launch Party” is one of the few examples in the episode where Generation Q’s rapid relationship pacing doesn’t run completely off the rails. There’s both explicit and subtle conflict beneath the surface of their new relationship. Early in the episode, Dani reveals to Bette that she got her father’s company to give a major endowment to the CAC in order to secure a wing of the museum, and Bette promptly flips out, saying that a company that profits off of Black pain fundamentally should not have its name on a wing where a gallery featuring work by Black artists will be shown. Bette does have a point, but she makes it in a way that’s pretty dismissive of Dani. In any case, Dani channels her anger at Bette into sex with Gigi. The sex scene is great, but the fact that Dani is kind of using Gigi here echoes the time Bette used Gigi after her first dinner with Pippa. Gigi, who loves to talk about feelings, keeps ending up with emotionally closed off women who take out their aggression on her.
Indeed, immediately following sex, Dani becomes avoidant and short with Gigi much like Bette often was when she and Gigi weren’t actively hooking up. Dani’s frustrated with her father and taking it out on Gigi. But whereas Bette never apologized for some of her behavior with Gigi (which was, frankly, in-character), Dani does. Gigi tells Dani she doesn’t do the whole “hot and cold” thing, and Dani admits her dad sometimes comes between her and the women she’s with. They talk about it, and it’s all grounded in story we’ve seen. This is what “Launch Party” needs more of: Characters speaking to each other in a cogent and believable way that is in line with their relationship as it has been established so far. Dani and Gigi, like everyone on this show, are moving fast, but in “Launch Party” we get to see them actually learn about each other, communicate, and grow. I’m not saying every character needs to communicate well in order for the relationship to be compelling. In fact, watching characters fail at dating and relationships is part of the appeal of this show. But leaving too much unsaid or not providing enough emotional context makes it hard to understand what some of these characters are even talking about at all.
Bette and Pippa’s arc, at least, also lands in a way Dani’s and Gigi’s does. Their arc here hinges on Bette using Pippa’s art as a bargaining chip against the CAC and the Núñez company. This betrayal of Pippa is a very big deal, because we’ve now seen Pippa say over and over how traumatized she is by her past experience in the art world. There’s context. There’s history. It’s all right there. So their fight hits hard, blurring boundaries between the personal and the professional, which complicates their relationship in interesting and believable ways.
We’ve been seeing Bette mess up all season, and this is one of the first times she explicitly admits it, confessing her mistake to a guy at the CAC, which Pippa overhears and values. The subsequent exchange between Bette and Pippa is a little convoluted, especially since the dialogue places the source of Bette’s anger in subtext. I think she’s talking about wanting to take revenge against the Núñez family because of Kit’s death, which was connected to opioids? But I’m not sure why she doesn’t just say that instead of talking about an abstract “legacy of revenge.” This show frankly thrives when it’s more heavy-handed versus abstract. But overall, Bette and Pippa’s conflict over the course of the episode moves quickly but manages to make the tension and emotions explicit and rooted in scene work from previous episodes. Too much of this episode eschews that level of grounded storytelling, pushing things into subtext or speeding so quickly through emotional arcs that the characters end up making no sense when they try to talk to one another. Too much of the relationship drama in the episode has glaring holes.
- It doesn’t get a lot of screentime, but Shane and Tess’ arc here provides a bit of levity. I’m not convinced the writers know exactly what to do with Shane this season, but I’m kind of loving the fact that she has the least amount of relationship drama since historically she usually has the most.
- I’m extremely worried about Finley, who Sophie can’t find at episode’s end! Also, Finley’s responsible for her own actions, of course, and there’s only so much Sophie can do in this situation. But I find it hard to believe that Sophie just lets her leave when she’s that fucked up!
- In my eyes, Gigi has sort of become the anti-Bette on the show. She’s similarly ambitious in her career and very confident, but she’s also way more emotionally available and less self-absorbed. Gigi is genuinely so thrilled when the women she’s dating excel at what they do. She was thrilled for Bette when Bette found Pippa, and she’s thrilled for Dani when she gets a work win this week. Bette would never really be that way for the women she’s with unless she could see some sort of advantage for herself.
- Jennifer Beals screaming “fuck fuck fuck” in her office is easily a highlight.