Up until this point, The Girlfriend Experience has been structuring its episodes like a thriller, at least in some sense. This is a show interested in exploring all sorts of themes and topics, from the rot of corporate greed and ambition to the idea of female desire and agency, but one of the show’s most consistent topics of exploration is the idea of power in all of its forms. Christine has been painted as a powerful figure, as someone who’s smart and savvy in both of her jobs, and who can get what she wants through verbal and physical manipulation. There’s been some discussion surrounding the show about whether Christine is moral or a sociopath or a feminist, but none of that really matters. What matters is that The Girlfriend Experience is presenting Christine as an enigma within the thriller format, and that format necessitates some sort of violence, some sort of intruding force that Christine has to reckon with.
That violence comes through in “Boundaries,” the most unsettling episode of the season so far. The violence on display here isn’t overly obvious, but rather plays out in small ways that leave a feeling of unease lingering long after the credits have rolled. That tone is established immediately in a stunning cold open. Christine wades into a pool, swims underwater, and emerges at the ledge on the other side. Then, seconds later, she’s pulled under. When she surfaces she immediately turns to the man who pulled her under and screams, “don’t ever do that again,” just as the title card pops up. It’s short and brutal, establishing not only the disquieting tone of the episode, but also the rhythm of the editing that will keep that tone humming in the background for the next 30 minutes.
Where “Boundaries” really takes a turn when compared to the rest of the series is with Jack, Christine’s newest client. Much like Kevin before him, he becomes enamored with Christine. As their relationship progresses the definition of what exactly it is begins to change, or rather perspectives shift. Jack believes they are growing closer, and he says so. He uses terms like “seeing each other” and even makes a joke that’s not quite a joke about moving in together. Christine plays along, but it’s clear that she believes it’s part of her role rather than genuine affection. This is the danger of her business, compounded on top of the fact that the $500,000 inheritance is now known to the children and they’re planning to fight Christine pretty hard.
What makes “Boundaries” so unsettling though is the fact that the violence comes in small, subtle moments. There’s no physical confrontation per se, but rather a creeping sense of paranoia and danger running through the episode. It’s in the shot of Jack pulling Christine under the water halfway through the episode, or him staring at her from across the pool. We know the outcome of the water incident because the episode started with its final moment, so when halfway through “Boundaries” the show returns to that shot from a different angle, it’s rather excruciating to watch. It’s tense because we know how Christine is going to react and because we don’t know exactly why she reacts the way she does. So watching Jack creep up on her (see above) boasts a whole new effect.
I have to say though, I’m not totally sure how I feel about Jack as a character. The Girlfriend Experience succeeds by making sure its character motivations are ambiguous, adding to the bigger mystery of Christine, Kirkland, and XHP. But Jack’s behavior in this episode, from getting jealous about Christine’s chat with a man by the pool, to his more forceful and aggressive sexual encounter with her near the episode’s end, comes across as a little too broad. This is where the show’s signature ambiguity works against it, as it’d be helpful to understand more about Jack so that he doesn’t come across as a villainous caricature. Jack’s arc is fine, with him buying a house and hoping Christine will move into it and then getting angry with her and constantly calling her, but it’s an ill-defined arc at best, which means some of the emotional power is lost by the time Christine screams into her phone at the end of the episode.
Still, “Boundaries” is another solid installment because it once again moves the story of Christine into interesting places. She started losing control in the previous episode, and now she’s more out of control than ever. She’s lost access to David’s XHP files so she can’t snoop, she leaves her phone in Jack’s hotel room, and at David’s promotion party she’s now lost in a sea of people where before she was David’s focus. She’s even running into Jack while she’s with another client and promising to be honest with him about her real name before once again giving him a fake one (her sister’s name, no less). These are signs that Christine’s hold on her position of power in both Kirkland and her escort life is slipping. She’s not exactly spiralling, but things aren’t as steady as they were when she first took on a client. Essentially, “Boundaries” feels like a bit of table setting episode in the sense that it works to move Christine from a place of relative comfort to one of unpredictability.
- My jaw actually dropped when Lodge Kerrigan pulled out that shot above of Christine entering Jack’s apartment with the city reflecting in the glass. Absolutely stunning. The outside shot of David’s promotion party (just below the apartment screenshot above) ain’t half bad either.
- So, is this the last we see of Jack? I doubt that guy gives up easily.
- Also, how did Jack get her number, the one Christine insisted she didn’t give to him?
- Jack’s stare from across the pool was chilling.