“We’re just all a bunch of fuck-ups,” Shane McCutcheon—who has pivoted from hairstylist to bar owner to, now, poker host—wisely observes near the end of “Lean On Me.” It’s funny because it’s true. The characters of The L Word: Generation Q are messy, chaotic, self-sabotaging fuckups, and their mistakes are the fuel the show runs on. “Lean On Me” is an assemblage of intense arguments—between friends, between lovers. There’s a lot of fighting, a lot of tears. But for all the big emotions it’s steeped in, “Lean On Me” feels more plot-driven than character-driven a lot of the time.
The episode picks up immediately after Finley’s wedding crasher moment. Dani’s rightfully furious and unraveling, and the blocking between her and Sophie makes it clear that she’s just on the edge of violence. Indeed, she ends up decking Finley in the eye right before the smash to the title card. It’s an appropriately dramatic reaction to last week’s cliffhanger, and “Lean On Me” reckons with the consequences of this cursed love triangle. Whereas that part of the narrative was a weak spot in the premiere, it’s weightier and more developed here. The Dani/Finley/Sophie conflict allows all three characters to be messy.
Micah finally sticks it to Jose, calling him out for being a liar and a cheater. He says he never wants to make anyone feel the way Dani feels, and while it’s satisfying to watch Micah tell him off, the attempts to tie it back to the Dani/Sophie storyline are a little too pat. Micah does suggest at one point that his experience with Jose opened his eyes to the reality that things are sometimes more complicated than they seem, but he just drops that line and then moves on. We don’t really get to see those complications or the ramifications of that realization. It feels significant, and yet it’s just dropped in like a neat little platitude. I do love that this friend group all has clearly defined dynamics and roles. Micah is clearly the friend who gets at the heart of your feelings, basically offering friendship therapy. But sometimes that also makes it so that we don’t get enough actual character development of Micah. Instead, he’s just being used as emotional exposition for other characters. Micah’s blossoming friendship with Maribel, however, does feel like a Micah storyline that actually gives him agency and texture. The scenes between them stand out even as they just happen at the periphery, like when he and Maribel are sorting through the wedding gifts. Their chemistry is palpable. There’s a slice-of-life quality to their interactions by which I mean they’re acting like real people with real feelings instead of just saying things to service the plot. Too often in “Lean On Me,” the characters do the latter.
Speaking of chemistry, “Lean On Me” delivers a sex scene that’s immediately worthy of The L Word’s hall of fame. Following their somewhat awkward but ultimately fun first date last episode, Gigi and Bette have apparently been getting to know each other a little more. That means having a candid and real conversation about racist microaggressions in the workplace. And that also means having very good sex that is so defined by the fact that they both want control. Their sex scene manages to be funny and hot all at once. Their control issues are on full display in the best way. It’s a much needed break from people fighting. I don’t think Bette and Gigi are a good romantic match, but that’s part of what makes this particular pairing so fun. Sexual compatibility and romantic compatibility don’t always go hand-in-hand. Bette and Gigi do have a lot in common and are exactly the kind of people who would, well, date themselves.
There’s a lot of fun in the poker sequence also, especially since it smashes together the two generations of characters in a way that actually makes sense (I’m less convinced that Bette and Dani are close enough for Bette to bring her sympathy Tartine after the not-wedding). There’s a lot happening at once here, and some of it works quite well, especially when the writing acknowledges these characters’ complexity. They aren’t wholly defined by their past actions, and they shouldn’t be. When they all start talking about the mistakes they’ve made, Tess suggests people can grow, and points toward her friendship with Shane as proof of that. Every person as this table has, at some point, made unhealthy, hurtful choices in their relationships. Sometimes repeatedly. But they’re also trying to learn from their mistakes. There’s that interesting mess.
“The messy parts of people’s lives are always the most relatable,” Shane says when Alice complains about the notes she has been given to add some realness and grit to her book. Again, it’s this show in a nutshell. The mess makes Generation Q compulsively watchable. But there’s also a difference between mess/drama that’s still rooted in emotional truth and mess/drama that’s just plot-driven or conflict for the sake of conflict. The writing shouldn’t feel literally messy, but it often does, especially when it comes to some of the Nat and Alice scenes in this episode, which I’ll get into later. This episode brims with interpersonal tension and relationship conflict, but it also is occasionally too facile about it.
At poker night, Bette’s full of ire for Sophie, but someone finally speaks up to bring up her own history of cheating. Bette admits she cheated on Tina 17 years ago and still lives with the regret. Her hypocrisy is acknowledged, but the writing just barely scratches the surface of it, which is the recurring problem holding “Lean On Me” back. Every time the writing inches toward deeper emotional truth, it pulls back. There are gaps in the character work. Dani, Finley, and Sophie’s conflict is the most fully fleshed out and dynamic storyline in the episode, because all three are given distinct points of view that are at odds with one another. That’s solid storytelling, giving weight and meaning to all three of their experiences and heightening the stakes. It’s the good kind of mess—the mess that’s authentic and layered and captivating. Some of the attempts to connect the other subplots to it fall flat. Micah’s realization that some relationship situations are not as straightforward as they seem, Bette’s hypocrisy in her treatment of Sophie as a villain, and Tess’s assertion that people can grow and change are all examples of where the episode hints at complex, character-driven writing without fully diving in.
Anyone who has watched the original series will find it weird that no one mentions all the other things Bette did, like cheat on and gaslight a different girlfriend who was not Tina. Hell, Alice was personally affected by Bette’s cheating back in the day, and she’s silent here! Generation Q’s relationship with the original series is a tricky thing to pin down. There are some intentional callbacks and references to the past. Even the fact that we’re doing a whole poker plotline reminisces of Papi and Catherine from the original series—though none of the original characters observe this. At times, these characters seem to have amnesia about their own pasts. It’s a mostly forgivable offense, because on the one hand, there are certainly viewers who didn’t watch the original, so not everyone is going to trip over these moments. Generation Q is not beholden to the past and, in fact, should work toward undoing some of the missteps of the original series. On the other hand, that’s six whole seasons of character development that a lot of viewers indeed will remember and butt up against. Not once do any characters mention Shane’s disastrous wedding day from the original series when reacting to Dani and Sophie’s disastrous wedding day. There are clear parallels from some of these characters’ pasts that could add layers and cogent emotional stakes to events in the present. Collapsing Bette’s personal history of infidelity and relationship mistakes into a couple simple lines not only feels off from the perspective of someone who has seen the original series but also just simplifies the conversation in the present. The dynamics of this poker group are fascinating, and yet the scene ultimately ends up feeling like a game of poker itself—all easily defined stakes and little emotional depth.
Meanwhile, when it comes to Nat and Alice, the writers and characters seem to have forgotten things that literally happened in the first season of this show. Nat’s clearly wrestling with something internally throughout the episode. She attempts to discuss open communication and nonmonogamy but gets completely shut down by Alice. When they do finally have a real conversation, Nat and Alice both throw around a bunch of wild words that overgeneralize and strip away any depth or nuance.
Problems fester in a relationship when they go unaddressed. We see this in Dani and Sophie’s arc but also in Nat and Alice’s. Attempting to maintain a status quo can be seriously detrimental to a relationship. Alice can hear Nat crying to herself in the bathroom, and yet Nat still makes up a ridiculous lie. Nat’s talking about open communication, but she also struggles to say what she wants, because there’s vulnerability in that. It’s easy to pretend everything is great in a relationship when in reality the relationship is just sort of fine. People get comfortable. People are scared of change. People are scared of loss. That’s why Sophie couldn’t bring herself to tell Dani the truth and thereby made things worse by continually lying instead of confronting her mistake head-on when it first happened. That’s why she’s reeling in the face of losing Dani, desperate to do anything to make it work. But Dani gets to the heart of the matter when she tells Sophie—once they finally have a face-to-face conversation near the end of the episode—that she simply wouldn’t be able to trust her ever again.
For Nat and Alice, the situation is much different, but they’re still dealing with serious cracks in the foundation of their relationship. Nat is unhappy but also too scared of losing Alice to really talk about her feelings. Alice is bulldozing over everything Nat says. She’s not just refusing to write into the mess of her life in her book—something her bumbling and endearing editor Tom is hoping to fix—but also attempting to sanitize her actual life. She and Nat are both avoiding their feelings here. Relationships are hard, and life is messy. Alice needs to be more honest with herself off the page.
All that said though, Nat and Alice’s arc here frustrates on a lot of levels. It really is a redux of Nat and Alice’s storyline last season, which is particularly confusing, because if Nat has been struggling with feelings that she might want to practice polyamory, it doesn’t totally make sense that this wouldn’t have come up when she and Alice were trying out the throuple thing with Gigi. Alice’s conflation of polyamory with cheating perplexes, but even more confusing is the way Nat tries to draw a direct comparison between being poly and bisexuality. She even goes so far as to pressure Alice into admitting she thinks about guys, which is a very common and biphobic stereotype! And yet, Nat emerges from this scene unscathed. Sure, this reflects the reality that a lot of biphobia exists in the queer community as well as the reality that there are a lot of misconceptions about polyamory out there, and yet there’s no self-awareness or interrogation here at all. Nat just casually throws out some pretty harmful assumptions about Alice’s bisexuality, and that’s that. All of the dialogue in this scene between them is so stilted and strange, almost like they’re quoting bad relationship advice articles. Nat says she has a lot of clients who are polyamorous, but she’s wildly bad at talking about it. And the fact that Alice associates polyamory with “bad” people gets thrown out so offhandedly, too. It’s all a mess—and not in the good way.
Finley, Shane, and Tess discussing Finley’s problems is similarly stiff and odd. Shane attempts to relate the situation to her marriage and eventual divorce with Quiara, but the comparison doesn’t track. Tess’s clarification only muddles things further. All three characters seem to be talking about different things entirely. There’s a lot of abstract musing on relationships, patterns, and consequences, but it’s all unconnected and doesn’t ultimately mean anything. And that’s where “Lean On Me” really struggles. The stakes are technically there for a lot of these storylines, but they’re also oversimplified and, sometimes, muddled.
Tess opens up to Shane about her mother having MS and then expects Shane to share something, too. And Shane chooses to share that she’s in a tight money spot because Quiara got everything in the divorce. What?! That’s not character development or compelling storytelling. That’s just a plot anecdote. It isn’t actual vulnerability, and it doesn’t touch on any of the emotional stakes or contexts this episode is mired in. Sure, Shane’s known for being closed off, but twisting this scene into just a vehicle for poker night to actually happen feels so hollow. There’s an opportunity for depth here, and instead the scene just blows past it. For what it’s worth, Jamie Clayton and Kate Moennig have so much chemistry together that they save the scene from just feeling like filler.
“Lean On Me”’s most compelling character work happens when the writing complicates certain aspects of the characters’ personalities. Finley is the resident class clown, but there are real consequences for that here. Her jokes don’t land. They’re clearly a coping mechanism. She’s self-effacing when talking to Micah and Maribel, but that’s not the same as actual accountability. Just when it seems possible that she and Sophie could work together, she tries to make a joke, and everything falls apart. She can’t charm her way out of any of this. In a similar way, Dani’s ambitious, goal-driven personality has consequences, too. She’s treating the unraveling of her life as a challenge to defeat rather than actually sitting in her emotions. She insists she’s fine. She wants to beat this. But it’s not something to beat. It’s her actual life, which has just been shattered by a betrayal. It’s similar to how Bette sees Tina’s engagement to Carrie as having lost a competition. But that’s not how love works, and it’s also the exact reason why Tina chose Carrie instead of returning to Bette. Bette’s competitiveness has consequences. Dani’s obviously suffering because of other people’s choices—which is why it can be so hard to heal from betrayal—but she’s making things so much worse for herself by pretending to be fine. Again, these characters love to self-sabotage.
We finally see how very not fine Dani is when she has a small breakdown while running, reminiscing on her relationship and its abrupt demise, shown through well executed flashback and set to “Driver’s License” by Olivia Rodrigo, which takes the cake for best needledrop of the episode. Dani’s quite literally running away from her own feelings. There’s a heavy-handedness there, but it works.
In fact, Generation Q often thrives in its more heavy-handed, operatic moments, because these moments usually marry the show’s comedy with its drama. Take, for example, Dani filming a video of herself flushing her ring down the toilet to send to Sophie. It’s over-the-top of course, but it’s also tonally coherent, tapping into the intense emotions Dani’s feeling and the absurdity of the position she has been put in. It’s also another example of her putting up a wall. Here she is, dramatically filming a video instead of actually grappling with her feelings. It’s funny, but it’s also real. The best character work of “Lean On Me” lives in moments like that, where humor and drama work together instead of undermining each other.
- Okay, what is up with The L Word original series AND Generation Q’s bizarre agenda to convince people lesbians simply love poker????? I honestly love this completely made-up stereotype!
- Nat’s weird comments aside, it is nice to see Alice’s bisexuality textually acknowledged, something the original series was very bad at. She even has a bi flag on her desk!
- Tom is hyper-aware of his bad breath and chooses JUICY FRUIT as the solution? What?!
- Also, Alice just takes a burger and fries out of the fridge and eats it without heating it up?! I mean, I assume she’s a little tipsy from poker night, but still! Unhinged behavior!
- I do love when a character’s drink order makes perfect sense for them, and Alice’s vodka cran with Absolut is exactly that.
- Finley claims she didn’t know she was crashing the actual wedding just like the rehearsal or something? Which I guess is an attempt to retroactively justify the absurdity of her timing and outfit.
- That “what’s the soup of the day” moment really got me.
- On that note, there’s a lot of funny stuff in the episode amidst all the fighting. Leisha Hailey always has such great delivery, and so does Jacqueline Toboni.
- I’m not here to nitpick the show’s misunderstandings about how things work in publishing, but I do find it very funny that Tom is clearly more of a ghostwriter not an editor, which I don’t think is intentional, but it delights me nonetheless.
- I feel the same way about Tom as I do about Carrie: Protect them at all costs!!!!!! Please don’t let anyone hurt them!!