The L Word: Generation Q is back after its extended pandemic hiatus, delivering queer soap opera drama with all the usual spectacle of this show—tailored suits, good hair, sweeping sunny shots of Los Angeles. Everyone’s dressed their best and behaving their worst.
The premiere has several threads going on, but it’s mostly concerned with answering its season one cliffhanger. It’s the Gen Q Sophie’s choice: Did she choose her fiancé Dani or her best friend Finley (who she cheated on Dani with last season)? In an unnecessarily complicated maneuver, Generation Q simultaneously answers that question right away and then draws out the conflict way too much, building to an overwrought climax that somehow feels both inevitable and perplexing.
The episode opens on Sophie in formal wear, jogging up the steps of a massive estate, but it’s sort of a fakeout. It turns out the Hawaii trip already happened (she did go), and this is the rehearsal dinner for her wedding with Dani. It’s all toasts and smiles and wedding bliss. Even Dani’s father seems to have warmed rather quickly to her marriage to Sophie. Then, we jump back 15 hours. The in medias res structure doesn’t evoke the urgency or suspense it strives for. Overall, Dani and Sophie’s arc here feels too carefully plotted, the tension flattened into an easy-to-digest morsel of relationship drama.
And look, relationship drama is The L Word extended universe’s bread and butter. No one really comes to this show expecting fairytale endings and functional, healthy relationships with good communication. But the push and pull of Sophie and Dani’s relationship conflict has always unfolded by rote. Their relationship was practically dead on arrival, and it has made its tailspin sort of boring to watch.
There’s certainly a palpable sense of tension and discomfort in watching Sophie navigate her internal battle. The emotional stakes are technically there. A switch flips between Sophie in the first stretch of the episode—cool, confident, clearly in love with Dani and ready to get married—and the moment Alice tells her Finley’s coming back. Rosanny Zayas plays it well. With Finley literally physically far away, it’s easier for Sophie to pretend everything’s fine with Dani. But the second Alice breaks that seal by inviting Finley back to work for her (the new guy’s terrible at coffee orders), the fantasy is pierced. Sophie chose Dani, and now she has to reckon with the consequences.
The most engaging part of Dani and Sophie’s arc here actually involves their moments of connection. Just as Sophie’s about to tell her the truth—pressured to do so by Micah—Dani suggests they go out dancing and drinking together as their own bachelorette party. They’re in perfect rhythm when they dance together. And then they have really good sex after. In fact, these two are the only ones having good sex in the premiere. At the surface, they’re perfectly in-sync. But of course, tension brews beneath. It’s a more nuanced approach to depicting their conflict than if they were to be completely out of touch with each other at the surface, too. Here, Generation Q probes the idea that good sex and good sexual chemistry sometimes does exist in a vacuum. Dani and Sophie aren’t communicating well, but they’re still connecting in other ways. These are genuinely complicated relationship stakes whereas much of the plot maneuvering to get to the wedding ending feels too forced.
Part of the issue is that we’re so deeply mired in Sophie’s panic and inner turmoil and not given a lot by way of Dani’s interiority. This makes the conflict feel oversimplified, flattening both characters. Dani’s beyond unsuspecting of Sophie. She’s quick to blame herself for Sophie’s slight discomfort at the rehearsal dinner. To rub salt in the wound, she even confesses to having had a crush on Bette to Sophie, saying she wanted to clear her conscience of it and reiterating that actual cheating is a full-on dealbreaker for her. Dani’s innocence and complete unawareness here is over-emphasized. You can practically see the strings being pulled to try to make the episode’s supposedly explosive ending happen. It’s a major emotional moment for three main characters, and yet it’s so mechanical.
Let’s go ahead and just get that ending out of the way, because even though it aims at Big Twist Energy, it’s easily the least satisfying part of the premiere. Mere seconds after Dani walks down the aisle to a crying, joyful Sophie who has decided not to tell her the truth after all, the truth comes crashing in. Finley shows up with impeccable timing to declare her love for Sophie right there in front of everyone. The thing is...it’s unclear exactly what this moment is supposed to evoke. A gasp? A laugh? A sigh? The visual of Finley in her ripped jeans and backwards hat amidst this super glam wedding suggests a bit of physical comedy, but then when Finley opens her mouth, the words are so sincere and trite that it just all seems sort of sad and weird. It’s not a funny or fun melodramatic soap opera twist, and it’s not romantic or emotionally weighty. Instead, it’s somewhere in the middle, and middling is exactly how it all feels. It’s less of a climax and more of a cheap trick. It’s an awkward moment to be sure—just not really in the ways the writers probably intended.
In fact, so many other uncomfortable moments throughout the episode land much better. Everyone is on some level grasping at the things they want and failing along the way. Because if there’s one thing that unites all of the plotlines, it’s the concept of self-sabotage. Each character is self-sabotaging in ways that feel very specific to each of them. Alice is steamrolling over Nat, too self-obsessed with working on her book to really pay attention to the ongoing relationship problems they’re having. Sophie’s pretending Finley never happened. Bette isn’t really dealing with her emotions about Tina at all. Micah, who often struggles to speak up, is clearly unhappy about his ongoing relationship with Jose, who’s still very much married and supposedly working on a divorce. Micah could easily fix this situation by leaving it, but he seems to have succumbed to the same curse that plagues all of these characters: Logic and reason simply go out the door when it comes to matters of the heart...and the bedroom.
Shane similarly finds herself making the same mistakes she always makes. Generation Q often feels reality-adjacent. Take, for example, Shane wandering into a secret poker night for lesbians hidden behind a vending machine in a dark corridor. It’s a ridiculous setup, made even more ridiculous by the presence of guest star Lena Waithe as Eddy, who makes some joke about them each being Black and white versions of each other, which is the kind of reductive, eye-rolly humor one could have expected from the original series. Shane ends up ruining her potential new friendship by flirting with Chloe, Eddy’s wife. It feels like a paint-by-the-numbers Shane subplot—not altogether tedious but also not adding much texture to the episode.
Shane’s friendship with Tess is the more captivating thing here. In fact, as usual, Generation Q shines in its portrayals of friendship. Micah’s protectiveness of Dani is touching and reaches back into their history together. A lunch between Shane, Alice, and Bette pulls from their very long friendships. These characters know each other so well and speak to each other like real friends. Bette says she wants a woman who is as invested in her own career as Bette is in hers, and Shane and Alice immediately give her shit because in reality she’s always drawn to women who fit more of the stereotypical wifey role. Sometimes the friendships on this show feel more lived-in than the romantic relationships. The relationship between Bette and Angie also stands out here. Bette’s protective over Angie, and Angie’s desperate for some agency. Their mother-teen daughter dynamic is believable and compelling. The moment where Bette asks Angie if her underwear is showing on her way to her blind date offers a vulnerability and tenderness we don’t always get to see from Bette.
The premiere does suffer from some short term memory loss regarding season one, and in some instances, I’ll take it. Outside of a few quick references to it in the dialogue, Bette’s political ambitions have pretty much been stricken from the record, and the character has been returned to where she belongs: in the art world. She’s the new gallery director at a massive art house headed up by mega-dealer Isaac Zakarian (Griffin Dunne), and future workplace drama is foreshadowed by her new boss’s tokenizing, money-driven attitude toward diversity in the arts. But Bette’s personal life is where the real juicy drama goes down in the premiere (more on that later).
In a less promising move, season two hits the reset button on Alice and Nat. Where we left things last season, Nat had rather drastically declared her desire to be with Alice and only Alice following their tumultuous throuple situation with Gigi. Now, Nat’s retconning that tumultuous situation in her head, chatting with a stranger at Dani and Sophie’s wedding about the supposed “highs and lows” of bringing her ex-wife into her relationship with Alice, while Alice reminds her that it was actually pretty not great for them. It seems like we’re poised to retread a lot of ground for Nat and Alice.
Alice coming home to Nat in the midst of an SVU marathon on the couch and then initiating sex that Nat quickly falls asleep during is, on the other hand, very funny and uncomfortable in a realistic way. Alice and Nat’s carpool lane quickie sharply interrupted by Gigi is a farcical scene, but it also feels very true to all characters involved. Gigi has become a full-on agent of chaos, and Sepideh Moafi plays this devilish mischief very well. Gigi in general seems to harness the comedic voice of this show better than any other character at the moment. She still feels like a real character, but she’s also over-the-top and delightful to watch fuck things up. Nat and Alice hatch a plan to set her up with Bette, because they hope she’ll bother them less if she has a girlfriend to focus on, and Bette’s meanwhile convinced she’s going to die alone. Gigi and Bette make no sense together to the point that it comes full circle into them making perfect sense together. Moafi and Jennifer Beals have impeccable comedic chemistry together.
Amid all its dramatics, the premiere’s most grounded and memorable moments are the ones that sit inside low-stakes yet realistic discomfort. This show knows how to do awkward moments very well. This is best exemplified in the fraught family dynamics of the Bette, Tina, Angie household. Tina finally brings around her fiancé, Carrie, played so perfectly by guest star Rosie O’Donnell. Carrie is a very welcome addition to the mix. She immediately kicks up a lot of conflict, as Bette is extremely not over Tina. When Carrie makes a reference to the failed campaign, Bette seethes under her breath that people don’t like losing. The subtext of course is that she feels like she has lost here, too, Tina picking Carrie instead of coming back to her. But that tension is so much more enthralling for the fact that Carrie is completely oblivious to it. Carrie is a bumbling, earnest, affable goof. She talks too much, and she doesn’t pick up on social cues too well. When Angie expresses interest in meeting her donor, Tina and Bette quickly shut it down, and then Carrie oversteps boundaries by bringing up genealogy tests. She means completely well and has no idea she’s pissing Bette off. This is the kind of interpersonal mess and awkwardness that truly entertains. Sure, it’s remarkably lower stakes than a wedding crasher moment, but it feels real. The characters are being their complete selves.
Bette and Gigi’s date similarly brims with conflict, but it’s also strangely alluring. Bette and Gigi are not suited for each other at all, both too used to having all the control. But they’re compatible in certain ways that add a sharp, funny edge to their chemistry. For starters, it’s just hilarious to see them next to each other, practically dressed in matching outfits for their blind date. Then Tina and Carrie show up, setting in motion a classic Disaster Date scenario. Gen Q does lean into the comedy of the moment, but there’s also more there. Gigi’s an agent of chaos, but she still has real feelings. She demands some vulnerability from Bette, who’s so disconnected from the date that she can’t even come up with a funny date story to share. Gigi pushes her and quickly parcels out that Bette isn’t over Tina. So, Gigi gives Bette a little gift by lightly bullying Carrie when Carrie and Tina come up to them. It’s very funny—and telling—to see how Bette finally perks up at this. She’s genuinely attracted to Gigi’s meanness here. When Gigi leans forward and tells Bette to kiss her, they’re doing it not because they genuinely want to date each other but because they’re both getting a rise out of being bad.
Again, it’s especially funny because Carrie and Tina simply don’t care at all. There’s no big fight between the pairs or an overwhelming sense of conflict. Gigi and Bette think they’re winning this whole situation, because that’s the way they view life. Meanwhile, Carrie and Tina are in their own little world. They might be the first functional relationship to ever enter this show. They’re genuinely sweet together. Carrie rambles about the too-small font of the menus and acid reflux, and Tina looks at her like she’s the most perfect woman on the planet. Carrie doesn’t like the texture of scallops, but she says if Tina wants them, she’ll try them. They’re a stark contrast to all the self-sabotaging everyone else on the show is doing. It’s funny how different Carrie is from Bette, but it’s also meaningful on a deeper level. As Bette explains to Gigi, Tina spent most of her adult life overshadowed by Bette. Now, she’s the center of Carrie’s universe, and their partnership seems equal in a way Bette and Tina’s never was. And still, Bette can’t be happy for Tina, which only further reiterates how bad they are for each other. With Gigi, Bette has perhaps met her match in terms of someone who likes to gobble people up and spit them out. It probably doesn’t mean they would fare well in a relationship with each other, but there’s something intoxicating about watching them be bad together. These two put the fun in dysfunction.
And that really is what’s missing from Dani and Sophie’s central storyline. Yes, Generation Q’s soap opera-esque melodrama and absurdity can sometimes amuse, but that melodrama becomes tedious when messy, layered emotional stakes and relationship conflict are condensed and distilled into a too simple, too tidy narrative arc. The chaos of the wedding is contrived chaos. It lacks life. The chaos of Bette, Carrie, and Tina trapped in a kitchen together is so much more effective, because the humor and drama mix together wonderfully. There are clear emotional stakes, but it’s still just so fun to watch. The everyday discomfort and tension in some of the premiere’s scenes does more than its splashier moments.
- Watching Dani and Sophie’s wedding interrupted, it was impossible not to think about the disastrous wedding that never was between Shane and Carmen in the original series. Fans were super upset about that development, but it had so much more weight to it than this wedding gone wrong does. It hurt, but that hurt was good. It meant the storyline was working honestly. Here, it’s difficult to latch onto any particular feeling about Finley’s interruption.
- Speaking of the original, it also has an over-the-top poker plotline in season four.
- Tess is mad at Shane for ruining her poker gig with Eddy, because she says she needed it—presumably for the money. But...isn’t she running Dana’s? Which I assume makes her the general manager? Is Shane not paying her a livable wage?!
- The show continues to have great needledrops.
- PROTECT CARRIE AT ALL COSTS. I hope her relationship with Tina remains as pure and lovely as it is here.