The Girlfriend Experience Season 2 Couldn't Come At A Better Time

Photo: Courtesy of STARZ.

In the season 2 premiere of The Girlfriend Experience, again inspired by Steven Soderbergh's 2009 movie of the same name, we immediately descend into the murky waters of politics. Like any good thriller, “Erica & Anna: Leverage” involves all the classic makings of a political drama, from intrigue about the cut-throat, backdoor dealings of campaign strategy to the inevitable workaholics making those cut-throat back door deals. But, this isn’t The Ides Of March, so there’s more to this story. The “more” is the eponymous girlfriend of the Girlfriend Experience, sex worker Anna Greenwald (Louisa Krause), who has the powerful political strategist Mark Novak (Michael Cram) for a client. As a purveyor of the “girlfriend experience,” Anna is, in this specific instance of the practice, in charge of fulfilling Mark’s sexual needs, as well as his emotional ones. By exploring Anna’s relationship with Mark, and her imminent relationship with super PAC operative Erica Myles, Girlfriend proves just how timely it is.

Mark Novak is not a “Nice Guy.” Instead, he’s the kind of man who purposefully degrades Anna during every sexual encounter. At the beginning of their date, Mark tells Anna she’s “so beautiful.” Yet, within seconds, he’s choking her during a kiss. Then Mark is pounding away at Anna from behind before demanding, “Get on your knees and suck it.” In a rarity for even premium pay-cable, viewers see Mark aggressively force Anna to fellate him as he repeatedly calls her a “slut.” The camera stays at groin level for the entire rough oral sex session, and we can see Anna isn't enjoying a single aspect of the encounter. On top of all this sexual horror, Anna's client is the kind of man who has Anna bring a “friend” to their next date, and proceeds to snatch that friend (Gillian Williams) by the hair and scream she needs to connect with his “fucking cock.”

Mark is an abusive misogynist with sexually violent tendencies. The reality of being entangled with this kind of man arrives when our president — himself a real-life political powerhouse — is an accused sexual predator, and Hollywood is currently purging itself of an endless stream of sexual abusers.

The Girlfriend Experience cast is well aware of how the headlines might color how viewers experience the series. “Power dynamics and control are major themes this season, and I’m really interested in seeing how the audiences react to both storylines — and what connections they draw,” Anna’s portrayer Louisa Krause told Refinery29 after chatting on the phone and over email. The “both storylines” Louisa is talking about refers to the fact Girlfriend’s sophomore season is made up of two fully separate stories: “Erica & Anna” and “Bria,” which follows the titular woman (Carmen Ejogo) who is fleeing her rich, dangerous husband in favor of the witness protection program. A wife leaving a monster of a powerful man doesn’t feel so far from reality after Georgina Chapman ended her marriage with disgraced Hollywood predator Harvey Weinstein.

While all of these seem almost supernaturally well-timed to the Girlfriend Experience premiere date, Erica’s alter-ego Anna Friel says what happens after people watch is what’s most important. “It leaves you asking questions rather than being provided with the answers,” the Irish-English actress, who was reportedly entangled in the sexual harassment scandal of Amazon executive Roy Price, told Refinery29. “What’s going on in today’s politics is making everyone look around and ask, ‘Is this right? What is happening? How long has this been going on? Why have we been putting up with this for such a long time? And how are we, most importantly, going to move forward and create equality and a comfortable, safe working environment?’”

The obvious sexuality of Girlfriend Experience 2.0 isn’t the only way the season feels like a necessary commentary about the world we’re living in. Erica is one of the only woman in her political stratosphere, and, on top of that, the season 2 preview shows someone who looks just like the super PAC strategist being assault in a conference room. It’s the kind of conference room we often see Anna wheeling and dealing from. “[Erica] holds her own when she’s basically frightened to death,” Friel says of her character. “She’s in a very male-dominated environment, which is also a topic that is incredibly timely at the moment.”

Despite all of the darkness unquestionably hanging over the women of Girlfriend Experience, there are still some upcoming bright spots. As we see in “Leverage,” Anna begins recording Novak. First it’s his business phone conversations, and, at the end of the episode, it’s the abuser’s sexual encounter with Anna and her fellow sex worker friend Jo. The latter scene is where that haunting “connect with my fucking cock” quote comes from.

Anna’s choice to expose a “pig” like Novak is what attracted her portrayer the role. “Sexual abuse is everywhere, and it was gratifying for me as an actress to play someone who has complete ownership of her sexuality,” Krause explains. “At the end of the day, Anna is a strong, self-serving individual doing what she wants to do … The politics in the show also mirror the complexity of the power dynamics in the relationships revealed.”

So, Girlfriend Experience season 2 might show the dangers of abusive men in politics, but it also gives us powerful women fighting back. That might explain why, when asked what she could tease about “Erica & Anna” going forward, all Krause could say was, “Buckle up.”

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