Season 2, Episode 9, “Last Dance”

Image for article titled Generation Q plods through redundant, mechanical storytelling

Photo: The L Word: Generation Q

Death, prom, protest, and a drinking bender—the penultimate episode of The L Word: Generation Q’s second season has it all. But for an episode bloated with so many dramatic plotlines, it’s bafflingly empty in a lot of its storytelling. The inconsistent character development and relationship dynamics of last episode bleed into this one, which has its occasional moments of effective dramatic tension but flails through too many of its arcs, insufficient buildup giving way to middling payoffs.

The very condensed and often confusing timeline of this show doesn’t do it any favors in terms of convincing character work. We’re burning through so many of these relationships so fast to the point where it’s getting dizzying. Bette and Pippa have been together for…maybe a week? A couple weeks? It’s hard to know. The same goes for Gigi and Dani, but apparently they’re already at the point of Dani coming to watch Eli’s recorder concert. Tina doesn’t even know about Bette and Pippa, which makes sense, given that they indeed just started seeing each other, but then at the same time, Bette’s already wanting to introduce Pippa to Angie and the two are completely entangled on a personal and professional level. It’s a tough balance. Sometimes Generation Q’s super-fast approach to relationship writing can be fun. Other times, it just perplexes, characters moving so fast that their interactions seem off, the stakes manipulated awkwardly instead of unfolding organically.

And on the note of moving very quickly, the writing of Finley’s dark descent into alcoholism has been disorientingly slapdash. “Last Dance” picks up the day after her big fight with Sophie, and she’s still missing. In fact, we don’t see Finley at all until the very end of the episode. Sophie is, naturally, very concerned over the course of the episode. Last season told a very interesting, nuanced story about Finley’s alcohol dependence, seen in the ways she has to be drunk to have sex and uses alcohol as a coping mechanism. But all of that has been thrown out the window for writing that’s much more simplistic and surface-level. Finley’s DUI seems to be the big sticking point here, but it’s not a clear or specific indicator of what addiction issues she might be struggling with. A DUI—at least as it has been written here, especially since Sophie and Finley’s conversations after the fact were vague and brief—is not character development in and of itself. And yet, Generation Q seems to be treating it as such. The DUI doesn’t really tell us much about Finley or her relationship with alcohol, and yet it’s doing all the heavy-lifting in this storyline, the show eschewing some of its previous, more subtle and complex writing around Finley and flattening her arc.

Sophie attempts to push through her anxiety over where Finley is when she goes over to her family’s place to celebrate her grandmother’s birthday, a family event that goes awry quickly. But the ways the gathering unravels are so forced and unconvincing on a character level—and not just when it comes to Sophie. Sophie and Maribel’s mother makes a blatantly ableist comment to Maribel, suggesting that Maribel will never have to deal with relationship drama because her disability precludes her from dating. In the same scene, Micah discovers the family has no idea he and Maribel are dating, and it’s so bizarre that this would not have been a conversation between Micah and Maribel before now that it needs context or at least an attempt at an explanation to make any sense at all. And yet, none is provided. And in fact, even as Micah learns Maribel hasn’t told her family about them, it doesn’t turn into a conversation. She doesn’t offer anything by way of context. And there’s similarly no discernible reason why Maribel insists upon Sophie telling the family the truth about Finley being missing.

I do think the arguments between Sophie and Maribel are very realistic and capture a specific sister dynamic, but too often characters in this episode act in truly perplexing ways, and Maribel forcing her to tell the truth, especially when she herself is not, is one such moment. It’s true that I’ve praised this show for its depiction of people making bad choices over and over again, but there’s a difference between bad/self-sabotaging choices and choices that just don’t make any emotional sense at all. In “Last Dance,” characters seem to mostly be making choices in service of the plot, and there isn’t enough character development or context layered into those choices to make them feel anything more than mechanical.

There’s even another example in this same exact scene at Sophie’s family’s house: When Sophie does tell the truth about Finley being missing, her mother immediately asks if Finley has been drinking. Other characters are becoming very abruptly aware that Finley might have a drinking problem, and there isn’t enough explanation for why. If Sophie—who herself only seems to have noticed Finley’s drinking last episode—has had a conversation with her mother about Finley and alcohol, maybe this line would make more sense. But there’s nothing to even hint at that being the case.

Not only is their mother casually ableist, but this family fight devolves into their mother and grandmother saying transphobic stuff about Micah and Maribel’s relationship. None of this is textually examined in an interesting way. It’s just dropped into the episode without any thoughtful character work around it. In fact, afterward, we see Micah and Maribel watching House Hunters and snuggling, and it’s romantic, sure. But the only thing they end up talking about is that Maribel said she loved him. That in and of itself is not that significant of a story moment, because Micah already said he loves her and thinks she loves him too last episode. And there are a bunch of other intense, emotional things that came up at that dinner that they’re just apparently going to ignore entirely.

“Last Dance” indeed feels bloated, especially by the drama involving the CAC, the Nuñez company, and Bette’s artist roster. This storyline has been dragged out way too long, and it offers very little by way of real substance. Dani’s conflict with her dad has been circuitous and insipid. Dani pushes back against her father but also keeps doing his bidding, even going to the CAC to make her case for the name not coming down from the wing because it would “destroy us.” The us here is really just her father. She told Bette last episode that she’s trying to change the family name/assert her own agency, but we’re not really seeing her do that at all. Dani lies to Gigi about being stuck in traffic in order to get out of the recorder concert but then immediately confesses she was just having a bad day in a later scene. Again, it’s mechanical, not enough information provided to suggest why Dani lies and then so quickly tells the truth. Some of the writing around Gigi and Dani has been fascinating, especially because Gigi does indeed bring out a different side of Dani but also is very willing to call Dani out on her flaws, which Dani is clearly unused to. But this traffic lie is so wedged in, and it’s a weak attempt at connecting Dani’s dad drama with the rest of the character’s relationships on the show, especially since that exact storyline already unfolded last week. It’s redundant.

In a similar way, Angie’s arc with her donor continues to go in circles. I do think that if nothing else, this storyline has at least provided the gift of a consistently impressive and memorable performance by Jordan Hull, who is particularly good at conveying her character’s anxiety, heartbreak, and anger, which she cycles through rapidly but convincingly throughout the episode. “Last Dance” begins with her learning that her donor doesn’t wish to see her, and she immediately takes this out on her moms, misplacing her emotions as teens often do.

To add to Angie’s distress, it’s also prom time, and Bette and Tina host a big pre-prom party at their place. Angie’s unraveling throughout it, and Jordi’s hurt. It culminates with a big fight between them during which Jordi says Angie’s lashing out on everyone but her donor, who Jordi says is the real asshole. I’m not totally sold on whether Jordi’s right about Marcus though, given that her donor is a dying man who donated his sperm anonymously and Angie has ignored her parents over and over, forcing herself into someone’s life who kind of does have a right to not want her in it. It’s unclear if we’re supposed to side with Jordi here. Angie’s sadness and frustration throughout all of this is palpable, and the emotional stakes are there, but the plotting here has been really flat as well. And then for it to all end with Marcus dying right after he has told Bette and Tina he will indeed meet Angie is just cheap, an easy plot twist that undercuts the story. It never fully feels like the writers know what story they’re trying to tell here. And the final montage that cuts between Angie and Jordi in love at the dance and Marcus literally dying in the hospital is so wildly bad. The tonal dissonance between the two settings is no doubt intentional, but it’s purposeless. Why put these moments in conversation with one another? It isn’t even corny or melodramatic; it’s just strange.

Other than the friendships on the show, Bette and Tina’s dynamic is one of the more lived-in relationships, and it makes their scenes land on an emotional level. The ways Bette and Tina argue but also have to come together in co-parenting Angie feel specific and believable. The pre-prom party at their place features some of the episode’s strongest scenes, starting right away with Bette and Tina fighting about…whether something was a fight or not. It’s mundane relationship drama, and that’s what makes it compelling. Sometimes this show needs more of that everyday conflict. Tina also asking Alice to take Carrie’s cufflinks to Angie because she knows Angie’s mad at her also strikes me as a particularly simple but meaningful detail. Not all the Marcus stuff has worked, but the drama between Tina, Bette, and Angie makes them feel like a real, well developed family. The ways they move around each other are specific. The tension in this household simmers. There’s history and context to their behaviors. It makes the drama land.

Meanwhile, Alice is in the midst of her book tour, and very invasive journalists keep asking her about who she’s dating—specifically wording it in a way that does not allow space for Alice’s bisexuality. Biphobia in the queer community is a very real thing, but Generation Q takes a layered, nuanced topic and smashes it down into a condensed couple of lines between Bette and Alice that does not meaningfully engage with the topic at all. Also, Alice’s bisexuality seems so sutured to who she’s dating, and it’s tough to swallow a storyline supposedly about her grappling with biphobia when the writing is so…mired in stereotypes/assumptions about bisexuality. At episode’s end, a reporter goes on and on about how Alice is an important, iconic lesbian. Alice doesn’t correct her about that language at all. It isn’t until the reporter asks for the name of the woman she’s dating that Alice finally says that actually she’s dating a man named Tom. By not correcting the reporter for calling her a lesbian, the implication is that Alice’s bisexuality hinges on who she’s dating. But in reality, it doesn’t matter if Alice is dating a man or not: She’s bisexual no matter who she’s dating. If Alice is experiencing internalized biphobia here, that isn’t made textually clear. Again, there’s a huge disconnect when it comes to the characters’ choices and behaviors in “Last Dance.” It makes it difficult to invest in their drama.


Stray observations

  • Shane and Tess’s scenes together aren’t super significant on a plot level, but they are at least acting in ways that are logical and believable. All the characters are happy for Shane, and so am I! Let everyone else have the messy relationship drama for once.
  • Group photos are indeed a stressful time, and I think the pre-prom party captures that expertly. Also, Bette is such a specific type of mom with that camera.
  • I do love Shane and Alice both being like “Bette, it’s PROM” about the alcohol they brought. It’s funny! But also in the context of this show trying to do a serious story about alcoholism, I just think there’s a ton of disconnect in some of the writing around alcohol. And it doesn’t seem intentional.
  • Sophie owes Dani more than an apology for Finley showing up at her place!
  • On that note, how the hell does Finley know Dani’s address? How did she get into the building? Especially all while that wasted? At the end of the day, I’m willing to overlook the plausibility of those details. And the sloppy, simplistic writing around Finley’s relationship with alcohol is frankly more distracting.

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