Generation Q reaches back into the past to great effect | MCUTimes

Generation Q reaches back into the past to great effect

Image for article titled The L Word: Generation Q reaches back into the past to great effect

Image: The L Word: Generation Q

For the first few episodes, it has felt a bit like Generation Q has gone out of its way to not incorporate the past—both in the sense of avoiding dipping into the original series for character development and context as well as in the sense of retreading ground from the first season in a confusing and ultimately fruitless way, as with Nat and Alice’s polyamory plotline. Thankfully, “Lake House” does not go back to Nat and Alice’s perplexing storyline and instead moves things forward by showing some of Alice’s emotional aftermath of their split in a cogent and layered way. In fact, “Lake House” is the strongest episode of the season so far, its dramatic setups and payoffs working well. And finally, the characters are talking about the past in a way that makes sense and creates stakes in the present. The relationship conflicts explored in this episode are compelling and organic. Generation Q’s chaos is starting to feel a little more controlled and balanced. It’s still chaos to be sure. But it’s chaos that entices more than it perplexes.

The timeline of the episode is a little perplexing, but the pacing for a lot of these storylines is working, especially because there’s a satisfying mix of whiplashy arcs and slower burns. On the slow-burn side of things, there’s Micah’s crush on Maribel that is painfully obvious to everyone except Maribel. I wrote in a previous recap that their arc has some rom-com vibes to it, and that is especially true here in “Lake House.” It’s fun to watch, but there’s more to it than that. Maribel not understanding that Micah is into her despite all the “signs” is a classic rom-com setup. The tension is delicious. You want to scream at Micah to just come out and say it. But here, it’s cute, sure, but also genuinely frustrating! Micah is easy to root for, but he’s also messing up! He really should say something. If he wants more than friendship, then it’s on him to say so, to communicate honestly and openly with his friend. It’s not Maribel’s fault she’s not picking up on what’s supposedly in front of her. The “signs” he’s into her are obvious to us as viewers, but that’s because we’re trained to see these things by the many rom-coms that explore a similar trope. In real life, it would be harder to detect. Maribel’s ignorance is believable. And Micah’s getting in his own way.

Putting yourself out there requires a vulnerability, and Micah is surely struggling with not wanting to change the friendship but also with parsing out his longing feelings for her. I can speak from my experiences as someone who answers relationship questions online for LGBTQ folks: This is a common queer predicament! Crushing on a friend is difficult, because you could risk the friendship by saying something, but when you don’t say something, it tends to affect the friendship anyway. We’re seeing that play out in Micah and Maribel’s storyline. They go on an awkward double date that we only see the aftermath of, but it’s clear this is all affecting the way Micah interacts with Maribel, creating an awkwardness where before they were getting along easily. He’s going to have to speak up if he wants anything to change. For now, the tension in these scenes works well—equal parts rom-comy cute and uncomfortable!

As far as the past making its way into the storylines here, Anne Archer is back as Lenore Pieszecki, Alice’s former soap actress mother who was neglectful, critical, and downright exploitative for pretty much all of Alice’s young life. She’s still up to her old tricks, now working for a scam cosmetics company (“multilevel marketing company,” she hilariously corrects) and making little digs at Alice’s appearance. She has apparently been living in Alice’s home since Alice moved in with Nat, but Alice wants her place back, asking Lenore to leave. There’s both humor and drama to the resurfacing of Lenore, who was by no means a major part of the original series but was a fun bit character and who ultimately explains a lot about Alice and the way she moves through the world. Parents messing you up is one of The L Word’s ongoing themes. And yes, Lenore is funny here (there is a brief reference to the time Lenore and Shane kissed), and there’s also genuine care between Alice and her mother. Deeper into her adulthood, Alice seems to understand her mother will never change and has instead developed a way to have her in her life that works for her, minimizing any hurt Lenore could cause. Their relationship feels very deeply developed just through the dynamic they have in this scene, even if you haven’t seen the original. There are dramatic stakes, too. Lenore is just about to bring up why Nat meant so much to Alice when Alice cuts her off. She doesn’t want to talk about that.

The thing she doesn’t want to talk about, specifically, isn’t necessarily her relationship with Nat but rather her relationship with Dana, one of the main characters from the original series who was killed off in one of the more controversial story choices the series ever did among fans. Alice’s residual grief over Dana is explored headfirst in a scene between her and Tom. Tom tells Alice the book is just about ready except for the chapter about Dana. Alice tries to shut him down, but he persists, even trying to get her to open up by sharing his own story about losing his older brother. Alice initially still deflects with humor, saying Dana’s playing tennis in heaven. And then Leisha Hailey delivers a knockout of a monologue that reiterates she’s here for more than just comedy. It’s a gutpunch, and it’s also a realistic and meaningful portrayal of trauma and grief. Dana’s death still affects Alice. It likely affects the way she is in relationships. By folding in the past, Generation Q taps into existing character development but also just more richly develops these characters’ presents.

Jordan Hull is doing some incredible work this season, and the spiral Angie goes on in “Lake House” is devastating to watch. It starts with Kayla telling her her dad, Angie’s donor, is dying. From there, Angie breaks down more and more, desperate for help from the adults in her life but also not entirely knowing how to ask. It’s another well executed, layered storyline. She starts with her Uncle Shane. The fact she’s comfortable coming to Shane with this is a sweet detail of their relationship. It also makes perfect sense in the sense that Shane for a period of time didn’t really know her dad, a fact Angie seemed vaguely aware of but wanted to know more about. Shane opens up, once again reaching back into the past of the original series to talk about how she didn’t really know her dad and then, upon meeting him as an adult, didn’t like him because she felt her worst qualities came from him. That identity crisis led her to leave Carmen at the altar, another storyline original series viewers tend to have a lot of opinions about. Especially since a wedding spectacularly failed at the beginning of this season, I’m glad we’re finally talking about it, even if it’s in a slightly unexpected context.

These reaches back into the past really do add texture to existing relationships and character choices. Even later on when Shane misreads a moment and kisses Tess, who says she has a girlfriend, it harkens back to Shane’s past as someone who tends to cling to anyone who is nice to her before ultimately messing it up. Her avoidant dad made her avoidant, and it still impacts her to this day. She’s able to offer sweet, good advice to Angie, but she’s still making mistakes in her own life, and that feels nuanced and real.

Bette has a bit of a self-contained storyline in the episode, but it also touches on her past patterns in convincing ways. She spends the episode pursuing her beloved Pippa Pascal. Pippa, it turns out, does not want to be found. But Bette shows up at her studio in the mountains anyway and even hangs around after Pippa shows her the door. Bette explains how much Pippa’s work means to her, eventually cracking through her tough exterior and getting an invite into the studio, where she has nothing short of a religious experience. So much of this show hinges on characters fucking up, so it’s very exciting to see them be good at things sometimes. Bette’s good at her job. Pippa agrees to dinner and still absolutely puts up a fight, pointing out that Bette’s boss is racist, and Bette persists. She doesn’t win the battle quite yet, but there’s a fun, very The L Word twist. It’s not unexpected by any means, but it still satisfies nonetheless: There’s a spark between Pippa and Bette. This, of course, is not just a work dinner. And when Pippa tells Bette to only touch her like that if she’s coming home with her, Bette doesn’t take the bait.

For any other character, this would be shocking. When there’s a hint at the possibility of sex on The L Word, people take the hint quickly and act on it. But Bette above all cares about her career. It’s where a lot of the bad choices in her personal life stem from. She chooses to continue the professional pursuit of Pippa over sex. And while it’s the professional choice in terms of her relationship with Pippa, Bette still extends it into a bad choice in her personal life. We smash cut from her with Pippa to her with Gigi. It’s a quick but very telling sex scene. Bette’s blatantly using Gigi, letting out her sexual tension with Pippa with Gigi instead. It’s a great L Word sex scene in the sense that it’s hot and queer (Bette urgently removes one of her rings before fucking Gigi in a moment of representation for all Rings Lesbians out there) but also conveying very specific power dynamics and dramatic stakes. Whether Gigi knows she’s being used or not doesn’t even matter; Bette’s actions are selfish and unkind. They’re also perfectly in-character.

Bette’s narrative this season has been fascinatingly defined by her flaws and her hypocrisy. She scoffed at the selfishness of Finley crashing a wedding in the first episode and looked down on Sophie’s cheating, but her own moral compass is all over the place. She can be a good friend at times. She’s, as I’ve said repeatedly, good at her job. We’ve seen her be a caring parent to Angie and attempt to better her parenting. But she’s also selfish and so competitive she sometimes ends up hurting others. She tramples over other people. She’s a wonderfully complicated character, and I’m interested in the ways the season is exploring her faults, especially since there have already been some consequences.

Her tendencies to suppress her own emotions and regard others as too emotional or sensitive have, whether she notices or not, impacted her relationship with Angie. I do think Bette is a good mom. I think as with most people though, she struggles. And I’m particularly interested in watching a queer parenting storyline that’s allowed to be imperfect. Angie’s scared to ask Bette if she can go to therapy. In fact, she skips asking her at all at first, seeking out Micah in what becomes the latest writing move to more tightly entwine the original cast with the younger characters. Then she finally tells Bette in a fraught, difficult scene. She reveals she went to Carrie and Tina first to ask them to do a therapy session with her and that they said yes so long as Bette is onboard—the implication being that everyone involved thought Bette might be the difficult one to convince. The implication also being that Angie’s relationships with Mama T and Mama B are different. Bette insists Angie can come to her with anything, but at the same time, she isn’t fully listening to Angie. She does agree to the therapy. Like I said, we can see her striving to be better, especially in this particular part of her life. It’s compelling to watch her try to be better, and it’s just as compelling to watch her continue to make the same mistakes. She’s there for Angie at the end of the day, but she’s also still trampling over other people’s boundaries—including Pippa’s.

Plainly put, Bette is unlikeable this season, and I mean that as a compliment to the writing. I’m always seeking out more complicated, flawed queer women on television. And Bette’s flaws are far from the only ones on display in “Lake House.” Generation Q thrives when it lets all its characters be messy—so long as that mess feels rooted in context and history. And in “Lake House,” that’s largely the case.

Also brimming with complicated character dynamics and flaws, there’s the Dani/Sophie/Finley triangle which gets more and more complicated by the episode, a trajectory that’s actually quite entertaining to watch. The setup for these three in “Lake House” is, on a plot level, quite straightforward: Sophie makes a date with Finley, and it becomes instantly evident this date is doomed. Indeed, Sophie misses her date because she’s tasked by Micah to drive out to Ojai and find Dani, who flees after learning her father has been taken into custody by the FBI (Last week’s cliffhanger is solved in the opening scene of “Lake House.” He’s not dying; he’s under federal investigation for criminal conspiracy and fraud.) Two exes reconnect while the “other woman” who crashed their wedding is left out to dry. Generation Q burrows into the character stakes of this scenario. Just like it’s immediately clear Sophie isn’t making that date, it’s immediately clear she and Dani are going to hook up. But the writing still surprises in small ways.

Big breakups can feel like impossible work. How do you untangle the actual tangible details of your lives—your things, your home, your finances? How do you untangle the untouchable ties that bind—the intimacy, the love, the understanding? Dani and Sophie, at the end of the day, are not compatible—at least not right now in their lives. Dani even eventually reaches this conclusion in the episode. But that doesn’t mean they don’t understand each other. It makes sense that Sophie wants to be there for her about her dad. It makes sense that Dani is open to it despite still holding onto a lot of anger and hurt. They know each other. Even on television, breakups shouldn’t be a simple severance. Generation Q pulls out this breakup in a way that doesn’t feel tedious or redundant but rather just true to life. Dani and Sophie are wound up in each other whether they like it or not.

And the reasons they shouldn’t be together are plainly evident, too, even as they do connect a bit. Sex hasn’t really been the problem for them—at least as we’ve seen in their previous sex scenes. And at first, it looks like their sex scene here is going to be the same as it always is for them: steamy and uncomplicated. Yet Sophie tries to say they shouldn’t do it. Dani bulldozes through her as she has done before. One of Dani’s problems is never wanting to talk about things. In this particular sex scene, they’re once again on different pages, even as they know exactly how to touch one another. Dani is using Sophie not unlike Bette’s using Gigi, only instead of being for work reasons, she’s just wanting a distraction from what’s going on with her dad. With Sophie, it’s easy. Or, at least, it’s familiar. In truth, it isn’t easy at all. Hooking up with an ex rarely is, and it doesn’t take much for everything to unravel.

Sophie tellingly chooses to lie to Finley about missing the date, telling her she’s working on the segment for Alice, a lie that’s eventually accidentally exposed by Micah, setting Finley on the precipice of a bender. Sophie then tells Dani the truth when she asks for it, admitting to being on the phone with Finley and insisting she doesn’t know what they are to each other. The fight scene is as familiar as the way they comfort each other earlier. There’s a strong sense these characters know each other well but also just don’t work, at least not within the type of relationship they were in before. Dani suggests after the fight, after she admits they dodged a bullet by not marrying, that it feels easier to be together now. Of course it does. In Ojai, there’s almost a fantasy element to it. Their old lives fall away a bit. She does want Sophie—as a continued distraction. They’re both good and bad for each other. And it doesn’t feel like Generation Q is dragging out this storyline so much as complicating it, revealing people’s relationships to each other are in constant motion, ever-changing.

Everyone makes impulsive, bad, sometimes contradictory decisions at some point in life, and it can take time, loads of therapy, and processing to figure out the why. When it happens on television, we still want to understand why. Generation Q’s main source of tension and conflict is its characters making horrendous decisions in their personal lives. “Lake House” does a solid job of grounding its characters’ missteps and chaotic decisions in context, history, and emotional storytelling. It makes the drama so much juicier when we can see the characters’ patterns, flaws, and motivations.

Stray observations

  • Bringing back Lenore makes me hopeful for more reappearances from extremely minor characters!
  • But also, Lenore suggesting Nat filled Dana’s place in Alice’s heart (which I’m pretty sure she’d been about to say) is Tasha erasure! So bring back Tasha.
  • I simply have to ask: In regards to the title, where was the lake?????
  • Shane’s sheer cluelessness about how to work a projector? Incredible stuff.
  • There’s something so dark about having a breakdown on a scooter! I’m worried about Finley, and I’m not always the biggest fan of Finley!
  • I would love to meet “Barbara at the Men’s Warehouse.”

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