Girlfriend Experience Season 3 starts with a virtual work interview. Iris (a supple and self-assured Julia Goldani Telles of The Affair) reveals to a glamorous older woman in a bare, glowing white room that she is foregoing an elite undergraduate education in the United States for a new life in London.
Aside from a few unsettling details—the women often talk without moving their lips—the meeting only seems extraordinary in the sense of a show about high-end sex workers, after a year when more people than ever were interacting mainly through technology.
The protagonists of this Steven Soderbergh film turned Starz anthology, whose alternately enthralling, relaxing, and sluggish first new episodes since the 2017 premiere on May 2, have one thing in common: they all trade intimate physical contact for money.
Girlfriend Experience Season 3: Yet Another Exploration
Iris reveals what she has to offer, along with her milky skin and big sapphire eyes, just before she clinches the job with an exclusive escort service: “I’m good at reading people.” This is akin to Joan Didion claiming to be just “ok” at reading cultural moods.
Iris is researching sexual attraction in her new day job at an artificial intelligence firm, where she is using her precocious aptitude for neuroscience and behavioral psychology. By night, she collects intelligence from the field, secretly recording sessions with world leaders and professional athletes, whose most buried urges she is eerily adept at detecting.
At some point during each meeting, an epiphany flash across her face, and Iris—the name of a flower but also a critical component of both animal and mechanical eyes—suddenly understands how to change her actions to suit her date.
The Girlfriend Experience’s previous incarnations have contrasted upscale sex work with equally lucrative labor conducted in high-level political and legal careers, so the fusion of tech and lust seems like an unavoidable course for the show.
Anja Marquardt, who joined the series after two seasons written and directed by Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan, has a fascination with this type of work; her 2014 film She’s Lost Control follows a female psychology graduate student who acts as a sexual surrogate. In several ways, the character-driven tale Marquardt tells is a return to form for a show that shone brightest in its first season, which featured Riley Keough as a law-student escort. Iris is brilliant, stunning, and seems to have her life meticulously compartmentalized before her condition devolves enough to expose how fragile it was all along, much like that character in Hulu.
Girlfriend Experience Season 3 Details
Marquardt spends the first half of the season establishing an eerie, clinical calm.
The environment is both luxe and minimalistic in apartments and workplaces whose styles seem to be converging together with their functions: polished metal floors, mammoth glass windows, monastic concrete partitions, furniture, and clothes in all the bloodless colors of the iPad rainbow.
Iris tells a co-worker of mirror neurons, which are “our ability to sense what someone else is thinking or doing,” and mirrors become a visual theme.
When Iris reflects her clients’ wishes, she transforms into a sentient clone of the A.I. she studies throughout the day. An iris is used by both mechanical and human eyes to allow light in.
It’s interesting to see television tackle big topics in science and theory without dumbing them down to appease network executives’ knee-jerk underestimation of their viewers.
And this immersion in a world where the lines between humans and technology are blurred can be fascinating.
However, the plot hardly begins to progress until episode 5, when the show deepens these thematic links (thematic neural networks?), drawing artificial bodies, deep fakes, and fatalism into its web of metaphors.
It’s difficult to predict if the next five episodes will be worth the wait now that we’re halfway through the season.
The intersection of love, sex, and technology has become a pop-culture obsession. We keep getting dark visions of heterosexual male desire filtered through computers and robotics. It all harkens back to that pessimistic, Stepford Wives notion that what men want most from women is not connection but submission.
It’s the girlfriend’s experience without the girlfriend’s obligation. The HBO Max adaptation introduced an all-powerful tech mogul who wouldn’t rest until he’d invaded every corner of his wife’s consciousness.
This season of The Girlfriend Experience contains some promising ideas, even though it retreads some familiar ground. The gendered implications of Iris’ double life go largely unacknowledged.
Still, as we look to a future mediated by A.I., why do we still spend so little time imagining how technological advances might intersect with the needs of people who are not straight men?
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