Photo: Katrina Marcinowski/HBO Max
The girls at Essex are on my dang nerves. With some minor exceptions and major laughs, this episode of The Sex Lives of College Girls felt like putting your resistance at zero on an exercise bike. It was a period of much discovery but not much plot development. Bela discovers someone outside of a frat or a comedy magazine to explore bodies with, Whitney discovers productive failure, Leighton discovers the campus queer community, and Kimberly discovers yet another way to potentially pay for college.
Whitney, still trying to find something to do at college when there’s like dozens of things to do all of the time, decides to take Biochemistry. It’s one of the most challenging classes on campus, with a failure rate through the roof. Bela’s taking it, sure, but only to appease her parents, and she barely pays attention. Even Whitney’s mom says she shouldn’t take on that flies! But Whitney sticks it out, manages a barely passing grade in the first exam, and decides not to drop. She also tells off the patronizing guy named Andrew, who snaps at her and Bela for not paying attention in the lecture. It may not be a win for her GPA, but it’s a win for Whitney. Also, as her Senator mother reminded her, Whitney’s grades do not matter. She can nepo baby her way into a job if she has to after graduation. She’s in a better position than most to challenge herself. Studying your butt off for a class you might fail anyway isn’t the most traditional way to reject privilege, especially for someone so competitive, but it’s cool to see Whitney learn from that failure and get curious about something new like science.
Meanwhile, after the loan office advises Kimberly to transfer to another school (way harsh, Taylor), she picks up a pamphlet about becoming an egg donor. She could earn $80,000, but it requires surgery and is a potentially big life decision. I love the idea of her selling her eggs as a not-really-but-kind crossover with The Mindy Project — convincing college girls to freeze their eggs was a long arc on that series. The banter between the girls as they discuss the possibility of Kimberly almost kissing her long-lost son when he takes a job as her personal trainer and Bela writing the screenplay based on the New York Magazine article based on Kimberly’s tale is also top-notch.
Will Kimberly go through with selling her eggs to stay in school? To me, the conflict with Kimberly’s arc this season is not that she needs money; it’s that she needs to come clean with her parents about losing her scholarship. Even if egg donation works out, she will have to tell them eventually. This is such a big burden for a first-year college student to take on! I don’t want her to sign her life away to student loans if she doesn’t have to, but treading water with money scheme after money scheme is stressing me out. I’m braced for something going wrong and for Kimberly to get hurt. But who knows? Maybe I’m used to more conservative television or even an issue-of-the-week show like Degrass that would turn this into a teachable moment. Maybe The Sex Lives of College Girls is telling me it’s no big deal, and Kimberly’s doing the smart thing by getting herself out of her own financial mess and helping families in the process.
You know, like the teachable moment that is Leighton’s doozy of a storyline. She’s hooking up or talking to upwards of 30 girls on campus. She’s newly out! She’s trying things out! She’s embracing her slut era! She’s … all of a sudden in between dozens of girls who are all each other’s ex-girlfriends and don’t realize that their relationships with Leighton aren’t exclusive. Her roommates can’t keep track of who they should and should not be friendly to on campus, which is a shame for them because a lot of these girls came with gifts and GoodReads friendships. Three different girls show up at Leighton’s dorm and start fighting. The way Leighton talks down these hookups to her roommates while explaining who they can and cannot speak to, it’s not surprising that some of them can’t take a hint. But Leighton is probably bad at communicating her intentions and needs as well. She is, after all, fairly new to dating women without a protective shroud of secrecy.
Then Leighton learns that one of the girls gave her chlamydia. Now the nurse wants her to communicate more and contact her sexual partners (half of whom she ghosted or actively upset) with the bad news. Yikes! I will say that it is so nice to see Whitney and Bela reassure Leighton that she does not need to justify her promiscuity to them. Sure, these consequences aren’t fun, but the stakes aren’t that high.
Bela, last but not least, learns that short guys are good at sex too. that’s it. That’s pretty much her whole deal. A super flirty compact bike hits on her at the gym, and she becomes obsessed with how they fit together like puzzle pieces in the sack. She also decides to turn her revelation into an article for her website. Everyone wants to be complimented on their sexual prowess in an online comedy magazine, right? While I think it’s very funny that she’s turned on by a guy doing a backflip, I don’t love this storyline. Her piece is about how “Short Kings Are Unexpected Sex Gods,” which begs the question: why do you think they’re called kings, ma’am?? There’s no punchline to this arc or anything. Her conversation with Eric about said short king ends with her saying that sex with Eric is better, anyway. So what was the point? It’s just kind of like … what Bela’s up to. Down it? I don’t know.
• “You got a 62? I got a four.”
• What is with the way Jackson casually mentions the tornado that destroyed his school? Is something up with him? Is he a narc? I know Kaling’s jokes are often dry, but nobody is that dry when talking about a tragedy they experienced.
• Biochem Andrew was rude and probably sexist, and I’m worried about his dynamic with Whitney down the line. Sure, she’s with Canaan right now … but my ‘shipping radar is always pinging. I really hope this isn’t where this is going. What can I say? Enemies to lovers are great and all, but I have a firm anti-negging stance.
• I love that Leighton is doing ‘fit vids. And, too, got sucked into BamaTok last fall. But the iconic thing about those videos is how much the girls ordered from Shein, and how “Shein” sounds with a deep Southern accent, and Leighton wouldn’t be caught dead in Shein.
• Please, please, let Bela end up going to the Phoebe Bridgers concert with Leighton’s ex.
• I try not to overthink about how Pauline Chalamet is Timothée Chalamet’s sister because they’re very different performers with their own talents. But it is wild that, because of that, Timmy C probably isn’t a pop culture reference The Sex Lives of College Girls will ever use. It feels like he would have come up in the short king vs. nerd prince/straight twink debate between Bela and Eric.