As freshman year comes to an end at Essex College, the girls of The Sex Lives of College Girlshead off to summer vacation having experienced their fair share of situationships, themed parties, and inner growth.
Most importantly, roommates Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet), Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott), Leighton (Reneé Rapp), and Bela (Amrit Kaur) have experienced it all together. But in the Season 2 finale of Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble's comedy, their future status as roommates gets thrown into flux as a love triangle crystallizes and one girl contemplates leaving Essex entirely.
After realizing her crush on her coworker and Whitney's ex Canaan (Christopher Meyer), Kimberly breaks up with Jackson (Mitchell Slaggert) but resolves to not act on her feelings, knowing it would jeopardize her friendship with Whitney. That is, until she can't help herself at the final party of the year and kisses him right in front of Whitney, who was ready for a confession of her own.
A Kimberly-Canaan romance has "always been on our radar," showrunner Noble, who also directed the finale, tells Metacritic. "There was a period of time where I was first roadmapping out what Season 1 would look like and the Season 1 finale had a little bit of a Kimberly-Canaan moment. In fact, it took a little bit of self-restraint to not do it at the end of Season 1."
Meanwhile, Bela continues the downward spiral that's defined her Season 2. After tearing down an aspiring writer and getting called out online, she gets kicked out of her all-women comedy magazine by the other editors, prompting her to seek out a transfer. Only Leighton ends the season on steady ground. Having reevaluated her priorities since coming out and exploring her sexuality, she breaks up with Tatum (Gracie Dzienny), quits her sorority, and reunites with Alicia (Midori Francis).
Looking ahead to potential Season 3 storylines, Noble says the writers and producers "want to keep our girls together because they're the heart of the show."
"By nature of splitting them up over break, it's harder to keep them together and to tell stories. I think that there's a world where we do it, so I don't want to rule it out. But I think that's the reason why we're always jumping Thanksgiving break and holiday breaks," he continues.
Here, Noble talks to Metacritic about where the Season 2 finale leaves each of the roommates, the fun of shipping your own characters, and the possibility of any exes making a reappearance.
The finale ends with all the girls in relative uncertainty — except for Leighton. Why was it important to end with her having a moment of clarity about who she wants to be?
I love the chemistry that exists between both Leighton and Alicia's characters and also Reneé and Midori as performers. It was there from the moment we first saw them together, so I've been wanting to get them back together. But I think I just wanted to feel like we were telling a story that was true to the queer experience. Leighton was not ready for that level of a relationship. She had to go on a journey. She had to test the waters. Then I think she landed in more of a relationship then she probably thought she would with Tatum, which is something that felt like it might have been a comedy fling, [the idea] of dating someone who looks exactly like yourself, but then developed to be a little deeper, especially when her dad weighed in and said, "Wow, I really like this girl for you." But we just wanted to see what would happen if we put Alicia back to Leighton after the one boundary between them was lifted, which is that Leighton's closetness in Season 1 was gone. That was the only thing that really kept them apart and created their heartbreak when Alicia had to kind of draw a line in the sand.
Season 2 brings in a lot of fun new love interests, but it really does reaffirm that the show is first and foremost about these girls and their friendship and how they're growing. Even to the point that when Leighton breaks up with Tatum and when Kimberly breaks up with Jackson, those breakups happen mostly off screen. Tell me more about balancing the friendships with the horniness and this revolving door of love interests.
I've always been inspired by the fun ensemble comedies that show dating the way that I think it exists in this very early stage of life, which is like it's the appetizer sampler. You're trying things out. You don't want to be pinned down right away into someone, unless you just happen to meet the right person. We all know those friends who started dating at 18 and then got married and now have 85 children. But the thing that feels real to me is showing growth that these characters can learn through their individual love interests. Everyone comes into these girls' lives with a lesson in mind from the writing side that we want them to take away.
We ship a lot of characters together. But in order to ship, I feel like you also have to "anti-ship" people at the same time. Sometimes you're pushing characters together, but you're leaving a lot of breadcrumbs saying, "This isn't perfect." I think we did that a little bit with Kimberly and Jackson throughout, where it was like some things were bringing them together, but it wasn't quite there. And then obviously, we realized that maybe she and Canaan have the most chemistry out of anyone that's ever been on our show with her. Those two chess pieces get put together in Episodes 9 and 10.
We see Kimberly rationally know that pursuing Canaan is not a good idea — that not going after a friend's ex behind their back is Friendship 101. Why does she still follow him that night?
I mean... we've all done that, right? We all either are that person or have that friend who's like, "I'm thinking about doing a thing, and I know it's not the right thing to do." Then the friend is like, "You're right, it's not the right thing to do. You shouldn't do it." And the next phone call, without fail, is, "I did it." So, I feel like it is a little bit of a real life situation that we're mimicking on the show. I also think Kimberly is so smart. I think she's such a smart character. She is determined, and she's booksmart — but we see her still learning how to navigate social scenes. I think we all know that in Kimberly Finkle's high school life, she probably wasn't going out on many dates and doing much. So, she's gonna step in some puddles. She knows the puddle sometimes, and she still can't help but step in it.
Is this something that Whitney can ever forgive Kimberly for?
I think that's the question that throws us forward. [In the] third season of this show...I think that's going to be a big crux of what their relationship looks like. We start the finale showing these two so determined, more than any of the other pairings on the show, to room together. We see that fall apart by the end of the finale, so we'll have to see what happens between the two of them. But I mean, it's a move. I've known friendships in the real world who've gotten past it, and I've known friendships in the real world that have not.
Bela has really gone through the wringer this season. Her magazine dreams start off so idealistic, but then throughout the season, she's falling into these very frustrating patterns of selfish behavior. There's this tension between her ambitions and how she treats others that she just cannot seem to reconcile. After her breakup with Eric (Mekki Leeper), I was like, "We're finally going to see her make some changes." But then when she's so brutal with her writer, I just wanted to scream. Where is Bela going with all this?
I think you're nailing the head with it. We see that Bela is, from moment one of our series, so ambitious. She knows exactly what she wants. She has all these ideas — both great and insane at times — on how to achieve them. But she is so set in who she wants to be in the future and where she wants to succeed. At times, I think that makes her short-sighted in the way she can treat other people. The thing that I was really interested in telling in Season 2 was a character learning that about themselves and still struggling to change it. Because I feel like it is hard to change something that's that chemical in us, and I think her ambition is very chemical. I think it's interesting to see her aware of it, and still step in it once again. Bela is obviously the life of the party, and she's upbeat, and she's cheery, and she's a clown. As someone who has always worked in the comedy space and known so many of my friends who were in the comedy space, there's something particularly poignant about when the clown is struggling mentally. I think that it'll allow us to do some interesting things with Bela, knowing that she is the fun and upbeat one, but boy, is she in a tough space.
In the very final scene, when she's listing out everything that's been going wrong, I thought it was going to be revealed that she was at therapy, but instead it's a meeting about transferring. What spurred that ending choice?
That was the intent. I had never directed before, and the finale was the first thing I ever directed. I was desperately trying to land the idea that she was talking to maybe an in-school therapist or something, and then revealing that it was something a little deeper. We borrow from our own personalities as we're writing, and I think I relate to a lot of sides of Bela that is very ambitious and hopeful. When you're in the creative fields, I think you get an element of perfectionism that bleeds into your striving for your success. I think that Bela, a perfectionist like that, when she's faced with a clear loss, she can't determine this to be anything other than a hard, hard loss. The only thing she can do is cut and run and start fresh. I think she can't wrap her head around climbing herself out of this hole, so she thinks it's easiest to ignore it and move forward somewhere else.
We talked about how Alicia comes back in a big way in the final two episodes. I feel like the show has always been so aware about the potential to reignite things with exes when you're in a college environment, like how you're still running into people all the time and feelings pop back up. Is there any potential for some of the exes of this season to make a reappearance down the line?
Oh, absolutely. All of those people are such tremendous performers that we love writing for, and sometimes we can't help ourselves but throw people back in there. We have to just get in and talk to our whole writing staff and see what feels true to these characters, but they're not going anywhere. Jackson isn't rooted in Essex; he is a student from the University of Kansas [so] I think he probably has to go back to Kansas. But we haven't said when! And Eric, I think Eric and Bela's lives are very intertwined, I don't think we've seen the last of Eric. I will say, Gracie, who plays Tatum, is just so magnetic. I was actually shocked at how I felt the first time I saw [her and Reneé] together on screen. I did not foresee the level of chemistry between them. It was wonderful. Historically, when I have something like that, I can't help but bring it back.