Why Did the ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’ Finale Betray Its Thesis of Female Friendship?

Whitney and Kimberly are about to fight over a man, and Bela's toxicity almost blows up her feminist comedy club.

Why Did the ‘Sex Lives of College Girls’ Finale Betray Its Thesis of Female Friendship?
Pauline Chalamet, Amrit Kaur, Alyah Chanelle Scott, and Reneé Rapp as Kimberly, Bela, Whitney, and Leighton in The Sex Lives of College Girls. Photo:Katrina Marcinowski/HBO Max

This post contains spoilers about episodes 9 and 10 of The Sex Lives of College Girls Season 2.

The Sex Lives of College Girls wrapped its second season on Thursday, and I’m reeling after the discovery that it is no longer my feel-good, comfort show. As it turns out, nothing in life is sacred, and the Mindy Kaling show about four messy young women navigating the ups and downs of their freshman year of college truly broke my heart with a finale about young women’s supposed inability to live and work together without drama.

The season ends with things looking bleak for pretty much everyone but Leighton (Renee Rapp), who reconciles with her Season 1 love interest, Alicia (Midori Francis), in glorious fashion. I was even more delighted that Leighton has a major realization about how much her interests and values have changed and quits her sorority. But as for Leighton’s roommates, where do I even begin?

A major, potentially friendship-ending conflict between Whitney (Alyah Chanelle Scott) and Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) has been teed up for Season 3, now that—truly out of nowhere—Kimberly is on the brink of a romance with Whitney’s ex, Canaan (Christopher Meyer). Whitney has just ended things with her biochem classmate-slash-fling, and seems interested in getting back together with Canaan—only to witness his and Kimberly’s first kiss. I can’t tell what hurt her more: the kiss, or Kimberly’s decision to lie by omission and not tell Whitney what happened when given the chance. At the beginning of the finale, Kimberly and Whitney decide to live together again next year, but by the end, Whitney is at the Kappa house, seeking out the room that Leighton just gave up.

Bela (Amit Kaur), for the most part, has been on a downward spiral all season, and she finally hits a wall in the finale. Bela goes behind her co-editors’ backs to sign off on a profile of their feminist comedy organization that’s entirely about her, lies to them about it, and then, as the fame goes to her head, brutally tells a new writer seeking her feedback to quit comedy altogether. She’s confronted by her co-editors, who ultimately kick her out of the organization (and their housing plans for next year!), and the most gutting part of this interaction is how Bela justifies her treatment of the new writer.

“Comedy writers need to have a thick skin, look at all the stuff that happened to me,” Bela says, referencing the male-led campus comedy magazine they all used to work for, and whose male editor harassed her.

In the final moments of the episode, Bela tearfully runs through the list of what she’s done over the previous trimester—“got kicked out of this new group, no one wants to work with me, I have a 1.8 GPA, I broke an amazing guy’s heart by being selfish”—and requests to transfer schools. Much like Season 1 ended on a cliffhanger regarding Kimberly’s future at Essex, Season 2 ends on a similar one for Bela.

Here’s what makes me so sad about all of this: For all the needless chaos and drama that the four roommates have gotten caught up in over the last two seasons (as 18 and 19-year-old college freshmen are wont to do!), they were never a source of chaos and drama to each other. Instead, they were each other’s most reliable support system. I’m not saying conflict is never going to arise among female friend groups or in all-women situations, but I’ll always appreciate representation that defies sexist stereotypes about female relationships, which Sex Lives gave us for the better part of two seasons.

I know it happens in the real world, but I don’t love to see two of the show’s female protagonists on the verge of a friend-break-up over a man—it’s my least favorite storytelling trope. As for Bela’s arc, honestly, if living through the era of the Girlboss™ taught me anything, it’s that often enough, women who attain power end up wielding it to reproduce harmful, patriarchal systems of hierarchy and cruelty. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less sad to see Bela transform from a survivor determined to create a feminist space for women writers, to… this. (I will, however, push back on her claim that her ex is “an amazing guy”—like, is he really? He’s a white, male comic who routinely bullied and declined to support her, and Bela’s cheating on him—while deeply shitty—doesn’t change that. But I digress!)

At the end of the day, I’m not saying any of the events of Season 2’s finale are especially unrealistic—all young people, including young women, can be deeply messy and hurtful toward each other. That’s life! But that’s not what fans are so upset about (and they are upset!). For a long time, this show offered a comforting alternative to years of television undermining women’s friendships and portraying us as being in constant competition with each other. With the Season 2 finale, the show’s sweet, feminist little bubble has been popped, and I really hope Sex Lives of College Girls Season 3 manages to course correct.

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