Before Sex/Life's Billie, Sarah Shahi Shined on The L Word as Carmen - VRGyani News and Media


Saturday, August 28, 2021

Before Sex/Life's Billie, Sarah Shahi Shined on The L Word as Carmen

Actress, director, and producer Sarah Shahi excels at a specific kind of moving image feminism, one that mixes vulnerability with assuredness over one’s sexuality and sexualness. Her talent is evidenced in her portrayal of Carmen de la Pica Morales (The L Word, Showtime) and currently as Billie Connelly (Sex/Life, Netflix). As an in-body actor, Shahi’s tell is emboldened by her show. Becoming Carmen and Billie also requires a sexual embodiment of the physical; sex, sexuality, and sexualness are critical parts of how these characters relate to themselves and infuse their erotica with others. In Sex/Life, a lost Billie tells her college professor, Dr. Sumner (Dean Marshall), that sex to her means, “Desire...feeling desired...Freedom.” Shahi is excellent at this close-up, each syllable felt.

While The L Word premiered in 2004, Shahi joined the cast in 2005, and as Carmen, she was central to an emotional and erotic arc with audiences, thanks to her character’s connection with the series’ central heartthrob, commitment-phobe Shane McCutcheon (Katherine Moennig). After Carmen and Shane meet — in what starts as a super hot one-afternoon stand on top of Carmen’s DJ table — their relationship progresses from messy inbetweens to couplehood and eventually, engagement. In the end, Shane leaves Carmen at the altar because she is still scared to commit, ending their lust-into-love story and also Shahi’s recurring role. Carmen appears one more time in a video compilation in the series finale, where past characters record a bon voyage message to two of the ensemble characters. Today, some Carmen fans, as seen on The L Word: Generation Q's Instagram account, are still hoping Shahi will appear in the reboot.

RELATED: 'Sex/Life' Showrunner Explains That Dramatic Season 1 Ending, the Importance of the Female Gaze, and That Full Frontal Moment

In Sex/Life, Billie's sexual journey also begins with an (also super hot) one-night stand, this time in a pool with record producer Brad Simon (Adam Demos). They enter a blow-out sexual relationship, having sex everywhere, with plenty of emotionality (from both ends) and undealt-with father issues (Brad) in the mix, causing break-ups that break Billie’s heart a little more each time. There is a pregnancy that ends in a miscarriage and a final break-up, after which Billie marries stable Cooper Connelly (Mike Vogel).

Eight years later, Billie runs into Brad because her best friend, Sasha Snow (Margaret Odette) is sleeping with him. (Besides Shahi’s electric vulnerability, The L Word and Sex/Life also share a high wattage for interpersonal d-r-a-m-a.) Billie’s obsessive love for Brad fires up, creating a complex rabbithole of emotion and circumstances. In its season finale, Sex/Life is open-ended about Billie’s next step with Brad, unlike The L Word’s definitive, heartbreaking end for Carmen.

What unites these roles is how they study what it means to be attracted to the “forever bachelor.” Ultimately, Shahi forgives her characters and their paramours for falling because of lust, falling before they are ready — and trusting too much when they know better. When Shane cheats on Carmen, Carmen is devastated but doesn’t break up their relationship because of it. Shahi makes Carmen turning a fire extinguisher on Shane (presumably to “cleanse” her of her cheating) into something both silly and heartbreaking. Shahi’s Billie shows us her heart for Brad time and again — the way her face opens after he buys every magazine downtown with her article in it, and, finding him kissing someone at her cousin’s party, tells him that, even though, look at your behavior, she sees his potential and who he is trying to be.

When Carmen hurls pizza at Shane through tears when she confronts Shane about her cheating, it is because she is bereft at not knowing what Shane wants. Sausage? Fucking pepperoni? Monogamy? Shahi animates Carmen with confusion and desperation, an almost child-like tantrum, and that feels right. Earlier, when Carmen finally puts her hand on Shane’s heart, bending into her, telling her what they feel is real, you feel Shahi from your head to your toes. The first time Shane tells Carmen that she loves her, while they are having sex, it feels like Carmen’s soul jackpot. Shahi sunlights that orgasm.

In Sex/Life, when Brad tells Billie that he never loved her, throwing her suitcases into his elevator, Billie’s devastation — not this, again — is Shahi’s body folding, tears rushing, pain. When Brad calls her on the phone, Billie flattens herself against the wall outside her bedroom, her husband in their bathroom, her face crumpling, thinking about never again. When Brad gets a tattoo of two bees, telling Billie they are him and her, she climbs on top of him, linking the body to the heart’s forever hoping.

So then, despite the relationship problems that exist, Carmen and Billie experience real pleasure with Shane and Brad. When they do, Shahi fulfills Carmen and Billie’s sexual liberation with a believable lust, sweet and raw. By empathizing with Carmen and Billie — understanding that they believe, respectively, that Shane and Brad are endgame for them — Shahi triumphs in a display of self-security. These women know what they want, who they want. Shane and Brad may be a disaster, but they are her disasters. There is an objective foolishness here, but the foolishness is their own.

Sex/Life Season 1 is streaming now on Netflix. The L Word is available on Showtime and Showtime Anytime.

KEEP READING: ‘The L Word: Generation Q’ Season 1 Recap: Everything You Need to Remember Before Season 2

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