It's been eight short weeks since we met our young, starry-eyed ingenues with big art world dreams. After weeks of slap-shots, botched internships, Baby Jane Holzer, and trips to random print fairs, I know we all want "Gallery Girls" to last forever — but, as with all good things, "Gallery Girls," too, must come to an end. At the beginning of this week's season finale, Maggie is poised to get a job at Bernarducci Meisel Gallery. Chantal has skipped off to Paris and taken ill, leaving Claudia alone with American Spirits and mounting utility bills. Faced with the horror of financial independence, Amy has to find a job, and fast. Kerri and Angela are in pretty much the same spot.
Angela Buys a Purse, Claudia Dreams of Arson
We open on Liz’s jettisoned bfflz — Amy and Maggie — who meet up at the Bluebell Café for a much-needed tete-a-tete. Maggie apologizes to Liz for prematurely judging her. Wounds are licked and tears are shed. Indeed, pretty much every single character cries in this episode — so brace yourself.
The waterworks are also on full blast at the financially insolvent End of Century, which has now received its second and final termination notice from ConEd. Back from her extended vacation in France, Chantal saunters into the store wearing Parisian fur and a cavalier attitude. At her wit’s end, Claudia admits that she’s been looking into subletting the space so she can cash out and pay back her family. Chantal replies, “I’m thinking about moving to Paris, honestly,” in typical let-them-eat-cake fashion. This is followed by the requisite blame game where Laura tells Claudia to “sell a painting” and Claudia tells them to “sell more clothes.” (In Laura and Chantal’s defense, it seems that Claudia has heretofore sold exactly zero paintings).
Now dealer Frank Bernarducci summons Maggie to tell her that he's warming up to the idea of giving her a job. Kind Frank tells her to come in for a test-run the next day and even offers to pay her for her time. (What a concept!) “Thank God, I’m going on up!” murmurs an uncharacterically excited and prematurely smug Maggie. Not so fast! (Honestly, because I know that End of Century is not closed — I've been there! — and, spoiler alert, that Maggie does not get the job, this is the most dreadfully dull episode to recap so far. But it's the last one, so it's all cool.)
Claudia and Angela meet up for drinks at Elsa in the East Village. Angela reveals that she has made "the most important decision of [her] life: I bought a Givenchy bag yesterday. I’m like a real adult now, I’ve got a real adult handbag.” “If only you had a real adult job!” quipps Claudia. Touché. The question remains how Angela — who works as a waitress in a coffee shop/freelance event photographer and shoplifts from Barneys — can afford a $2,000 purse. Angela’s profundities out of the way, Claudia shifts into gossip mode. She posits that Chantal lied about having an infected lung in order to extend her vacation in Paris.
“I wouldn't put anything past her. I think Chantal is a pathological liar and she doesn't care about anyone else besides herself,” she says, apparently forgetting this shit will be televised. “You just want to make money,” says Angela, “and I think Chantal wants to achieve cult status among real fashionistas.” “She likes to pretend that she’s part of this esoteric project that isn't interested in making any money, and its offensive because I actually have money involved in the gallery and she acts like making that money back isn't a priority,” says Claudia. (This seems like an about-face from the Sucklord episode of a few week's back, wherein Chantal pushed Claudia into turning EOC into a D&D sausagefest to peddle limited-edition rolls of toiler paper to the masses — but I digress.) Claudia waxes romantic about getting a full-time job and watching EOC burn to the ground.
Maggie Breaks Free, Amy Lands the Job
Meanwhile, Maggie’s tryout at Bernarducci Meisel isn’t going well. Marina Press, the gallery’s assistant director, gives Mags a tour of the gallery’s two concurrent shows: one featuring comic-book inspired paintings by Sharon Moody, and a group show entitled “Stand Still.” Maggie tells the camera that "this art will take a bit of getting used to" because she's been immersed in the autonomous world of Chinese art for the last three years at Eli Klein Fine Arts, which apparently completely sapped her brain of all basic internship knowhow, because — in one of the show's more embarrassing sequences — she can’t remember the names of the artists she has just seen in the Meisel exhibition when asked, can’t find the business card Frank asks her to fetch, and makes a macchiato that Marina deems “weird.” Blissfully unaware of her less-than-sparkling first impression, Maggie says “my family will definitely be excited if I get a paying job, they've wanted me to have that forever. I can't wait to tell Eli that I’m leaving.”
After a predicable father-daughter powwow at Olive Oil's in Long Island where Kerri complains to her dad about working two jobs (her narrative has literally gone nowhere this whole season — but hey, that's life, even if it's not good television), we cut to Angela, who is dressing for a night of betrayal and partying with Chantal at the Fowler Arts Collective in Greenpoint. “If Claudia is seriously considering leaving EOC, then I feel I have the responsibility to tell my best friend,” she says, and proceeds to dish. She also throws in the bits about Claudia calling Chantal an illness faker and pathological liar, which doesn’t go down so smooth.
While Chantal is crying and swigging wine from the bottle, Amy is creating PDFs of her resume, which — here's a dose of random Amy Poliakoff trivia for you — includes experience at Leila Heiler and Paul Kasmin galleries. Maggie decides to go rub her imaginary new job offer in Eli’s face: “They really want somebody who will work for them for money, instead of for free.” Eli defensively replies that his interns move on to amazing positions in the art world and offers to write her a recommendation. “They didn't want one,” says Maggie, weirdly flirting. “I just went on the interview and they just loved me…it’s fabulous.” Maggie walks out of the Eli Klein Fine Art, free at last.
Back at EOC, it becomes apparent that Angela has told Claudia that she told Chantal what Claudia said about Chantal. Claudia is freaking out, and rightly so, because, “I said some crazy mean shit.” Claudia shows up at Chantal's apartment and the two have it out. “My concern is that if we all keep working together, we're all just going to hate each other,” says Claudia. “It's starting to feel like that,” says Chantal. The two sit across from each other in forlorn silence as depressing breakup music plays.
In other drama, Maggie’s lips are chapped. She and Ryan are going surfing in Long Island, a place Maggie calls “nature.” While Ryan surfs, Maggie is terrorized by seagulls and crabs. "I live in New York City,” she explains, “there's not a lot of nature. So when I get around squirrels and birds and seagulls its... hard." (Then again, recall that Maggie also thought that the Bedford stop was also a terrifying hotbed of gang activity.) She tells Ryan his wetsuit "smells like a big condom.”
Now, we watch as Amy gets her hair did for her job interview at — of all places on God’s green earth — Bernarducci Meisel gallery! Amy totally nails it. She makes a mean macchiato, and bonds with Frank’s dog Moogie. They are so impressed that they take her staff picture on the spot. "Wow, it's like night and day," says Frank. In an act of clearly contrived drama, Frank tells Amy that they had tried another girl for the job. “If she was on the ball, the job would have been hers.” Frank gives Amy her schedule: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. (Not full-time, but, hey, it beats working for free.)
The "Gallery Girls" Endgame
To make matters still more artificially histrionic, Maggie gets a call from Frank asking her to come into the gallery the next day, cruelly letting her imagine that she got the job. Convinced of her success, Maggie still doesn't want to burn bridges so she decides to go to Eli's opening that evening, the proceedings of which are particularly banal, even for this show (though our good friend Baby Jane Holzer does arrive with 11-year-old named Harry as her date). Liz, as she has done with the other Girls in episodes past, now becomes excessively livid when Maggie walks in the door. “Look at Maggie and her disgusting boyfriend!” she sneers into the ether. Maggie tells everyone who will listen about her imaginary job and exchanges a few bon mots with Eli. It is truly a crying shame their budding sexual intrigue never got a chance to flower. Amy — who, conveniently, arrives after Maggie has left, tells Eli about her job at Bernarducci Meisel. A benighted Eli unwittingly lets the cat out of the bag, “That’s the same gallery that ... did you know Maggie is starting to work there?” The suspense mounts and mounts.
The next day, Maggie shows up at Bernarducci Meisel to find Amy already installed behind the tall white desk — the anointed throne of gallery girls everywhere. Amy tries to soften the incoming deathblow to Maggie’s pride and self-worth, telling her “you look really cute.” Amy then watches, palm-in-face, as Maggie goes into Frank’s office for the come-to-Jesus moment. Frank gives it to her straight. Here, then, is what is effectively the climactic speech of "Gallery Girls":
“We really had the hope of you working here, but we didn't really get the sense that you were that interested in the job… I don't even know if you're really interested in working in the art world….by some weird coincidence [yeah, right!] Amy applied for a job that we advertised, and — I'm not comparing you to Amy [yes, he is] — but she really went the extra mile [by befriending Moogie].”
Marina looks on sympathetically through heavy bangs. Tiny violins swell in the background. Maggie starts to cry. This completely contrived scene is truly, truly mortifying, especially when Maggie says, “I don't think it's true what you guys are saying. I know that's not true.” Amy and Maggie hug in the hallway. Despite it all, they agree that this awkward situation won’t ruin their friendship.
This dark anticlimax is followed by an unsatisfying denouement, in montage form. Woe is Maggie as she hails a cab in the shit-brown sludge of a grim New York afternoon. She recapitulates her afflictions to Ryan: “My dad is going to be so mad. I have snot, like, running down my face.” Amy — feeling simultaneously victorious and awkward — plays with Moogie. Kerri tells Sharon that she’s ambivalent about continuing her internship. Angela takes photos of a hipster smoking a cigarette in front of a window of Peking duck carcasses. Liz tries on a pair of Louboutins and leaves a message on her absent father’s voicemail. Chantal drinks a glass of wine and Claudia smokes a cigarette as she closes up the shop in a vignette that misleadingly suggests that End of Century will go bust (it's next opening is on the 7th).
Be it poor storytelling, or an artful attempt to create an open-ended structure that allows the viewer to complete the work, the show peters out with many questions unanswered and fates uncertain. Maggie is free from her self-incurred tutelage, but that freedom comes with the price of existential angst and schmutz on her face. Chantal and Claudia’s friendship is sacrificed to a business with a tentative future. Angela is exactly back where she started, without a lover or institutional recognition. Liz has yet to win the respect of her father, but that's OK because she is super-rich. Kerri... we've already forgotten about Kerri. The show — in the words of Angela — is "teetering on the precipice of moroseness." This is how "Gallery Girls" ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper.