'American Gigolo' Shows Us Shattered Lives and Uncertain Futures

'American Gigolo' Shows Us Shattered Lives and Uncertain Futures

Paul Hunter
September 25 2022 - 12:02pm

Warning: This article contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Showtime's 'American Gigolo.''

'American Gigolo' follows the life of Julian Kaye, a former male escort who was released from prison after serving fifteen years for a murder he didn't commit. 

In the premiere, we saw a man at the top of his game, strutting around in designer suits, rocking out in a sexy car. Julian could be anyone his clients wanted him to be. He was mysterious, cocky, and boyish--the perfect conversationalist and just the right kind of lover. There seemed to be no end to his charm. 

During a round of pillow talk, he spoke about how he could step outside himself and slip into a role. He didn't have to pretend. He transformed into the perfect man for the moment. He didn't enjoy his job. That was his coping skill. It helped him avoid the complex mess of emotions that come on as a result of sex work. 

We learned to accept that even though he was a heterosexual male engaging in heterosexual encounters, he still felt the same dread that we typically associate with women in his occupation. We saw it early on his life when he was being pressured to sleep with the lady next door. She stood out on her porch and announced that her pipes needed fixing. He went still, and the look in his eyes told us everything we needed to know. He was in pain.

This role reversal defined the show's motif going forward. Women became the oppressors and men became the victims. Everything else was the same. He was sexualized and objectified, lit up for the female eye. His profile, his hair, his arms, back and butt, were all shown off in almost every single scene. It didn't matter if he was clothed of unclothed. 

He was pressured, punched, slapped, and groped--a commodity to be traded. Women rented him for the night, draining him of his emotional energy, trying to possess him and use him. 

As the story unfolded, we began to learn more about Julian's life and the burden he carried around. He was quiet and he had a moral compass, but he was troubled, riddled with anger and vice. We started to like him, but at times it was hard to ignore his flaws.

We also got to know about his history and the people that he had known over the years. It wasn't a full picture, but like everything about 'American Gigolo' it was enough to intrigue us, charm us, and leave us wanting more.

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Lorenzo, a fellow escort and old friend. Courtesy of Showtime

Home Sweet Home

At the beginning of the premiere we learn that Julian had blacked out when he was with a client. When he came to, he was covered in blood and Detective Sunday, played by Rosie O'Donnell, was standing over him at the scene. She tricks him into confessing to the crime only to show up fifteen years later to exonerate him. 

The department had gotten ahold of DNA evidence which linked a hired assassin to the crime. O'Donnell explains that the man is dying of cancer and he can barely talk. But she's been interrogating him anyway. When she asks the man him who hired him, he say something similar to 'keen.' 

Julian immediately assumes that his former madam, Olga was involved. She was referred to as the Queen. He asks his escort friend Lorenzo (Wayne Brady), who he grew up with in the brothel, to take hiim to her. Julian accompanies him to her house. When they walk in, an aged Olga is slouching in a wheelchair downstairs. She tells Julian to leave and warns him 'they will kill you.'

He stays instead, hoping to start working again. Olga's daughter Isabelle, who he knew as a young girl, took over her mother's role as madam. She's fierce. She takes Julian upstairs, and what comes next is very similar to what you'd expect from a pimp trying to pressure one of their escorts. Isabelle slaps him, punches him, growls at him--anything and everything to get him to do it, and poor Julian resists. 

He's like a puppy dog that's been kicked around too much. The essence of his entire career was condensed into that one scene. She's trying to possess him, and he's not having it. The audience can see exactly what he's thinking. He belongs to nobody. He doesn't give himself away. 

He leaves after she humiliates him. Lorenzo comes outside to persuade him into staying--rather forcefully, in fact. The man has a way of being insistent, almost like Julian doesn't have a choice, while acting like he's just trying to coax his friend into having a little fun. It's his thing. It comes off as aggressive, and it doesn't work. Julian has had enough. 

The entire scene shows a world filled with barbs and monsters, framed as a group of friends reuniting after years of being separated. These are toxic, dirty individuals, and they will lash out. But they grew up living in the same house. So there is a sense of sentiment--not overly friendly; they're just used to being around one another.

The abuse and toxicity trained Julian to be cautious over the years. He pulls back into himself and avoids asserting himself too much with others. Most of what he says is indirect, like he knows to be careful. That's why he's so quiet. He's used to walking on eggshells. 

He's also used to being dominated and owned. We see it in the bedroom. He's a commodity and a product of abuse. Isabelle was going to trade him, use him, show him who was boss, and punch him around a little bit just to make sure he listened. 

That's how things are handled in that world. That's what she was taught to do. It's what she believes in. She's probably spent years learning how to master her escorts. In that way, she's also the product of her environment. In real life, people like Isabelle learn these behaviors. They pick up on these mindsets.

Isabelle, the reigning Queen of the brothel. Courtesy of Showtime

An Interesting Revelation

Early on in the series we are introduced to Michelle Stratton. Michelle is different. In the original film, she was the only woman that cared about Julian. It's the same in the series. They met years ago at a country club before he was sent to prison, and they fell in love hard. 

Julian opens up to Michelle. He shows his true self to her, and that's not something we see very often. Fast forward 15 years, and Michelle is the strained wife of a powerful executive who can't stop reaching for her pills. Her son Colin has just run off with his teacher, who he was having an affair with. 

Michelle's husband Richard hires what appears to be a fixer/hitman to take care of things. This upsets Michelle, who keeps insisting that she 'knows what that man does.' It's implied that he's going to hurt the teacher. 

After a fight, she goes down to her driveway, opens up the gate and finds Julian standing outside. It's like Romeo come to meet Juliet. The chemistry between them is palpable. He announces that he wasn't guilty of murder, just like she said, and she announces that she has a son. 

She blurted it out, like she needed him to know for some reason. It doesn't make sense, because this is someone she hasn't seen for 15 years. Why tell him like that? It sounded relevant.

Later in the series, we see Colin staring at an old picture of Julian and his mother in a kissing booth. His teacher, who is staying with him at a hotel, says that staring at it won't make him come back. This suggests that Colin is pining after his long lost father, Julian. 

This makes perfect sense because it is almost impossible to tell the difference between Colin and young Julian. The only difference is their hair. Other than that, they might as well be the same actor. At this point, the audience can safely assume that Colin is Julian's son.

Courtesy of Showtime

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A Shared Complex

Julian is riddled with flashbacks all throughout the series, and they are disturbing. The worst occur while he is with Isabelle in the bedroom scene, where we go over his time at the brothel. 

After his mother sold him, Olga taught him everything he needed to know. She was very good about training him, telling him where to look, how to talk, and how to make the women feel like they were in love. 

It would bring up all of those feelings inside of him. He'd experience attachment from lovemaking, but he'd also associate these things with transactions, money, and all of the demented baggage that found its way into the mix. Untangling this complex would take years and a professional, and it is dark. Some of the lines will send chills down your spine. 

Essentially, he doesn't experience love or sex the same way other people do. 

Later on in the episode, we see Colin and his teacher in the middle of a pillow talk session. The scene is framed to match one of Julian's flashbacks, and it was exactly like watching Julian. Also, remember it can be hard to tell them apart. Colin talks like him. He has that same charm and manner. He's got that characteristic confidence that has come to define the show. 

The parallels were meant show us that Colin--Julian's son--is undergoing the same type of experience that ruined Julian's life. It's bleak. It's horrific. These are powerful symbols, and it'll be interesting to see what happens next. Maybe they're setting up Julian. He could confront his son and realize what's happening. That would be intense.

Olga, the former Queen. Courtesy of Showtime

Julian Has Been Broken

When Julian leaves Isabelle's house, he wanders the streets all night aimlessly. He's visibly perturbed, and he doesn't seem to know what to do. Eventually he catches sight of a random for rent sign on a building near the beach, and he inquires about a room. But the landlady won't let him live there. He can't pay rent if he doesn't have a job.

That obviously hadn't clicked in Julian's mind. 

He goes to visit an old inmate, a hustler who hooks him up with a dishwashing position at a restaurant. They hire him on the spot, so he takes his hiring paperwork to the landlady, and she allows him to rent the place out. But she tells him that he can't have drugs there. Weed is fine, just nothing else. 

As it turns out, Julian is a heavy pot smoker. Every time she sees him, he's offering her a hit. Shortly after that, Lorenzo shows up and hands him a vial of cocaine. He turns it down. He might smoke weed, but he's trying to give up coke. 

Of course, Julian ends up doing it. So he's stuck in this tiny apartment that he happened upon at random. He's freaking out about his past, and he has a ton of coke flowing through his veins. Then he decides that he's going to go trick himself out. 

We see Julian as capable. He's magic. He can make things happen, but we forget that the magic came from the money he made as an escort. That's why he had nice clothes and a nice car. That's bounce in step was cocaine induced. 

He lived a certain way. Now he's looking at changing his lifestyle altogether, flying straight. But he doesn't even have the skills to be a line cook. He's been an escort for so long, he probably doesn't have work experience. If he tries to go back, he's going to have to deal with all of the weirdness and all of the twisted emotions he was wrestling with when he left Isabelle's. It's a no-win. 

Meanwhile, Colin finds his teacher's body lying on the floor in their room. He panics, darts through the streets, and climbs through a random window to find place to hide. It turns out to be a supply room in another motel. He's desperate and shaken. There's no telling what he'll do.  

In all reality, he could disappear onto the streets. So long as he doesn't contact anyone, his family might never be able to find him. In situations like that, it's not uncommon for people to turn to sex work. Maybe he ends up living like Julian. It's hard not to compare the two. It's almost like Julian's breakdown is a vision of Colin's future.

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