Overall, the episode was better than most special “lesbian episodes” at dispelling stereotypes and normalizing lesbians and lesbian relationships, with a few disturbing exceptions. It was a fun episode to watch, and displayed probably one of the most realistic portrayals of affection between lesbians so far on television.
This is likely due to the fact that the writer of the episode, Kim Newton, is a lesbian, as she indicates here in an interview with Gay.com:
There are multiple on-screen kisses that I had to do a little fighting for, because people get nervous. There’s a hot tub make out scene and a kiss in Girl Bar. We definitely show the physical contact. We don’t go as far as a true sex scene, but we have two really nice kissing scenes.
A producer of Fastlane recently hinted that the character Billie may actually be a lesbian in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, but this statement appears to be made mostly in jest as indicated in this excerpt from the EW article:
”We want to hint at something in Billie’s character — is she bisexual because she’s doing her job, or is she a lesbian?” teases exec producer John McNamara, who says Fox’s standards and practices department gave them major leeway to tell the story (so look for plenty of making out). ”One thing about the show that’s worked is that it is not afraid to be outrageous when it needs to be outrageous.”
The fact that he believes this episode is “outrageous” seems to imply that it will not be a regular part of the series.
On the other hand, Newton left open the possibility that Billie might be gay in her Gay.com interview:
[Billie's] character is mysterious, and the guys are always speculating about what her life is like. In the first episode we did after the pilot, featuring motorcycle gang girls, [Van and Deaq] were like, ‘You’re a lesbian, aren’t you? It’s OK with us.’ And she doesn’t answer them. So we kind of planted a little seed that she could be gay.
The writers deliberately left Billie’s sexuality ambiguous in this episode. When Van and Deaq are trying to work up the courage to ask Billie if she’s gay or bisexual, they chicken out and instead ask her if she misses working undercover. The show cuts to a scene of what Billie is thinking, which is dancing in the club with Sara, clearly having fun; cutting back to the scene in the office, Billie smiles and replies, “Yeah, I do.”
Clearly, the producers wants to maintain this ambiguity — only time will tell whether this is just a ratings ploy.
Update: Ratings for this episode were up 32% from the previous week’s Fastlane episode, and it was the highest-rated show on Fox that evening. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the overall lackluster ratings for the season; in May, 2003, Fastlane was officially canceled by Fox. The complete series is now available on DVD.