Between Red and Carmilla, the lesbian webseries has come a long way in the past year. Both are returning for their second seasons this week, but while Carmilla is the adorable girl constantly tripping over her shoelaces, Red is the impossibly beautiful woman trailing incense and broken hearts.
Red’s first season breathed new life into the (frequently stagnant) web series medium through its leaps both narrative and stylistic. The story: Liz and Mel are costars on a film who experience a blistering chemistry that fuels their work but threatens to destroy their personal lives. That’s because Liz is a lady-killer with a bad reputation and Mel is married to a sweet man with a scratchy beard. The twist on this familiar tale of forbidden love is the way it’s refracted by the equally complex relationship of their characters in the film. In their movie-lives, the roles are reversed, so each of them gets to play at being pursuer and pursued, impenetrable and vulnerable. We learn nearly as much from watching them play against type as watching them interact as themselves. It’s a delicate dance, and relies heavily on the unparalleled chemistry and fearless acting chops of Mel (Luciana Bollina) and Liz (Ana Paula Lima).
Thankfully, the talent behind the camera is just as mesmerizing as the talent in front. The writing is naturalistic, which is an engaging counterpoint to the intimate, impressionistic camera work. Too often, web series feel rushed, trying to cram an hour-long drama’s worth of plot into ten minute episodes. Red goes in the opposite direction, unhurried and sensual, counting on a long look or an exhalation of breath to tell the story. With the exception of some spotty sound issues, the production values aren’t just high, they’re gorgeous. The soundtrack, in particular, is used to great effect, as thrilling and seductive as a whispered voice in your ear. (The song from the season two trailer, “Coloring,” has become my new obsession.)
Season 2 of Red premiered last night, and judging solely by the first episode, it’s going to be even more devastating than Season 1. (Also, English speakers will rejoice to know that we don’t have to wait days for the subtitles this time around.) We begin a few weeks after Mel and Liz gave in to their feelings, although at first it looks as though we start mid-tryst, it’s one of Red’s clever reversals. We think we’re watching Mel and Liz have sex, but really we’re watching them watch their characters have sex in a rough cut of their film. To make matters even more complicated, they’re watching it with their director and Mel’s husband. Liz looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks and Mel winces every time she feels Liz’s eyes on her, like her gaze has a physical weight. They’re both in an agony of thwarted desire and when the soundtrack kicks in with the line: “If you found the words, would you really say them?” you know that’s going to be the central question for the season.
It’s clear there’s a long road ahead before these two achieve any sort of resolution, but the deftness of everyone involved elevates Red above mere melodrama and into the lofty realm of art. And if there’s two things worth suffering for it’s art and the way beautiful women look when they want to kiss each other. Red combines them in a way that pierces the heart like Eros’ arrow: painful and sublime.