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Laurel is a gifted and fearless actress, with a range that enables her to reach inside to produce a Randy Dean, a Justine Cooper, or a Tina Kennard – women so diametrically different in bearing, voice and character, that only by dint of her name on the credits do we realize it’s the same actress embodying all three fictional women. Once you realize who Laurel is as a woman and you are familiar with her body of work, the difference between these fictional women and the real woman is so great, it only adds to our respect for Laurel Holloman as an actress.
The longest-running role Laurel has played to date, Tina Kennard on The L Word, is a prime example of just how broad her range is. Her nuanced and layered portrayal of Tina has had us by our hearts since Season 1. Tina’s complicated journey – her emotional growth as a woman and human being – has been a series highlight for many of us.
Of all the roles on TLW, we believe that Tina has been one of the most difficult to play – and until recently, one of the most unsung on this series – because she has often not been as well fleshed-out and written as other characters. Given this imbalance in the writing, which has recently been addressed and changed for the better by the writers, Laurel has done wonders with what she has been given to perform over the years. Her professional peers recognized this when they awarded her the Satellite Award for her performance in Season 1.
Even when the material she was given was not strong, Laurel still found a way through her wealth of expressions to convey, with power and dignity, who this character was and what she was feeling to an audience – to those of us who recognized the universality of Tina in ourselves. That was all Laurel.
In Season 1, Tina seethed with semi-hidden anger, like a volcano about to erupt. When she finally did, the result was what has come to be known as The Scene – the name fans gave the final scene in S1 between Tina and Bette. Laurel’s performance just built up to that finale moment, and it was pitch perfect.
Everything about her performance in S1 had us by our hearts and drove us to tears, because Laurel in her quiet brilliance made you feel Tina’s pain. The pain of not feeling loved by your lover, the pain of being betrayed, the pain of feeling unwanted and unloved by your lover, the pain of failed love, the shared pain of losing yourself in a lover because you realize you could have stopped it, and most of all the pain of miscarrying a child after the hell you went through trying to get pregnant … the pain of losing the one thing you wanted most of all. Laurel made us feel Tina’s loss in our guts.
The ‘everywoman’ beat is very strong in the character of Tina, even stronger than it was in Dana. Tina’s story is of a woman getting lost in her spouse, being a stay at home spouse trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant (a situation that’s not so unusual), getting pregnant but miscarrying, being cheated on, getting back on her feet, sometimes with great missteps … then finally finding that resilience to find a balance in her life between love and career. Her journey is one that many women have gone through, even in these modern times. It’s the universal woman’s walk through life that has touched many from the beginning, and Tina’s journey will still resonate long after this series ends next year.
Each season for Tina has built upon the other, and we actually see with our eyes how this fictional woman has grown in self-knowledge, self-confidence, strength, and character, in both her personal and professional life.
If one looks closely, there emerges a theme for Tina and her progression as a woman. The Season One theme was Loss. Season Two’s theme was Birth and Partial Rebirth. The Third season’s theme could be described as Don’t Box Me In/Breaking Free. Season Four was The Gaining Season, and Season Five was, for Tina, The Winning Season. Each season holds so many delicious Tina scenes, and we are blessed with an abundance of riches from Laurel. We could be here a long time listing them all. Although narrowing it down wasn’t easy, we have instead chosen three scenes to represent each season.
Season One was a season of loss for Tina. She gave up her lucrative and successful job. She lost herself in her lover. She lost much of her sex life. She lost her son. She lost her lover and everything that meant anything to her, including the home she loved and built with her lover, Bette.
The one scene that we won’t discuss at length here is the one referred to as The Scene, because it has already been discussed at great length in numerous forums. Suffice it to say that The Scene was one of Laurel Holloman’s and Jennifer Beals’ most memorable scenes, and one which audiences had never before seen between two women. It was just brilliant, and after five seasons we feel there is no other scene in TLW that matches that one for its sheer power. It set the bar. It was one of the most riveting, masterful, impeccable and difficult-to-watch scenes ever. The closest comparison would be the famous fight scene between Carmela and Tony Soprano.
Season 1: Episode 5
Tina meets Melvin for dinner. After Tina finds out she’s pregnant, she and Bette arrange to have dinner with Bette’s father, Melvin, to break the news to him. Melvin has never accepted his daughter’s being gay, and he shows his disrespect for who she is by refusing to even call Tina, her partner/lover of seven years, by her given name, Tina. Rather, he offhandedly and coolly refers to her as “Ms. Kennard.”
Before they arrive at dinner, Tina’s anger at Bette had been a small gathering quiet storm. When Bette finds Tina resting after suffering from morning sickness, Bette derides her for not being properly dressed to meet Melvin. Bette shoves a gift box Tina’s way and tells her to take the tags off the present while she looks for something “proper” for Tina to wear. As Tina is removing the tags from the tie Bette bought her father and she sees how much it cost, $300. All this time, Tina’s response and her facial expressions to Bette are of annoyance and sarcasm – which Bette doesn’t register.
They then go to pick up Melvin at his hotel, and Bette continues to treat Tina, her newly pregnant partner, with disrespect as she tells Tina to get out of the car so that Melvin can see them. When he doesn’t, Bette gets angry at Tina and tells her to wave at him. “Wave, Tina!” Bette orders. Once he comes over to the car, Bette tells Tina to get in the back, and Tina watches as Bette fawns over Melvin. When Bette tells Tina to move over because she can’t see as they drive away to dinner, Tina looks up to the heavens with controlled but visible irritation. Laurel made you feel every nook and cranny of Tina’s rising vexation at Bette and Melvin, and we wanted to get up from our sofas and slug both of them. That is how it was written by one of Laurel’s favorites, Rose Troche.
Then at dinner, Melvin won’t accept that the baby is his grandchild, and when he addresses Tina, he not only continues to call her Ms. Kennard, but treats her dismissively to boot. Tina tries to explain to Melvin about how much they had gone through to have a baby “because we are so limited by biology.” Melvin is cold and harsh in his response. Bette keeps quiet and doesn’t challenge Melvin, and it gets to a point where Tina cannot take daughter and father any longer. She gets up from her chair, and with great dignity, says she isn’t feeling well, tells Bette to finish dinner and that she will take a taxi home. Tina gives Bette a look and leaves, dignity intact after a long and terrible day. Laurel stood out in that scene, during her soliloquy and when she was just listening to Melvin and Bette go on and on. She made you absorb Tina’s rising irritation at them, culminating in Tina telling them where to get off – but in a grown up way. She made you believe how sick Tina was, both physically and at Bette and Melvin.
Season 1, Episode 10.
It’s morning, and Tina and Bette are in bed. Both are on their backs, looking up at the ceiling. At this point in the story, Tina has put to words how she has been feeling, that Bette has been drifting away from her. “I get this feeling from you that you’re so proud to be with me, and it makes me feel really safe and loved. It’s great… but lately I haven’t been feeling it. So I’ve just been trying to concentrate on myself and, uh… I’ve been trying not to get scared about it.” Tina was an unexploded bomb at this point, and in scene after scene and episode after episode, she was gathering a gentle resolve and power which we see displayed here.
This is one of our favorite Tina scenes in all of the series, because it was another of those scenes where there is a symbiosis between the written word and its delivery. There was so much power in Laurel’s delivery, and she spoke quietly – almost breathlessly – about how Tina was feeling inside. How she was scared because she wasn’t feeling Bette’s love for her any longer. The fear Tina was feeling, yet at the same time the resolve, to face that fear and do something for herself. Another deeply moving performance from Laurel.
Season 1, Episode 14.
Tina goes to Alice after The Scene. This is the very last scene of Season 1. Tina miraculously finds her way to Alice’s apartment and lets herself in. Alice comes home after having a jolting evening herself with Dana, and gets another jolt as she finds a very distraught Tina sitting on her couch, staring at nothing. Tina looks disoriented and lost, and she is.
In Season One, Tina started out lost … and that is where she ends the season. We know what’s wrong before Alice gets to ask her that question, because of what came before with The Scene. Tina’s face is flushed, her mascara is running down her tear-stained face. She’s fragile, or perhaps just out of energy, after her ferocious passion and anger with Bette was spent. It’s an image of Tina we haven’t seen before, and doesn’t really exist except in Bette’s head when she confesses later on that she treated Tina gingerly.
As Alice approaches Tina on the couch and starts to gently reach out to her, she asks if she’s okay. Almost in a whisper, as if she cannot catch her breath, Tina says, “I’m sorry, I just um…” Then in mid-sentence comes a moment, but a jarring one, when Tina inhales sharply and moves like an electrical charge hit her. She turns around, visibly shaken. It’s like she doesn’t know where she is for a moment, but she’s in fear because she thinks Bette is behind her. Once she realizes in that moment that Bette’s not there, she relaxes a bit.
All this time her head is down, as if she is ashamed. She cannot bring herself to turn towards Alice or look her in the eye. For a moment, we get a brief image in our heads of a battered woman. Tina tells Alice that she let herself in, and then asks Alice in a strained and broken voice – to match the broken woman – if she “can stay for a while.” Alice says of course, then asks gently, “Tina, what happened?”
Tina is choking back the words and is almost gasping for air as she tries to speak – but she cannot, except to say “Beh.” She cannot even bring herself to say Bette’s name in full. She cannot speak, because it’s like she feels her breath won’t be there to get the words out. Instead, she goes over to the wall where Alice keeps The Chart, and picks up a magic marker. Laurel has her back to the camera and she hunches her shoulders in a way that makes you feel the weight of Tina’s pain. She then starts to weep and shake while she finds Bette’s name on the chart. She can barely stand up and needs to hold onto the board while in fits and starts draws a line from Bette’s name and starts to write in Candace. She only gets as far as ‘CA’ before breaking down completely, weeping uncontrollably in Alice’s arms.
Laurel brought to life every ounce of what we just described so impeccably. She got under Tina’s skin and inner head so thoroughly it was like we were Tina: feeling all the hurt, betrayal, self-disgust, anger, hate, fear, love and fragility of a woman who paid a very high price for losing herself in someone she later confesses she cannot help but love. Bette broke Tina’s heart, and Laurel’s pained portrayal makes the audience’s heart break with her.
It was another fine performance from Laurel, in a season full of them.
Next: Tina in Season 2