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‘Sex Lives of College Girls’ Showrunner Breaks Down the Secrets and Betrayals of the Season 2 Finale and Teases Ideas for Season 3

Sex Lives of College Girls Season 2
Katrina Marcinowski/HBO Max

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers from the Season 2 finale of “The Sex Lives of College Girls.”

The writers of “The Sex Lives of College Girls” are unashamed to call themselves “agents of chaos.” To be fair, it’s part of the job description: “I mean, we’re telling the stories of 18- and 19-year-old girls living together,” laughs showrunner Justin Noble, who co-created the series with Mindy Kaling. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Season 2 ended rather sourly for its protagonists (besides Leighton, more on that later).

Bela (Amrit Kaur) cheats on Eric (Mekki Leeper) with a famous comedian (John Paul Reynolds), betrays her co-writers at the Foxy by approving a school newspaper spread that highlights her instead of the whole team, and tells a writer who asks for her feedback to quit comedy. Miserable and overwhelmed, and without telling her roommates, she decides to transfer out of Essex College.

And after trying to suppress her crush on Whitney’s (Alyah Chanelle Scott) ex-boyfriend Canaan (Christopher Meyer), Kimberly (Pauline Chalamet) spontaneously follows him out of a party and kisses him. She doesn’t realize that Whitney had the same idea and saw the entire thing — until the next day, when Whitney pointedly asks if anything interesting had happened. Kimberly nervously says no, and Whitney later marches to the Kappa sorority house to ask if she can live there instead.

“Something I pride the show for is that we don’t do a ton of girl-on-girl warfare. We don’t want to see catfights,” Noble says. “But we always knew that we were going to build to this place where Kimberly had a crush on Canaan and Whitney was aware of it. There was no getting away from that. It wasn’t actually intentional to cause strife between our girls. But boy, oh boy, did Kimberly create a situation that she’s got to get herself out of.”

With the Season 2 finale now streaming on HBO Max, and the series officially renewed for Season 3, Noble unpacked Bela’s ego, Whitney and Kimberly’s animosity and Leighton’s new freedom with Variety.

Let’s break the finale down character by character. This is Kimberly’s second time going behind a roommate’s back with a boy. Last season, she secretly dated Leighton’s brother Nico (Gavin Leatherwood). Where is this pattern coming from? It’s surprising; she seems to be the roommate most eager to create a happy home.

It feels real for me because she’s — in ways that I relate to — afraid to give bad news. She values these friendships so much, particularly Whitney’s, and she doesn’t want to mess it up. She’s not quite sure how she’s going to handle this Canaan situation, so she doesn’t want to preemptively say, “Hey, this is happening,” because she doesn’t know where it’s at.

We dangle this idea of, who’s going to room together in second year? For me, that was always the most fascinating part of college. It’s literally announcing a test. It’s saying, “Hey, you all lived together. Do you like each other enough to live together again?” I remember being in the meeting when it happened and looking around like, “Oh my God, are we going to answer in front of everyone and say we want to live with these people?” It was such a pressured environment. So we see this very cute moment played so well between Pauline and Alyah, where they vulnerably go to each other saying, “I don’t know about anything else, but the one thing I know for sure is I do want to live with you next year, and we’ll figure out who else is included.” And then in one swift move, Kimberly pursuing another hot boy — the hottest she’s pursued yet! — she jeopardizes that whole thing. But unlike Nico doing a pull-up, and Jackson walking out of a bathroom, we’ve seen a deepening between Canaan and Kimberly, and this crush is coming from a different place than just glistening abs.

This brings up something for Whitney’s character too, because she had a rather traumatic breakup with her soccer coach in Season 1, but Canaan breaks up with her calmly and maturely, and then she has a fling with Andrew (Charlie Hall). What drove this movement from inappropriate relationship to serious relationship to casual sex — and then back to her having feelings for Canaan?

In Season 2, she starts with Canaan, and things are good. But when soccer was removed and she didn’t know what she was doing next, a big part of that breakup was her own insecurities. She feels challenged by how Zoe is a tech wizard, and Whitney at the same time is feeling like, “I don’t know what my academic drive is and everyone else does.” That blows up when she can’t help but feel jealous of Zoe and checks Canaan’s phone and causes this breakup. Their breakup is defined by Canaan saying, “You’re not ready for this.” So in Season 2, we see her fix that. She starts to challenge herself and then she ends up killing it in this academic field. She’s finding herself. Then she starts seeing this guy, and we’re not ‘shipping them, but not not ‘shipping them, and I think that’s because she got dumped by Canaan. She really holding a candle for him. What we hopefully don’t realize until the end of Season 2 — or the beginning of Season 3 — is that thing that led to Whitney and Canaan’s downfall, which is Whitney not knowing where she was at: That’s fixed. So all of a sudden, she’s like, “Andrew is not it. Canaan is endgame. Look at Canaan at this party! I’m going to follow him.” And the timing, as us agents of chaos in the writers room construct, is just perfectly imperfect.

Leighton ends this season the happiest, after leaving Season 1 still mostly in the closet about her sexuality. That inner conflict feels resolved after she quits Kappa, and her mother, a Kappa, supports her. What inspired the Greek life aspect?

Leighton is such a fascinating creature. She grew up in a world where she, like many queer people, put on a mask, and the show is slowly watching the layers of that mask come off. Kappa was the last remnant of it. When she decided on Kappa as a 16-year-old in high school, that that was not the authentic Leighton Murray. That was closeted Leighton Murray. Who she is as a person overlaps with Kappa a lot: She’s judgmental in a funny way, she has impeccable style, she fits in there. But it reminds me of that line that her dad says in the coming out scene in Episode 8, where she’s like, “Maybe I’m just really good at being closeted,” and the dad, in a way that feels particularly wise for a heterosexual individual says, “Is that a good thing?” It’s something that queer people unconsciously get good at, and it’s probably not in our best interest. So when she gets the opportunity to stand with her mom there, and she’s starting to hear herself, almost in like an out-of-body way, talking about gender issues that aren’t great in the Greek scene, she hears herself quoting things that [her friends at the campus women’s center] would have said, and it’s telling us maybe that’s not the place where Leighton Murray authentically lives.

Bela, as she says to a school official in the last moments of the finale, hurts people repeatedly this season by putting her ego and career goals first. She doesn’t seem to learn from it. What are you exploring there? And why doesn’t she tell her roommates before she decides to transfer schools? That seems hurtful, too.

Bela is the embodiment of ambition. We know that from moment one, when we meet her and she’s talking about not being sure if she wants to be Seth Meyers or have sex with Seth Meyers. She is literally sprinting to the “Saturday Night Live” writers’ room in her mind, and as if she was like missing a plane at an airport, she’s gonna bump into some people along the way. I don’t think it’s intentional. I think Bela is a good hearted individual — who is self-serving, for sure, but she is not going out of her way to be malicious, ever. She is just set on what she wants.

We see that she’s falling for Eric, and she kind of brutally cheats on him and breaks his heart, and she feels bad about it. And what we’ve never seen from Bela before is this moment of self-reflection, and leave that scene thinking, “Okay, Bela, shape up. See who you are.” Then in Episode 10, the show gives her an opportunity, the first test of that, and the stakes couldn’t be lower. A sweet beta writer asking for advice. And Bela fails the test. It couldn’t have been easier, and she just couldn’t do it. She’s still herself. I think it’s cooked into her DNA that she just has to talk about how brutal this path is. It’s not for the weak of heart, and she’s going to win it. And Georgia just doesn’t have it in her, and Bela wants to do the best thing for Georgia and tell her that.

And in terms of what she does at the end of the season, and why she hasn’t talked to our girls, and why she doesn’t confess to the girls at the Foxy that she did talk to the editor, it feels really true to me that someone who pursues this career, there’s a thing of being obsessively perfectionist. To get into that “SNL” writers’ room, you don’t get there as an eight out of 10. You get there as a 13 out of 10. She can’t mess up, in her mind. When she is hearing herself, that laundry list of all the things that she did, she’s thinking about how she’s not on that path. She’s failed the perfectionist test. And I think that doesn’t lead to her goals. So rather than stay where she’s made those mistakes and have to dig herself out, the thing that sets herself up for success is to start fresh somewhere else with an unscathed record.

Bela does go out of her way to cheat on Eric with this famous comedian, but it’s still interesting compared to last season when everyone helped Whitney understand that her older coach shouldn’t have pursued her. Why doesn’t Bela get to unpack this unhealthy habit of using sex for her career? She also gave the Catullan editors handjobs last season.

That is exactly the intent behind that moment. The handjob moment has graduated. I also think the truth of the matter is an 18-year-old girl who has a crush like that, she might just be sexually interested in him aside from the self-serving career goals. But I do think that Bela has a ton to figure out. She is a knee-jerk reactor. She has an impulse, and she is very confident that her impulses are going to lead her to success. That’s part of what makes her so fun, but it’s probably not setting her up for her happiest future. The show is telling us it’s time to start exploring that. To be clear, as the show, we’re telling Bela, “Explore it! Explore it!” And we’re very intentionally watching her not explore it. That’s what feels authentic to me. Life is constantly telling us, “This is a lesson you have to learn,” and we as humans are like, “I’m not learning that lesson quite yet!”

This interview has been edited and condensed.