Warning: This is long. Seriously long. With lots of thinky thoughts. And picspam! But still: long. Couldn't hurt to make some tea first.
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"Our house was always full of women." - Sam Tyler
"God, we're not gonna end up with our own bloody wives, are we?" - Roger Twilling
"Don't worry. You start out shy and nervous, but you'll be a greedy monster in no time." - Carol Twilling
"...'Falling in love is not allowed.'" - Sam Tyler, quoting Carol Twilling
Confession time! I fell completely in love with this episode when I was working on the transcripts. I watched it slowly, often replaying scenes over and over — which was terrific, because it allowed me to spot things I'd completely failed to notice before!
For example, one curious thing about 2x04 is that no one knows exactly how to describe it. Most of us probably call it the "swingers episode" or "the one with the sex party"...
...Sometimes "the one with Auntie Heather"...
Or maybe "the one where Sam gets to wear different clothes for a change":
But from the few discussions I've read, most viewers don't perceive an overarching theme; sometimes they even mention how disjointed it feels. I thought so, too, until I sat down to analyse it and realised that...
2x04 is the show's feminist episode.
And if you take issue with that, at least you can't argue that it's the One About Women, much as other episodes were, to a greater or lesser degree, About Being Black, Irish, or Asian in 1973 Britain. For one thing, take a look at some of the women on the guest list:
Seriously, I defy you to find another episode with half this many memorable women.
But it's remarkable for more than an abundance of female characters. The episode is really concerned with the dangers of not taking women seriously: not taking female intelligence, female sexuality, female agency seriously. And it addresses sexism more frankly than any other ep. alioli, on the Spanish LOM comm marsinalicante, nailed it, I think, when she said: "This is the episode that focuses on women in the seventies, and the inevitable conclusion is that men are a little pathetic in their relationship with women."
Why don't we see it? Partly because it's a lot less heavy-handed than the One About the Irish or The Ones About Racism. But once you spot it, it's every bit as "obvious." Problem is, maybe we female viewers are so inured to expressions of sexism, in LOM and in real life, that we don't even notice the episode's not very subtle subtext. OK, at first glance the sexism here doesn't seem much different from that of the other eps (cf. "tits in a jumper"). But if you look closely, there's more going on than meets the eye.
For example, Annie is sexually harassed three times in this episode. The first instance is off-screen, when a suspect gropes her breasts ("felt her tits") before escaping.
Second: when her fellow detective describes why he and Annie are late, he chooses first to mock her for being assaulted and then to disparage her competence ("he were only a little lad, but he were too strong for Cartwright"). The CID men burst into laughter on cue (Ray: "I told you this'd happen. Fine behind a desk, shit on the streets"). To cap it off, Sam asks her in front of the rest of the squad if she's "okay". Not a good day for WDC Cartwright.
Third: Ray and some of the Nameless Ones use Sam's new technology to "bug" Annie and listen to her when she's in the women's lavatory: the one place in the police station that a woman could normally rely on for privacy and freedom from male presence. Like the earlier humiliation, which involved male amusement at her breasts being groped, this also involves a violation of her femaleness, her right to perform bodily functions in privacy. They're still laughing at her when she comes back into the squad room.
The CID men are invading what is surely Annie's most private space in the station, reducing her once again to her despised femaleness. As the one woman on the team, we see her repeatedly undervalued and mocked despite her exceptional detective skills. (And there are other moments in the ep where she's belittled in less obvious ways.)
I suspect most viewers don't think of these incidents as particularly significant. But in the above scene, as Ray and three of the Nameless Ones are laughing at Annie, the camera moves to the left and we see — very dimly, because they're poorly lit — two girlie pics posted on the wall to the left: one entirely topless, the other in the act of disrobing. In effect (the director is saying), this is what Annie's struggling against: a male world in which she will be seen only in terms of her female body, its attractiveness and its vulnerability.
The flip side of the culture in which it's OK to harass women is, necessarily, 'protectiveness of the virtuous female'. In the first scene, we move seamlessly from one extreme to the other: the men snicker at the assault on Annie, then Gene calls them to order by describing the murder of a young woman and declares without apparent irony, "This is my city and it will be a safe place for my wife and my mum to walk around in, is that understood?"
By the way, the French title of the episode — Pièges pour jeunes femmes (traps for young women) — emphasizes the women-in-peril scenario.
Shortly afterwards, in the mortuary scene, Ray recommends that Chris get his new girlfriend drunk and then sexually assault her (with no objection from Gene): "Well, take my advice. Get a pint of Pernod and black down her... do what you like to her after that."
Then they go in to look at Sandra's body and ask, with no apparent irony, whether she was sexually assaulted.
In that same conversation, Ray and Gene debate how far Chris can expect to get on his first date (upstairs inside vs. downstairs inside). "She's not a prozzie!" Gene says, objecting to Ray's "downstairs inside" suggestion, with the clear implication that any woman who consents to/expresses that level of desire so early in a relationship must be a whore.
And when Chris confesses that his date went badly (although we don't yet know why), Gene's comment is:
Gene shows up to the sex party with a prostitute in tow. "Well, you didn't think I was going to fetch me own wife here, did you?"
And so the pendulum swings.
Okay, I know I'm labouring the point here, but: this is how the men of 1973 see women, for the most part — including our beloved Annie. It's the burden that Annie struggles with throughout the story: she's either a sex object (particularly under Roger Twilling's appraising gaze) or she's the girl colleague who needs protecting, the weak link of the team. And the burden isn't just hers. The men of this world don't take Carol seriously enough, either, or Denise, or the girl with Tourette's (unnamed in the episode, but named in the credits as "Gracie").
This is why, however good Sam's intentions may be, his sudden protectiveness of Annie in 2x04 is a slap in the face, another unwelcome manifestation of sexist attitudes towards women. I think this is why Annie's so uncharacteristically irritable around Sam, seesawing between somewhat surly obedience (he is her superior officer, after all) and insolence (because he's still Sam, and can do better).
The funny thing is, for all Sam's fussing, Annie's far from weak. We see no fewer than four demonstrations of her physical strength in this episode alone:
1 - Physically supporting Sandra Trotman's bereaved husband (and believe me, you have to be strong to hold up a man when he collapses):
2 - Catching and restraining Denise Williams when she tries to run off:
3 - Confidently lashing a submissive Roger Twilling with a whip (and damn, but would I love to have seen what went on before Sam and Gene scrambled into the room!):
4 - Capturing Carol Twilling and frog-marching her out of the caravan:
And of course, it's Annie who apprehends Denise and Carol because of the force's rules concerning the treatment of female suspects; but it still underlines the fact that Annie is physically as well as intellectually capable.
Women hold up half the plot
Sandra Trotman's abductor and killer is a woman (and the only murderess in LOM, incidentally):
Denise Williams inadvertently provokes Carol into a second abduction by "harassing" Roger Twilling about the fate of her friend Sandra:
The undercover operation is only possible thanks to Annie's repeated refusal to back out:
The detective who cracks the case? Also Annie, thanks to her initiative and daring:
"I've done something, sirs, which may be illegal..."
Gene and the other men object to surveillance because they see it as not "manly". It involves subterfuge and listening: both culturally "female" traits. It's because Annie masters surveillance in all its forms (undercover work, using the hidden radio transmitter, using a tape recorder) that she — not Sam or the other men of CID — is able to break the case. She's also prepared to learn from failure; when the equipment fails (GENE: "Your stupid bloody radio stopped working"), only Annie thinks to take the initiative and try using it again.
The critical clue to Denise's whereabouts is provided by Gracie, the girl with Tourette's.
And, of course, the victims, Sandra and Denise, are female:
Furthermore, Sam's twin muses — the two Beauvoir ladies, Denise and Heather — propel the story by being both tough and vulnerable, always reminding the police of what their duty really is: not to cozen women, but to protect the citizenry. (And in the background, mentioned explicitly once but mostly hovering like unacknowledged ghosts, are the many women who cushioned Sam's early life, and for whom he now obscurely longs.)
The meaning of BeauvoirIn the book of the show, Ashley Pharaoh says that Avon gave its permission for its company name to be used, but he became worried about it and decided to use "Beauvoir Ladies" instead. If I ever get to meet AP, I want to ask him whether the pun was conscious. Beauvoir means a "beautiful view" in French (and as a corporate name, it may allude to looking at a beautiful woman); but it's also the name of France's most famous feminist and author of The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir:
The original Beauvoir Lady
It was an inspired decision, in any case, because the Beauvoir Ladies (unlike Avon) have a scarlet uniform that screams sexuality. Of course, any uniform worn by women in the cosmetics industry would be layered with meaning (straitjacket of conventional femininity? emblem of the working woman?) ... but because it's red, it gives all sorts of fascinating undertones to the story of the three Beauvoir women: Sandra, Denise and Heather.
First of all, Beauvoir is all about helping women become "more feminine." The men in this show talk about buying expensive cars; the women, cosmetics. The only Beauvoir product the show explicitly mentions is the fragrance used by both Heather and the dead Sandra, but Sam draws attention to Denise's lovely hands and nails (surely painted with red Beauvoir nail polish) as well as the famous perfume. And don't forget the final shot of Gracie, in which a slash of crimson lipstick is drawn incongruously across her mouth, like the Joker of Batman fame:
Indeed that's not the only grotesque touch here. There's something slightly surreal about the whole Beauvoir business, including that boxy little skirt-suit the saleswomen are obliged to wear. As aliolisays on marsinalicante, "These Beauvoir uniforms, are they or are they not [like] monkey suits?"
But I think the uniform's main significance is symbolic, as illustrated by Roger Twilling and his insatiable sex drive.
The meaning of red"I’d have more respect for you, if you’d gone for a bright red [car]. At least then you’re saying, 'Yes, I’m having a midlife crisis — who wants to make something of it?'" — Carolyn in Cabin Pressure
It's strongly hinted that Roger Twilling is sexually aroused by red. He drives a red Lotus convertible, for one thing. (In tantric symbolism, both the colour red and the lotus symbolise the female principle.)
He falls in love with one scarlet-clad Beauvoir Lady, gets dangerously mixed up with another. And he dresses Annie in red as part of his bedroom D/s fantasy (the only thing Annie's wearing in that scene that's her own is that startling necklace with the large starburst pendant). Roger himself chooses a bright red shirt to wear to the sex party, after all. Even the ceiling of his private bedroom is painted red:
Which is why I'm fascinated by the Beauvoir Lady uniform that's hanging in the wardrobe in Roger's (!) bedroom. We're meant to assume it's Sandra Trotman's, since the dead woman is found wearing a simple blouse, skirt and cardigan, but we don't know for sure. Why did Carol keep it, even after disposing of Sandra's body? My theory is that she kept it with the notion that she might wear it to seduce Roger. (Or perhaps Roger bought it to add to his selection of clothing to be worn by the swapped wife du jour.)
Interestingly, the first time we see Carol, she's nothing more than a red skirt moving past Roger's red Lotus and into his car dealership:
But at the sex party, in contrast, we see Carol wearing a demure pink blouse, a faded-rose slip: a tamped-down, passionless version of red. Maybe it's her tacit way of saying that if she can't have her husband, she's not all that thrilled about participating:
Well, you get the picture. In fact, once you start looking for it, you see red everywhere in this ep. Why not try it as a drinking game? Roger's shirt! Sam's red tie! And you get to take two sips for Suki's blouse and bra combo, Mrs Luckhurst's bra and knickers.
Let's not forget Annie in her red sleeveless dress — provided specially, one assumes, by Roger. Unlike the thick, concealing red uniform of the Beauvoir ladies, Annie's dress is sleeveless and revealing; her arms, neckline and legs are all bare.
And check out Roger's red satin bedding... and that ceiling:
While we're on the subject of Roger's boudoir: have you noticed the theme of feline sensuality during the sex-party scenes? Roger's bed is flanked with two large statues of big cats: the famous tiger on the right and a black panther on the left (more clearly visible in an earlier scene):
And when Suki arrives at the sex party and takes off her skirt, we discover she's wearing leopard-spot knickers underneath. (Plus the song by T-Rex includes the lyrics: "Mild-mouthed Rita / She's a Chevy Chase cheetah..." Nice ;-)
Basically, we're shown a Seventies worldview in which men's desire is not only normal and good, it is the driving force behind all (heterosexual) relationships. Women's sexual expression is only acceptable in response to the male sex drive, and even then it's regarded with ambivalence. Roger Twilling's craving for sexual variety trumps his wife Carol's longing for her husband; Mrs Luckhurst is the object of Gene's (somewhat mysterious) mockery precisely because of her frank sexual desire; while Suki is scorned and ignored (even by Sam, who should know better) because she is a prostitute.
Of Sam, loneliness, and despairBut if the episode is about hidden female agency, and sexuality, it's also about loneliness, and how fear of rejection stops us from openly admitting our longing to others. Sam yearns for female companionship and comfort, but receives none (not even the spurious companionship of the Test Card Girl). Carol longs for her husband, but knows that she'll always have to share him with others — not just sexually, which is bad enough, but romantically, which is intolerable.
The episode often uses mirroring to show this. The "cold open" (the teaser that precedes the title sequence) starts with a brief dream sequence, a flashback to when Sam was a feverish, bedridden 4-year-old in 1973. The pyjama'ed youngster is visited at his sickbed by his aunt Heather, who appears — a vision in red — in his doorway.
(Note that we see her first in a reflection — Australia is the wrong way round on the globe — suggesting that the reality we're seeing through Sam's eyes may be deceptive.)
Sammy's innocence is emphasised by the teddy-bear face on his pillow... a storybook version of his own:
She presses a cool cloth to his forehead, murmurs comforting words, and promises to be there for him "always".
Next we see the adult version of Sam, a mirror image of his youthful self, waking up in his pyjamas in his 1973 bedsit. We watch him try to connect with his loved ones in 2006, and fail miserably. He's desperate for contact, for affection, but this time he's getting nothing but static from the TV. There are no loving voices or comforting touches to soothe the adult Sam, be they ghostly ones from 2006 or fleshly ones in 1973.
A little later in the episode, to underscore Sam's loneliness, we see him scraping out a saucepan and eating a solitary meal, with a freshly-opened bottle of wine in front of him. Again, the television's on, but no one is speaking to him from it. He's the very picture of loneliness.
The denouement has Sam back in his bedsit, his bottle now two-thirds empty, eating another lonely meal and still failing to connect.
Finally, as Sam least expects it, a presenter with Heather's face speaks from the TV, reciting the same trio of reassurances she spoke to her 4-year-old nephew (It breaks my heart to see you like this / remember, your Auntie Heather will always be here for you / you've always been my favourite nephew, Sam). But this time her words are empty, she's literally beyond reach.
In case we miss the point, presenter!Heather mentions two songs: "The Twelfth of Never", which has just ended, and "Alone Again (Naturally)", which we hear over the credits. The first — presumably the 1973 release by Donny Osmond — begins, not with a declaration of eternal love, but with a cry of eternal need. And the second is a lonely, self-pitying dirge whose protagonist (who was jilted at the altar and whose parents have died) promises to "treat [him]self" by throwing himself off the top of a "nearby tower". Finale foreshadowing for the win!
The significance of Sam's wardrobe?
Sam is forever reminding us how much he hates being in 1973, just hates it. Yet I wonder if one of the reasons Sam's flailing so much in this ep is that he's showing signs of having accommodated to it. For one thing, at some point he acquired a full wardrobe! We see him in pyjamas (not asleep in clothes and buried in paperwork). He's bought a smart tracksuit to jog in. He's got a proper pinstripe suit to wear to the Twillings' parties and, most tellingly maybe, HE'S GOT TENNIS WHITES OMG.
What can I say, I love Sam mixing it up
And, OK, perhaps the tennis togs were purchased for the undercover op, but still: we're seeing a Sam who's adjusting to his new reality, however reluctantly. Possibly he hates himself for that, and hates 1973 for forcing him to 'accept' it as his new home so far as to buy clothes within it. It's like he's stuck in a Sims City and is finally fed up with the default clothes that come with his avatar.
In short, the Sam we see in 2x04 is coming to the realisation that he may be stuck for good in 1973, and worse, that he's becoming acclimatised. Sam's like an expatriate who's getting rather too used to living abroad, and this realisation is terrifying. Hence his pleas to the voices of 2006: especially to Heather, who (we are now told) was like a young, glamorous surrogate mother to him.
Up until now Sam has relied on the television and the radio set to carry the beloved voices of 2006 to him; now, they're both silent. The only voices he hears are ghostly ones — a few words carried on a staticky car-radio, a "wrong number" phone call from a phone box. When he tells Annie at the end that he's got plans for the evening, he actually spends it watching the telly, hoping for his voices to return. And as we know, we finally do see AND hear Heather's cloying words, speaking directly to him from the television — and then she wears a frankly terrifying grimace... almost as though she's the Test Card Girl's adult persona. (And there's a scary thought...)
I do find this picture quite terrifying actually
But of course Sam doesn't know if he's remembering Heather's words from his childhood illness, or if he's hearing the voice of the much older Heather at his bedside in 2006. Either way, it's cold comfort. In this ep, every mysterious "communication" Sam hears is in Heather's voice, which underlines (I think) how desperately he wants this nurturing mother-figure back in his life... if only to be cuddled and told that everything will be all right.
This episode is ridiculously chock-a-block with such ironies. Sam is surrounded by women at a sex party, yet he's lonely and celibate. He's invited to join Annie and her friends for a night out, yet opts for miserable solitude in the hope that he'll hear a ghostly voice from 2006. Roger Twilling, who is patently creepy and selfish, gets all the women he wants... we even learn that one (Sandra) fell in love with him!
More paradoxes: Annie is clever and competent, yet no one takes her seriously as a policewoman (including Sam). The male officers investigate the case in their "manly" way, yet come up empty-handed. A girl who spouts nonsensical obscenities knows the secret that saves a woman's life. Chris takes Ray's advice on seduction, with embarrassing consequences; Chris's own sexual ineptitude makes his girlfriend untouchable (especially her lips, the source of so much sexual pleasure). Heather, a mother-figure who is devoted to Sam, not only fails to recognise him but treats him with scathing contempt. And communication devices... are windows into loneliness and despair.
( Continue to Part 2 )