Review: Harlots — Episode 4

harlots episode 4Lucy’s naiveté lingers in episode 4. Despite a customer leaving her bed agitated and dissatisfied, she still asks Margaret if he is to be her keeper. Shockingly, she believes this to be in the realm of possibility.

Later when she plays cards, Lucy yet again demonstrates her fledgling social skills. Not unlike her time at the Reptons, she attempts to participate in banter and ends up missing the mark. Unfortunately though, to Lord Fallon she sounds enticing. This is of course most dangerous given his particular, possibly murderous, sexual preferences.

She becomes increasingly more aware of her weaknesses as a harlot. To her credit, Lucy takes some initiative and seeks out Charlotte for advice. From their conversation though, it’s clear that Charlotte didn’t struggle early on to satisfy customers as Lucy has.

It’s hard to tell if Lucy’s bumpy entry into sex work is par for the course or if it veers from the norm. The only other new harlot whose experiences might provide comparison and insight is Harriet. Her expert handling of Repton does indeed put Lucy’s amateur fumbling in rather harsh perspective, but we might remember that Harriet is not new to this game. As she says, this is just the first time she’s getting paid for it.

But when Lucy, dressed in white and barefaced, wanders amongst heathen partygoers, it’s clear she doesn’t belong. When she sits down to play the piano, it’s the best she can do to take part in the activities. She craves attention. She craves to be a star. But Margaret trained Lucy to play the piano and sing and be seen; she didn’t actually train Lucy to be a harlot.

And Lucy has begun to question her suitability for this work. She asks Margaret why she even needs a keeper, why she can’t simply stay home. And on a separate occasion, Charlotte too asks to live with Margaret. The relationship with George Howard continue to deteriorate and Charlotte’s financial stability has weakened. Unfortunately for both young women, Margaret does as every parent has done in the history of the world. She tells her girls to get a job and make money.

But supposing Lucy is in fact an outlier, what does that mean for her propensity to make money? For her future? Not everyone is suited for every job, and that’s okay. But what becomes of a harlot if she doesn’t have the aptitude for sex work?

And what becomes of Charlotte if she can’t find sex work (at least the profitable kind which actually breaks the cycle of poverty)? She tries to secure a new keeper to replace George, but she finds herself with less currency than she once had.

Meanwhile in Golden Square, Lydia Quigley plays host to all kinds of villains from Osbourne and Cunliffe to the unidentified ‘spartans.’ For his part, Charles Quigley refuses service to Osbourne, permanently putting an end to his patronage at Quigley’s. Though in truth, the victory was incidental. Charles’ sole intent was to stop Osbourne’s abuse of Emily; he happily offered any other woman of Osbourne’s choosing.

And in doing so, Charles represents every man who’s outraged by the abuse of a woman only when the abuse affects him personally; when it’s his girlfriend, his sister, his mother, his daughter. As Margaret said in episode 1, “Men don’t respect women; they respect property.” It’s because of Charles’ relationship with Emily Lacey, that he finally stops Osbourne’s abuse of Quigley’s harlots.

And in this landscape, a woman derives worth only through a male conduit; intrinsically she’s worthless. The logical extension of this philosophy meets its heinous end when the ‘spartans’ murder Quigley’s kidnapped virgin. The young woman, as so many are, is quite literally disposable.

Review: iZombie — Eat, Pray, Liv

izombie season 3 episode 3After watching “Eat, Pray, Liv,” I think a part of me would be totally okay if Ravi and Peyton end up going their separate ways. Yes, they might love each other but that doesn’t mean two people actually work together. For his part, Ravi just couldn’t stop himself from making one bad decision after another. His effort to be kind, understanding, and compassionate, combined with a sense of moral superiority, comes out as a patronizing attempt to forgive Peyton for sleeping with Blaine.

And unfortunately Ravi makes the fatal assumption that Peyton seeks his forgiveness. It’s here, in the most subtle and unobtrusive way, iZombie touches on that nasty pest of sexual entitlement which thrives in a patriarchy. It is the persistent belief (which we all have likely perpetuated at one time or another) that women owe men sex and sexual attention. That women owe men a smile on the street. That women owe men their number at a bar. That women, as in the case of Peyton and Ravi, owe men an apology for sleeping with other people. And most importantly, this episode demonstrates that the nasty entitlement pest can infect even the kindest, most well-intentioned, and loving of people (e.g. unsuspecting Ravi). It’s undiscriminating, so we must be vigilant.
Of course the suggestion that Peyton make an apology to Ravi is absolutely preposterous. Ravi has no claim on Peyton’s body. Ravi is not her keeper. Ravi is not her partner. Ravi is not Blaine’s keeper. Ravi is not Blaine’s partner. In truth, Ravi has nothing to do with anything. Which is why Peyton states the obvious: “Your opinion on this matter is irrelevant.”
Upon hearing her words, I felt a surge of satisfaction. Finally! Somebody said it. I must admit I crave to hear these words again. Only next time at a congressional hearing when a senator mansplains women’s sexual and reproductive healthcare to female constituents.
Anywho, all the Ravi/Peyton drama notwithstanding, I kind of like Blaine and Peyton together. Perhaps Ravi’s series of unfortunate decisions surrounding his relationship with Peyton  might set him free. Perhaps it will set Ravi on a new course that leads him to another love.
Although, even if Peyton and Blaine could secure some version of a happy and healthy relationship, Blaine still has to atone for his sins. Taking the serum as he did this episode hardly constitutes a single prayer in the thousands which would be his penance. I wonder if Blaine stands to lose a lot more? Maybe even his life?
Despite all the things we hate him for, our sympathy for Blaine does continue to grow. The story his father tells only goes to show how damaging Blaine’s childhood was. Angus explains to Blaine that he earned his father’s unadulterated contempt at 11 years old, because he stole a pair of his mother’s earrings. It’s not just unfair; it’s absurd. Angus is incapable of love. He’s void of patience and forgiveness, and probably a sense of humor for that matter. I’d now like to see how Blaine’s relationship with his mother compares.
Meanwhile, Liv and Clive solve a run-of-the mill murder case. It’s nothing so salacious as the mother-daughter-stepfather love triangle we saw in the previous episode. As a matter of fact, Liv doesn’t even have any visions! And what can we expect from the brain of a master in meditation? The rest of us can’t let go of memories. But this zenned out dude can do it with his eyes shut.
My eyes are wide open, and I see a romance brewing in Liv’s future. The face that Justin makes upon his introduction to Liv savors of new crush to me. Sadly though, we’re immediately reminded of Major’s everlasting love for Liv in a tender close-up. Major look lovingly at Liv and it’s as if we hear his inner voice say, “All this time I’ve been worried about forgetting Natalie, when I should have been worried about forgetting Liv.”
These two will undoubtedly end up together, but new loves and a possible memory loss will certainly make for good tension and greater payoff.
And then there’s Don E. He believed himself to be Angus’ business partner, but soon realizes that he’s no more than a gofer. Standing in the rain, he looks into the lounge where the cool kids have gathered to watch Blaine croon the most fitting of songs (‘Long, Long Time). And it’s as if all Don E’s life could be summed up in that one moment– the weird kid on the outside, wishing he were included.
Well, it’s either that– him feeling longing and envy– or him feeling his resentment towards Blaine balloon to epic proportions. I hope the former. It’s often a loaner with an ax to grind who commits the most heinous of crimes.

Review: Harlots — Episode 3

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Pippa Bennett-Warner as Harriet in Episode 3 of ‘Harlots’

In episode one, the second bidder for Lucy’s virginity was of course Lord Repton. In episode three, he’s scheduled to collect his prize. Summoning Lucy to a country estate, the Lord and Lady tellingly distance themselves from civilization. Their style of foreplay includes demanding Lucy hunt a doe while the kinky couple peppers bullets in her direction for their own amusement. Her disorientation and breathy panic– mixed with the cracking of bark under siege of gunfire and the Reptons’ giddy shrieks of
delight– savors of a most dangerous game. A game for which she is woefully unprepared.

Lucy’s prospects for survival are made worse still by her inability to understand just how unprepared she is, for that would require some humility. A shortcoming for which Margaret may be partially responsible. Believing Lucy to be special, Margaret has puffed her daughter up over and over. Lucy has very much internalized Margaret’s words, as demonstrated when she tells Kitty and Fanny that they, unlike her, are common whores. And when she informs Lord Repton’s footman that he’s too lowly and too poor to share her company. And when she introduces herself as a “famed courtesan” to the stableboy, Jem Curran. And the list goes on.
The result of Margaret’s grooming is a young harlot with an over-inflated ego and a naive understanding of what it means to be in the business. Sex work is indeed work. It requires strategy, technique, presentation, sales, marketing, and maneuvering. The tragedy is that Margaret’s intentions were to push her daughter up from the dregs of Covent Garden, but in doing so, Margaret may be the reason Lucy is out of her depths. The consequences of which are painful, and include the marks on Lucy’s back after Repton rapes and punishes her for displeasing him.
Back in the city, George Howard exhibits his own ugly abuse of power. He punishes Haxby for his apparent loyalty to Lady Caroline, Howard’s wife. In an entirely distasteful moment, Howard demands Haxby hold the pot whilst his master urinates into it. Since the Baronet is Haxby’s superior in status and fortune, good breeding would of course lead Howard to gracefully accept a quiet victory over his servant. But alas, George Howard is something of a bad apple. Craving the degradation of those who challenge him, mercy is a foreign concept. Woe betide dear Charlotte if her actions should ever constitute a betrayal in his eyes.
And on the other side of town, Nathanial Lennox has died. His son, Benjamin Lennox, dismisses Harriet as a free woman, but keeps her children as slaves for himself. With few allies in London, Harriet sets aside her squeamishness when it comes to the business of prostitutes, and seeks help from none other than Ms. Margaret Wells.
Margaret of course doesn’t entertain the idea of Harriet pleading with the court; she knows the system doesn’t exist to defend people like them. Instead, she proposes a more economic solution. For where there is supply and demand, there is a price which induces even the most reluctant person to sell. Every hustler knows that. Therefore, Margaret advises Harriet solve her dilemma by simply purchasing the children from Lennox.
Now I should note that Harriet’s circumstance as a black woman (and former slave) is distinct from Margaret’s circumstance (and privilege) as a white woman. However, we might for a moment consider the common ground between these two: a desire to free their children. Most of us recoil at the idea of reducing one’s children to property. But Margaret would do it without a moment’s hesitation. She’s instructed Charlotte to sign a contract with George Howard and become his property. Indeed, Margaret would have Harriet yield to Benjamin’s claim on her children, so that she may in turn purchase them as chattel.
Because the suggestion that a human being could be property is so offensive to our principles and sense of dignity, it’s easy to judge Margaret Wells. We exclaim in horror, “How dare she put her daughter on the town at 12 years old!? How dare she sell Lucy’s virginity at auction? How dare she bid Charlotte become property?”
But episode three mounts the defense of Margaret and Harriet by asking us this, “What does it matter if you sell your child, when it’s their freedom that you buy?” Emerson would likely object to my application of his words here, but they so aptly capture my own feelings on the matter: “For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail?”

Review: Harlots — Episode 2

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Jessica Brown Findlay as Charlotte Wells in Episode 2 of ‘Harlots’

Last week we glimpsed the freedom in harlotry, where this week we faced its perils (the foulest of which being death). Margaret’s words ring true throughout the episode: narrow is the path they tread; grave are the dangers.

And the path of Ms. Wells this week involves the old flame and former client, Nathaniel Lennox. In desperate need of seed money, she invites him to consider her business as a potential investment, however he makes it clear that his greatest interest is in Margaret herself.

Quigley faces a far more heinous proposition from her own patron across town. Cunliffe, who is both a judge and a customer in Golden Square, visits Quigley and requests that she kidnap a virgin. Quigley shows some modicum of conscience (or perhaps only a sense of self-preservation) by asking what happens to the victim after being raped. Though Cunliffe attempts to persuade her, the request rapidly becomes a directive. Ever so creepily, he inserts an uninvited finger into her cleavage, daring her to deny him.

The oppressive nature of male presence and power continues in Charlotte’s story, by way of Haxby and his assignment to follow her. George has set his servant upon Charlotte to serve as warden and spy. However, there’s precious little hanky panky for Haxby to report, as their primary activity is keeping a dying woman company.

Deathly ill with syphilis is Mary Cooper, former employee of Lydia Quigley. With the help of Nancy Birch, Margaret intends to use Mary and her disease to tarnish Quigley’s reputation. But alas, Mary is anything but cooperative. She refuses to be used without compensation. The pleasure of Mary Cooper’s company doesn’t come free. Not to Margaret, not to anyone. She’s a hustler ‘til the bitter end.

And this fact brings us to the point. Throughout the episode, we are reminded of a sad truth: power, authority, and freedom are granted to a woman by– and only if it so pleases– a man. And yet, these women are undeterred. We don’t feel that Margaret has debased herself in having sex with Lennox, and why is that? We don’t feel that Lydia honestly believes she’s without the “superior force of male reason” (as she tells Cunliffe), and why is that? It’s for the same reason that the word “hustler” means both prostitute and go-getter. ‘Cause hustlers get shit done.

A few predictions and asides:

  • Haxby channels Mrs. Scanwell and declares all harlots are damned. Heaven help us if such an unholy alliance between these two characters should occur.
  • Haxby and Charlotte are Mary’s companions as she departs this world for the next. The profundity of this moment, and the intimacy of knowing Charlotte’s childhood home, surely must affect the future relationship of these two (for better or worse).
  • The one bright spot in an otherwise darker episode is that of Lucy’s subplot. Since you never forget your first time, Lucy decides she wants a do-over of sorts. She seeks out the stableboy, and recites (as she’s likely done over and over again in her fantasies), “I am Lucy Wells, famed courtesan. Give me your money, and I’ll make you a man.” She emerges later with lightness and pride. She enters this business of prostitution on her own terms.
  • However, given her appearance at the stables and the geese waddling through the frame, I couldn’t help but think of the Grimms’ fairy tale—the Goose Girl. In it, a young maiden discovers that she cannot rely on her mother’s protection to save her, but rather must face the trials of adulthood on her own. It also includes the refrain, “if only your mother knew, her heart would break in two.” Since Lucy was told to save herself once more for Lord Repton, do we think Margaret will be much displeased with Lucy’s rogue romp in the hay?
  • The closing scene is a bit overambitious. Margaret places Mary in candlelit glory in Golden Square, quite literally bringing death to Quigley’s doorstep. The final frame echoes many we’ve seen before in Peaky Blinders. However, Harlots may have a ways yet before they earn the right play anachronistic music in the background as the anti-hero stands ready for a rumble and stares menacingly into the night.

The things we wear to go whoring: ‘Harlots’ and costume

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Lucy Wells’ blue dress and blonde hair is sufficiently Alice-like for her trip down the rabbit hole  (Harlots, Episode 1)

Season 1, Episode 1

Rejoice, Harlots has arrived on Hulu! It’s a female-centered period piece, which focuses on the entrepreneurs who own and operate brothels in London. Through a feminist lens, and overlaid upon feuding dynasties, this series explores themes of family loyalty, social status, ambition (particularly that of females), sexuality, and gender fluidity.

While I would love to chat about every clever and nuanced decision on the part of the creators, writers, designers, actors, and directors of the show, I thought that (for today) I would comment on costumes.

I must first commend, however, the creators of Harlots for brilliantly selecting the name of the eldest Ms. Wells; the very word, ‘harlot,’ lives in the name Charlotte. It’s as if our lovely “Queen pretend” (as she names herself) could no sooner stop being a harlot, as she could stop being herself. We are constantly reminded of the juxtaposition of sex work and freedom by the character’s name. Charlotte is a derivative of Charles, which is a derivative of Karl, meaning “free man.” So, when Charlotte sits on her bed— her prison, her throne—and ponders her future with and without George Howard’s contract, we too must wonder if harlotry is a contradiction to her freedom, or if harlotry itself is her freedom.

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To start, costumers had a bit of a laugh with their pineapple. The first time we properly meet Charlotte is when she wakes upon the arrival of George Howard. On the heels of his entrance, is his presentation of a pineapple to Charlotte. Despite later scoffing at Howard’s suggestion that she is the aforementioned fruit, Charlotte was indeed dressed as one.

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The eldest Ms. Wells, however, does not appear dressed as a pineapple in the courtroom after her mother has been arrested in the raid. While Lucy is still dressed in the clothing she wore to fetch her sister, Charlotte has since changed. Fittingly wearing red, white, and blue, she stands before the judge in opposition of his citation and application of currents laws, which diminish the sex workers’ agency, restrict their freedom, and punish their financial independence. Later, Charlotte is still dressed in the colors of liberty as she sits in a different courtroom of sorts—a bedroom which may sentence a woman, or exonerate her, for being female—and considers the contract before her. Will agreeing to be the property of George Howard limit or augment her personal freedoms?

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Emily Lacey appears before Lydia Quigley’s House of Earthly Delights in a conspicuous medallion-colored frock, shining as brightly as she so claimed at the beginning of the episode. And as well she should, for Ms. Quigley does not accept Emily because of her talents with the ‘male instrument,’ but rather Ms. Quigley accepts Emily because she is a shiny medal. She is a keepsake of warfare. Just as a soldier proudly displays his rank with a collection of medals hanging from his uniform, Quigley too desires a medal with which to adorn herself, symbolizing a victory over Margaret Wells. Today, that medal is Emily Lacey. Later in the episode, the shoes which Margaret gifts Lucy are also medallion-hued. As such, we’ll have to watch this color, watch the shoes, and watch what else may become the spoils of war.

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In a very quick scene, the narcissism (and possibly deranged obsession) of George Howard is succinctly stated. We already know that he wants to own Charlotte, but by dressing in her clothes as he professes love for himself, Howard exhibits the desire to be Charlotte, and to experience the pleasure of loving himself through her.

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And finally we arrive at the opera, where Lucy is viewed by prospective buyers interested in bidding for her virginity. Between Lucy’s blue frock and the style of her blonde hair, I smelt a whiff of Alice in Wonderland on the ensemble. While the same Lucy-blue of innocence and wonder exists in the fabric of Charlotte’s dress, the color is entwined with (or perhaps overtaken by) a more complex pattern. These sisters share the same beginnings, but make no mistake, the career of Charlotte wells has left an indelible print on the fabric of her character.

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Atop either daughter’s crown is a hint of red, the color worn by their mother, Margaret, a red queen-like figure. Positioned opposite her, is our white queen, Lydia Quigley. The sight of these two brings to mind the players and imagery of the Wars of the Roses, which were the wars for control of the English throne. One house was represented by a red rose; the other, by a white one. I find it most delightful that our Margaret Wells shares the same name as the red queen of old, Margaret Beaufort, and perhaps shares Beaufort’s ambition as well. After all, Beaufort famously masterminded the upset of the House of York. She groomed her son, a pretender to the throne, and successfully established him as the King of England. When Charlotte calls herself the “Queen pretend,” it is all the more clear that Margaret has long-envisioned a title for herself and her daughters.

There is so much to sink one’s teeth in! I very much look forward to Episode 2!

verses in progress

“I’ve been to this movie before

Go sit on the bed ‘cause I know you want more”

I said I wouldn’t do it, wouldn’t do it again

Since I like him and his money, but not his friends

You’re saying all the wrong things

I’m scared to fall asleep

Don’t tell me that I’ve had enough

‘Cause when have you had to give something up?”

 

Were we watching the same thing on that movie screen?

Is this meant to be an exercise in empathy?

Straight face, unfazed, I play a long-game

I already said I’m sorry that you feel that way

“I bet you’re tired of being alone”

I only noticed when my car broke down on 101

“You haven’t spoken much to your friends”

I might admit I think I’m a little better than them

 

Keep your voice down, I heard you the first time

Everybody here could hear you just fine

You said, “Well you should know I keep things to myself

Everybody does on account of your mental health”

Then dramatically, with pageantry

You tell me what your friends think

But the gospels according to the rich and boring

Don’t seem to be having any effect on me

 

Chorus:

And you’re winding me up, winding me up again

You love to say, “I get that”

But I know you never have

And I keep rushing back

But I mostly gave it up

So isn’t that enough

To keep you ’round and winding me up?

Winding me up with all your love