Pam was deserving of more. Those people who consumed her sex tape despite its provenance owed her more. She deserved better from the courts, which sided with greedy men who profited from her shattered privacy time and time again.
Tommy owed Pam more, and his inability to understand his wife’s point of view bordered on the psychopathic. Being the woman in a celebrity sex tape is undeniably different! When men saw the video, they admired Tommy. They lusted after his knockout wife and his massive cock, which sadly ceased speaking to him after episode two.
Pam deserved a lot more from “Pam & Tommy”, who promised vindication but eventually reduced Pam’s personality to some guy’s epiphany. Rand Gauthier’s deserving and, I’d argue, unmet atonement arc includes his recognition of Pamela Anderson as an innocent victim.
It’s June 1996, and Mötley Crüe is holding an intimate fan event in the same Tower Records parking lot where pirated copies of the Pam and Tommy sex tape are being sold. The echo is deliberate, but what does it mean that a fading superstar is hawking stolen photographs of his wife’s naked body from a vehicle trunk from the same strip mall where stolen images of his wife’s naked body are hawked? The scene is imbued with a sense of significance, but no actual, discernible meaning, thanks to the familiar surroundings. I looked for Mötley Crüe’s new record because I wanted to know why they may play a corner lot. I was curious how the sex-tape controversy may be mirrored in the music of a band whose most famous lyric is three times the word “girls,” followed by descriptions of what some females are like. “Long legs and red lips, girls, girls, girls.” “Dancing down on Sunset Strip / Girls, girls, girls.” Mötley Crüe, it turns out, did not release any music in 1996.
Pam’s pregnancy is faithfully shown in the show’s timeline, and she’s set to give birth in June. With a full bump, she reads for L.A. Confidential. She adores the role of Lynn Bracken, and she wants it even more than the female lead in the upcoming Mike Myers spy parody, which she is expected to land. Instead, two stunning actresses, Kim Basinger and Elizabeth Hurley, are cast in the roles. Barb Wire is a flop, but the cover of Penthouse in June 1996 is the more immediate reason for Pam’s rejection. According to reports, 2.7 million people have seen it, including the X-rated stills inside, but how can that be true? Is the circulation of lad-mags in 1996 actually comparable to the current population of Lithuania? The situation in Crüeville is also deteriorating, as Tommy’s band was recently dropped from a poorly defined MTV show. It’s terrible, but I’m surprised Tommy is surprised, given that they just played to a half-empty area of asphalt.
At the very least, the Lees reason, things can’t get any worse. The sex-tape release was a disaster, and the lawsuit backfired in their faces. The Penthouse cover is arguably more newsworthy than the lawsuit, but the story must come to an end at some point. This month’s Penthouse will be recycled next month. Oh, how I wish that were so! Pam and Tommy have the misfortune of being featured in the first celebrity sex tape since the advent of the internet pornographic era. Seth Warshavsky comes up with the idea of streaming the video to entice new users to his cam-girl site, which he runs out of Seattle, complete with overpriced Starbucks coffee and sniggering Nirvana fans who believe Mötley Crüe is profoundly uncool.
“The flu was on the VHS video,” Pam and Tommy’s lawyer, a man who kept his job despite failing to contain the flu, explains. “This is a plague,” says the narrator. Tommy, as you might expect, insists on using the same strategy that worked so well in closing down Bob Guccione – a lawsuit! The defendant seems ecstatic to be served, which is a telltale sign of poor legal strategy. The judge does not halt Seth, just as he did not award an injunction in the case of Penthouse. It’s the Wild West, baby, when it comes to new media.
It’s a disastrous result. Pamela listens to the tape in the middle of the night, nearly full-term now, and she doesn’t cry. Her melancholy is resigned, and her lips are an inverted breve. I can’t imagine the sense of powerlessness she must have experienced. Even I didn’t anticipate it was going to become worse at this point. Seth, on the other hand, arrives in town the next day, requesting to purchase the tape’s rights. He’s permitted to stream it for free, but now he wants to stream it for a lot of money, according to the courts.
It’s the most difficult decision the Lees have had in a series in which they’ve primarily played reflexive, whack-a-mole defense. If Seth buys the footage, it will be restricted to a specific website and hidden behind a paywall. When a video is placed behind a paywall, Seth warns them, you should expect a 95% decline in viewership. They may easily limit the number of individuals who watch their tape by selling it, which has already been stolen. Pam, who is always sharper than the series allows, says “absolutely not.” She doesn’t want to be owned by some pervy guy with a mustache. Pam agrees to hand over the rights to Seth for free. Rand Gauthier has forced her to make this decision: sell herself for nothing.
Tommy still doesn’t get it, and she can’t negotiate a deal without his agreement. He won’t even take the time to consider how much the tape has cost her, how it must feel to have images of your body stolen and recirculated while your own body swells into something strange and alien. Pam is ready for a break from Hollywood and Tommy’s all-drama, all-the-time rollercoaster. However, he intercepts her packing her suitcase and persuades Pam to accompany him instead, an obviously poor decision that is easy to understand. She adores him, and she’s about to give birth to their child, so she needs this to work. As they embark on an impromptu babymoon, Tommy vows, “No cameras.”
Tommy can only keep up his supporting husband persona for a few hours at a time. When they stop in Vegas for a night’s rest, the hotel manager has the nerve to send up a bottle of champagne despite the “privacy requested” sign on the door, and Tommy loses his cool. The way Lily James’ entire body seems to absorb the severity of her husband’s outbursts is remarkable in these sequences. She is the proof of the earthquake’s aftershocks, whereas he is the earthquake itself. That kind of power doesn’t simply go. It needs somewhere to go, and James’ Pam is always trying to keep a safe distance from the guy she loves. Tommy, on the other hand, is a hothead stuck in a cycle of apologies. He appears to be remorseful while saying it, but ten minutes later he’s off to do something else harmful, such as sneaking out of the suite in the middle of the night. Tommy is laughing with a bunch of normies about his amazing second act as a porn star when Pam, clad in a robe and slippers, finds him in a bar. (A brief pause to admire the clever movie titles based on Mötley Crüe songs: Kickstart My Hard On, Dr. Fuckgood.) Being the man on a sex tape isn’t the same as being the man on a sex tape. It’s just not the case.
Pam has already left for Malibu by the time Tommy returns. When Tommy arrives, she is watching the sex tape, which the real Pamela insists she has never done. Tommy expresses regret. He claims that he will improve. Pam, on the other hand, isn’t interested in vague guarantees. She asks him to sign the sex tape’s release form. What follows is probably something they’ve done a hundred times before: Tommy shouts at Pam, who lacks the words or energy to help him. Because his neediness is irreconcilable with Pam’s reserve, he flips their coffee table and smashes over a light. It is not an act of love or sacrifice when he signs the release. It’s bloody. She tells him, almost nine months pregnant with his child, “It’s over.” It appears that the magic has been broken. Or perhaps this moment will have to be repeated a hundred times. The choice to leave isn’t made in a flash; it takes time and consideration. Pam is in a birthing pool the next time we see them, beaming for Tommy’s camera minutes after giving birth to their first kid. They’ll have another the following year.
Rand Gauthier, now an accomplished but conflicted enforcer on Butchie Peraino’s crew lurks behind every turn in this episode. His collections are soaring, but his health is deteriorating. He has nightmares about the gruesome work. Butchie makes a pact with Rand for reasons that are never disclosed. He can reclaim his freedom if he can come up with $10,000. Rand isn’t deserving of it. He still sees himself as a victim as the incident begins. He literally labels himself “the real owner” of Pam and Tommy’s sex footage in an insane phone call to Seth. The spiritually inclined dolt inquires of a fortune-teller as to why awful things are happening to him when he would rather wonderful things. What happened to my good karma? In between administering beatings on behalf of a loan shark, a man snuck into someone’s home, grabbed an intimate film, sold it into the public domain, and continues to try to reclaim custody of the footage. Rand’s psychic tells him that The Wheel of Fortune is spinning in the wrong way because he wounded someone, and the Star card appears, bearing a naked woman by the water. Rand never recognizes he’s made a mistake. A shuffle of the tarot card leads to his redemption.
Make a reservation for the redemption tour. When her not-quite-ex-husband pleads for five more minutes of her one precious life, Erica smartly sets an egg timer. Rand apologizes for being a leech, and Erica requests that they stick to a biannual contact schedule in the future. A final round of applause for Taylor Schilling, who accomplishes so much with so little. “Yeah, you are not the greatest gender,” she says with a finely toned scoff, turning the cliché into an eviscerating understatement. Rand’s next trip is Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where he apologizes to an unconvincing Pamela doppelganger after failing to breach the Lees’ house’s gates. It’s not a terrific substitute, but it’s something, as the show demands.
Rand, on the other hand, hasn’t altered at all. Seth comes to Rand in search of the original tape after Tommy agrees to release it to him. You can’t charge $30 for a grainy copy of another grainy copy. Rand offers it to him for $10,000, which is a reasonable price. Rather than giving the money to Butchie, Rand gives it to Erica to cover the costs of their divorce. He claims it’s a karmic win, but it appears to be more of a Ponzi scheme. To pay his debtors, Rand stole from Pam and Tommy; now he’s stealing from Butchie to purchase Erica’s forgiveness. He has a habit of stiffing someone and then telling himself that he has made amends.
We get an imagistic coda set in the undetermined future and some title cards that fit the series’ period-piece goals in place of a real finale for Pam and Tommy. Pam paints over her “Tommy” ring tattoo with “Mommy,” which is amusing. Pam files for divorce two months after Tommy is arrested for domestic violence in 1998, according to the series. The fact that Pam claims she was still holding their infant son when Tommy began assaulting her goes unmentioned. He’ll be imprisoned for six months. Pam and Tommy will briefly reunite after ten years and various marriages, only to break up again.
Rand Gauthier relocates to Northern California in order to cultivate marijuana. His title card states, “On occasion, he’ll tell someone he was the guy who took the Pam and Tommy sex tape.” And that line, pithy and casual, strikes me as a wonderful shorthand for what I found so irritating about “Pam & Tommy’s” finale, a show with so much to say but ultimately little to say. Pamela’s resemblance was spot on, but the series was too preoccupied with the comic value of male buffoonery to bother describing her.
We’ll have to wait for the recently announced Netflix special, whose approval could be “Pam & Tommy’s” most significant contribution to Pam Anderson’s comeback. She wasn’t involved in the Hulu production, but she and her son will collaborate on the Ryan White documentary, which will feature real Pam interviews.