Monday, November 5, 2012

Tabloid Journalism

Melodramatic Mondays

Hannah is blackmailed by a journalist who spots her in the company of a politician. A young woman seeks Belle's guidance in entering the world of harlotry.

The review for "Rough in the Diamond" can be read here.

Hannah's (Billie Piper) life has been in upheaval recently, what with having left her agency to strike out on her own, moving into a new apartment, and the strain that has been put on her relationship with Ben (Iddo Goldberg) due to his jealous girlfriend. Rather than trying to find the perfect balance between her life as Hannah and her secretive life as Belle, Hannah has remained almost entirely focused on Belle's ventures, making keeping up with Hannah's plans a bit of a struggle.

During her business transaction, Belle takes a moment to explain to the audience how the transfer of payment usually works, grabbing subtly for an envelope on the counter and stating that "some men feel awkward handing over money, they want it to feel like a date." What sells this scene is her professionalism, and the pride she takes in the subtlety with which she completes her task, but the moment that makes this scene memorable is her realization that she's with the wrong man. In opening the envelope she finds Alex's (Callum Blue) passport, and promptly receives a call from the man she's supposed to be meeting, also calling himself Alex (Simon Greenall) wondering where she is. As she takes in this information we can see in her face all of the peculiarities about Alex, and the fact that he was so clearly ill-prepared to meet a woman tonight; Belle's experience in meeting with her real client is completely opposite to that that she was having with Alex, as her client is very up front about what he wants, is in a rush to get it, and hands her a wad of cash off the bat to get things going.

As Hannah/Belle leaves the hotel she sees Alex sitting once more at the bar, dejected and lonely, and she feels a very clear sense of disappointment, her night having gone very differently had he been the man she was actually meant to see that night. This plays into her later admittance of her dysfunctions at social gatherings, musing that people only want to talk about two things, both of which she actively avoids mentioning: relationships, which she can't have, for obvious reasons, and work, which she can't discuss, for obvious reasons. Hannah later finds that she still has Alex's passport, and is forced to return to the hotel to give it back to him, and, in doing so, ends up giving him her number. The interesting point is that she gives her name as Hannah, giving him also her real number, and he questions why she had introduced herself, the night before, as Belle. Normally, Hannah is very adept at lying, as it's become a very large part of her life, but here she has grown fond of Alex, and stutters as she says that "that's what [her] friends call [her]...because that's...[her] nickname..." While she's aware that a relationship with Alex won't be able to work unless she makes some drastic changes to her life, she's relieved to see that he calls her back, and takes it as a chance to lead a real life for once, letting Hannah take the spotlight while Belle's activities sit on the back burner.

Hannah/Belle is contacted by a girl calling herself Bambi (Ashley Madekwe,) desperate to break into the business of escorting. While the two of them discuss the merits of the job, Hannah/Belle also makes mention of the dangers, stating that she won't be able to lead a normal life, and will have to do a lot of lying to people she loves. Bambi is very glib in her answers, stating that she already lives that way and it won't be an issue for her, but at no point does she acknowledge any of the negatives that Hannah alludes to, nor does she request any elaborations. At one point, she even answers Belle's phone and steals one of her clients, and while it's likely to bring about an interesting storyline in the future, at no point does she take into consideration what this might mean for Belle's reputation or business. Should she be trying to ingratiate herself to Belle then she's doing it in exactly the wrong way, risking her own safety as well as betraying Belle's trust, and it seems extremely short-sighted of her, especially in light of all the advice Belle had been giving her.

Contacted by a reporter (Chris Coghill) claiming to have spotted her with a married politician, her earlier client Alex, Hannah finds herself being blackmailed into telling her side of the story in an effort to bring an end to his political campaign. Hannah muses that "in [her] job, discretion is everything, and [she's] a firm believer in having a private life," which is precisely why she refuses to reveal any information. Should she betray her client in that way, she would be blacklisting herself and her business amongst all potential clients, current and future. Through her refusal she is forced to wait silently as the paper prepares to run a picture of her and expose her secret, and while it's a very interesting story that could have gone in many different directions, the paper manages instead to find another escort willing to share her story. The resolution to this plot seems far too easy an ending, and while it makes narrative sense to keep Hannah from being exposed so early on in the series, it also will serve to undermine any potential reprisal of this kind of story in future episodes, killing a slew of interesting plots that could have been.

Everyone is in very good form in this series opener, and Piper is capable of carrying a narrative with relative ease at this point. The most interesting performance of the episode is that of Madekwe's Bambi, who is both funny and charming throughout without once becoming irritating or grating in any way. While Bambi's act is underhanded and conniving, Madekwe endears us to her character, bringing a hesitant understanding to her actions, with a hint of tragedy in her past, to make her character come to life in a very natural way.

Fraser MacDonald directs this episode with a few interesting choices, beginning with a mildly distracting moment as Hannah breaks the fourth wall to tell the audience that "[she] missed [us]." As Hannah attends the christening of her sister's (Joanna Bobin) child she begins having flashes of Belle's night before; as the vicar (Jonathan Battersby) asks her to renounce Satan and accept Christ, we see that, only hours before, she had been dressed as a maid urinating on a member of parliament. We're later also shown a series of reactions that Hannah thinks her family would have had to the news of her prostitution, though all are played for laughs. While she mentions that their actual reactions would be far more caustic, she takes no time to consider what they might really say, and it's an opportunity missed, though she clearly is worried about what her family and friends will think, as later she rushes about town to steal everyone's newspapers the morning the article about her is to come out. The episode closes with a nice contrast as Hannah sends flowers to her sister in apology; the flowers she had destroyed at the christening were white and pure, representing the innocence of a child, whereas the flowers she sends her sister are roses of a deep red, representing Hannah's fall from grace and the lifestyle she chooses to lead.

Lucy Prebble focuses on the clandestine nature of Belle's work here, writing her almost as though she were some kind of secret agent as Belle walks into the hotel with only a name, time, and address. Belle still offers insights into her work, such as the fact that she "never count[s] the cash in front of the client, it's only polite," as well as voicing a few more concerns in the form of advice to newcomer Bambi. Prebble also reveals that it's been some time since Hannah and Ben have had much contact, as he has remained with Vanessa despite breaking off their engagement, and she has forced him to move out of London to create a distance between him and Hannah.

Bambi clearly is getting herself into trouble here, and is being set up to cause issues for Hannah/Belle throughout the rest of this series. Alex, too, is being set up to bring some genuine romance into Hannah's life, though how long that can last remains to be seen.

The review for "Professional Development" can be read here.


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