TV Recap: Pam & Tommy, “Pamela in Wonderland”

The first three episodes of Pam & Tommy, which were released all at once, were directed by Craig Gillespie. Those episodes welcomed us into the world of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee with an irreverence and campiness that took the audience on a roller coaster ride of excessive wealth, beauty, personality, and ego. This contrasted nicely with Seth Rogen’s downtrodden Rand Gaultier, who sought revenge by releasing Pam and Tommy’s private sex tape to the world. It all seemed silly and escapist, a sideshow treat. However, by episode four, reality starts to seep into the series, and it develops shades of gray as serious, real-life issues start to play out, like their miscarriage, which reminds us that these are real people.

Another shift that happens as the story unfolds is the clear understanding of whose story this really is. In the previous episode, Pam tries to take charge of her life by insisting she sue Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, to keep him from publishing still photos from the stolen sex tape. This is a woman determined to maintain control of her life and career, even as it is seemingly careening off a cliff. We are taken even deeper into Pamela’s struggle as we find out that, even though both Pam and Tommy are on the tape, only Pamela will be deposed, which leaves Pam to fend for herself against Guccione’s wolves, who are determined to make mincemeat out of her.

This episode, which features the grueling deposition, is intermittently interrupted by flashbacks, introducing us to a younger Pamela Anderson, the twenty-two-year-old who was discovered on the JumboTron at a football game in her native Canada, eventually landing a gig as the face of Labatt beer. Her entire life changes when she is invited to the Playboy Mansion later that same year. When she arrives with her Mom, she is treated like royalty and tells Hugh Hefner that she feels “like Alice in Wonderland.” Hefner instantly falls in love with her, telling her she’s a once-in-a-generation talent.

Directed by Hannah Fidell and written by Sarah Gubbins, this episode dives head-on into the sexism that has plagued Pamela throughout her career and life. The sweet and innocent flashbacks serve as a heady contrast to the painfully cruel treatment she receives in the deposition by Guccione’s lead attorney, played to sneering perfection by John Billingsley, who puts her entire career and past on trial, even accusing her of making and promoting the sex tape intentionally as a ploy to generate publicity for herself. What makes it worse is her own lawyer doesn’t step in to stop it, allowing the grilling and attempts at slut-shaming continue. It’s significant that the only other woman in the room is the stenographer, who can’t do anything but offer Pamela a supportive glance during the deposition. But when she runs into Pamela in the bathroom during a break, the stenographer admits she’s never seen a deposition as brutal as this one.

Even though she makes it through the day, never taking the bait or crumbling under the pressure, Pamela finally reaches a point where she’s had enough. She’s tired of fighting all by herself in a battle she finally understands she can’t win, so she shuts it down, telling her lawyer she’s done, leaving us—and probably her as well– unsure of what will happen next.

Pam & Tommy is now streaming on Hulu.

Written by
Catherine is a senior writer for We Live Entertainment. She has also written for Awards Watch, In Session Film, and Awards Radar. She is Rotten Tomatoes-approved and a proud member of The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, and the Online Association of Female Film Critics. Offline, she loves baseball, World Cup soccer and all things ‘80s.

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