Pam & Tommy 1×05, “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth,” dives into the intricacies of Pamela and Tommy’s relationship and coping mechanisms, all while the mainstream press takes on the tape as a “real” story. In doing the former, the show shines a stunning light on the unbalanced expectations placed on Pamela and Tommy.
Pam & Tommy loses any opportunity to paint a slightly more sympathetic portrait of Tommy in the process. Like the first one shared between Pamela and Tommy, certain scenes allow Sebastian Stan to bring more layers to the character. However, those are so few and far between that they lose any weight by the end of the episode.
Tommy’s actions make him an obstacle for Pamela in this episode. Instead of being her partner, he acts out in self-defense because of his spiraling career. Maybe that’s easier than introspection. But, it makes him challenging to sympathize with beyond the understandable level of empathy reserved for him after losing a child and being inappropriately exposed via the stolen tape, and that may be Pam & Tommy‘s goal.
Tommy’s pattern of destructive behavior (with zero consequences) makes it all the more frustrating to watch Pamela hold everything and everyone together. Lily James brilliantly portrays Pamela’s bubbling anxiety through small mannerisms and her labored breathing. She’s holding so much back — pushing so much down. Meanwhile, Tommy can act out. The double standards are glaringly apparent to everyone but him.
Even Jay Leno’s writing staff knows they’ll get more laughs out of a joke at Pamela’s expense than one at Tommy’s. So instead of Tommy taking a beat to realize why that may be, he takes it as a personal mission to make himself bigger and bolder so people can’t ignore him. As a result, Pamela’s opinion gets lost in the shadow of his ego.
That dynamic is frustrating by all means, but it’s far more intriguing to watch than Pamela getting lost in favor of Rand’s narrative. It’s telling that Rand’s absence isn’t entirely noticeable by the episode’s end. Pam & Tommy has progressed past his arc applying to the narrative, and that’s for the best. There are far more fascinating angles to examine about the tape now — like its legality and the press’s impact.
“Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” doesn’t veer too far from the titular characters — utilizing a few quick cutaways to notable figures. This tactic is best because the central conflict is between Pamela and Tommy, despite Playboy threatening to run photos from the tape. Gail puts that into clear perspective for Pamela when she tells her client that everything Tommy does — good or bad — reflects on Pamela.
That’s unfair, but it’s the sad truth. So, not only does Pamela have to tip-toe around how she presents herself to the world, but she also has to keep her husband in line, or else her public persona will get worse. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one woman’s shoulders, and Tommy seems entirely inclined to avoid seeing that from her perspective. Instead, he has a knack for making everything all about him.
Most of Tommy’s dialogue directed towards Pamela is very manipulative. He keeps finding creative ways to try and make Pamela feel sorry for him without ever considering Pamela’s feelings and how he’s impacting her. It’s endlessly frustrating to watch, which, again, secures Pam & Tommy on Pamela’s side. It’ll be interesting to see if this show has anything more to say about toxic masculinity and Tommy’s behavior.
With a modern lens, that’s something we already know and can apply to Pam & Tommy, so the final three episodes have the opportunity to say more about how the public did or didn’t deal with it in the ’90s. After “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth,” it appears like the show has every intention of exploring the topic more. It’s reassuring to see that it may do so from mainly Pamela’s point of view from here on out.
This episode directly spells out and then shows how everything Tommy does affects Pamela, but Pam & Tommy takes it further than their relationship, too. Pamela is viewed through the male gaze for so much of this show that it’s riveting to see her take that back in various ways. Sadly, Pamela needed Gail to advise her that it’s okay to tell men “no.” But, something visibly shifts in Pamela after that — especially around Tommy.
Pamela’s on the brink of what some may deem a “breaking point.” However, to call it that would belittle what will hopefully translate as a “breakthrough” when Pamela realizes she shouldn’t be responsible for her husband’s actions. Notably, Pamela has a “smaller” breakthrough on the set of Baywatch after her conversation with Gail. It stands out that Pamela shrugs one of the crew member’s hands off her when he tries to move her.
That beat is brief, but it packs an emotional punch considering Pamela’s other experiences on that set — at least as shown on Pam & Tommy. Her physical autonomy is always in the hands of someone else, despite her continuous wishes to own her intellect, sexuality, and career as her role models do. Pamela constantly caters to the men in her life, and it’s powerful to watch her realize she doesn’t need to do that.
On the other hand, it’s saddening that the final shot of “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth” is Pamela realizing the man she loves isn’t in her corner as much as she is in his. Because of that, the final scene of this episode is an excellent culmination of everything that comes before it. Not to mention, the score amps up Pamela’s anxiety and anger so that it’s almost ringing in your ears.
Tommy says, “Doesn’t matter; we’re in this together,” as he walks on the other side of the camera. He leaves Pamela’s side in a moment when she needs him. The direction of this scene is truly fantastic because the pulled-in focus on Pamela’s face says more than that line does. They’re not in this together, and Pamela knows it.
What did you think of Pam & Tommy 1×05, “Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie in Duluth?” Let us know in the comments below!
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