Pam & Tommy 1×06, “Pamela in Wonderland,” is this limited series at its best. It’s an unflinching character study of Pamela Anderson, and it’s what the rest of the season should have been. Furthermore, it’s what the rest of the season could be. This episode makes the first three even weaker, as it’s laughable for Rand Gauthier (the man who created this scandal) to be the only other character with noteworthy flashbacks.
Every character doesn’t need a backstory; Rand most certainly does not in the eyes of this narrative. Pamela, on the other hand, inconsequentially does. She is arguably the only one who deserves a meaningful look at her past because she should be the focal point of this series. Really, “Pamela in Wonderland” could be a more compelling series premiere as it stems everything from her perspective — rather than Rand’s or Tommy’s.
The men of Pam & Tommy don’t dominate this episode, as they only appear when relevant to Pamela’s life. “Pamela in Wonderland” doesn’t check in with Tommy at home or in the studio. It doesn’t peak in on Rand or Uncle Miltie, nor does it give Hugh Hefner or Bob Guccione’s perspectives independence. Refreshingly, this episode centers on Pamela’s independent arc and how the men of this show depend on her — not vice versa.
That directly combats the ’90’s dominant narrative that Pamela needed and wanted this tape’s release to boost her career and her relationships with men who could get her to new heights. It crescendos in a brutally intrusive and often offensive deposition. If Pam & Tommy didn’t want to fill in the blanks with flashbacks, “Pamela in Wonderland” could have been an engaging bottle episode as Pamela only leaves the conference room once.
Since it doesn’t, Pam & Tommy opts for a close look at Pamela’s journey to fame, and it’s far more endearing than Guccione’s lawyer paints it to be. Of course, part of that has to do with the hair and make-up team’s ability to transform Lily James into a slightly younger version of Pamela. But, of course, James herself is more than worthy of credit for showing the nuanced distinctions between Pamela in 1989 and 1996.
When the jumbotron at the football game finds her, there are literal sparkles in Pamela’s eyes. Her excitement jumps off the screen as Hugh Hefner and Playboy discover her. It’s an unfortunate pattern that the one person who isn’t on her side is her abusive boyfriend at the time. Alternatively, “Pamela in Wonderland” delivers a beautiful, healthy, and supportive relationship between Pamela and her mother that captures the magic of jumping into a new venture with someone loving in your corner.
Their scene in bed together after Pamela’s first Playboy shoot is genuinely touching. One of the best parts of their discussion is when her mother encourages Pamela to get a boob job if that’s something she wants. Pamela so clearly feels empowered after the shoot. During it, director Hannah Fidell‘s camera work is more concerned with capturing Pamela’s comfortability and joy than sensually or sexually scanning her body.
It’s a reflection of Pamela’s words earlier in the episode when she tells her scummy boyfriend, “This is for me. This isn’t for you” — as is any cosmetic surgery she gets.
It’s a stark juxtaposition to watch Pamela gain so much joy from loving her body and owning her sexuality in the past, only for Guccione’s lawyer to twist that agency into a manipulation tactic in the present. It taps into the culture (especially prominent in the ’90s and persists today) that capitalized on sexism and misogynistic behavior. It’s easier to pin the tape on Pamela than to confront the society that fosters an environment where a private and stolen video becomes a tool to ruin a woman’s reputation.
In line with the rest of the series thus far, Pamela is aware of this throughout the deposition, and she never caves to the pressure to shame herself. Instead, James embodies Pamela’s disgust and discomfort through a patiently, leveled tone and chillingly controlled mannerisms. As a woman, it’s painfully easy to comprehend that any overt expression of her emotions can also become a weapon to ruin her further. It doesn’t matter that her feelings are entirely justified.
As Pam & Tommy progresses, Pamela becomes more and more of a crucible on the brink of exploding. She gives herself brief moments of reprieve — like that breath at the end of Pam & Tommy 1×04, “The Master Beta.” Nevertheless, she remains overwhelmingly composed — even when the opposition’s lawyers force Pamela to watch a tape that was never meant for anyone other than her and her husband.
So, it’s revealing that when the conference room begins to feel especially suffocating, Pamela’s mind surfaces a good and happy memory, whether to do with herself and her mother or her and Tommy. Structurally, those breakaway scenes come across as respites for her as they do for the viewers. They’re informative (like the one showing Tommy’s decision to put the tape in the safe) and enhance the existing narrative.
Moreover, they pull Pamela (and us) out of that conference room and to somewhere better — or so she deems. For example, Pamela and Tommy’s camping trip is a fascinating comparison to the narrative Guccione’s lawyer weaves during the deposition. To him, their relationship is as false as the tabloids say, and their physical intimacy is only a means to Pamela’s end. That scene (and others like it) poke holes in Guccione’s lawyer’s argument, but his falsehoods don’t matter.
The cutting attempts to humiliate, isolate, shame, and villainize a woman who has done nothing wrong as a means to pin her as the perpetrator of a crime she is the victim of matters more. Within Pam & Tommy‘s narrative, Tommy may genuinely believe he’s on his wife’s side during this storm, but she is the last one to leave that conference room — on her own. Even then, Pamela maintains decorum and genuine kindness despite what she just experienced.
Like every episode before it, “Pamela in Wonderland” is challenging to reconcile with as the actual Pamela Anderson isn’t involved with the show’s production. That moral debate should remain prominent as people discuss Pam & Tommy. That said, the themes this episode specifically tackles create conversations the general public needs to have consistently. No one but themselves should govern women’s bodies and sexualities.
What did you think of Pam & Tommy 1×06, “Pamela in Wonderland?” Let us know in the comments below!
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