Pam & Tommy 1×08, “Seattle,” is the series most balanced episode yet, and even then, it still leaves a bitter taste in its aftermath. The show finally finds balance with its three leads, but its overarching themes don’t bode in the show’s best interest. Instead, as the series wraps up, they serve as a reminder that Pam & Tommy doesn’t need to exist — at least not right now.
This show does pull back the curtain on celebrity culture in the ’90s and the rampant sexism that accompanied it. There is plenty to learn from in that regard, especially as popular culture evolves and the line between public and private blurs into almost nonexistence. However, Pam & Tommy sets out to value Pamela’s perspective first and foremost, and at every turn, her point of view is that she wants all of this to go away.
Pamela faces the public, her husband, lawyers, and a skeevy young man who wants to sell her body for his profit and masquerade it as an attempt to help her, and she never falters in that belief. Pamela wants to be an actress. She wants to be a wife and a mother. She wants to be left alone.
With the retrospect of the entire series, it’s challenging to comprehend how a show can know that so deeply — in its fiction and in our reality — and still not see the detriment it could cause.
Moreover, it doesn’t help that Pam & Tommy waits until “Seattle” to make Tommy confront what Pamela has told him all along — that she’s on the tape differently than him. He never comes around to entirely understanding her perspective in that way, which isn’t shocking. But, this episode scratches the surface of why Tommy’s so resistant to discuss how the tape affects him — not his band, him.
Finally, Tommy verbally expresses that what happened to him (and Pamela, of course) was non-consensual.
Of course, there wasn’t the same vocabulary or level of resources available to discuss and help male sexual harassment and assault victims in the ’90s. But, Pam & Tommy vows to look at this time with a more modern lens, and that could have encompassed the potential of Tommy’s violation contributing to but not excusing his violent outbursts. Abuse by any means is never excusable.
Instead, Pam & Tommy doesn’t seem interested in unpacking Tommy’s often aggressive and abusive nature on the show. It doesn’t entirely condone it, but it doesn’t condemn it either — when it should. For a show that wants to say something and add something new to a decades-long conversation, it doesn’t say enough here. It’s strange considering the show can be so definitive in other ways.
For example, Pam & Tommy is knowledgeable enough to frame the dwindling success of Mötley Crüe as a trend that’s not dependent on the tape’s release — unlike Pamela’s career. It’s also entirely aware of how twisted Seth’s pitch to the couple about selling the rights to the tape sounds. But, then, this is the same show that grants Rand a redemption arc. Pam & Tommy‘s leaves its effectiveness as something to be decided, but it plants the seeds regardless.
So, maybe it is good that the show doesn’t delve into Tommy as a character. If it had, there’s a great chance it would have tried to shoehorn a redemption arc for him into the episode, and that is the furthermost thing from deserved.
It could be that Pam & Tommy knows this would be impossible or improbable for Tommy. If so, why does it even entertain the idea of a happy ending for Rand? It’s laced with the show’s unique “sense of humor” because Rand apologizes to an actress dressed as Pamela from Baywatch. But, everything about the construction of the scene when Rand gives the money to Erica is as though it should elicit a positive feeling.
Rand is a lost cause that Pam & Tommy spends too much of its eight episodes on, and it’s weaker for it. Alternatively, the series’ most prominent bright spot is Lily James as Pamela. The risk of sounding like a broken record is worth it because of her nuanced and often devastating work on this show. Notably, “Seattle” sees her run the gambit of emotions as history repeats itself when the tape resurges on the internet while she’s pregnant with her first son.
Pamela and Tommy’s trip to Vegas is supposed to be a bit of respite, but it becomes a crucible where the cracks in their relationship break open. In the process, Tommy’s aggression intensifies, and they sign the papers to sell the tape to Seth. That scene is incredibly well done. After Tommy signs the documents, it’s telling that Pamela sighs in relief and says, “It’s over,” and there is nothing but fear and defeat in Tommy’s eyes.
That scene captures the toxicity of their relationship and the beginning of the end of that chapter of it. Furthermore, it taps into what makes Pam & Tommy such a complicated watch. Pamela’s relief about putting the tape behind her (as best she can) should be a moment of relief for us, too, but it isn’t because it’s never over. It’s decades later, and it’s back in the spotlight — without the real Pamela Anderson’s consent.
Pam & Tommy makes some good points during its run, but none of them outweigh the complicit nature of the show’s thesis. For example, it’s contradictory for Pamela to look at Seth and tell him that he can have the tape for free because he doesn’t get to buy her when this show is making money from Pamela’s trauma. Likewise, Pam & Tommy makes points about the commodification of women’s bodies, but it doesn’t show enough self-awareness of its role in that or our role by watching it.
Maybe a fourth-wall break from Pamela could have assisted that by having her directly speak to the audience and force us to look inwards and take accountability. It would also hint that the show is aware of its complicit nature. But, even that shouldn’t be required for a meaningful introspection regarding her experiences. This show shouldn’t be necessary for meaningful reflection regarding Pamela’s experiences, and maybe that’s the point.
What did you think of Pam & Tommy 1×08, “Seattle?” Let us know in the comments below!
All episodes of Pam & Tommy are streaming on Hulu!