The following contains spoilers for Pam & Tommy Episodes 7 & 8 (Episode 7 written by D.V. DeVincentis and directed by Lake Bell; Episode 8 written by Robert Siegel and directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton)
“Well they have to say something. They can’t say the actual reason. That I don’t have any rights. Because I have spent my public life in a bathing suit. Because I had the nerve to pose for Playboy. They can’t actually say that sluts—and that’s what this ruling is saying I am in case you’re unclear—they can’t actually say that sluts don’t get to decide what happens to pictures of their body, that I don’t get to decide what happens to my actual body, so they say something else instead.” – Pamela (Episode 7)
When examining Pam & Tommy, it has always been more of Pamela Anderson’s story than anyone else’s. It’s taken a look into the misogyny and hypocrisy that society has towards those who work in the sex industry. Pamela was turned from the victim of a home invasion into a walking joke all because of the career path she took.
Back in “The Master Beta,” Pam (Lily James) had warned that the world would see her and Tommy’s image on the tape differently, and what has followed has been exactly that. Everywhere Tommy Lee (Sebastian Stan) has gone and the tape’s been brought up, it’s been talked about in a congratulatory sort of way. He’s been praised and even though he’s resented and gotten into fights over it, the show’s finale “Seattle” shows him still playing into the attention. Tommy goes through this ordeal with an “if you can’t beat them then join them” mentality because he’s allowed that. His gender allows that type of reaction from society, but Pamela is different because she’s a woman.
Where Tommy got praised, Pamela was turned into a running gag. Because she poses for Playboy she’s given up all rights to how her body is allowed to be shown. She’s the victim that isn’t allowed to be a victim. Instead, she’s forced to be humiliated through jokes on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, to be belittled by reporters at her Barb Wire press junket that tries to get her to admit that the tape’s release was a publicity stunt. She has to go through having her entire life belittled in a deposition that ends with a verdict that basically says she has no rights to her own image.
Pamela attempts time and time again to get a hold of this entire matter, but every time there is some guy out there that ends up ruining that chance because they believe they know better. Tommy, Hugh Hefner, her lawyer, even Seth Warshavsky (Fred Hechinger), the owner of an online porn site that wishes to buy the rights to the tape in order to market it. They all end up having more of a say in Pamela’s life and her image than she actually has, and they all use the idea that they have her best interest at heart. She wants this whole ordeal to be over, but she needs Tommy’s permission in the form of his signature on the release form and he refuses for the longest time because he just doesn’t understand.
Pam & Tommy, at the end of the day, is about Pamela Anderson and telling her story with fresh eyes which has done a beautiful job in capturing. Yet, it is also written by men, and I can’t help but think that because it’s written by men that there is hesitation in fully holding the men involved with this entire thing accountable.
From the very first moments of Pam & Tommy, we are introduced to two of the men that would play the biggest role in this chapter of Pamela’s life. Her husband, Tommy Lee, is a no-brainer. It’s his poor decision-making skills that dig them both deeper and deeper into the mess they find themselves in.
Tommy is so completely caught up in his own rockstar bubble that I don’t believe he fully comprehends that his actions can affect the others he’s around. It’s because of his impulsive attitude that he fired Rand Gauthier (Seth Rogen) and the others from remodeling his house. It’s that same impulsive nature that had him hold a gun to Gauthier’s head instead of just allowing the man to get his tools and move on with his life. This action would cause Gauthier to want to get revenge in the form of stealing Lee’s safe that held the video.
It would be Tommy’s impulsive nature to quickly decide to sue Penthouse before they had a chance to release any photos from the copy of the video they had acquired. There was nothing to suggest that Penthouse would have done so if not sued, but he didn’t give them that chance. It’s because of this that the tape became news, which meant it was forced into the public eye by the news outlets. Not only did it gain the tape more unwanted attention, but because of this case, Pamela had to go deliver that soul-crushing deposition in “Pamela in Wonderland”.
Tommy tries and believes that he is helping Pamela when he says “he’ll take care of it,” but he gets so caught up in the moment that he becomes more harmful than good. When Rand blackmails Tommy into giving him money and then he’ll stop the tape’s circulation, Tommy agrees until he is told the reason for why Rand had released the tape in the first place. So instead of finally having this ordeal come to an end, he burns the money instead. Every action he takes with Seth is because he’s letting his own emotions over everything cloud the better call, which is to sacrifice your own integrity to bring some dignity back to your wife who you promised to protect through this whole thing.
Acting first and thinking later seems to be Tommy’s personality in general, and it’s that personality that becomes harmful to his relationship with Pamela. One of the most heartbreaking moments is when Tommy takes Pam to a theater that is showing Barb Wire thinking that it would be met with love. They sneak into a showing only to have to listen to the audience laugh the film away (I stand by what I said before, this isn’t even that bad of a film and I don’t understand the hate for it). This is after the fact that Pamela had mentioned that she doesn’t like watching herself. So he not only forces her to watch herself but to also hear the horrible comments made by those around her? The world is cruel and Tommy doesn’t seem to want to believe that they would feel that way towards Pam.
“When people in porn have sex on camera, we are giving consent for people to watch us. We sign f**king releases, Rand.” – Erica (Episode 7)
The other major male that plays an important part in this chapter of Pamela Anderson’s life is Rand Gauthier, the man who selfishly went and stole the safe from the Lees’ home. Rand’s time on screen is often spent either trying to win back his ex-girlfriend, Erica (Taylor Schilling), who has since moved on to another woman, and acting as though he’s in an episode of The Sopranos. Trying to create a character for the audience to find empathy for Pam & Tommy just took away precious time that could have been put into Tommy’s character, who could have been a little more fleshed out. The tone change within the episodes every time it cuts from Pam to Rand is very noticeable and not in a good way.
How are we supposed to feel any sympathy for a man who finds a private tape in a stolen safe and instantly thinks, “oh hey, people would pay a lot of money to get their hands on this”? How can we show empathy to a man who throws a tantrum over the fact his ex-girlfriend points out that what he did was without consent and completely wrong? We can’t and we shouldn’t, but yet here is Pam & Tommy attempting to drill it into our heads that it’s not completely his fault—that Rand Gauthier was a child who was abused by his father and so in return didn’t want to be abused by another dominant man.
Rand Gauthier’s mafia movie subplot just stands out so much that it ends up taking away from the rest of the series. I understand that for the sake of pushing the story or character along that there need to be subplots, but for it to completely change the tone of what had just happened? After having three episodes that were focused on how this entire situation was affecting Pamela, it’s hard to jump back into a story revolving around the man who did this to her.
It doesn’t help that he doesn’t want to take responsibility at all for anything that happened. He stole the safe to show Tommy there’s karma in how people treat others. He gets upset when his plan goes to ruins because he put his trust in someone untrustworthy, and yet he also blames that on karma. He’s then dragged into being a hitman for the men he owes money to and feels guilty in taking the marks but he still blames karma. The only reason he begins to feel any remorse for Pamela and wants to put it right with her is for his own selfish and twisted need to correct his own karma. As he beats up his first mark, he continuously says “you did this to yourself.” Yes, my dude, you really did do this to yourself and karma’s such a witch that way.
Amanda Chicago Lewis’s Rolling Stone article that Pam & Tommy is based on includes a major interview with the real Rand Gauthier. In it, he gloats about how he stole the safe completely alone, and how when he attempts to tell people he stole the tape originally no one believes him. This all sounds like a man who is so caught up in trying to impress people that he would exaggerate stories. Who knows if he really pulled that heist off on his own or if he had help. What can be said from reading his interview is that this is a man who would openly do everything again, and that is why I cannot forgive Pam & Tommy for trying to make him as sympathetic as Pamela Anderson.
There was one final aspect of Pam & Tommy that could have been better executed, and one can fully understand why it fell short: the actual ending. How is one to end a series that wanted to be a character-driven story but got stuck having to throw in a lot of other extra things? How to tie everything up? Well, in Pam & Tommy’s case it’s a music video-style ending where we get to see all those subplots get tied up. Pam and Tommy have their son. Rand decides to give Erica the money to move ahead with their divorce instead of giving it to the mob. Then the story jumps ahead in time to Tommy getting dressed in an empty closet that used to be full of Pamela’s belongings and ends on Pam getting her “Tommy” tattoo tweaked to say “Mommy” (a sign that their relationship had come to an end). Although it works, it feels as though they didn’t know how exactly they wanted to end this series.
What kind of message did they want to leave their viewer? Tommy continues to walk that line of chaos. Pamela has been doing more humanitarian work and is about to make her Broadway debut in Chicago. Rand Gauthier is living a quiet life where he still tells people that he was the one who stole the Pamela Anderson tape back in the day, and most people laugh him away.
One can guess that Pam & Tommy wanted to leave their viewers wanting to explore the real Pamela Anderson’s life. Hopefully, people can learn from this and understand that rights belong to everyone no matter what their job is. Hopefully, Pamela Anderson can finally be seen as more than a sex symbol, and maybe that Jane Fonda dream can still come true.