Pam and Tommy
Well, www.PamelasTape.com is live, and unseemly men in second-tier American cities are writing checks for $59.95 and then addressing envelopes, finding stamps, and walking all the way to the post box because once upon a time the internet was not a limitless emporium with free shipping, but more like the ads at the back of the PennySaver. You had to really want the shit you were buying. You had to mix it with your labor.
Rand and Miltie’s well-oiled operation works like this: A nameless guy in a barber’s back office in Ontario collects the checks and faxes the shipping addresses to Rand, who fills the orders from Los Angeles. Rand heads up production. On the business side, checks made out to “Shiva Brothers” are deposited into a U.S. account by a taller nameless guy and then transferred to Amsterdam to avoid the scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service. This is Miltie’s purview, and I’d be shocked to learn Rand knows the account numbers or even the name of their Dutch bank.
Rand is still dealing in smaller denominations. He takes $400 from his newfound fortune and repays a five-year-old debt to Erica. Kind of sweet, sure, but he’s also stalking his estranged wife at her place of business, which is a porn set. Rand finds Erica on break reading the new Anne Rice, which is very 1996 of her, but also — I think — part of some vague argument Pam & Tommy is making about women in the adult-entertainment industry. Playboy bunnies don’t necessarily want to be porn stars, and porn stars can be readers, too, with hearts and minds and preferences for genre fiction. Also roaming around set that day is a young, besuited Seth Warshavsky (Fred Hechinger from The White Lotus), the man who invented live sex cams, which Rand helpfully mansplains will never turn a profit.
Meanwhile, the Lees are looking at the first magical images of their baby via ultrasound, a technology as mind-boggling to me as the actual internet. They’re over the moon. Tommy makes Pam whole-grain pancakes with extra nutrition for the “peanut.” The peanut! He’s so stoked on this baby. When the ultrasound photo nearly falls in the dog bowl, Tommy decides it needs insulation from the chaos of the world, the kind of protection only a mother’s womb or maybe even a giant, fireproof, 12-gauge steel safe can provide, which is how Tommy finally realizes they’ve been burgled. There’s an evocative symmetry at play between the grainy photo of Pam’s unborn child and her sex tape, emblems of opposing modes of womanhood. She’s the mother; she’s the whore. She’s nothing in between.
Our parents-to-be process the theft differently. Tommy is pissed, but Pam feels violated. It’s visceral for her. So the Lees hire a high-profile private investigator to do what the LAPD won’t: investigate the robbery at all. It takes Anthony Pellicano (Don Harvey) about five minutes to figure out that Rand took the safe, though along the way Tommy amusingly enumerates his known enemies, including the frontman of almost every prominent heavy metal band, “fucking David Geffen,” Mickey Rourke, Heather Locklear’s new husband, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, and, to Pam’s horror, Uncle Jesse from Full House. Mr. Pellicano, as Pamela calls him, finds Rand and roughs him up because Mr. Pellicano, who has served several prison terms for wiretapping, illegal possession of dangerous materials, and racketeering, is “just a private investigator” in the sense a loan shark is “just a businessman.” He warns Rand to cough up the tape fast.
And yes, Rand could relinquish his original copy and even shut down his website, but he couldn’t give back the tape if he wanted to. The tape belongs to the world now. The official unofficial Pam and Tommy sex tape is available over the internet, but $30 bootleg copies are being sold from car trunks on Sunset Boulevard. The thief has become the thiefee. It’s horrible and humiliating how Pam finds out the tape is in the public domain. She’s in her signature red one-piece walking to set when she hears her husband call out her name. Moments later, she hears herself scream how much she loves him. A dozen guys on the Baywatch crew have been watching the tape not 30 feet from her trailer.
She brings the news to Tommy, and together they go to a public library in the time before porn-blockers to look up the web address printed on the tape. They don’t have the internet installed at home, and their understanding of what’s going on has strong “the files are in the computer” vibes. Pam hunts and pecks the keys to spell out the URL the way Max reads the spell book in Hocus Pocus, with no clue what she’s about to conjure. The words load one line at a time at the oozing pace of the mid-’90s internet: Pamela’s. Hardcore. Sex Video.
Is Tommy bothered? Absolutely. But he doesn’t really get it. He spins the moment into some macho revenge fantasy, recruiting his biker friends to trash the offices of Rand’s known associate, Uncle Miltie. But Miltie is used to life on the knife-edge of the law. He dispatches Rand to destroy what’s left of the evidence — the tapes, the labels, the customer lists — at Inglsey Studios, where Rand has another near run-in with Tony Pellicano. By the end of the episode, he’ll be hiding out at poor Erica’s. Miltie, of course, has a more glamorous contingency plan in — you guessed it — Amsterdam. His only bag is a go-bag.
Pam, though? Pam gets it. She immediately understands what this portends for her career. For a woman, these kinds of scandals never really go away. Tommy says aloud what the men watching Pamela’s Hardcore Sex Video are saying to themselves, what Rand and Miltie have both thought in their moments of doubt: “It’s not like they’re seeing anything they haven’t seen before.” This is how you quiet the last gasps of your own conscience. Centerfolds are entitled to less privacy than the rest of us. If anything, they want us to see.
The pain in Pam’s abdomen is probably nothing, maybe stress. Just to be careful, though, Tommy takes her to the hospital where the worst is confirmed: They lost the baby. By the time Pam’s discharged, the paparazzi are convened outside, snapping photos of a woman in her newly minted most vulnerable moment. How dare they, the show seems to ask, but we already know the answer: “It’s not like they’re seeing anything they haven’t seen before.” If anything, they want us to see. At the risk of sounding like a navel-gazing scold, it’s nearby to the rationale that permits making a miniseries that exploits someone else’s pain: It’s okay to tell and retell a person’s private story so long as everyone listening has already heard it.
Pam and Tommy are holding hands and crying at a red light when a paparazzo pulls alongside them. Finally, Pam snaps. It’s an indignity on top of a devastation. These aren’t invasions into her privacy; this is the obliteration of her privacy. She bashes the pap’s windshield to bits with that most ’90s of bludgeons, The Club. She screams her heart out and wildly exhales the breath she works so hard to contain with meditation. Tommy scoops her into his arms and takes her home, but she’s just as exposed there as she is on a city street. She’s everywhere now, all the time, and she knows it.