Pam and Tommy
Pam gets startlingly few lines considering Pam & Tommy borrows its name from her own. When she does speak, it’s in a voice so breathy and fragile it could be confused with the Santa Ana winds. This week, though, Pam delivers two big speeches, the first to her husband and the second to her lawyer — two men with galling predispositions for telling her what to do. What’s more, the camera lingers on Pam even in silence. “Destroyer of Worlds” is the second and final episode of Pam & Tommy directed by Lake Bell, which is a shame. Her episodes — the other was episode four, featuring Pam’s miscarriage — show the faint glimmer of what this series could have been if it dropped its preoccupation with variations on ’90s machismo and focused instead on the quiet blonde with a lot on her mind.
Alas, the episode is still mostly about Rand, who has grown too comfortable hiding out at Erica’s. He reads Danielle’s tarot cards in the mornings and makes international calls to Miltie in Amsterdam on their phone line. With online sales of the sex tape approaching zero even as the Penthouse lawsuit buys free publicity, Rand’s big, exciting new business venture is a complete bust. Unfortunately, loan shark Butchie Peraino doesn’t care about piracy or even the fact Rand’s business partner skipped the country. After a truly bonkers torture scene that involves Rand eating vodka and Fernet-soaked cherries under duress, Butchie demands his $50,000 back. Or else.
Rand doesn’t have the scratch, of course. So he tries making another withdrawal from the bank of Tommy Lee. He sends Tommy an anonymous and super vague blackmail letter requesting $26,900 — the cost of the carpentry work he performed for the Lees, plus the cost of the tools that Tommy essentially stole. He signs it “karma” because even with the chips all the way down, Rand’s still clinging to the notion that he’s an agent of retributive justice and not simply, as Butchie says, a doofus.
Being Pamela Anderson is no less exhausting than usual. The press tour for Barb Wire is finally upon us, and credentialed men are asking exactly the questions you expect them to, like “When’s your Penthouse coming out?” We catch up to the Jay Leno appearance teased in the series premiere — the one where he has the bad manners to ask her how it feels to be so “exposed.” To a stunned studio audience, she tells the truth: It’s horrible. But Pam knows the truth won’t set her free or even sell movie tickets. When the discomfiting silence lasts long enough, she adds a gauzy little giggle to put everyone at ease.
Backstage, Tommy is fuming, but Pam puts him in his place as competently as she has all season. He’s the support act now. His purpose is to help her. Hitting Jay Leno across his exceedingly punchable chin is actually not that useful in a moment when she’s trying to nab the headlines for herself. On the eve of the premiere, Pam elects to stay the night by herself at a hotel, eating pie and crying to the “magic” scene in Sleepless in Seattle even though it is very close to the beginning of the film. She and Tommy fell in love at first sight — how did they drift so far off track so fast?
As if to answer her unspoken question, hours after assuring Pam he’ll lay low, Tommy drives to an abandoned parking lot with almost $30,000 cash in hand because karma sent him a personal note. Rand and Tommy call each other mean but accurate names, like “loser” and “terrible person.” For perhaps the first time ever, a man on this show considers Pam’s feelings. What did she do to deserve this nightmare? Tommy would like to know. A very simple question, but Rand’s never considered it. To him, she’s a wife or just a bathing suit or a centerfold or less. God, he really is a loser. And so is Tommy. He sees Rand’s desperation and makes an offering to the gods of karma on his behalf. Which is to say, he lights $27,000 on actual fire.
The verdict in the Penthouse lawsuit comes in the same morning as Barb is released (at least on the show’s slippery timeline). The judge threw the case out, effectively giving Bob Guccione permission to run stolen nudes of Pamela Anderson in his magazine for $0 in compensation. Tommy and the lawyer can’t read the subtext, but Pam feels it. This isn’t a judgment about the stolen tape; it’s about her and how she’s made her living until now. “Because I have spent my public life in a bathing suit, because I had the nerve to pose for Playboy,” she explains. “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.” So, instead, the courts determine that the photos meet the bar of “newsworthy.” What’s the news value, you may ask? Well, they were the subject of a lawsuit.
The men in Pam’s life are alternatively insensitive and obtuse, but they’re also empowered. They make reckless choices without fear of consequence. They’re basically awful, but when Pam tells Gail she hopes her unborn baby is a boy, the moment hardly demands clarification. If you were Pam, wouldn’t you?
When Rand can’t pay Butchie, he hands him a modified Louisville Slugger short enough to conceal in a coat sleeve: from carpenter to producer to enforcer all in the span of a few months. But Rand doesn’t have the stomach for debt-collection, at least not yet. That comes courtesy of Erica. She and Danielle saw Pam and Tommy’s sex tape at a party and loved it. They think it’s sweet the way Pam points the camera at Tommy’s face when he comes and not your standard money shot. Tommy even cries a little, such is his passion for Pamela. “He’s strangely likable,” Erica adds. Rand barely survives the insult, but the real insurmountable injury is that Erica kicks him out when he tells her he’s the one who stole the tape. He still can’t see the difference between a pornographic film where the actors give consent and the video he took from Pam and Tommy, which I guess would qualify him to be a U.S. judge. “Sluts don’t get to decide what happens to pictures of their body.” Rand takes all the misery and self-pity of a lifetime and channels it into destroying the apartment of a man who owes Butchie three grand. “You did this to yourself,” he shouts, presumably at least somewhat at himself.
But the most striking scene of the episode is its quietest. Pamela, pregnant in a liquid-look turtleneck column dress, and Tommy, in a mesh ski-bib thing, ride home from the movies together. After the official Barb Wire premiere, Tommy took Pam to a multiplex so that she could see the movie how regular people will see it. But regular people are sighing and sniggering through it, laughing at her. It’s not their fault. It really is a very bad film.
In the limo, Pamela closes her painted-silver eyelids like she knows it’s over. This is her own limit. This is how far a person can get from Ladysmith, Canada. She’s not going to be a movie star like Jane Fonda. She’s going to be the girl from the sex tape — the one who spent her public life in a bathing suit, the one who dared pose for Playboy, the one who married the jerk from Mötley Crüe almost as soon as she met him. The one who, according to a judge, didn’t deserve any privacy. The one who went on national TV and acted like she was in on the terrible joke.