PLOT SPOILING POSSIBILITIES
I say this with sadness as they were a hugely important couple for me and their relationship is Bad Girls, the ITV/Shed Prison drama that ran their story 1999-2001 in Britain and from 2005 in US.
It’s been called one of the best love stories between two women – or anyone – to hit the screen, with a central forbidden love and much emotional complexity.
But I’ve reviewed their story in detail and can’t get past the thought that it’s not properly written. No wonder there’s so much fan fiction, filling in missing scenes and finishing off their story.
We never see the turning points we need. For instance, Cabenson fills in why Helen decides to break off with Sean at http://www.ralst.com/Transitions.HTM; but the TV series never did. The same is true of Helen’s acceptance of Sean’s proposal, her first resignation at Larkhall and subsequent visit to Nikki – when she’s never expressed interest before… and of most scenes in fact, when I really analyse them.
I’m shocked to also conclude that ultimately, I don’t like Helen – who was my favourite character. I want better for Nikki, though she often annoyed me with her anger and immaturity and lack of thinking through consequences.
Helen may seem mature, older than her years, and a good leader…. but she’s emotionally inept and never gets better at that. She uses her professional power any time she’s ruffled. She is always the one calling it off with Nikki. She can find Nikki when it suits her – for she has the keys – and knows that Nikki can only be in a few limited places (her cell, the servery, the library, the garden). All Nikki can do is phone – but we never see Helen answer.
I am sick of the amount of times that Helen walks away: after the potting shed; after the kiss; after her first resignation and the cattle truck incident – with that shit line, “Shit happens”; after the row over Dominic; after the love scene; after Femi. That’s quite a few for 3 series – and that doesn’t count every time Helen walks out of Nikki’s presence or orders Nikki to leave. Only a few times does Nikki leave Helen’s. Often she’s the one seeking Helen out.
The one that most angers me is the Femi one. To recap: Helen is encouraging Nikki to appeal and saying that if they put their relationship on hold they hope they can soon be together properly on the outside. Nikki stages a protest over the awful treatment of a frightened non English speaking Nigerian prisoner, but Helen – who’s fought so much for fairness and welfare – isn’t interested in Femi and is angry over Nikki’s stance. Now as acting Governing Governor, she’s all power trippy and not very nice. She tells Nikki it’s over and she doesn’t even feel sad.
If I were Barbara Hunt, I’d tell Nikki that Helen really isn’t worthy of her. This time I’ve no sympathy for Helen’s position. She seems as keen to protect her own reputation and impress VIPs as Simon Stubberfield ever was. She sounds callous. She’s more than once told Nikki to look elsewhere and can’t seem to cope when Nikki does. Yes we know Caroline’s a nonce and Helen is to some extent protecting Nikki – but again she holds power over Nikki, having the right to separate her from the few women she can meet whilst in prison, but Helen can move on freely.
The end of the series is way too rushed, padded out with rubbish and new characters when it should be winding down. The length of time spent on Nikki and Helen’s finale makes it more like a movie than the 36 hours they’ve had over 39 episodes to tell this yarn properly.
Some of the best fan fiction I’ve read so far is Gina Dartt’s “Dead Slow.” http://users.eastlink.ca/~ginadartt/BadGirls/AfterLarkhall/DeadSlow.html I was appalled to rewatch the show and find out how few lines are given to the reunion of Nikki and Helen, ending with that one. Gina takes that as her starting point and has nearly 50,000 words to say – most of them necessary – to take Nikki and Helen to a place where as viewers we feel happy with them as a couple.
I’d not have let Nikki go so easily if I were Trish; why should this Helen be allowed to supersede a lover of 9 years just for turning up in a new red jacket? I wouldn’t have made the court steps speech Nikki does, for Helen did give up on Nikki: she does not owe Helen her life – she’s here despite Helen. Why wasn’t she at the law court then, if Helen valued Nikki so much? Why did she keep dumping Nikki, offering a carrot and then snatching it away?
In her attempt to be careful and professional, Helen stopped Nikki and her getting to know each other. How did they know that there was a relationship worth having on the other side of the prison gate? They mostly talked about Nikki’s appeal or argued in the very short scenes – another problem I have with the writing of Bad Girls.
No, the subtext and layered performances are not enough. To be mature, you need to learn to speak what you feel. Helen never again tells Nikki she loves her and wants to be with her. She doesn’t explicitly say she’s sorry, or ‘will you still have me?’ I’d have left Helen standing outside, because that’s what she ultimately deserved.
For them to have a fighting chance at survival – and viewers to feel happy with them as a couple – we needed them to be open and articulate, to get beyond angry exchanges and running off when something’s difficult.
There was a suggestion of making a Nikki and Helen special episode – it was badly needed. And the harassment charge re Fenner should have been followed up and we could have ended it all at series 3½, satisfied.
As it is, I’m wondering if Nikki shouldn’t have gone for ‘Mink instead of Beaver’ after all and found a better life with Babs!