Tag Archives: prison

Bad Girls: Why Nikki and Helen don’t work

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!

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Bad Girls: Borrower nor Lender Be

There’s likely to be quite a chain of posts on Bad Girls and I’ll also be posting some fiction and views on fan sites, which I will give links to – I am  currently writing fan fiction for the first 3 series, focussing on Nikki and Helen (and their essential companions and nemeses).

For now, I have some more prison critique and reform to share:

Sharing itself is banned in prison. That means an act of trust and kindness is forbidden where those sorts of qualities matter most.

With the gagging bill going though this week, it means more unviolent people could end up in prison – but the only threat they are is to the establishment, not to the society that they want to improve.

The location that Bad Girls used – Oxford Prison – is now a hotel and heritage attraction. That’s what I’d like to see the majority of prisons become.

Check my tag cloud for other Bad Girls related posts. There’s two already.

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The trailer and DVD packaging suggests a laughathon but this is misleading. Those wanting a lighthearted, feel good escape movie will be confronted by some heavy material, including heart break and terminal illness – dying is in the first scene. And those not wanting a silly buddy movie will be wrongly put off a true story which is touching and has some important issues.

It’s those issues that make me write.

The DVD extras make no mention of a campaign to release Steven Jay Russell, who has been in prison in solitary confinement for 13 years. His crime officially is for being a repeat offending con man and escapee. However, being in Texas and under Bush’s presidency, the film hints that the real reason for this severity might be his homosexuality.

Russell says ‘nobody gets hurt.’ In fictional con movie The Brothers Bloom, another Steven says ‘the best tricks are where everyone gets what they want’. The crimes committed are mostly impersonation. Although never trained as a lawyer, Steven Russell performed very well as one. He says in the film to the judge that he didn’t want to see his client – ‘a humble woman’ – roughbeaten by the slick serial litigator for the other side. The judge saw his point – and so do I.

Reading this week about the early King Henrys of England, it emerges that the power of law came from this era – something still in force in England and therefore arguably taken to America by settlers. Many of us internationally feel angry with finance and government at present. The other pillar, law – a ‘service’ many of us can’t afford – is in cahoots with other pillars to enforce a system that often isn’t just. Law should be about justice and protecting the innocent, but so often it’s an expensive form of bullying and is more concerned about property than right. That Steven used it for his own ends is what many people do anyway. He wanted to release his partner from prison – who had served on a minor offence, so he impersonated those who had the power release Phillip. He helped the ‘humble woman’ win her case.

But mostly Steven was motivated by love. It was often twisted into materialism where Steven believed money and gifts buy happiness and that obvious status symbols are our birthright and the signs of success. His partners – Phillip at least – didn’t need that life to believe Steven loved him or treated him well, and it ultimately led to over a decade of separation. Steven made money by putting large amounts of his company’s money in high interest accounts whilst it sat there between transactions. That to me that is acumen, not a crime. It didn’t seem to be hurting anyone – unlike the financial problems of now. He lived the life of investment bankers – and yet very few of those have suffered, especially not those at the top. Instead, their country has bailed them out with public money. Although Steven took a large cut from that fund, it was interest that wasn’t being made without his resourcefulness and the company benefitted as well as him. What would have been better was to have told the board rather than do it secretly – although one asks if the board would have let him keep any of it and if they alone would have benefitted from his idea instead. It seems the fierce punishments for fraud really relates to the value put on money and possession.

Another real life conman was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. His reward was to be head hunted for a new career that utilised his gall, not punished for it. Why is Steven Russell so different? One wonders if what really upsets the establishment is not the innocent people are duped but that their precious professions are tainted by unqualified outsiders who can ape them and do just as well. It is not that I condone con artistry – and was shocked at his feigning AIDS – but that the punishment for Steven is far too high. He has not harmed anyone. The watershed at end of the film might have changed him, as he realises that that high lifestyle is not necessary and that being a conman hides from being his real self. Instead of being able to put that into practice, he has been locked away for all but one hour each day since 1998, separated from Phillip and the rest of the world.

 His sentence is a ridiculous 144 years – the number beloved of Jehovah’s witnesses and the book of Revelations – more than most serial killers and sexual abusers.

This is disproportionate punishment and is another misuse of public money as well as warped justice.

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