Dec 262012
 

Before she meets Leila, Ana gets an inkling of just how much the Christian Grey Goon Squad has been controlling her life.

“Mrs. Grey, Leila Williams is on your proscribed list of visitors.”
“What?” I have a proscribed list?
“On our watch list, ma’am. Taylor and Welch have been quite specific about not letting her come into contact with you.”
I frown, not understanding. “Is she dangerous?”
“I can’t say, ma’am.”
“Why do I even know that she’s here?”
Prescott swallows and for a moment looks awkward. “I was on a restroom break. She came in, spoke directly to Claire, and Claire called Hannah.”

You’d think Ana would be wondering a few other things, such as: who else is on this list? Her mother? Ray? Jose? Kate? Can she see the list? Is Hannah, Ana’s assistant and actually another employee of Christian’s, screening her calls? And maybe, how does she get the hell out of this gilded cage?

Instead, Ana finds it funny that she’s only saw this crack in the invisible fortress Christian has built around her because the Goonette, her bodyguard/duenna/minder, was in the bathroom.

This calls back to the Godfather II scene I discussed earlier: Christian’s security apparatus, which protected her from Jack Hyde, is so easily turned to keeping her a prisoner. Even without Christian’s serious mental issues, he’s still the kind of wealthy, powerful man who generally has to live in a high security fishbowl. Ana may be Mrs. Grey, but it is pretty clear who can give orders to the Goon Squad.

Ana has to argue with the Goonette to be allowed to see Leila, in the brief time before Taylor (Goon #1) learns about this and overrides. Prescott still demands to search Leila and be in the room when they meet.

Ana also sends Christian an email telling him what she’s about to do. If she knows he wouldn’t want this, why would she do that? She knows what Christian is like.

Ana meets Leila and another brunette woman, Susi, who was also one of Christian’s submissives. (Do they have a support group or something? Rudolf Valentino didn’t have this kind of following among women.) Susi steps out so Ana and Leila can talk, but Christian intervenes by phone before they can actually say anything. Ana shuts him down, at least a little, but Leila is awed by this. I think we are supposed to think that Ana is somehow better or more liberated than Leila, the submissive, but it’s only by degree.

Actually, assuming that Leila had the same kind of contract that Christian offered Ana in book 1, then Leila probably was only submitting to Christian on weekends, and the rest of the time she was on her own. So only now that Christian is in love with Ana does he bring out his maximum control freakiness. Leila might actually be better at setting boundaries and negotiating with Christian than Ana is.

Leila apologizes for stalking and terrorizing Ana. Then she asks if she can see Christian. I had no illusions that Fifty Shades would ever even come close to passing the Bechdel Test, but it surprised me that this is another opportunity for Ana to compete with a woman for Christian. This should be the moment when Ana gets some piece of advice from Leila on dealing with Christian.

Leila actually wants to see Christian to thank him for keeping her out prison and/or a mental institution, and has asked him to meet several times, only to be refused. Considering Christian doesn’t listen to Ana in general, I’m not sure what Leila thinks Ana can do.

Ana forgives Leila, but wants her gone. Incidentally, Christian is not only paying for Leila’s treatment and her art school, but also bought some of her paintings. That is not setting good boundaries, Christian. Ana wigs out that Leila’s paintings might be hanging in Christian’s home.

Leila says she was still in love with Christian. The chronology is a little unclear, as she mentions both a husband and a boyfriend. Ana says, of Christian:

“I know. He’s very easy to love,” I whisper.

I think Christian is easy to be infatuated with. Actually loving him is far more difficult.

As it happens, Leila’s visit with Ana is really only a ploy to see Christian, and it is working. Even though Leila is supposedly much better now, she’s still basically acting out like a needy, bratty child to get Christian’s attention (not unlike Ana). Another example of the fine psychiatric care provided by the good Dr. Flynn.

The wrathful Expander shows up and shows he knows how to control his bitches. He immediately fires the Goonette, over Ana’s whispered objections. (If the job market wasn’t so bad, she’d probably be relieved.) Then he threatens to cut off all of Leila’s support if she sets foot west of the Mississippi. (The Christian Grey Zone supersedes any pesky little thing like the freedom to travel within the United States.)

Leila turns to me, her eyes impossibly wide.
“I had my instructions, Mrs. Grey. I disobeyed them.” She glances nervously at my husband, then back at me.
“This is the Christian Grey I know,” she says, her tone sad and wistful. Christian frowns at her, while all the breath evaporates from my lungs. I can’t breathe.
Was Christian like this with her all the time? Was he like this with me, at first? I find it hard to remember.

So, Leila gets her fix of Christian the Dominant, and even calls him “Sir.” This is Leila topping from the bottom by manipulating Christian, via Ana, into paying attention to her and giving her more orders. She knows him well enough to predict and control his actions. In a perverse way, she “handles” Christian far better than Ana does. If nothing else, she’s a glitch in the Christian Grey Zone’s Matrix-like system of surveillance and control.

Ana, at last, tells Christian she objects to his control of her life, and asks why he was so callous with Leila.

“Anastasia,” he says as if to a child. “You don’t understand. Leila, Susannah—all of them—they were a pleasant, diverting pastime. But that’s all. You are the center of my universe. And the last time you two were in a room together, she had you at gunpoint. I don’t want her anywhere near you.”
“But, Christian, she was ill.”
“I know that, and I know she’s better now, but I’m not giving her the benefit of the doubt anymore. What she did was unforgivable.”
“But you’ve just played right into her hands. She wanted to see you again, and she knew you’d come running if she came to see me.”

If this is what Christian thinks of his submissives, here’s another reason to dislike him. Even if there isn’t a romantic element, a dom/sub relationship can be emotionally intense for both parties. A submissive deserves better than to be dismissed as a “pastime”.

His reaction to her was so cold, so much at odds with the man I’ve come to know and love. I frown, recalling the remorse he felt when she had her breakdown, when he thought he might in some way be responsible for her pain. I swallow, remembering, too, that he bathed her. My stomach twists painfully at the thought, and bile rises in my throat. How can he say he doesn’t care about her? He did back then. What’s changed? Sometimes, like now, I just don’t understand him. He operates on a level far, far removed from mine.

Yes, the level of the sociopath. Ana insists that he does care about Leila and Christian says he doesn’t.

It’s painstakingly [sic] obvious that he cares. Why does he deny it? It’s like his feelings for his birth mother. Oh shit—of course.  His feelings for Leila and his other submissives are tangled up with his feelings for his mother . I like to whip little brown-haired girls like you because you all look like the crack whore. No wonder he’s so mad. I sigh and shake my head. Paging Dr. Flynn, please. How can he not see this?

Christian cuts the conversation off, but Ana says she doesn’t want to repeat this pattern.

“You know,” I elucidate, “I do something you don’t like, and you think of some way to get back at me. Usually involving some of your kinky fuckery, which is either mind-blowing or cruel.” I shrug, resigned. This is exhausting and confusing.

Again, the problem of the confusion of play “punishment” and real punishment, of mock anger and real anger. And again, Christian diverts the conversation into sex, and again, Ana goes along with it, at least for a bit.

He frowns, his expression puzzled. The seductive lover has gone. “Don’t overthink this, Ana. She’s history,” he says dismissively.
I sigh . . . maybe he’s right. I just want him to admit to himself that he cares for her. A chill grips my heart. Oh no.  This is why it’s important to me. Suppose I do something unforgivable. Suppose I don’t conform. Will I be history, too? If he can turn like this, when he was so concerned and upset when Leila was ill . . . could he turn against me? I gasp, recalling the fragments of a dream: gilt mirrors and the sound of his heels clicking on the marbled floor as he leaves me standing alone in opulent splendor.

This adds emotional blackmail and threatened abandonment to Christian’s various means of control over Ana. It works: she agrees to go home with him.

Cut to: back in bed, Ana trussed up in leather cuffs (much safer and easier to use than metal handcuffs) while Christian goes down on her. He uses her orgasm as a pretext for spanking her (a mock punishment).

This is an acceptable BDSM scene, if it weren’t for the fact that it happens within the nightmare of the Ana-Christian relationship. There’s also a suggestion of an informal “list” of BDSM things Ana likes to do, with things being added to it. That’s a good way to do BDSM negotiation. Somewhere, buried under everything else in this book, there are traces of a BDSM initiation narrative which also functions as BDSM 101. But it is smothered beneath the abuse, the power inequality, the class porn, etc. It’s like an orange wedge buried within a softball-sized mass of deep-fried batter.

Afterwards, Ana tries to get Christian to admit he cares about Leila, and grudgingly he does.

More emails, now with emoticons.

EL James drops another nonsequitur plot development on us: Ray, Ana’s step-father, is in hospital after an accident.

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  One Response to “The Curious Kinky Person’s Guide to Fifty Shades Freed, Chapter 16”

  1. I don’t know how Ana’s still into this relationship. It’s got to be money and orgasms. The thought of a lifetime of what she’s going through makes me feel ill in real life.

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