Silk Stalkings (IMDB) is a much weirder show than I remember. It was supposed to revive the “MTV cops” style that made Miami Vice such a hit in the 80s. It has bizarre interior design, and one of the detectives has flashbacks to her childhood in a communion dress. Attempts at noir/hardboiled narration and dialog become just gibberish. For example:
“If Jerome Eagleton was playing golf with Harlan Cameron and his pretty young wife, it was undoubtedly a best-ball threesome. They were playing on a jagged course with too many physical hazards. These golfers dressed for pain, and most of the balls probably ended up in the rough.”
Episode S01E02, “Going to Babylon”, begins with a dumped old dead guy with bondage marks and a dead pro dominatrix in a car. Murdered sex workers are a staple of this genre, though this episode bucks the trend by not finding the female victim in the teaser. The dominatrix was previously charged with “sexual sadism”, which makes no sense as a charge; she would probably be arrested for solicitation or bawdy-house violations instead.
The lead detectives, Lorenzo (Rob Estes) and Lance (Mitzi Kapture), trace these people to a powerful old man and his young trophy wife, who pick up people at sex clubs. There’s no clear distinction between swinging and BDSM.
For a “kink episode”, there’s actually not a lot of kink; most of the screentime gets used up in subplots and false suspects. It takes a while before the detectives go undercover to the (very white, very hetero) nightclub. We don’t even get a scene of them picking out kinky outfits. The nightclub is a testament to late 80s/early 90s design: lots of black light, day glo colors, womens’ heads in glass boxes (?), and beds in the middle of the dance floor. There isn’t any of the trappings usually associated with BDSM.
Monika, the young trophy wife of the elderly fatcat responsible for the deaths, shows up and immediately picks up the detectives. There’s a very creepy dynamic of the husband breathing heavily while watching his wife make out with these two strangers.
Finally, they get to the home dungeon, There are a few glimpses on chains hanging from the ceiling and a set of stocks. Monica opens a trunk to reveal chains, medicine bottles containing “uppers, downers, heroin, cocaine” and what is probably a vibrator.
The possibility of anything sexy happening is precluded by the arrival of the informant the detectives questioned earlier. He identifies the detectives, and they just fight it out with security goons.
Lorenzo: “You know, I haven’t heard of one of these places yet that didn’t have secret taping facilities.”
He breaks the mirror with a chain, and finds a video camera and tapes. Case closed. (Warrants? Entrapment? Never heard of them.)
Why is Lorenzo so certain that the dungeon would have a hidden camera? Does he have prior experience with dungeons? Obviously, it had to be there to resolve the investigation, and good thing the perpetrators didn’t dispose of the tape of their victims.
Nowadays, a cop show with a BDSM plot would at least pay lip service to the validity of consensual sadomasochism. In Silk Stockings, there is no such respect, or even basic research. The police chief refers to kinky people as “sick schnauzers.” Lorenzo talks about how women “beat him to death with tennis balls, feather boas, whatever the hell the leather queens are using this month.” “Leather queens” usually refer to gay leathermen, not heterosexual women. Later he warns that “These people are not equipped with standard wiring.”
Lorenzo: “We thought we’d go down to Leatherland and get decked out in playsuits.”
Chief: “Oh, rope the dopes, huh? […] Perverts can be unpredictable.”
There’s no philosophizing or psychologizing about kink, just titillation. Given the limitations of broadcast TV in 1991, that’s all they could give.
The whole point of Silk Stalkings, as indicated in the title sequence, is pretty people in glamorous locations doing crimes, and it delivers. Dipping a toe into the S/M world is just another part of that. It also reproduces the old idea that S/M is mainly the province of decadent old perverts, thus normalizing vanilla sexuality and policing the border between the two.
Will you be covering other episodes in the series that looked at kink?
I don’t know if there are any others. I don’t intend this to be an exhaustive study of every mention of BDSM in mainstream scripted media. One episode from a series should suffice.
I do plan to study Lady Heather from CSI: Las Vegas in-depth, as it’s unusual that a pro dominatrix would become a recurring character.