Queer as Folk (US) S01E15 “Ties that bind” Aired April 1, 2001 IMDB
In most of the TV episodes discussed in this project, BDSM is talked about, and we see the implements and the outfits, but we only rarely see actual play. The US version of Queer as Folk already pushed the envelope of cable television by showing plenty of gay sex, so it was willing to show play too, up to a point.
It’s the Leather Ball weekend at the fictional Babylon club in Pittsburgh. Friends Ted and Emmett snipe at each other’s wardrobe choices.
Ted: “I can’t believe you went out in public dressed like that.”
Emmet: “My mother used to say, find your best feature and play it for all it’s worth. So that’s exactly what I do.” [turns around to reveal he is wearing pants with the butt cutout.] “Besides it’s called a leather ball. You could have at least dressed for the occasion.”
Ted: “I did. I wore a leather belt.”
Emmet: “You are such a stick in the mud.”
Ted: “Why, because I don’t want to look like a cross between a Nazi stormtrooper and Roy Rogers?” [eyes a guy in Western-leather gear with a bullwhip]
Emmet: “Stop it, you’re giving me a hard-on.”
Their conversation is interrupted by a demonstration of a flogging on the dance floor below. We actually see the impact of the flogger on the bound man’s back, though very lightly; no reddening or bruising. Ted is particularly fascinated by this.
Earlier in the episode, Ted happened to meet Dale Wexler, an acquaintance from business school who is now a successful (and handsome) businessman. The masked top in the flogging witnessed by Ted and the others turns out to be Dale. (Good that Dale is shown embracing his bottom after the scene.)
After the scene, Ted goes down to the dance floor where the cross is set up. One of the floggers is still hanging there. He picks up one of the strands and fingers it. (Really shouldn’t touch other people’s toys, Ted.)
Dale comes up, and recognizes him. Ted looks nervous.
Dale asks him if he’s “A daddy? A master? Slave?”
Ted: “Actually, none of the above. I mean, I’m just here as an observer.”
Dale: “That’s what they all say. Next thing you know, there they are in a sling with a bottle of poppers stuck up their nose and five guys fisting them.”
Ted: “I guarantee you that’s not the case with me.”
Ted awkwardly starts to leave, but Dale invites him to stay and see the next, more impressive show. Ted still wants to leave, but Dale invites him over for a drink. Ted keeps making excuses, but Dale says it will be “Strictly as an observer.”
A new bottom arrives for the next show, and Dale puts his mask in Ted’s hand. Ted looks uncertain.
Later that night, at Dale’s lavish apartment, Ted sees Dale’s face on the cover of a leather magazine. Dale tells him that not only is out under his own name, he’s held regional and national leather titles.
Dale comes on very strong to the obviously nervous Ted. It starts to look a little creepy, as Dale is taller and more muscular than Ted, and some of the shots are framed to look down at Ted and up at Dale.
Dale talks about his other life in business. “That’s not who I really am.”
Ted: “And this is?”
Dale: “It’s amazing, Ted.” [he moves to sit next to Ted, puts his arm on back of couch] “How it’s allowed me to expand my horizons, in other areas too, even in business.”
Ted: “So being a leather daddy is the key to your success.”
Dale: “Oh, you have no idea what can happen once you give yourself permission.”
Ted: “W-what, to chain people up, tie people down?”
Dale puts his hand on Ted’s shoulder.
Dale: “That can be the most liberating part of all. Relinquishing control. Allowing someone else to give you pain, pleasure, whatever you most fear and desire.”
Ted: [sputters a bit] “Would you mind if I used your bathroom?”
Ted goes downstairs and instead finds Dale’s well-appointed dungeon. Ted stares at it, eyes wide and mouth open. The soundtrack begins to play club music.
Dale comes up behind him. “I see you found my playroom.”
Ted: “I’m sorry, I found the wrong door.”
Dale: “Or not. So what do you think?”
Ted: “Well, I guess you gave your decorator full reign.”
Dale: “Would you like to give you a little demonstration?”
Dale shows the leather thong and suspenders under his bathrobe, and keeps advancing on Ted, who keeps retreating into the dungeon.
Dale: “Why don’t you allow me to introduce you to yourself?” [Camera shifts to Ted’s face] “To the real Ted Schmidt? I promise I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do.”
Ted says nothing, but nods.
Dale: “You say ‘stop’, and I’ll stop.” [Gives Ted’s nipple a light twist.]
Ted: “Stop!” [jerks away, knocking over things] “I’m sorry. I didn’t come here for this.”
Dale: “I know. You’re just an observer.”
Ted: “That’s right. And I think I’ve seen enough, so, if you’ll just excuse me.”
Ted starts to walk out of the dungeon.
Dale: “You know what I remember about you most?” Ted stops and listens. “Every day in the school cafeteria you’d have the same thing for lunch. So reliable. I used to marvel how the menu never changed. I guess neither have you.”
The next day, Ted joins his friends for lunch, where everybody says that Ted is so set in his ways that they know exactly what he will order.
Later, Ted returns to Dale’s dungeon.
Dale is already undressed, wearing boots and a leather thong, and holding the mask over his crotch.
As Ted approaches, Dale puts on his mask.
Dale pokes Ted lightly on the chest with the flogger to make him stop.
Dale: “There are many pleasures to be found here. Places that you’re afraid to even think of going.”
Dale starts to undress Ted.
Dale: “I can take you there. But first you must surrender to me. Completely.”
Ted’s shirt is off.
Dale: “Do you surrender?”
Ted: “Y-yes, I surrender.”
Dale; “‘Sir’. You will call me ‘sir’.”
Dale uses flogger to make Ted turn around.
Dale: “And you are ‘slave’.”
Ted takes off his pants, revealing boxers.
Ted: “It’s kind of cold in here.”
Dale: “I didn’t say you could speak.”
Ted: “I’m sorry.”
Ted: “I’m sorry, sir.”
Ted takes off his shorts, is naked.
Dale: “Good slave. Now you will do exactly as you are told.”
Uses flogger to make Ted turn around again. Pushes him towards the cross.
He straps Ted’s wrists to the cross. Ted is face first. Also strap around waist. Lots of stroking on Ted’s bare skin.
Close on Ted’s face as Dale starts flogging. That’s where the episode ends, without seeing if Ted enjoys this experience.
The conflict in Ted’s plotline is his desires versus his inhibitions, which in itself is fine. The problem is that this episode treats BDSM as just another sexual menu item, rather than something that requires a different attitude and different risks. There are no scenes of Ted and Dale negotiating their play, nor of Dale providing aftercare, nor Ted considering this new experience.
The story presents the problem as Ted’s own inhibitions, rather than his anxiety because Dale is coming on way too strong and pressuring Ted into something he has no experience with. If Dale had eased up, taken the time to establish trust, and allowed Ted to approach the prospect at his own speed, it would have been a better episode.
The other plotlines of this episode concern issues of trust and care: Brian struggles with looking after his biological infant son while learning that his own estranged father has cancer, and Michael tries to make a relationship with his boyfriend’s teenage son. Ted developing a relationship with Dale, if given more screen time to show their negotiation, could have tied into those themes.
The character of Dale never appears again in the series, and there’s no mention of Ted being into kink either. Leathermen sometimes appear as background extras.
[…] Mia Kirshner played the manipulative Jenny in the original The L Word, which almost had a BDSM storyline. Director Denys Arcand frequently touched on the idea of urban decay. The film was adapted from a stage play by Brad Fraser, who later became a producer and writer on the US version of Queer as Folk. […]