“Loud and Proud”, aired 1 May 2005 IMDB
The L Word was a night-time soap about a group of lesbian and bisexual women in West Hollywood, with multiple continuing storylines.
“Loud and Proud” is centered on Pride Weekend in LA. In the previous season, Jenny arrived in West Hollywood and began exploring her sexuality, which caused some complications with her boyfriend. Jenny broke up with him and joined the other characters.
The cold-open shows two women having a BDSM session, in the red-on-black color scheme we will see repeatedly in this episode. The bottom is cuffed to a St. Andrew’s cross. There’s no nudity, and only a couple of light impacts with a flogger.
The top says, “I’m going to give you a minute to think about how badly you want me to fuck you.”
She then puts on her jacket and walks outside, past a poster saying this is “Pride 2005.” (I hope that there were other people watching her bottom while she left.)
Various plotlines progress through the episode. In particular, Jenny is struggling with the emergence of memories of her rape as a child.
Alice, a journalist, and Dana, a tennis pro, are having a dom/sub roleplay session, with Alice in a black and white maid’s uniform and Dana in butch mode. This is interrupted by the arrival of Dana’s younger teenage brother.
After the parade, the top woman from the opening gives flyers to Alice, Dana and Jenny. The flyer says “The Seven Stations of the Cross” and shows a woman in a leather thong and bra next to a wooden cross.
The top directly asks Jenny, “Will I see you there?”
Top: “Well, I love to punish a tease.”
Later, Alice and Dana are hesitant to go into the BDSM club.
Dana: “I don’t think I can do this.”
Alice: “Oh, god, sure you can. Come on.” [stops outside the club] “Okay, maybe it’s not a great idea. Let’s just look at the pros and cons.”
They look at the flyer.
Alice: “Um, okay, okay. ‘Gentle with novices.’ This is good.”
Dana: “Okay, great. So we can just tell them this is our first time.”
Alice: “I think they might know that, Dana, but…”
Insert shot of back of flyer.
Alice: “There’s seven stations of the cross. Whipping, temporary piercing…”
Dana: “Public humiliation, anal penetration. Torching?”
Alice: “Torching? Eugh… Spanking and specialty acts. That’s nice.”
Dana: “Ooh, there’s a free buffet ‘til six. Chicken wings and tofu.”
Alice: “What do you think?”
Dana: “I don’t know. A sneak peek?”
Alice: “Yeah! Okay, let’s do it.”
Alice and Dana psych themselves up and go through a metal gate, then through a door and down the steps into the venue.
The camera holds on the door for a beat.
Dana and Alice emerge from the venue and quickly walk away, nervously talking about going to their usual hangout.
Much later that night, Jenny enters the BDSM club, full of reds and blacks, with sombre string music. The atmosphere is tense and quiet, with the sound of leather smacking flesh. Jenny looks at her surroundings.
Reverse shot, slightly blurry, of people on bondage equipment. More reds and blacks. People in the foreground as audience.
The femme top from before cuffs Jenny to “The Thing” bondage platform, arms outstretched (not unlike a cross).
Jenny has a flashback to being held down by men on straw.
She somehow pulls loose and sits up. The femme top comes over to check on her.
Jenny: “Don’t touch me!”
This leads to more flashbacks, with Jenny reciting something in what may be Hebrew.
In the BDSM club, Jenny breaks down crying, sitting on the bondage platform. Cut to the Image of her as a young girl, standing outside, with the same red/black color scheme.
“Loud and Proud” maps Pride and BDSM onto a heaven/hell dialectic. The Pride celebration is bright and colorful, full of happy people and energetic music. Dana is able to say “I love you” to Alice for the first time, and Shane confesses secrets to her own lover. Community grows, people become intimate.
The BDSM club scenes are all red light in darkness, set with tense string music. The people are sombre and quiet, and there’s no effort to personalize them.
Jenny’s revelation of her past rape, brought on by her very brief bondage scene, is a solitary experience. Even when the top tries to check on her, she snaps “Don’t touch me!” BDSM is a means to harsh truth about the self, but not to care or community.
Working through trauma can be a part of BDSM, but leaves out so much intimacy, comradeship, pleasure, and fun. As the saying goes, “BDSM can be therapeutic, but it is not therapy.”
I struggle to refrain from rewriting the stories I review in this project. This episode could have been a classic “journey through the underworld”, with Jenny guided by the top woman she meets. This could have reflected the pride/shame dialectic of the episode, but there’s only the briefest exploration.
I have a minor personal connection to this episode. The early seasons of The L Word were shot in Vancouver, BC, where I live. The producers put out a call to the greater Vancouver BDSM community to be actors and extras in an episode showing a play party. I already showed the scripts issued for the auditions.
As I understand it, the scenes at the play party were shot, with furniture from the Rascals regular play party, but not used in the final episode, except for one establishing shot and the interaction between Jenny and the female top. Why is not clear. Maybe the scenes were cut to save time for other plotlines, or that higher-ups decided it was too sexual. At any rate, The L Word took one step towards looking at BDSM, then backed off, much like Dana and Alice.
The L Word was ground-breaking not only for being a drama series focused almost entirely on women, but on queer women. That has to be considered when it is criticized for depicting a very middle-class, white and femme version of lesbian life. Even Shane is more androgynous than butch. Likewise, it can be excused for not going deeper into lesbian BDSM sexuality when the industry and the audience are skittish about any form of sexuality.
Jenny Schecter was played by Mia Kirshner, who also played the psychic dominatrix Benita in Love & Human Remains (1993), previously discussed.