The climactic conclusion of Helen and Nikki's relationship in Bad
Girls takes only a few minutes (four and a half, to be exact). It's
the culmination of more than 30 hours of angst-ridden passion,
heart-wrenching misunderstandings, tumultuous battles, and loving forgiveness. While the sequence feels
far too short for many viewers
aching to see Helen and Nikki happily united, it's packed with psychological
depth, visual metaphor, and textual allusion. This essay addresses
each in turn.
This scene contains more than a few ambiguous lines and actions. Most of Nikki and Helen's thoughts and feelings are left
unsaid or unexplained. The few lines of dialogue and behaviors have been
discussed extensively by fans online and off. They are all a challenge to analyze in any conclusive
way; the text is too ambiguous, the emotions too
complex. That ambiguity and complexity is part of the charm and
realism of the sequence. If it were easy to put these thoughts and
emotions into clear and
definitive words, love would be much less of a challenge for all of
No matter how much I parse every line, every look, every laugh of
this sequence, I'm still left with the question of why the sequence
is fraught with misunderstanding after misunderstanding. Nikki
doesn't notice Helen when Helen first enters the bar. Helen thinks
Nikki is back with Trish. Nikki thinks Helen is still with Thomas.
Nikki can't imagine Helen is interested in her, let alone that Helen
has finally come to terms with her sexuality. And all this from a
couple who (when they're not fighting) can zero in on each other from
across a prison yard, a couple that has benefited from some of the most
intuitive, unspoken ease of communication and understanding
The whole communication breakdown in this sequence can be read as
symptomatic of this estranged stage of their relationship. Following
the riot, they've both actually managed to convince themselves that
the other doesn't love them anymore. They start being very dishonest
about their feelings for each other, something they haven't done since
they got together at the end of S2E2. When Helen visits Nikki in her cell once
Nikki knows about Thomas, Nikki says "Don't worry 'bout me. I've got
a whole new life waiting for me once I get out." When Nikki tries to
convince Helen not to quit, Helen says "You've got to forget about
me," and Nikki's response, about Helen being her "hope," is not even
close to being a real explanation of why she is so heartbroken that
Helen is leaving Larkhall.
Their not-seeing and not-understanding each other in and outside
of Chix demonstrates how not-connected they are, how much they need to
overcome to be together now, after everything they've been through.
The mis-reading, the inability for Helen and Nikki to just
instinctively see each other feels painful and
disconnected and stressful and just Not Right. By establishing this
painful tension, the final sequence
manages to balance showing the power of Helen and Nikki's connection, and
also how much they have to (re)build together. They're really just
starting the beginning of a relationship.
Why does Helen come to the bar?
This is a deceptively simple question which raises a number of
complex issues. It's pretty clear that
Helen is heartbroken after her dinner with Thomas: she now
realizes she loves Nikki and wants to be with her. It's hard to know
whether she thinks she still has a chance to win Nikki back. Then she
watches Nikki's courtroom speech on television,
and is inspired to go find Nikki and at least congratulate her, and
if possible, maybe try to win her back. She shows up at the
club, and she's about to tell Nikki something, we're not sure
exactly what. Perhaps she intends to confess that she split up with Thomas (at
least) and perhaps she wants to tell Nikki that she's still in love
with her. Unfortunately she's not able to say any of these things,
finding herself at a loss for words as Nikki assumes Thomas is
waiting for her. Then
Helen spots Trish, thinks Trish and Nikki are back together, and so
she leaves without saying anything, trying to give Nikki the chance
Why does Helen wait outside the bar after leaving?
If Helen truly thinks Trish and Nikki are back together, then
what is she going to accomplish by waiting? It only makes sense for
her to wait if she thinks that Nikki might still want to be with
her. But if so, then why doesn't she say something inside the bar?
One possible reading is that Helen exits the bar intending to
leave, never to see Nikki again. But then she just can't bring her
feet to move, once she's left the bar. Nor can she go back in,
because she would feel like a bit of a fool. So, she's stuck
outside—can't walk away from Nikki, can't go back to try to win her
again. She may not even be sure of Nikki's feelings at this point;
she has Nikki's speech on one hand, and Trish's possessiveness on the
Neither piece of evidence is particularly conclusive. So she's paralyzed until Nikki comes after her.
Perhaps she's working up
the courage to go back in, and is thankful (and slightly
embarrassed) when Nikki comes out to find her. Her line "Well, I
figured if I waited long enough..." is actually a joke to cover her
slight embarrassment that she is standing outside the bar waiting for
Helen:I've been such an idiot Nikki. Nikki:I know what you're saying.
This exchange between Helen and Nikki is perhaps the most complex
and ambiguous exchange in the entire scene. From a television
viewer's perspective, Helen's line is relatively clear. She's
realized her feelings for Nikki, and is apologizing for her
delusional relationship with Thomas, amongst other rejections she's
inflicted on Nikki in the past. However, from Nikki's perspective,
Helen's meaning is heavily veiled. She hasn't seen Helen with Thomas, she
hasn't seen Helen watching the result of her appeal. She knows only
the following facts:
1. A few days ago Helen thought she was serious about Thomas
2. A few days ago Helen wanted Nikki to forget about Helen and their relationship
3. Today Helen and Thomas are no longer together
Based on this incomplete information, when Nikki says "I know what you're saying" she's trying to
cut Helen off, trying to stop Helen from saying more: Nikki is using
the phrase to suggest a whole cluster of things, and, at the same time
as conversational filler, a shorthand for
Nikki's emotional state provides the key to understanding why she
would want to stop Helen from sharing her thoughts any further.
Nikki blames herself for Helen having to leave Larkhall, and she
thinks that Helen blames her too. If she hadn't escaped and gone to
Helen's apartment, Fenner wouldn't have been able to blackmail
Helen, and Helen wouldn't have had to quit. Not only that, but Helen
would have been able to force Fenner to resign. Nikki's grappling
with this intense guilt even while she's happy about being out of Larkhall.
In this state of mind, Nikki can imagine all kinds of things
Helen might want to say to her. Nikki might have thought Helen meant that she had been
"such an idiot" to come to the club and see her again, that she'd
made a mistake in doing so and this was the reason she had left so
suddenly, as she had suddenly realized her error. In this
interpretation, Helen's idiocy stems from her regret at giving Nikki
the wrong impression about her intentions. Even though Helen has said that
she and Thomas split up, Nikki might still fear that Helen came to
the club on a rebound kind of impulse, and then thought better of it
(and hence exited the club rather than trying to win Nikki back).
Or she could fear that Helen wants to complain about her
relationship failures, her questionable taste in men. Nikki
might truly think Helen now identifies as Straight, capital S. Nikki
hasn't seen the interactions Helen has had with Thomas, and
therefore she doesn't know how much Helen struggled throughout the
relationship, how much ambivalence Helen had around expressing
herself, around being perceived as "normal."
No matter what her exact thoughts, it's clear Nikki can imagine all kinds of reasons Helen feels like an idiot,
and none of them have to do with Helen realizing she's a lesbian and
wants to be with her. Nikki is still in the mindset of: I fucked up Helen's life and career,
not the mindset of: I opened up this woman to true love
and intimacy. That guilt affects her ability to see why Helen has
shown up at the bar, or to know what Helen wants to say to her.
Nikki's meaning is primarily emotional, not denotative, which
makes it very hard to pin down. Emotionally, Nikki probably feels
she can't stand one more rejection from Helen; she's at her limit.
Her body language communicates more than her words: her eyes are
downcast and then flick away; her head swivels fully to the side as
her face expresses pain and disappointment; her whole body seems to
deflate as she tries to bring her head back then looks down again,
trying to control her expression. Her line, "I know what you're
saying," is neutral, it's not angry or confrontational, impatient,
not even disappointed, really, just low and even-toned, as if Nikki
is trying to make things easier for both of them.
Nikki can't see how Helen's subsequent statement can lead
to anything other than an endless loop or spiral into
self-recrimination, blame, doubt, reworking the scenarios in their
heads. So Nikki's trying to spare them this, at
least. Because the Helen she knew the last time they said goodbye
has already said everything she could say: Helen's said I love you,
she's said I want you, but, from Nikki's perspective, she's said
them as a straight woman making an exception. Nikki has no way of
knowing Helen has had a life-changing realization about her
sexuality, and that realization (and her uncertainty about Nikki's
interest) is why Helen's looking stressed and
anxious. From Nikki's perspective, there's nothing
new left for
Helen to say, and that's why she thinks she knows what Helen is
Helen:No, let me say it.
With this line Helen finally claims her own voice, stating her
own desires rather than allowing Nikki to do it for her as she has
so many times in the past. Having others speak for you has been a repeated motif
between Helen and Nikki, starting with their first fight on G-Wing
after Carol's miscarriage in S1E1. When Nikki anticipates Helen
making excuses for the officers' negligence, she prefaces her
own antagonistic remarks with the line "No, let me say it for her." In
that first episode, Nikki knows what Helen is going to say because
Helen is going to toe the party line. Helen is not going to break free
from her role as prison governor and admit what she truly thinks
about the situation with Carol.
In this final scene, 39 episodes later, Helen needs to
speak for herself because she isn't following any path any longer.
She's broken free from her proscribed heterosexual role and
finally admitting her true feelings. Only when Helen truly speaks
for herself is she liberated from social and professional
Helen:Thomas is gorgeous. He's everything you would want in a
man. But I want a woman.
There has been much debate about what Helen means when she says
"I want a woman." Does she mean she just wants Nikki? Is she saying
she's a lesbian or something more ambiguous, more bisexual? The
writers have indicated that they intended Helen's declaration to be
her coming out (not coincidentally also the title of the episode).
However, to some viewers these lines of Helen's still contain
significant ambiguity. What did Helen mean by this line? Is there
a way to read between the lines and come up with something more
The first part of the line reflects her certainty. She gave it a
go with the ideal man, he's everything one would want. But not
everything she would want. He's everything some general "you" person
would want. That's not what she wants. She's distancing herself from
this desire for Thomas, defining it as completely separate from
herself and her own desires. The second part of line has
a missing but implied phrase which is vitally important to
understanding Helen's newfound lesbian identity: "He's
everything you would want in a man. But [I don't want a man,] I want
a woman." The way the line is written, that phrase I've inserted is
there, just as if it had been stated explicitly. The whole structure
of the sentences implies its presence. The record may have skipped
over it, but the listener can still hear it. Without saying it
explicitly, Helen is still declaring her sexuality and desire with
complete certainty and clarity. It's not just Thomas she doesn't
want, but the category of men in general.
Nikki:We'll take things slowly.
Again, Nikki is a well of mystery in this scene. Now that she
knows Helen is in love with her and wants to be with her, why would
she say that she wants to take things slowly? She's been waiting two
years to be with the woman she loves.
Her meaning becomes clearer when considered in the context of
Helen and Nikki's entire relationship. Nikki was always pushing
Helen, pushing the relationship further than Helen was comfortable
going. From when she grabbed Helen's hand and put it on her breast
in the potting shed, to the first kiss, to the escape, Nikki always added momentum to the relationship,
barreling through Helen's
boundaries, escalating their relationship. Nikki knows this pattern, and
by suggesting they proceed slowly she's telling Helen how different things will be now
that she is out. The relationship can now progress at its own pace,
at a speed that both of them are comfortable with, that they decide
on together ("we'll take things slowly").
Nikki's line reflects a level of trust and comfort in the
relationship which Nikki hasn't demonstrated since that night in
Helen's apartment (and only very occasionally before that). Nikki
doesn't need Helen to be risking and sacrificing everything to prove
her love—Nikki now knows it's there. In a way, this is possibly the
most caring thing Nikki has said to Helen in a very long time,
because she's telling her newly-out lover that she's not going to
make her uncomfortable anymore.
Helen:Yeah, dead slow.
On a surface level, Simone Lahbib's delivery of this line makes
Helen's meaning obvious. She's flirting. She doesn't want to take anything
slow, except perhaps their lovemaking. Things have already been
plenty slow between these two, and Helen is ready to get things
However, like Nikki's offer to take things slowly, Helen's line has added significance because of the deep
contrast with most of her previous reactions to Nikki's
overtures. In the past when Nikki pushed, Helen retreated. She
never responded to Nikki's declarations of interest right away, but
instead offered repeated rejections until ultimately giving in.
Before this day, every time Nikki held up
a mirror and let Helen see her desires she made Helen
"uncomfortable" as Helen complained in S1E9 when she
found Nikki in the library as she was searching for Monica. Given
this context, Helen's jokey, flirtatious semi-sarcasm
demonstrates her complete acceptance of herself and her desires.
She isn't in terrified retreat. Finally!
Confinement versus Freedom
The staging of this sequence is extremely deliberate. The sequence
transitions from the dark world of the nightclub to the light world
of a London street in the afternoon. It moves from a private, gay
space into an open, public, straight space.
transition represents Helen's own journey from straight to gay, and
her ability to finally declare her feelings and desire and identity,
not just in the privacy of her own home or Nikki's cell, but to the
world at large. This journey also parallels Nikki's transition from
the confinement of Larkhall Prison to the real world. Just as Nikki
has been confined, so have Helen's feelings, and Nikki and Helen's
relationship. Their feelings and relationship no longer need to be
hidden; they can be declared and lived for all to see, in the
daylight outside, without fear
This freedom from confinement also generates some challenges for
Helen and Nikki to come together. In this final scene, Helen enters the bar and
doesn't immediately see Nikki, and when Nikki chases her outside,
she looks in the complete wrong direction. We don't even see Helen
see Nikki as she exits the bar—we just hear her call out from off
screen. This is a huge contrast to all of the scenes where Helen
enters G-Wing and we see them see each other—it's like
they can just sense each other's presence. These near-misses represent the
myriad of possibilities of the outside world, in contrast to prison
life. In G-Wing, Helen only enters from one direction. Nikki is
always where she's supposed to be: in her cell during lockup, in the servery during meals, etc. But now Nikki and Helen can be anywhere.
It takes "detective work" for Helen to find Nikki at all, and then
Nikki has no way of knowing in which direction Helen has retreated.
To Be Continued
Helen and Nikki's final moment employs a traditional cinematic
technique: the iris.
The iris is defined as "a transitional shot showing the gradual disappearance of the
image through a contracting mask (iris-out). Common in silent film,
irises today usually evoke nostalgia for the period when they were
 This nostalgia posits Helen and Nikki as a romantic silent film
couple, epic and timeless. It's a politically subversive moment: just as Helen and Nikki have claimed public, heterosexual
space to demonstrate their love and commitment, they've now claimed
the traditional imagery of cinematic romance, a space dominated by heterosexuality.
In a show about prison, it's possible to interpret the iris out on
another level as well. In Larkhall the officers
frequently look through the peepholes of the prisoners' cell doors.
The peepholes, and the view through them, represent the utter lack
of privacy for the inmates. The iris evokes this imagery of the
peephole, as if looking out of a Larkhall peephole on two people
finally free from confinement.
We audience members have been observing these two through the
peephole of our television screen for three seasons, and now that
peephole is closing. No longer confined,
Helen and Nikki have the luxury and liberty which comes from privacy, free from
spying eyes looking through peepholes.
The imagery of the iris provides another context for the words
which appear on the screen as Helen and Nikki fade out. "To be
continued" has many meanings. It's most commonly used on television
to tell viewers that the plot line will continue in the next
episode. This is confusing in the context of Helen and Nikki, whose
storyline on the show concludes in this moment. In silent films
the words that would have appeared with (or after) the iris would
have been "The End." However, this moment isn't the end for Helen
and Nikki as a couple. "To be continued" can be read as an
alternative to "The End" meaning "Not the end, a beginning!"
The original broadcast of S3E16 includes some very revealing
music underscoring this last sequence between Helen and
Nikki. All three of the songs playing in the club revolve around
ideas of lovers struggling to come together, finally accepting and
expressing their desire. They echo the
inner thoughts and feelings of Helen and Nikki as they struggle to
come together on the outside.
During the exchange between Nikki and Trish, 'Spinning
Around' by Kylie Minogue is playing. While it's difficult to
determine exactly which part of the song is playing during the
scene, the most resonant lyrics are included here:
I'm breakin' it down
I'm not the same
I know you're feelin' me cuz you like it
Mistakes that I made givin' me the strength
To really believe
And no matter how I take it
There's no way I'm gonna fake it cuz its gotta be real
I've got nothin' left to hide
No reason left to fight
cuz the truths given me a new freedom inside
Gettin' rid of my desire
Do you like what you see?
This song seems to have equal resonance for Helen and Nikki. Helen
has made a mistake trying to be with Thomas. She's made a mistake
trying to repress and avoid her feelings for Nikki. And most
importantly, although Nikki doesn't know it yet, Helen has "nothing
left to hide" and a "freedom inside" because she's not fighting her
desires any longer. Similarly Nikki is experiencing a "new freedom"
now that she is out of Larkhall, and definitely has "no reason left
to fight" away from Jim Fenner.
When Helen enters, 'When We Are Together' by Texas (a Scottish
band) is playing. The song addresses the nourishment and sustenance
love provides, something that is planted and grows in the presence
of the lover. Like 'Spinning Around' the lovers in this song have
suffered from their mistakes.
Love started making sense
I always make mistakes at my expense
Love has placed a seed
And you're the sun that shines down upon me
Yeh when we are together
And when we are apart
There is no space in our hearts
I've got these feelings
Even more striking is the imagery in the song's second verse,
which seems to describe exactly the scene between Helen and Nikki in
Season 1, when they accidentally bump into each other in the servery.
It's been too long since I've tried to take the time
So now I'm fallin' fallin' into the sublime
When you brush against a stranger
And you both apologise
And when you see in them something you recognise
When Trish tells Nikki that Helen is interested, and urges Nikki
to chase after her, 'It's Not Unusual' by Tom Jones is playing. Unlike the first two songs, this song most parallels Trish's
emotional state, as she watches her ex-lover be loved by someone
It's not unusual to be loved by anyone
It's not unusual to have fun with anyone
But when I see you hanging about with anyone
It's not unusual to see me cry,
Oh I wanna die
But if I ever find that you've changed at anytime
It's not unusual to find out that I'm in love with you
Alternatively, it's possible to interpret these lyrics as a
reflection of Nikki's state of mind, unsure as she is about Helen's
interest in her. As far as she knows, Helen and Thomas are happy and
falling in love. Moreover, her hope is to find that Helen has
"changed" and therefore might finally be available to her.
Romeo and Juliet
The first three seasons contain frequent references to
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In the first season Helen actually
stumbles upon Nikki reading the play, a scene which concludes with
Nikki's first overt flirtation with Helen. Nikki frequently stares
out her cell window awaiting Helen's arrival at the prison, as
Juliet waited on her balcony for Romeo to appear. And on a narrative
level, the parallels are apparent. It's hard to imagine two groups
with a more "ancient grudge" or more "civil blood" between them than
prison officers and prison inmates. Helen and Nikki are certainly
"star-crossed lovers" in this most traditional sense. Like
their love story in general, this final sequence
between Helen and Nikki contains some archetypal patterns, familiar to audiences who have
seen Romeo and Juliet, or any of the countless stories which have
been based on or inspired by this classic, epic romantic tragedy.
The final sequence of Romeo and Juliet centers around a risky
plan. Juliet drinks a potion which will make her appear dead for a
period of two days. Dead, she will be freed from her family's
confines and expectations for her marriage to a man other than
Romeo. Romeo will rescue her from her tomb, and they will escape
together, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, Romeo doesn't
get the news of the plan. He instead hears the news that Juliet is dead. He
disregards his enforced exile and rushes to Juliet's tomb. Once
there, he sees her body and drinks poison to join her in death. Juliet
awakens, finds Romeo dead, and kills herself as well. The sequence,
like Helen and Nikki's final scenes, is a series of near-misses, but
with tragic consequences. Had Romeo received the letter from the
Friar, he would have known of the plan. Had Juliet awoken just a few
minutes earlier, Romeo would have realized she was alive.
The staging of this final unification scene with Helen and Nikki
follows a very similar pattern to Romeo and Juliet. Imagine Nikki as
Juliet, drinking poison (ok, beer) in her tomb, the nightclub.
Helen/Romeo has heard that Nikki is there: she's watched the
news report, she knows the trial's verdict. But when she arrives,
Helen thinks Nikki is unavailable, reunited with Trish, just as
Romeo thought Juliet was dead. Helen leaves, and Nikki wakes up
(emotionally-speaking), and chases after Helen. Luckily for her,
Helen hasn't drank poison, but is waiting nearby, very much alive
and (although Nikki doesn't know it) very much available. After a
series of mis-starts and miscues (discussed above), Helen and Nikki finally declare themselves. Their
relationship, which both had considered dead, turns out to be very much alive.
Of course Helen and Nikki's ending has some significant
differences from Romeo and
Juliet. Juliet has been "killed" while Nikki has been liberated
(although, Juliet's fake death is actually a means to her
liberation and her chance to be with Romeo), but in the final scene
Helen chases after Nikki just as Romeo chases after Juliet. And
Helen misunderstands Nikki's availability (she thinks Nikki is back
with Trish), just as Romeo misunderstands Juliet's (he thinks
she's dead). The sequence seems written to follow this pattern: Helen/Romeo
goes to find Nikki/Juliet, thinks she isn't available and
leaves/dies, and Nikki/Juliet wakes up and follows Helen/Romeo. In
Nikki's case she follows Helen outside, in Juliet's case she stays
in the tomb and follows Romeo to the grave.
It's also possible to read Helen and Nikki in the reverse roles,
with Helen as Juliet and Nikki as Romeo. In this reading,
Nikki thinks Helen is still with Thomas and therefore lost
(akin to Romeo thinking Juliet is dead). Nikki starts to drink
from the bottle of beer (phial of poison) wanting 'to get blasted'
but Trisha stops her and pushes her into chasing after Helen,
averting a tragic end. In this reading, Nikki/Romeo avoids jumping to
conclusions about Helen/Juliet's vitality, and rather than killing
herself, waits for Helen/Juliet to awaken and chases Helen/Juliet out of the
Ultimately, with this kind of role-switching, the story of Helen and Nikki subverts the Romeo and
Juliet story not just by having a happy ending, but by breaking down
the very barriers of the narrative. Either one of them can be Romeo, when needs dictate,
and either one of them can be Juliet. By basing this final sequence
on such a familiar and age-old romantic tragedy, the writers create
an enormous amount of urgency and anxiety for their viewers, and
then posit Helen and Nikki's freedom and flexibility,
embodied in a same-sex relationship, as the key to resolving this
urgency and anxiety with the happiest of
Thanks to Cool for suggesting the Helen's Embarrassment theory.
Thanks to both Cool and ekny for suggesting Nikki is trying to avoid rejection
in this moment, and to ekny for the in-depth exploration of the use of this
phrase as filler.
Thanks to Just Another Mad Bad Fan for the idiocy=Helen's regret at leading
Nikki on theory.
Thanks to mercy23 for the idiocy=Helen's failure with men theory.
Nikki's always most polite and on her best behavior when she feels truly
defeated and hopeless. She demonstrated this when Trish breaks up with her in
the first half of Season 1. Only when she's convinced she's lost Helen, when she
finds out about Helen and Thomas, is she able to behave in a gracious,
Thanks to ekny for the wonderful exploration of Nikki's
emotional state in this moment, and how it is depicted on screen. Most of the
ideas in this section come from her.
Thanks to ekny again, this time for the idea of the self-recrimination loop, and
the fact that Nikki can't possibly imagine that Helen has anything new to tell
Thanks to GeauxGurl for pointing out the parallel between these two lines in
scenes which are 39 episodes apart.
impossible to list every instance, but here are a few examples: the potting
shed, the first kiss, the first declaration of love, the library confrontation
mentioned above, even the second season art room scene when Nikki wants to make
love and Helen wants to talk about her anxieties.
This definition is from http://www.tagg.org/teaching/mmi/filmtrms.html#I
Thanks to yankeelady for the wonderful iris-as-peephole theory.
Thanks to Just Another Mad Bad Fan for identifying these three songs and finding
the lyrics. Here's the complete lyrics
to each one.
Thanks to Cassandra for pointing out how the Helen-as-Romeo and Nikki-as-Juliet
roles could so easily be reversed in reading this scene.