A father represents authority, be it familial, professional, or religious.
And approval from this kind of authority, be
it a biological father, a boss, or God, is perhaps one of the most elusive
of human longings. This episode offers a complex
mix of the three, as characters struggle between the desire to gain approval from an authority
the impulse to reject that authority and seek what they desire outside it.
As always in season 1,
Helen's struggle provides the core or foundation for
For the first time, we learn a little bit about her family
background, specifically her disapproving father. Helen hasn't told
her father about her upcoming nuptials because, as she tells Sean, "he's never
approved of anything I've done in my life. I can't see this being any
different." Her bitter sarcasm shows that even as an adult, she's not gotten over her desire for her
father's approval, nor her anger and sadness at not getting it. A
deeper subtext pervades this exchange, however. The scene begins with
Helen opening the door to her garden and staring out, while Sean, one window
over, pulls up the shade. The visual effect implies each is contained in
their own, separate, confining cell.
This visual confirms the distance Helen feels from
Sean: she doesn't want to marry him. Helen is struggling with the
difficulty of living with doing the "wrong" thing: she is already living her
life in a way her father doesn't approve of, and she's contemplating even
more drastic decisions which will make her life even less the kind of life
typically approved of by fathers. She knows either way there's no happily
ever after. Even if she breaks free from the constraints
of her family and upbringing, it's not easy to just let go of the desire for
approval, and of the resentment when that desire isn't fulfilled: "it doesn't actually work like that."
Helen's romantic equivocations are mirrored at work as well. She wants
the approval of her boss, Stubberfield, as well as the approval of her pet
inmate, Nikki. The scene
between Helen and Nikki in the library highlights Helen's inner dissension. Nikki assumes a certain
intimacy with Helen from the moment Helen walks in, but Helen is distracted,
looking anywhere but into Nikki's eyes.
Nikki comments with annoyance: "You want to be informal but you don't want
to be called Helen. You can't have it both ways." Helen replies
with a vague statement: "This is difficult for me, as I think you know."
But what could Helen possibly mean by "this"? Nikki is right, Helen can't have
it both ways. She can't look to Nikki (i.e. outside the official prison
system) for support and approval while also insisting on sticking to the
system's rules and formalities. But Helen does want both, and that
is what's difficult. She
wants approval from both Nikki and Stubberfield (and, of course, from her
father). Which is why she doesn't reply to Nikki's insistent question:
"So what do
Through the remaining 42 minutes of this episode, Helen struggles to resolve
the answer to that question, realizing the comforts and supports she gets
when she works outside the official system,
the lack of approval when she works within it. She secretly, unofficially, asks Nikki to
help her convince Monica to go through with her appeal. Helen has
already exhausted the official channels: Monica's solicitor and numerous
other officers have failed in their attempts to persuade Monica to resume
her appeal. Nikki agrees to help, and she ends the conversation by calling
Helen by her first name. This time Helen doesn't object—she knows
she's in full breach of the hierarchical rules and regulations of the prison.
Throughout the episode, Nikki continues to offer
herself to Helen as an outlet, an alternative source of support when the traditional
systems and authorities are failing Helen. When Helen goes from Sean's
yammering at home to Stubberfield's reprimand regarding Crystal's letter to
, Nikki tries to interrupt the two, chasing after Helen
before she enters the prison for work. Helen puts her off, not
realizing that (perhaps only metaphorically) Nikki is trying to save her
from having to face her disapproving boss. Nikki
consistently interrupts or rejects any sort of pre-defined rules or standards
of behavior. She calls Helen at home, even though she knows it's "out
of order." Helen both wants these disruptive advances and doesn't want them. And when Helen reaches her breaking point,
and seeks Nikki out in Nikki's own space, Nikki provides
her with emotional reassurance that goes a step too far. After they
kiss, Nikki acknowledges "I shouldn't have done that"—but
Helen's search for support and comfort outside the socially and
legally acceptable realms has simply arrived at its inevitable conclusion.
Helen isn't the only character breaching authority by seeking agency outside official channels.
Monica is refusing both medical and legal advice. She's given up her
appeal and is hoarding her pills. She doesn't want official legal freedom;
she wants complete freedom from all of life's pressures, and suicide offers
As she points out to Helen, "There's no law says I have to appeal."
There is no authority powerful enough to thwart her desire for oblivion, not
Helen and not the legal system. Only Nikki, with her very personal
intrusion into Monica's cell, can even get Monica to verbally agree to
continue her appeal.
Crystal and Shell offer the most complex juxtaposition of operating both
inside of and outside of authoritative structures. Both of them
believe strongly in their respective systems of authority. As a
religious Christian, Crystal believes in God's law and authority,
unquestioningly. Shell is quite content to work within the prison's
authority, earning its rewards and approval whatever way she can: her
primary goal is to get moved back to Enhanced.
However, in their anti-drugs initiative, both Crystal and Shell strategically employ an alternative authoritative
structure to achieve success. Shell pretends to be religious (religion
being the authority to end all authorities) in order to manipulate Crystal
into doing her bidding.
Crystal reaches out to the press, one of the more powerful arm of social judgment
writing a letter to the Guardian
to complain about drugs in prison.
When Helen discovers what Crystal and Shell have done, she is furious that
they have not worked within the system:
Helen: The way around this is to help one another. Not go behind each
other's backs like you did with this letter.
Crystal: There's no law against writing letters.
Helen: That's not the point....I don't make the laws in this country.
I just have to work within them as best I can....
Crystal: With the law not protecting the ordinary person. So the
ordinary person got to do what they got to do. Which is why I wrote
the letter, innit?
Crystal is right: there is no law against writing letters, nor is there
a law which protects her from the indignities of strip searches for drugs.
But Crystal didn't respect Helen's authority as Wing Governor.
Instead, she went outside the prison procedures and used the letter to the
press as an
opportunity to undermine Helen's authority. Yet again, Helen finds
herself pulled from both sides, understanding Crystal's desire to use
whatever unauthorized strategies are available to her, but also
feeling her own need to maintain control over the wing. Not
surprisingly, given her religious faith, Crystal still believes in the
ultimate dominance and responsibility of those in authority. She sees the resulting mess
from her letter as Helen's fault
(the fault of the authority), and
thinks Helen will need the help of the highest authority to get out of it: "Only God can sort
the mess you got yourself into." Of course, God is not where
Helen seeks help.
The episode concludes with hints of the triumph of those who reject the
system. Yvonne, the gangster's moll, arrives at Larkhall. Yvonne
is the queen of alternative authorities; it's the essence of organized
crime. And even though Stubberfield orders closed visits, and gives
Helen no say in the matter, Helen finally actively moves away from seeking the
approval from the un-please-able father figures, getting support from
Nikki in a way which blows her mind and gives the audience cause for
celebration. The nightcalls reflect this newfound power in anarchy, as the
prisoners celebrate Monica's impending freedom, ask Crystal
whether she's got more letters planned, and crow over Yvonne's adventures