Season 3, Episode 13: "Revolving Doors" Essay
Red Light, Green Light
This episode opens with a striking image: a close-up on a red light, the
light above the doorway of the interrogation room where Julie S is answering
questions. A few minutes later the close-up on the light recurs. Later in the
episode, when Di pulls Mark into the bathroom stall to have her way with him,
the camera focuses on the green of the stall latch being switched to red. This
imagery reflects the episode's preoccupation with characters being given the red
light or green light, and how characters struggle with how to stop things or let
The Peckham gang's bullying of Shaz provides the foundation for this theme. Shaz
laments repeatedly that she can't do anything to stop them, even as their
torture of her escalates. She knows she can't report the Peckham girls to Karen
or Helen because she'll suffer an even worse fate if they find out she reported
them. But she can't handle them on her own: it's horrifying to watch her give up
her mattress and bedding to Al, and then remove her clothes and lie on the
freezing cold floor. Her small attempt to stand up for herself, to flash the red
light, comes to naught when Al pulls out her razor blade.
Helen, Yvonne and Crystal don't offer much assistance or reinforcement for Shaz.
Helen mistakenly assumes Shaz is sad because she misses Denny—Helen can't stop
projecting her own feelings onto Shaz. She's missing Nikki so terribly that any
other explanation for Shaz's distress is simply not available to her. Crystal's
impotent cries of protest as Al bullies Shaz are completely disregarded, and
Yvonne is unwilling to put herself on the line to call a halt to the situation.
Yvonne does finally offer Shaz a solution, although not the solution Shaz
expects. Shaz wants Yvonne to stop the Peckham girls, but instead Yvonne shares
a piece of mob wisdom: "If you can't beat 'em, leg it." If you can't pull out
the red light for them, then try to find a green light for yourself.
Shaz isn't the only character desperately searching for a green light. Di is
twistedly searching for a green line in her behavior towards Mark and Gina. The
whole saga begins when Gina mocks Di for imagining Josh's interest in her. Gina
calls Di on her charade saying "We can't all have pulling power." Di seems to
take this as a challenge, essentially turning on the universal green light to
any and every man, starting with Kevin the guard from the front gate and ending
up with Mark. Di's tactics are desperate and manipulative, because she can only
truly get a green light by holding up the red one: she entraps Mark at the bar,
tricking him into buying her a drink. He can't free himself from her
machinations, but he doesn't realize how all-encompassing Di's restricting red
light will be. Di gets Mark drunk and shags him in the bathroom, and in her
twisted, delusional way, she thinks that things are a go with him. But they
aren't—like on the bathroom stall, when the green light has switched to red at
the very moment when Mark gives himself over to Di, Mark puts a stop to any
further interactions with Di by sneaking out with Gina.
Unfortunately for Mark and Gina, neither of them can see Di's machinations
clearly. They can't see the ways they are being trapped and manipulated, a red
light at every turn. Di adds extreme pressure to the already-vulnerable Gina and
Mark, distorting their readings of their relationship. Di fuels Mark's
suspicions that Gina is having an affair with Josh, and Gina doesn't see how Di
is contributing to Mark's jealousy.
As a result of this distortion, both Gina and Mark (but particularly Mark) have
lost their ability to judge when to stop others and themselves. Mark can't tell
that Di is self-interested, and mistakenly takes her as objective witness of
Gina's behavior. By the end of the episode he realizes what he wants from Gina:
a committed relationship, free from Di. He finally gives Di the red light, in no
uncertain terms—he'd rather have a wank than screw her again—and gives Gina
and himself the green light, telling her he hasn't "got the right to stop you
from seeing other fellas" but now he wants to "make it official." Once they've
made a formal commitment to each other, he can be jealous and Gina won't be able
to stop him. This whole scene is a delicious combination of stop-and-go imagery,
with Mark giving a full green light to the relationship and thus giving himself
permission to put a red light on all of Gina's extra-relationship flirtations.
It's the essence of all committed relationships, which encourage certain
behaviors, and discourage others.
But Di is as dangerous and unstoppable as the Peckham gang; she's not someone
who respects red lights. She purposefully reveals Mark's infidelity in front of
Gina, tearing Mark and Gina apart. The location of her confrontation with Mark
emphasizes the red light-green light imagery: the whole scene takes place with
all the characters in and around their cars in the parking lot. It's hard to
imagine a setting which could more emphasize the way the characters are trying
to go, and yet are halted every time they try to move.
Di is able to wield so much control because she's willing to go anywhere, say
anything, to have her way. She lies, repeatedly and endlessly, and her power
stems from her ability to get all these other characters to participate in her
lies, propagating them further and further. Fenner corroborates Di's story about
her mother when Sylvia asks her how her mother is doing, and both Fenner and
Sylvia thus reinforce Di's lie about her mother, that "you did the best you
could for her." Later Di tells Sylvia the same lie she has told Mark—that Gina
is a serial cheater. Sylvia starts spreading the story as fact, and Mark doesn't
have a chance to withstand its pressure.
Di isn't the only character who asserts control by tricking other characters
into supporting and reinforcing her deceptions. Virginia O'Kane employs the same
tactic, perhaps with even more skill and brilliance. After providing evidence
against the two Julies (putting the red light on their freedom), Virginia not
only manages to get them (along with Sylvia!!!) to help her into bed her first
night in jail, and then actually turns them into loyal minions on the wing.
As Virginia's effectiveness indicates, the Julies are even more vulnerable than
Mark to these types of machinations. Like Mark, they misplace blame—onto the
person who loves them the most—for their fantasy being stopped dead in its
tracks. Julie S thinks Julie J provided evidence against her to stop her from
being with Trevor. They're both furious at the other for not lying, for not
protecting their mutual charade. As Di and Fenner demonstrate, a willingness to
lie for someone else is a sign of the most reliable (albeit sometimes perverse)
loyalty. This lack of loyalty, between Virginia and the Julies, between the
Julies themselves, is what makes the Julies the "homing pigeons" with no sense
of direction, as Yvonne points out.
This homing pigeon tendency, though, is how the Julies embody the ambiguity
between red and green, between stop and go, between freedom and imprisonment.
When they enter their old cell, they both admit it feels a bit like coming home,
and they try to overcome their disappointment by reminding themselves they're no
worse off than before, that their fantasy of life on the outside (with Trevor)
might have been a disappointment as well. Coming back to prison seemed like a
red light on their lives, but it's also a green light in another direction.
As the Julies' return to Larkhall demonstrates, prison is a horrible mix of
stopping and starting someone's life. No matter what their relationship with
Larkhall, incarcerated or incarcerator, characters struggle with the obstacles
that stop them in their tracks in heart-wrenching ways. Some characters, like
the Julies, manage to soldier on, maintaining their relationships and values.
Others, like Di, barrel through obstacles as if they don't exist, leaving utter
destruction in their paths. Red lights mean nothing to characters like Di or
Fenner, as Helen and Karen will ultimately discover.
This essay arose from an online discussion on the Nikki
and Helen board. Thanks to the following people who participated:
richard, Lisa289, Cassandra, microsofty