Season 3, Episode 13: "Revolving Doors" Essay

Red Light, Green Light
—Jennifer T.

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 them go.

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




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