So, I’ll just skip the preamble and get straight to the main talking point. Episode two opens with a pre-credits rape scene. That is a very bold move for any show, because you need to be really, really careful with the use of rape in art. It provokes a visceral and emotional reaction in people more so than any other crime – bar those committed against children. Used wrongly in art and it can be a very exploitative and nasty thing.
The Politician’s Husband uses sex as a metaphor throughout, and its main theme is about power, and how it shapes people. Rape is also about power. Is that enough to justify its use in the plot? I don’t know. I give the BBC credit for not striking it from the script the moment they read it, but…I don’t know.
Away from this, there’s also a problem with what the scene does to the character of Aiden. There’s no coming back from it. It’s a huge line to cross for the character and it’s difficult for anyone in the audience to now have any sympathy for, or empathy with, Aiden in the rest of the series. A good villain is one we can relate to; one who makes sense and whom we find ourselves agreeing with despite ourselves. Think of Tony in The Sopranos, Walter White in the bulk of Breaking Bad, or the conspirators in the recent Utopia. Once a character becomes irredeemably bad they become less interesting.
It’s a testament to David Tennant’s acting that I’m still at least partially engaged with his character. And the writing in the rest of the episode seemed designed to redeem Aiden, up until the last scene anyway (more below). Freya meanwhile, is seemingly completely unaffected by being raped – her anger aside – which is a problem. Do people really just shrug something like that off? Even if the perpetrator was their partner, it’s still incredibly traumatic, surely? Freya somehow manages to deal with it though, and heads of to Westminster, while Aiden spends the episode scheming behind her back.
I like these scenes; the political machinations. I like how Aiden and Bruce Babbish, his former friend, out manoeuvre each other without meeting, all via Twitter and relationships; backroom deals and select committees. I wish we had more of this and less, well, rape. Aiden is eventually defeated in his attempts to work his way back into power and retreats to his children’s swimming lessons at a pool with awful lifeguards. They should really get better life guards. Aiden saves his son from drowning and seems set to be slightly rehabilitated, only for the episode to end with him piercing his wife’s diaphragm.
Do people still use diaphragms? I’m not an expert on women’s contraception (or woman in general), but this website cites a report saying less than 1% of women use them. I point this out because I suspect that it’s poor writing; the writer wants this scene, Aiden engineering a pregnancy, and this is a cinematic way of doing that, so who cares if it’s not realistic. The show has this problem with realism across the board; the at times overwritten dialogue, for instance, or the marriage where everything seems perfect, no hints of a problem, until suddenly there’s a rape scene provoked by one betrayal. It feels cheap.
Then there’s the commentary on politics, which can be quite clunky at times, with one character flat out stating how much better it would be if they put as much effort into solving problems as they do into Westminster power games.
It’s quite a troubling hour, episode two. If I had to come down one side or the other on the rape scene, I’d say it was unnecessary. The BBC is going to get a lot of criticism, but they deserve some respect for not doing the typical BBC thing and cowering in fear at the merest hint of controversy. Still, I think there are less exploitative ways of making a point about power and its corruption. I think for its inclusion to be justified, there would need to be an issue of actual rape in politics, and even with the Lord Rennard allegations and the Cyril Smith crimes, I’m not sure there’s enough here to warrant its use.
This aside, the episode had many other problems. I think most of the audience will stick with it for part three, because the acting is great, it’s nicely filmed and there are some interesting plot elements, but the show is starting to get weighed down by its problems.
- Aiden should have just used a proxy for the Twitter thing. Less cinematic; more practical.
- The House of Commons was a lot louder than I expect it really is for work and pensions debates. If they wanted it to be realistic they should have had a guy sleeping in the background.
- The scenes in the constituency are good, contrasting Aiden’s now mundane political life with that of his wife.
- I have no idea what is going on with the housekeeper.
- The dialogue was better written this week, not as showy.
- The giant crack above the marital bed is really lacking in subtlety.