A continuation of my blog on the TNA Season 2 episode, “Obsession.” Read Part 1 here.
⊕ Content warning for discussion of intimate partner abuse
“A Beautiful Woman Belongs to the World”
One of the themes of the episode is whether anyone has the right to possess Purdey, and therefore her status as a woman vis-à-vis Steed, Gambit, and Larry as men. The way each of these men interact with Purdey is different. Larry is Purdey’s former lover and fiancé, but he’s also her former abuser and still thinks she belongs to him. Gambit is Purdey’s colleague and friend. He doesn’t have a romantic relationship with her, but from time to time he hints that he would like one. Steed is Purdey’s friend, supervisor, and mentor. She looks to him for guidance, and in other episodes we see that she would also like a romantic relationship with him, but that this is something that Steed himself does not want and cannot give her.
There are also overlapping needs that drive the interactions among these characters. Larry needs to get Purdey back, and he also needs to make sure his rocket gets launched. Gambit needs to protect Purdey from Larry, and he also needs to catch the bad guys, which in this episode includes a man that he knows Purdey still loves despite her past history with him. Steed needs to help Purdey face her fears so that she can stay on track with her job, he needs to cultivate Larry as a witness and suspect in the case, and he has to stop Larry from carrying out his plan. Purdey needs to navigate her complex and conflicting feelings about Larry while both protecting herself from him and also dealing with him as a suspect and, as it turns out, the villain of the case. All of these needs, personal and professional alike, hinge on Purdey in one way or another.
Larry obviously thinks of Purdey as something that a man has a right to own: at Steed’s party he asks her, “do you belong to someone here?” as though she were an object without any status or existence outside of her relationship to a man. He tries to assume a physical intimacy with her when he arrives, first by trying to embrace her and then by trying to caress her face, contact that Purdey does not welcome.
Larry holds out his arms to embrace Purdey, but she hands him a glass of champagne instead. Then he tries to caress her cheek, but she turns away.
Later he tries to assert his possession of her by assaulting her when she fends off his unwelcome advances. And when Purdey approaches his house on her motorcycle and Larry’s confederate says that he’ll deal with her, Larry beats the other man up, saying, “She belongs to me.”
Larry is both physically and emotionally abusive towards Purdey, and although it is possible that the first time he hit her was after she stopped him assassinating the Arab leader, it is likely that he was emotionally abusive, at least, before that point. As far as Larry is concerned, Purdey is his property, to do with as he pleases, and if she refuses or balks him he has the right to beat her into submission, or even kill her, which he would have done had Gambit not intervened. Neither can Larry see Purdey as anything other than an adjunct to himself, and in classic emotionally abusive form he tries to convince her of this as well: at the final standoff, he tells her that she can’t kill him because “it’d be like killing a part of yourself.”
While it can be argued that Gambit’s statement about being Purdey’s friend is an indication that he also considers himself to be in possession of her, I don’t read it that way. In the context of the faceoff between Larry and Purdey in Steed’s kitchen, the way Gambit steps in isn’t intended as staking a claim to Purdey for himself: it’s an attempt to distract Larry’s attention from Purdey in a way that doesn’t escalate the tension further. When Gambit first arrives after Purdey has slapped Larry, he sees the look on Purdey’s face and asks, “Purdey?” The subtext there is that Gambit is asking whether she is okay, whether she needs his help. Gambit’s thought is on Purdey, on her safety, on what she needs, not on disposing of Larry or on how he might be able to make hay of the situation on his own behalf.
After Purdey leaves, Gambit introduces himself to Larry as Purdey’s friend. This lets Purdey get well away and back into a public space with other people (and especially with Steed) before Larry can cause any further harm, but it does so in a way that potentially allows Larry to save face, giving him no reason either to bring Gambit into the conflict or give him yet another excuse to harm Purdey further, at least not for the moment.
I have no doubt that if Gambit had waltzed in and immediately had done or said something that Larry could interpret in any way as him laying claim to Purdey (which Gambit wouldn’t do, because he knows he doesn’t have such a claim), or had in any other way directly challenged Larry’s right to talk to her, the next thing that might have happened would have been Larry taking a swing at Gambit and a full-on cage match in Steed’s kitchen. We’ve already seen that Larry feels comfortable assaulting Purdey in Steed’s home, and later we see Larry beating up one of his own friends in order to assert his possession of Purdey. He’s not shy about using his fists to enforce his claim on her.
Gambit can be a bit of a troglodyte, but he does know that it’s not the done thing to start fights in Steed’s home, where he is a guest, with a man who also is Steed’s guest, no matter that Steed likely would have cheerfully given Larry a drubbing himself if he had seen how Larry treated Purdey, in his own home, no less. Gambit also doesn’t want to have to beat up someone that he knows Purdey has feelings for right in front of her, regardless of his own desire for a relationship with Purdey, and regardless of his loathing for Larry’s abuse of her.
What Gambit is trying to achieve in this scene is to stop Larry from hurting Purdey and at the same time to let Larry know that Purdey has other people in her life who care about her and will stand up for her. Isolation of the victim is a prime tool in the abuser’s repetoire. By introducing himself to Larry, Gambit is letting the other man know that any attempts to isolate Purdey will not be successful, and by stepping in to stop the abuse he’s not only reminding Purdey that she has friends who are there for her should she need them, he’s actively behaving as a friend should in a situation like that.
True, in some ways it would have been better if Gambit had demanded Larry leave Purdey alone simply on the basis that she doesn’t want to be with him, or had asked Purdey more directly whether she wanted help, but Gambit’s failure to handle the problem in either of those ways is not evidence that he thinks Purdey belongs to him, nor are incidences of misogyny on Gambit’s part in other episodes evidence that he thinks Purdey, particularly, somehow belongs to him by right. And I don’t read Gambit as abusive, either, even though we see in various scenes across the series that Gambit can be a thoughtless, sexist ass, including occasionally towards Purdey. Gambit is here using his male privilege to Purdey’s advantage, to help her to escape from an assault by another man, not in order to make brownie points for himself with her, notwithstanding the clumsiness of his next interaction with Purdey over the matter of her relationship with Larry.
Steed also finds it necessary to tread carefully in the matter of Larry. He overhears Larry asking Purdey who she belongs to, and this is the point at which Steed steps in to pry Larry away from her. Steed’s answer to Larry’s question about who Purdey belongs to is that “a beautiful woman belongs to the world.” Yes, this is better than Larry’s idea that Purdey is an object to be owned, but a better answer would have been to say that “Purdey belongs to herself, thank you very much, and don’t you forget it.”
That might have been what Steed intended by his statement, but still. He might have let Purdey tell Larry to fuck off, herself, but I don’t think Steed fails to do this because he thinks Purdey incapable of taking care of herself, or that it’s his sole responsibility as a man to take care of her. As I stated earlier, Steed is doing a balancing act: he needs to have Larry at the party so he can question him without arousing Larry’s suspicions; and for that to happen, he needs Larry to feel comfortable; and for that to happen, any drama has to be kept to a minimum.
Therefore, Steed defuses the tension by entering into the conversation as it stands: Larry asks who Purdey belongs to, so Steed answers along those lines. He’s also careful to avoid directly challenging Larry. Steed stands behind Purdey, at her shoulder, where he literally has her back but where he’s neither posing an overt threat to the other man nor imposing his protection on Purdey whether she wants it or not. And Steed uses his position as host of the party to give Purdey a way to escape without either seeming rude or angering Larry further: he suggests that General Canvey is in need of another drink, please can she see to it?
Steed recognizes that Larry is an abusive misogynist, and as such is more likely to back down and behave himself in the face of opposition from a fellow male, especially one who not only is Larry’s host, but also is a man that someone like Larry will read as alpha. And again, the contingencies of the case are a factor: Steed is here using his privilege to defend Purdey not because he thinks he’s the only one qualified to take care of her, or because he thinks she can’t do it herself, but rather in order to make sure his access to Larry isn’t compromised. However, it’s vital to note that Steed doesn’t think that Purdey is the one who would be doing the compromising: Steed is worried about Larry’s behavior in response to Purdey, not Purdey’s behavior towards Larry or anyone else.
“You Would Have Done the Same for Me, Wouldn’t You?”
The most traumatic part of this episode is when Gambit kills Larry, an act that is devastating to Purdey. Gambit really has no choice: Larry has raised his weapon in a threatening manner after having already fired one shot in Purdey’s direction. Larry is obsessed, cornered, desperate, and he has already shown that he is more than willing to hurt Purdey if it suits him. And although neither Gambit nor Purdey can know this, Larry has already decided that he has lost Purdey permanently: when Kilner tells him, “I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Larry says to himself, “I found it, but then I lost her.” For Larry then to decide that since he can’t have Purdey, no one else can, and to feel justified in killing her for that reason alone, even absent his need to ensure the assassination goes as planned, would also be a textbook progression of the arc of domestic violence. Larry doesn’t love Purdey. He never really did. He only cared about her insofar as she was willing to be a thing he owned.
Purdey, on the other hand, really did love Larry. She still does. We see this early in the episode, when after she declines the special security gig, she goes home and digs out a photo of Larry, then sits down and looks at it while tracing the outline of his face with her finger. Purdey doesn’t want to have anything to do with Larry. She knows that he is abusive, that he will never be able to be good to her, that she will be in constant danger every minute she spends with him. But because she does still love him in some way, she is compromised in her ability to do her job. Larry knows this, and plays on it in order to buy himself time and, in the end, create a situation in which he can kill her and feel completely justified in having done so.
And into this mess walks Gambit.
There’s no way he could not have heard Larry’s warning shot, even if he couldn’t know whether it was Purdey or Larry having fired (although maybe he could tell from the sound of the gun? I don’t know anything about guns, so I’m not qualified to rule on this). But he knows that guns are out, that they’re being fired, that Larry is an abusive man who is willing to hurt Purdey. He may even have heard some of the exchange between the other two. Then when he gets within eyeshot the first thing he sees is Larry getting ready to shoot Purdey. Gambit has no choice: it’s shoot Larry or let Purdey die at Larry’s hands.
When Gambit shoots Larry, he’s not doing it to get rid of a rival and clear a path for himself. Gambit knows that Purdey loves this man, that she doesn’t want to hurt him, and Gambit doesn’t want to hurt Purdey. He’s distraught at having had to shoot Larry, distraught at having caused Purdey so much pain thereby. Gambit tries to apologize, by explaining that he didn’t have a choice, that Larry would have shot her, that Purdey’s life was the most important thing. We then see how far Purdey has been compromised by her past with Larry. First she insists that Larry never would have hurt her (yeah, right), and then when Gambit asks her whether she would have done the same for him, had Gambit been the one Larry was aiming at, Purdey answers, “God help me, I don’t know.” But Purdey is not the only one who is conflicted about Larry’s death. Gambit also has to somehow reconcile his certainty that he did the right thing in killing Larry with his wish that he hadn’t had to deal with the situation in a way that also hurt a woman he cares about very much indeed.
“She’s Purdey. She’s a Woman.”
Twice in this episode, once in the first scene with Steed, Gambit, and Purdey, and once in the denouement, one of the men makes the pronouncement “she’s a woman” in reference to some aspect of Purdey’s behavior. The first time is when she steadfastly refuses to take the security gig. Gambit is confused by this. He tries to convince Purdey that she should take the gig partly because Steed worked so hard to get it for her. Steed tells Gambit to back down, and as Purdey leaves Steed’s house, Gambit asks what the hell is going on with her. Steed’s reply is to say, “She’s Purdey. She’s a woman.”
Gambit: But … she’s crazy!
Steed: She’s Purdey. She’s a woman.
I’m not quite sure what to make of this, although I do have some ideas. On its surface at least, it sounds like that old dodge that if a woman is behaving oddly, it’s because she is female, and females are both irrational and inexplicable by nature. It seems a little out of character for Steed to say something like this, given that he generally respects women and treats them as full human beings, having their own desires and their own agency. It is true, though, that Steed also has an old-fashioned streak a mile wide, so maybe that’s the source. Unless he’s saying it because he somehow suspects that trouble with a man is behind Purdey’s behavior, and therefore her gender is relevant? But that doesn’t really explain it, either, because there’s no way he could know about her past with Larry. Or maybe he’s trying to fob off Gambit, hoping that a vaguely sexist remark will work to keep him from bothering Purdey any further?
However, I suspect that Steed isn’t just throwing up his hands in defeat and trotting out a sexist maxim because he can’t think of anything else to say: he’s acknowledging that the woman who is behaving this way is a very particular individual—she’s Purdey. Because of what Steed knows of Purdey, because of how he sees her interacting with other people and her environment, he knows that she doesn’t do things like this without a good reason. Steed is also saying that he doesn’t need to know why Purdey seems to be behaving oddly, and neither is he saying that it’s odd because Purdey is the one doing it. Purdey has refused the assignment because she is who she is, a strong woman with her own complicated past and her own identity, a past and an identity that impinge on her work with Steed and Gambit in the present. Steed trusts that she has good reasons for the refusal, reasons that have to do with the past and the identity that go with the woman he and Gambit know as Purdey.
There’s a shift in the application of these phrases in the denouement. After the rocket goes off, Purdey walks away from Gambit. Steed goes to make sure Gambit and Purdey are okay, and it is obvious (to Steed at least) that Purdey wants to be alone. Gambit takes a step towards her: he’s still feeling guilty about having had to shoot Larry, he’s sad that Purdey is in so much pain, and he wants to comfort her. But Steed holds him back, saying, “She’s Purdey.” To which Gambit replies, “She’s a woman.”
I don’t think that either Steed or Gambit is using what they say to express their confusion over why Purdey might not want their company, or why she might be very upset right now. They both understand that this case has been wrenching for her personally, that it has dragged her back unwilling into a situation that she worked very hard to leave behind, that resulted in the death of someone she loved at the hand of someone else that she cares about and who cares for her in turn. When Steed says, “She’s Purdey,” in the denouement, he’s reiterating what he meant earlier about his understanding of her as an individual, but with a new appreciation of what it means for her to be who she is in light of what has been revealed over the course of this case. And when Gambit chimes in with the response, “She’s a woman,” he’s not dismissing Purdey’s feelings because he thinks that to be a woman is to be incomprehensible, and who can possibly understand why Purdey is upset right now? Gambit, too, has a new appreciation for who Purdey is, and this includes a new appreciation for who she is as a woman, not just as a colleague and a friend.
I have more to say about Purdey’s back story and Steed and Purdey’s relationship in light of this and other episodes, but because I have inflicted my verbosity on you at sufficient length already, I’m going to save it for a later post.