From the very first scene of Euphoria creator Sam Levinson‘s latest series The Idol I was transfixed.
The series opens with a close-up of Lily-Rose Depp’s character, Jocelyn, posing for a photoshoot. As lights from the camera flash, the photographer asks her to show him different traits and emotions. She expertly follows his instructions emulating innocence, mischievousness, and “pure sex”, before transitioning to vulnerability and sadness. Within seconds, tears roll down her cheeks, alluding to a deep tortured soul.
But it also becomes pretty clear that Jocelyn is capable of playing whatever role she needs to, at any given time.
During the next few scenes, we learn more about Jocelyn — a troubled pop star trying to get back on the straight and narrow following the death of her mother and time spent in hospital for mental health issues. Now, her team is tiptoeing around her as they prepare to launch her next big single whilst trying to navigate how to handle the PR ramifications of a leaked photo of Jocelyn with cum on her face.
Or as her team eloquently put it, “frosted like a pop-tart”.
At this stage of the episode, I was fascinated and captivated by Jocelyn’s character. I thought that while the series had garnered some controversy for being a “rape fantasy” filled with sexual violence, maybe she would find her own agency and come out on top.
According to an interview with Levinson and Depp published by the New York Times, the duo revealed that the audience is positioned to think that Tedros, a charismatic club owner played by Abel Tesfaye (formerly known as The Weeknd) is using Jocelyn. More on him in a bit.
“I think that they are two twisted psychopaths who love each other. She’s going to use him too,” Depp said.
Levinson agreed, saying: “The audience will slowly begin to see who the true villain of the piece is.”
And for a little while watching Episode One, I totally bought into it.
This idea was even perpetuated by a scene where Jocelyn and her best friend-turned-assistant Leia (Rachel Sennott) watch the film Basic Instinct, which is about a beautiful woman who is linked to a murder but uses her femininity to seduce the homicide detective into an intense relationship. Manipulative queen shit, if you will.
But my fascination with the show stopped there, as it became more and more clear that while Jocelyn thinks she is in control, she really isn’t.
As Jocelyn reels from the violation of having an intimate moment shared with the entire world, she goes clubbing and meets Tedros. The pair share an instant connection. The next night, she invites him into her home, much to the dismay of her assistant Leia. And, honestly, my dismay too, because the moment old mate came on the screen my vagina dried up faster than you can say “go get the lube”.
There was something about his creepy, curated persona that really turned me off him and the show. It sounds ridiculous but from this point on, I struggled to not be distracted and pick up my phone.
But I digress.
While Jocelyn tries to get the upper hand by making him wait and wearing heels so she’s taller than him, it’s not long before Tedros’ overbearing and controlling dynamic wins out.
In a moan-laden scene that had my partner asking excitedly, “Did you Chromecast porn?”, Tedros winds up throwing her red robe over her face and choking her. They’re not having sex, but the moment is full of sexually charged energy.
For a few seconds, we watch as she gasps for breath, the silk material being sucked in and out of her mouth until Tedros slices a hole in the fabric with a knife.
“Now you can sing,” he tells her. Ugh.
I’m not trying to yuck anyone’s yums but this scene made me feel super uncomfortable. It also reminded me why there was so much controversy surrounding the show in the first place.
Originally, the series was set to be directed by The Girlfriend Experience director Amy Seimetz, who wanted to shoot the The Idol through a feminist lens. But when Seimetz left the project, her vision for the show was scrapped and Levinson came on board, reshooting countless scenes.
In a lengthy expose by Rolling Stone which alleged that Levinson created a toxic work environment on set, an anonymous crew member said that “it was a show about a woman who was finding herself sexually, turned into a show about a man who gets to abuse this woman and she loves it.”
From one episode, I can see exactly where this cast member is coming from.
For anyone who thinks I’m being sensitive and vanilla, I’m aware that the whole concept of The Idol is to be provocative. I understand that Jocelyn is actively framed as a willing participant in her sexual exploits with Tedros. And I truly believe that Levinson intended to plant the seeds that Jocelyn is the mastermind behind whatever the fuck is going on.
But I worry that in the process of making a story that captivates audiences with beautiful people, big names, shocking scenes, and the allure of sex, drugs, and all things taboo, we’re all going to miss the whole point.
If Levinson is trying to make us question fucked up power dynamics in Hollywood or the vulnerability of young women in the music industry, I think audiences are going to struggle to wade through the shock value to find the meaning he intends. Instead, I think we’ve wound up with a series that will glamorise toxic patterns of exploration and abuse again by her partner, and the industry.
But I guess only time will tell. Whether I’ll be watching to find out, is another story. If you want to give it a whirl, you can stream The Idol on BINGE or Foxtel.
(Image Credit: Instagram / The Idol @theidol)
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