“You’ve no idea what it’s like, being a girl.”
After last week’s introduction episode for the new member of the gang, Misfits this week took on a rather less conventional plot as it explored the ramifications of Curtis’ new power – turning into a girl. Curtis had realised that this was a way around his ban from athletics, but as he began to spend more and more time as his female version, Melissa, he got a number of object lessons in sexual politics and the differences between the genders.
Plots involving identity confusion based on swapping gender are hardly new. There’s the ancient Greek myth of Teiresias, any number of Shakespeare plays (but especially Twelfth Night), Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, all the way up to modern comedies like Tootsie and teen fodder like It’s a Boy Girl Thing. Some of these involve mistaken identity stemming from the characters dressing up as the other gender, some from them actually transforming into the other gender. This Misfits episode fitted into the latter category, one I always think is more satisfying because it not only allows the character to experience that gender’s treatment, but how it feels physically to actually be that gender.
This is heavy artistic company to be in with (well, maybe not It’s a Boy Girl Thing), and it’s always a worry that with a theme so often explored, there might be nothing new to say about it. But writer Howard Overman manages to make it work all over again in the Misfits universe; typically, this involves some pretty scatological and sexual observations about gender, which may have been done before but have a great impact when dealt with by characters we’ve come to know and like.
Central to making it work was the casting of Curtis’ female alter ego, and Kehinde Fadipe does a great job as Melissa. She manages to physically portray the kind of awkwardness you’d expect from a male learning to work a female body – witness her slightly drunken-looking, tottering attempt to walk in heels. But this didn’t compromise a genuine femininity and beauty, which was crucial to the plot. After all, if she hadn’t been beautiful, we couldn’t have been plunged into the subsequent Twelfth Night-like plot of multiple confusion as various people fell for both him and her. Curtis and Melissa, that is.
It’s certainly complicated to sum up, as a confused Simon discovered when he became Curtis’ initial confidante on the situation. So, Curtis likes fellow runner Emma, but she thinks he’s shit in bed; Emma actually likes Melissa, who is actually Curtis, but thinks Curtis is sleeping with Melissa at the same time as she (Emma) is, while Kelly sees Simon zipping up Melissa’s dress and immediately leaps to the conclusion that her best friend’s boyfriend is sleeping around with Melissa, who is actually their mate Curtis, while Rudy and Shaun desperately try to cop off with Melissa, unaware that the object of their fantasy is actually a man. Got all that?
Summed up like that, it does come across a bit like a Whitehall farce (so does Twelfth Night, come to think of it), but this episode managed to use its convoluted plot to explore gender differences in ways that were thought-provoking, dramatically affecting, and often just dirtily funny. So as a woman, Curtis got to experience first hand what it’s like to have salivating, unattractive men lusting after you and groping your arse (take a bow, Shaun), and being patronised by sexual predators who are only after your body. But conversely, he (she? Pronoun confusion!) got to experience the delights of female sexuality without actually having to have sex with a man, when fellow runner Emma gave him/her some amazing head. This led to an amusing conversation with Simon about the delights of the multiple orgasm, which was plainly an eye-opener for Curtis, who previously had been rather taken with its male equivalent and now found it somewhat lacking.
Indeed, Curtis’ sexuality (and its shortcomings) was very much a topic of this episode. Previously, our heroes have never had the dual identity common to comic book super heroes, which so often leads to confusion and hurt as Lois Lane describes to Clark Kent quite how much sexier Superman is. But now, Curtis has a genuine secret identity as Melissa, and as a result, Melissa got to hear some things about Curtis which were less than flattering. Having bumped into him in his role as local barman, Emma had ended up in bed with him as a “sympathy shag”, purely to hut him up after an endless stream of self-pity, then discovered it was one of the less satisfying sexual experiences of her life. Certainly the flashback to this showed Curtis very much as the sort of lover whose sensitivity in bed tends more toward his own satisfaction than his partner’s. This caused Emma to have what she thought was a bit of a giggle to Melissa about the experience, while Melissa for her part looked suitably discomfited.
Much of the episode was about Curtis’ realisation of his shortcomings, both emotionally and physically, and Nathan Stewart Jarrett did a fine job of taking it rather more seriously than some other Misfits episodes. Alisha was forthright enough to confirm all his worst fears about his own negativity and sexual selfishness (with the most amusing female mime of male masturbation I’ve ever seen), despite this obviously not being what he wanted to hear (“This is why I never talk to men about this sort of thing. If they don’t want to know, they shouldn’t ask”). This obviously got him thinking, and by the end of the episode he’d certainly changed; not only did he manage to turn down Emma’s attempt to throw herself at him, he even made a conscious effort to lighten up about his prospects.
This was a well-done exploration of gender differences (being Misfits, with a strong emphasis on sexuality), and I felt it covered almost very potential aspect bar one – it might have been nice to have seen Curtis overwhelmed enough by his new identity to actually have sex with a man. The sex scenes with Emma were very well handled, but in some ways it felt like the script was missing a trick by having female Curtis still only fancy women. Still, there was enough subversion of standard sexual mores on display here to make this a pretty bold piece of work even without that. And it was nice that, after displaying Curtis’ selfishness as a lover, the script let us know that not all men are like that with Alisha’s description of why Simon is so good in bed.
With all this going on, there almost wasn’t time for an antagonist; certainly not the standard Misfits trope of someone else with a power who’s misusing it. So what we got instead was arguably creepier in its real world plausibility – Emma’s sexual predator of a coach, Mark, who likes to get his women by slipping them Rohypnol and raping them in the back of his car. That Mark was, on the surface, a charming and good-looking young bloke only made this more disturbing, and credit to actor Jay Taylor for managing to make him slyly creepy from the outset.
Inevitably, Mark tried it on with Melissa; equally inevitably, Melissa turned back into Curtis, who justifiably gave Mark a good punch in the nose before running off still clad in a sequinned nightdress. It was a good scene, with the transformation signalled by Mark noticing that his quarry now had a penis protruding from ‘her’ dress. The only question in my mind was (like Joe Thomas’ exposed testicle in The Inbetweeners) was this really Nathan Stewart Jarrett, or was it a ‘stunt penis’? Certainly unusual even for E4, it was only there for a split second, so could have been either; but if it was real, that’s kind of brave of Nathan!
Good sport too, then, to Jay Taylor, as Mark’s much-deserved comeuppance involved him being tied naked to the fence at the athletics track, the words “I drug and rape girls” scrawled on his chest. His old chap was visible too, but only in long shot. Still, this was a nice table-turning moment after all the trouble Melissa/Curtis had faced from men throughout the episode.
Since this was such a Curtis-centric episode, the rest of the characters didn’t get much of a look in, though at least when they did, they were as consistent as ever. Rudy cemented his attempts to be more disgusting than Nathan by being caught unashamedly pissing into a sink (and somehow thinking that was a good thing because “she’s already seen my cock”). And then in a less than chivalrous moment he went down on the willing (because drugged) Melissa, somehow not noticing that she was referring to him as “Emma”. At least he got a pubic hair stuck in his throat for the rest of the episode as some kind of poetic justice.
Simon, meanwhile, was discussing the limitations of his new power with the gang. Last week, in a fit of hungover inattention, I completely failed to notice what this was. Thankfully, many friends soon pointed out that it was obviously the ability to see into the future for a short period. This week, we learned that, like Johnny Smith in The Dead Zone, he doesn’t get to choose what part of the future he sees; which rather put the kibosh on Rudy’s plan to win the lottery (and split the winnings “60/50”).
And elsewhere, Kelly’s definitely falling (in her own inimitably aggressive way) for “mysterious power guy” Seth. This week, after using her rocket scientist power to fix his old BMW, she trailed him to a local graveyard much to Alisha’s amusement (“You fancy him, don’t you"?” “Shut up.”). But who was the mysterious young woman on whose grave he placed his flowers? And what will all of this have to do with the gang in the forthcoming weeks? More urgently, now that Curtis has revealed his power to a ‘civilian’ (Emma), will she be able to keep the secret?
I’m continuing to be really impressed with this show, and its spot-on balance of humour, drama and fantasy; I’m also impressed that, unlike similar shows, the creator has so far written every episode, lending it a consistency in tone that’s often missing from, say, Doctor Who, or even Being Human. This week’s was another class episode which had a lot to say under the humour and pathos, and was an excellent showcase for both Nathan Stewart Jarrett and Kehinde Fadipe (and I hope we continue to see more or Melissa as the series progresses). But in typical Misfits style, the last word went to Rudy, and it was a bit dirty: “For a bloke, he’s got a lovely pussy.” Nice.