BONDiNG: Season One Review
BONDiNG is very alternative, and very queer, and I loved it.
One of the first things that stands out about the show is its length. It's only seven episodes long, with the longest episodes running seventeen minutes. This short format gives the entire series the vibe of a web series, the kind you would see on YouTube. But the fact that its on Netflix makes it feel more official. Web Series can be beautiful and unique in ways that more main stream media isn't and they deserve to be recognised. It is a good thing that these more 'out there' topics are being broadcast on platforms like Netflix, but I just hope that it doesn't lead to smaller web series being ignored.
BONDiNG follows the story of Pete, a down on his luck gay comedian who is to scared to get on stage, and his reunion with his high school best friend Tiff, a grad student who works as a dominatrix under the name Mistress May. The series covers their relationship to each other and themselves, as well as the larger topics of consent, sexuality and misogyny.
Pete's journey is one of self discovery. At the beginning of the series he is terrified of so many of the things he wants. Of stand up, of being open about what he likes in the bedroom, of having to move back home because he can't pay his rent. The way that BDSM and working under, and eventually along side, Tiff helps him to change and grow in confidence is pretty amazing. Not only does it frame BDSM as a force for good in his life, but it also shows that letting yourself be open and accept the more 'taboo' parts of yourself can help you towards being happy.
This was an intriguingly different to how BDSM is usually talked about in main stream media, as that discourse has been largely dominated by the Fifty Shades series for nearly a decade. Where Fifty Shades got people asking questions about how consensual and healthy the central relationship was, BONDiNG centres consent as something that BDSM cannot function without.
However, while consent is openly talked about in terms of Tiff and Pete's practice (there are points where they have to be very firm with clients who overstep their boundaries), and in the context of how women are treated by men (especially those in positions of power), it isn't always as central as one might hope. The points where consent seems to be somewhat overlooked is Tiff and Pete's relationship with each other. The boundaries and the power dynamic of their friendship isn't something that they fully discuss, which ends in disaster.
This makes an excellent point about how difficult it can be to navigate the boundaries between work life and private life, especially when your work life is so involved with the intimate lives of your clients. It takes both Pete and Tiff opening up to each other, as well as themselves and the people around them, for them to come back together. This re-emphasises the need to for open communication and consent in relationships. Something Tiff finds much more difficult to do with Pete than with her clients.
However, there are points in the season where jokes are put before consent. There are multiple times when Pete seems uncomfortable with something that is happening with a client but Tiff or the client gets him to do it anyway. These instances are framed more as Pete being afraid to be open and confident in himself, and Tiff forcing him is a good thing. But it was still uncomfortable to see the way she did it, a large contrast to the process she went through to make sure her work practice was safe for clients.
The reason for this is explained to be Tiff's relationship towards both men and close personal relationships in general. It is made increasingly obvious throughout the show that she has seen abuse in the past. This comes to a head when Tiff finds her psychology teacher sexually harassing one of her classmates. Seeing what has happened to her happen to someone else leads to Tiff opening up about her trauma to her class. With this she casts away any shame or secrecy she has surrounding her past and her job, something which helps her heal both herself and her relationship with Pete.
While not perfect, BONDiNG tackles some interesting topics that need to be talked about. Kink isn't something to be ashamed of, but it isn't something to be entered into without being properly informed. Consent is key to that relationship, as it is to all relationships. Pete and Tiff's friendship is a testaments to this. The show also conveys some of the pitfalls of being a human and getting to know those around you, keeping yourself and your relationships together and happy isn't easy, especially in a world where so many people disregard consent.
Along with Special, BONDiNG is an interesting foray into the merits of short-form story telling, and it does a great job of it. My fingers are crossed for a season two where we get to see more of Tiff, Pete and their dominating work personas.