Cold open: faceless women with amazing thighs are shown while they clearly make love to faceless men. Savi (Alyssa Milano) hooks up with a man who appears to be a stranger with less than three sentences of dialogue, and more thighs with men between them are shown in montage.
We quickly learn that Savi and her husband Harry are trying to make a baby; they’ve obviously been having a lot of sex and are clearly so sexually unappealing to one another at this point that they need to role play in order to get the fire going between the sheets. Over the course of the episode we learn that Savi is a lawyer and Harry owns a restaurant, Harry’s sperm simply don’t work, Savi believes that she is morally superior to those around her, and that together this couple is utterly miserable.
Next we meet Savi’s three best friends: Joss (Jes Macallan) is Savi’s sister —the woman whose thighs we’ve been privy to throughout the cold open—and a realtor who has a penchant for sleeping with men who have power over her (or simply men in general), April (Rochelle Aytes) the widowed shop-keeper, and the therapist Karen (Yunjin Kim). Within the first 30 minutes Mistresses lays down a lot of track as far as overall plot is concerned—Karen had an affair with a dying patient and prescribed him enough morphine to kill himself (also the patient’s son is madly in love with her), April believes that her dead husband has been calling her from beyond the grave, and Joss is just lovely, determined, and feels no bounds sexually—but all of this exposition can only be referred to as haphazard.
The construction of the pilot’s first act is the messiest I’ve ever seen in a drama. Exposition is clearly not these writer’s specialty… which will prove difficult for a show that’s going to be all about sex scandals and secrets. It wasn’t just the writing, though. The editing was desperately messy. I had a very difficult time figuring out what was happening because the quick cuts, bad transitions, and misplaced dialogue made it nearly impossible to follow.
Once the characters were established by the second act, however, Mistresses started looking up. Some might even call it good. By the end of the episode Savi has opted to sleep with a man who has been sexually harassing her in the work place (but at least she’s showing her some attention, unlike her husband), Joss has been kicked out of her apartment and is now living in Savi’s guest house (also sleeping with her boss and working on sleeping with one of her clients), April has found out that her husband had an affair from which the saddest and most desperate-looking little boy was produced, and Karen’s dead patient’s wife had not only assisted in her husband’s suicide, but is refusing an autopsy and therefore losing her insurance claim… of course she’s fighting for the insurance legally, and the large sum of morphine will rapidly be traced back to Karen, or so she fears.
Mistresses is clearly trying to slate itself as the new Desperate Housewives, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Desperate Housewives came out of nowhere with a vengeance. Every character was tactfully introduced and even the evil Edie Britt was sympathetic. This series will struggle to find its audience for one simple reason: there is an overwhelming distaste of women being free with their sexuality in television, and boy are these women free.
I’m not going to defend Mistresses as a feminist show because it simply isn’t. The pilot completely failed the Bechdel Test*, represented women as relatively one-dimensional vessels for male enjoyment or rejection, and it’s just another show that pits women against one another in a fight for men.
The four central characters did not once talk about anything other than a male counterpart. The one saving grace this series will have in this regard is that the female characters are all on the scale of sexual liberation, whether fully liberated like Joss or completely closed-off like April. I am always glad to see series that asks the audience to think about preconceived and conditioned notions of monogamy and female sexuality, but that doesn’t mean this show is necessarily empowering towards women. It’s simply showing us female sexual liberation sans substance.
So while this pilot didn’t thrill me I absolutely saw potential in the premise. I’ll happily watch this series if it opens up the dialogue for women to be more sexually free and if the interpersonal drama is represented more cleanly, but if every episode is as sloppy as the first I may not be able to tolerate it.
- * – The Bechdel Test:
- 1: The piece of media has to have at least two women in it,
- 2: Who talk to one another,
- 3: And they must talk about something besides a man.