Pam & Tommy

The horrifying deposition in episode 6 of Disney’s Pam & Tommy is Lily James’ greatest performance to date

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In the sixth episode of Disney’s Pam & Tommy, the brutal deposition scene reveals the horrifying extent of the slut-shaming fallout faced by Pamela Anderson.

Up to now in Disney’s new miniseries Pam & Tommy, the misogyny inflicted upon Pamela Anderson from the illegal leak of her private sex tape has been growing louder in every episode. Whether it’s people furtively buying pirate copies on the internet to watch at home, chat show host Jay Leno cracking jokes on national TV or publisher Bob Guccione’s bullish determination to publish stills in Penthouse magazine, the show’s interrogation of a culture that rejoiced in treating women as public property has made for uncomfortable yet thought-provoking viewing.

But that’s not the case in the sixth episode of the series, Pamela In Wonderland, in which the slut-shaming fallout from the scandal comes to a sickening head. 

You might recall that at the end of the fifth episode, Pam receives a letter summoning her to participate in an oral deposition in a legal battle against Penthouse magazine. Only Pam’s name is listed on the document, and though Tommy defiantly declares that they’re both in the fight together, the look on Pam’s face brings home the reality that the scandal is falling squarely upon her shoulders.

And so it does. At the beginning of the sixth episode, set in April 1996, we find Pam being asked a series of deeply offensive questions in a room full of old, white, male lawyers. One lawyer kicks off by asking her how old she was when she “first publicly exposed her genitals”, which sets the tone for the whole hideous affair. Pam’s lawyer, meanwhile, unhelpfully tells her that she effectively has to grin and bear it, because once they get to trial, the judge won’t allow “any of this kind of crap”.

Pam & Tommy
Pam & Tommy: Pam is subjected to a brutal deposition in episode 6

But the opposition is merely warming up. The lawyer proceeds to humiliate Pam further by asking if she’s ever been paid for sex, which she vehemently denies. Using deliberately twisted logic, he then follows up by asking Pam if she doesn’t consider posing naked for a camera to be a sex act, which she again rebuffs in disgust.

Things get worse when Pam is asked in one particularly skin-crawling moment if she would stand to gain any financial benefits as a result of Penthouse being supplied with a copy of a tape “containing pornographic images”. Pam replies in cold fury that she knows of no reason why that would be the case, to which the lawyer then asks if she can explain why she and Tommy would make a pornographic tape if it wasn’t “like all your other pornographic activities for the purpose of financial gain”. It’s here that it becomes clear why Pam alone was called to the deposition: her career has been built upon images of her body, and in the eyes of the court, a sex tape is just another paycheck.

Pam & Tommy
Pam & Tommy: Pam endures hours of offensive, sexist questioning during the deposition

The most devastating moment, however, comes when an assistant wheels in a TV set. Pamela, a look of slow-burn horror dawning on her face, correctly surmises what’s about to happen: the sex tape is going to be played to the whole room. The lawyer, with a grim smirk, then informs Pam that he will need to get her testimony “to verify the identity of the individuals represented on the tape as well as provide context for certain sections”.

What happens next is torturous to watch, and James’ performance of paralysing dread, rage and shock as her private moments are put under the microscope and she is asked absurd questions about the motives for her sexual exploits can be felt in the pit of your stomach. “Was that exciting for you and your husband?” the lawyer asks at one point, in reference to a scene where Pam and Tommy have sex on on their honeymoon boat.

Pam & Tommy
Pam & Tommy: Pam is forced to watch her own sex tape

It’s no surprise when, after being subjected to hours of bloodthirsty questioning, Pam has to dash to the bathroom to throw up. As she stares at her tear-stained face in the mirror, she lifts up her blazer to cradle a small baby bump. It’s one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching scenes to date, and the knowledge that she was being put through the deposition while pregnant – all the while being violated through the continued circulation of the tape – is enough to make you want to punch the screen in rage. 

As the first day of questioning draws to a close, Pam takes her lawyer aside and tells him in clipped, ice cold tones that she won’t answer another question about the tape; and if he can’t put a stop to the proceedings, then she’ll get a new lawyer. Though the show is presented within its own lens, to see Pam reclaim her power after such an abusive experience is a powerful moment that will no doubt draw solidarity from viewers.

As gruelling as this episode is to watch, it’s an important reminder of the years of cruelty, misogyny, ridicule and objectification inflicted upon Anderson because of a culture that felt entitled to the intimate life of a famous young woman. As we feel the second-hand pain of Anderson’s exploitation, it’s sobering to realise that we can’t do anything about what happened back in 1996. But hopefully, this retrospective will encourage more people to speak up today when we see women chewed up and spat out for sport. 

Images: Disney+

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.