I don’t like being told what to think or feel about a piece of art or entertainment, especially if that opinion it is coming from someone else’s tastes or agenda.
Whether it’s something interpretative like The Passion of the Christ, something dramatized from a biography like Bohemian Rhapsody or something fictionaluzed from history like Stonewall, people with strong personal attachments to a subject or storyline can be very aggressive and feel threatened when the portrayal doesn’t match their expectation and this can lead to an unfair summation of the work.
Generally I try not to judge something regardless of popular opinion until I have seen/read it for myself and I don’t believe in boycotting or condemning a work without diving in with an open mind and experiencing it first-hand. My responses are rarely as black and white as the debate surrounding the work and I have often had very different opinions.
I tried to stay true to this belief when negative reactions started to percolate about the new Netflix series Bonding. It wasn’t easy. It concerns a young woman paying her way through University by working as a Pro Dom who hires her former high school friend (a naive gay boy) as a sort of assistant/bodyguard. It was apparently written and directed by a man who claims it is based on a few months of his own life.
Despite this claim of authenticity, much of the BDSM community (especially the Pros and lifestyle players) have reacted strongly against the series feeling that it is an oversimplified view of BDSM and the way it intersects with sex work. Some took offence and some found it downright dangerous much in the way 50 Shades of Grey was received. In a community where many consider themselves to be experts and traditions are often confused for strict protocol, the debate has gotten quite heated.
I’ve seen many BDSM and Pro Dom characters and scenes represented in interpretations from the ridiculous to the sublime. From Cruising and Exit to Eden to Preaching to the Perverted and Sherlock, they’ve run the gauntlet from authentic and interesting to broad and stereotypical – played for comedy or with more style than substance. As a result, I didn’t have much hope for this new venture, but vowed to sit down and give it a go.
Here is my reaction, episode by episode. (Caution – spoilers ahead)
S01 E01 · Old Friends, New Name
- Not a good start – the client leaving the dungeon in a trenchcoat and hat is right out of a 1955 propaganda film. Either that or the costume designer got stuck in the cliché pervert wardrobe of the 1970’s. Maybe he’s a refugee from Sesame Street and wants to know if Pete “wants to buy an O”?
- Why is trenchcoat guy so intent on hiding his face from a kid there is no way he would know? I’ve never seen this actually happen. It’s a given anyone going into this kind of place has no business judging anyone coming out.
- Discretion fail on the dungeons part – nothing says “Hey neighbours likey to complain – there are illicit and illegal sexual activities going on right here” like a red light bulb and a black doorway.
- A dungeon/sex club that fancy and they don’t have a peephole or intercom?
- Not sure who answered the door – a receptionist dressed as a Domme or a Domme slumming by doing reception.
- How hard would it be to push past the door person to get in?
- No idea who owns this place – they obviously have a lot of money based on its size and room design. Apparently not a lot of kink furniture or equipment though (Low budget warning sign #1).
- Not sure why is it framed like Tiff is in charge.
- More confused – there seems to be security guards working the halls/rooms but none at the front door?
- Mmm – Tiffs professor is hot. Odd choice. He’ll either be a love interest or a dangerous creep.
- Pete’s roommate is hot as well. (Pretty sure that’s there for a reason too).
- Wow – that’s some shit blindfold technique by a supposed Pro Dom. Did anyone understand the idea is the wearer can’t see?
- Low budget warning sign #2: Looks like they couldn’t afford a comedy club set so they tried to fake it using wall to wall red plush curtains (that would be stained and tattered from costumers and wait staff in no time), and a fake-looking brick wall complete with a cheap sign that actually says “Comedy Club” – you know, just in case it wasn’t clear.
- Why does Tiff dress her bodyguard in party-store fetish knockoffs? Does she want Pete to be mistaken for a Dom? Also – low budget warning sign #3.
- Who hires a bodyguard that looks like Ron Howard at age 16? About as intimidating as shredded wheat.
- Why is the bodyguard/assistant an active participant in the Pro Domme’s scenes? A real Domme would train him in protocol first up and teach him to remain at an unobtrusive and respectful distance from the client.
- A bit hard to believe that this client is okay with a gay man that close and part of the scene. In my experience many male subs hiring a female Dom might be okay with it, but the majority are not. I’ve had straight male subs so intimidated at having a me present at events that they cope by pretending I’m not even there. Most subs paying for a Domme have pretty specific kinks that include gender preferences. Many of my gay male clients don’t want women.present either.
- How does a sub fall off a table he is strapped to and no one notices?
S01 E02 – Pete Shy
- The cartoony crunching noises on the hand trampling are laughable. It’s like the foley artist got too happy with celery. To make that much noise Tiff would have to do serious damage to his bones.
- Tiff and Pete are shopping for expensive sex toys like they are produce – a quick once-over and casually throw it in the pile. A real Dom knows toys are an investment and spends their money wisely, carefully inspecting each item for quality including construction, workmanship, manufacturer and price. There are way too many cheap knock-off kink products that will do damage or fall apart – particularly in a shop that also sells felt penis hats and other bachelorette party supplies.
- Not very subtle confirmation that Tiff’s hot professor is indeed going the dangerous creep route.
- Classmate Doug is cute, if beige. With the Professor relegated to creep status, it looks like Doug will be going down the well-trampled plot device path of boy and girl that hate each other to start but end up with each other in the end. I wonder if he’ll call Tiff “Carrots” in class so she can break a slate over his head?
- Not sure why Rolph is German other than a vague connection to Nazi fetishism and Berlin as a sex tourism capital. Or maybe the creators are mistaking an accent for a character.
- Whatever Rolph’s point is – I’m envious. I want a Rolph – though sissification and domestic servitude combined with leather is an odd wardrobe combination for my tastes.
- Right on cue, there is the Josie Pye character making eyes at Gilbert, only dressed as Sandra Dee. Yup – Kate is pretty cardboard.
- Wondering if Rolph is a live-in since he seems to be there all the time. Where does he sleep? (Enquiring minds want to know).
- The coffee toss – horrific and way over the top. If the contents were as hot as she said, it could have burnt him badly. That’s not safe or sane. If it is part of a scene where she is just pretending it is too hot as an excuse to consensually abuse Rolph, that has not been made clear. Besides, coffee stains lil’ a son of a bitch. Man servant or no man servant to clean it up – why chance ruining your couch, carlst etc.?
- Amateur ropework from a Pro Dom to say the least. Even with quick cuts and careful editing, the binding and knots are slippy and loose. This is obviously not second nature to her.
- What Dom dresses in full fetish gear for a simple consultation? Usually the fee for these is much lower than for a session and full gear is not offered. You don’t want to give away the cow with the milk.
- White fluffy carpet wouldn’t last a week in a real dungeon. Way too many fluids that stain and biological contamination concerns. Cleaning it would be a nightmare. This is total style over substance from the set designer.
- Low budget warning sign #4: apart from a few decorative colour coordinated samples on the wall, where do they keep the real toys?
- Really? Piss play on a dime store paint tarp over carpeting? That tiny thing is ridiculous. Real watersports would be done in a bathtub or shower – or a wet room with a drain.
- Tiff hands Pete a water bottle 30 seconds before he’s expected to do piss play? How fast does she think his digestive system works?
- I don’t understand the plastic raincoats. At all. How much pressure do they think a stream of piss can generate that it might splash up and cover them head to toe? Besides – at hundreds of dollars an hour, you can afford to get a little overspray on you.
- Pete seems to have a steady- cam like control of his piss. He’s dancing and swaying but never misses his target.
S01 E04 – The Past is not Always Behind.
- Pete’s enthusiastic, handsome straight roommate reminds me of my enthusiastic, handsome, straight best friend.
- Nauseating, blonde, good-girl, suck-up stereotype Kate was bad enough previously in her Sandra Dee sweater and headband, now she’s actually in pearls too? She’s one-dimensional enough without the Jan Brady drag. Reminds me of a similar though better written, acted and costumed character from This is Us.
- Okay… Pete’s enthusiastic, handsome straight roommate no longer reminds me of my enthusiastic, handsome best friend with that out-of-fucking-nowhere fingering request. Seems like a bad plot point from a hundred “Hey bro, help me out” gay porn films. Sure a lot of straight guys would like to explore anal play and many women are uncomfortable with it, but that’s a huge leap from asking a gay male roommate to finger them seconds after finding out they are working in the sex trade industry. I understand these are short episodes but with the stigma attached to it, gay fingering straight ass would take some working up to.
- The roommate is gorgeous, straight, friendly and sexy – but Pete needs the offer of money to give in and play with him?
- I don’t buy the roommate wanting to look into Pete’s eyes. Most hetero boys want to look away, close their eyes, dim the lights, wear a blindfold or have the other guy in s full head hood. The connection is too real, too intense and too emotional.
- Not NEARLY enough spit on Pete’s digits to work that tight virgin hetero roommate hole open that fast, if at all. Has no one working on this show ever been fingered? Might be low budget warning sign #5 – could not afford lube.
S01 S04 – Let’s Get Physical
- Eye roll at episode title. Odd choice too considering none of these characters are old enough to know the reference.
- It’s a bit on the nose to have the vanilla couple in a vanilla wardrobe and walking in vanilla sets.
- Did the beverages need to match the candle? Settle down, Production Designer!
- Holy gay stereotypes, Batman.
- It’s fall, not Pride season – why are there rainbows on EVERYTHING? #offensive
- Not many strip clubs get away with large picture windows at street level for a reason.
- I’d be willing to bet that the restaurant/comedy club and gay bar sets are all the same location. Low budget warning signs #6, 7 and 8.
- Let me guess – Tiff’s animosity towards the manipulative flake Kate is about to vaporize as they bond over being victimized women who join forces in united sisterhood to vanquish the misogynistic villain? …Or maybe just a sad reprise of Look at Me I’m Sandra Dee.
- This whole creepy professor plot line was done better in a Golden Girls episode featuring Blanche.
S01 E05 – Double Date
- This fight dialogue is pure shit.
- This acting is pure shit.
- This scene is pure shit.
- Why did it take Tiff that long to get out of that shit rope – especially given that Rolph is there? I’m guessing bad editing.
- The show hairstylist gave Vanilla Daphne and date bound Tiff the same hair. One trick pony?
- Pete’s black eye keeps changing shape and intensity from shot to shot.
- This director has clearly seen Shortbus more than once.
- How many gay guys go to straight/female burlesque shows on a second date?
- Shame on Pete for never having seen Gypsy or the bad Cher movie and having to had burlesque explained to him. What kind of a ‘mo is he?
- Not a lot of audience besides those two at the Burlesque show. Low budget warning #… shit, I’ve lost count. Must have blown it renting the lion tamer duo costumes.
- How did Rolph know where to find Tiff?
- Did Tiff not Google the date location beforehand to know how to dress and where to go? Maybe that’s just something i would do. Mind you, a Pro Dom is more than likely to know how these things can go wrong and would be used to looking up a client’s unknown address, you’d think she’d do the same for a date.
- Why are Roomate and Miss Slappy fully dressed in bed in the dark?
- Can Josh not kiss without inhaling like a horse?
S01 E06 – Penguins
- Apparently Pete still hasn’t learned to knock and despite being Tiff’s assistant for a while, has no idea what her schedule is.
- Oh… the penguine outfits. REALLY??? Granted anything can be fetishized but these look like cheap masquerade costumes – not fetish wear. I’d think the fetish would veer more towards latex or plush/furry as opposed to Spirit Halloween store.
- The penguin is very bossy for a sub.
- Again a male client of a female Dom having no issue substituting a gay male to get his rocks off.
- I understand wrestling as a fetish though Tiff doesn’t seem the type to offer this at all. It can be very dangerous with a nutso client.
- Okay MAJOR consent violation. Penguin did not give clear consent to Pete for spanking or humiliating him. Pete had no way of knowing if these were Penguins interests but did it anyway. Did Tiff not teach the central concept of consent to him?
- Pete’s stand up pleather mask/face harness is clumsy and terrible. So is his stand up act.
- Okay budget restraint – enough with the cheap vinyl fetish gear.
- I can’t imagine any university administrative staff who would confront an employee accused of sexual misconduct in the classroom in front of a class and with two accusers present.
- Tiff is clearly not used to handling a whip. Neither is the foley artist or he’d know better than to use a Looney Tunes Sound Effect track.
- Why is everyone’s thesis a self-indulgent personal therapy confession?
- I don’t buy that everyone or even the majority of a class of psych students has such a poor grasp of BDSM that they would be shocked by it.
- Come to think of it – why are there so few students in this class? Uh oh – budget bitch strikes again.
- Is this the right time in the academic year to be doing an oral presentation of a thesis? Is that even a thing?
- Does no one need notes for their thesis?
- I don’t buy that the majority of the class regardless of gender or sexual preference is suddenly so curious about BDSM it that they want to be tied to a chair during a class by a Dominatrix classmate.
- What a rosy world where friends and lovers are all perfectly fine and immediately accepting of Pro Dom sex workers with no moral struggles, learning curves or jealousy issues. I call a-very-special-episode-of-Blossom bullshit.
S01 E07 – Into the Woods
- It makes me sad that they named this shit after a perfectly respectable Sondheim show.
- They waited until episode 7 to introduce a flashback device? Really? This shit should have been in episode 1.
- How was nervous, closeted, gay boy Pete hard that fast? How did he get hard at all?
- Why the drama and panic with the police appearing? Two kids- were messing around on prom night, not shooting up heroin or hiding a body.
- What cop spots a parked car in the woods from a distance and responds by turning on their sirens and flashing lights like it’s a high speed highway pursuit?
- Do these two travel to every client in full, non-discrete gear?
- The industrial doorway/window seems miles away from the clean modern designs of Trevor’s location which they are about to step into. Budget? Reshoot? Tine constraint?
- Why are they waiting behind that window so long? If it’s supposed to be an elevator, it’s not moving. If it’s a door, what’s taking it so long to be answered?
- A real pro or her assistant wouldn’t tell a client they look familiar – even if it’s true. Total discretion breaker.
- No one says “BDSM and torture” – torture is included in BDSM.
- I don’t understand where this scene is taking place. Trevor refers to his home – though that might be figurative – but it looks like a workplace kitchenette and there are EXIT signs and a urinal.
- Why take off fingerless gloves to pee? Maybe that’s a me thing.
- So, they both showed up at a new client’s place not having vetted the client or pre-negotiated the scene? Is she new?
- Pete had no problem peeing on a subs face earlier despite dancing around – but now he can’t hit a urinal while squinting to look at a photo?
- Why does the bathroom have a lock that is engaged from the outside… which we never see?
- The second my real name was used by a new client, I’d be out the fucking door faster than you can say “psychopath with boundary issues”.
- I know she’s scared and panicking a little, but Tiff just compromised her assistants identity by using his real name.
- Yup – looks like the bathroom door knob clearly locks from the inside.
- Attempting irony by acknowledging that you stole the location, character and situation from a Christian Bale movie doesn’t make your lack of originality okay.
- Who keeps identical high-end knives like that in an office lunch kitchen?
- Who keeps an award and photo in a bathroom?
- “I’m a big faggot” – TERRIBLE delivery of a TERRIBLE line.
- Stabbing Trevor would be a last resort – escape would have been the first priority. Sex workers are already at risk in legal circles – they would want a fast, clean out to safety. This isn’t the Aileen Wuornos Story.
- Looks like they couldn’t afford cop cars – just flashing lights and siren sound effects. The same trick twice in one episode. Tacky.
- Cartoon stabbing sound. Seriously?
- Who is Trevor saying “call the police” to? Who else is there within earshot that he was planning to rape/kill a Pro Dom in front of? Wouldn’t he want an ambulance instead?
- How is Trevor going to explain to the cops and coworkers that he hired a sex worker and arranged to meet her at work?
- So both Tiff and Pete just drop the metal knives covered in their fingerprints and run? Have neither ever seen a single episode of Forensic Files or NCIS?
- How damn fast did the cops show up?
- Funny – same woods and same lighting as prom night years before. Hmmm…
- Really? Ending on a cliffhanger melodrama? Let me guess – Season 2 contracts are already signed.
Looking back I realized much more was missing or left out that would be central in the day to day life of a Dom.
- You never see Tiff actual use anything but rope and a crop. No flogger, no cane, no paddle, no strap, no single tail, no nipple clamps, no dildo, no strap on, no clothes pins, no electro, no violet wand, no cuffs, no cages, no vices, no needles, no blades, no sounding rods, no candles, no… well, you get the idea.
- There is very standard dungeon furniture or fixtures used or even shown.
- So many choices seemed influenced by budget, performers that don’t have any experience using kink tools and an attempt to sanitize BDSM and avoid the ick factor for a largely vanilla audience. But then – why bother telling this particular story?
- You never see Tiff in any fetish wear apart from a cheaply recreated stereotypical Bettie Page dominatrix look in leather, pleather and vinyl. No latex, nurse outfit, teacher/school headmistress outfit, mommie outfit, nuns habit, military uniform, business woman outfit, etc. that clients often request.
- None of the essential everyday tasks associated with being a Pro Dom are shown. This includes social media/website/ad upkeep, where she finds her clients, how they book sessions, how she vets them, how she communicates her hard limits, how she is paid, what she does with trolls or no shows, what her arrangement with the dungeon space is, how she cleans the space and toys after a scene, the time she.puts into taking care of her fetish gear, etc.
- Does no one in this universe have parents, siblings, current friends or coworkers?
- Is no one worried about the vice squad?
Since the series began airing, Pro Doms from all over have been inundated with requests on how to sign up based on a vision that is far from reality. It’s like watching Young Frankenstein and deciding you have what it takes to be a neurosurgeon or watching Harry Potter and deciding you are now Wiccan. I pity the submissives that are damaged or traumatised as a result.
As a representation of BDSM and the life of a Pro Dom this show is laughable and yes, sometimes recklessly dangerous. As pure entertainment?m there were some cute moments but the very low budget, poor design, rehashed characters, bad editing and recycled plots made worse by illogical choices and awful dialogue killed it for me. There are far better choices to waste time on Netflix with even for a masochist.