Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Cover photo for P-Valley. (Photo by Starz, LLC.)
Katori Hall’s “P-Valley” premiered on July 12, 2020, on Starz. The television series follows the story of exotic dancers in the fictional town Chucalissa in the Mississippi Delta. The seventh episode aired Sunday, August 30, marking the second-to-last episode of the premiere season.
Kristen Baldwin, a journalist with Entertainment Weekly, writes on the show as a whole, “the women on stage are people first, with vivid and complicated lives. But man, do they know how to work that pole.”
P-Valley is among one of only seven television shows that have received a perfect score from Rotten Tomatoes, reflecting its popularity and the impression it has made on popular culture.The other six shows are Giri/Haji, Schitt’s Creek, One Day at a Time, What We Do in the Shadows, Feel Good and The Baby-Sitters Club.
It is also esteemed as a feminist work through its story, cinematography and predominantly female crew. Baldwin writes, “All eight episodes of P-Valley are directed by women, and the pole-dancing scenes are presented as breathtaking feats of athleticism rather than titillating teases.”
The seventh episode was directed by Sydney Freeland and, unlike the first six episodes, it moves at a slower pace with fewer dance numbers and more dialogue meant to set up plot points for next week’s finale.
The episode opens with a flashback scene with Hailey (Elarica Johnson) dancing in a lacy white underwear set for Montavius (Cranston Johnson), reminiscent of a lap dance, and then panning to Montavius holding her daughter and Hailey softly smiling. The soft smile fades into Hailey, present-day, peeling the makeshift curtains she put up in her apartment to reveal sunshine and a clear view of children playing.
Throughout the episode, there is a tone of defeat, inevitable farewells and hopeful new beginnings. With the expected closure of The Pynk, the staff is being forced to think about their next moves, and in Mercedes’ customary witty remark of the episode, she tells her fellow dancers, “I hope y’all b – s got y’all plan B, and I ain’t talking about no morning after pill.”
The episode finishes with Mercedes motioning to Hailey to come and dance with a man, who we recognize as Montavius, with a stack of cash and tells her to take him to the “Paradise Room” where they will have privacy and Hailey can make some money.
There is fear in Hailey’s eyes and Mercedes appears to realize something is off at the end of the episode. Hailey leads Montavius to the “Paradise Room” and it is revealed that she shot him the last time she saw him but, as Montavius puts it, “Not well enough.”
In a captivating shot with Montavius’s tense demeanor shown in Hailey’s deer-in-headlights eye, the scene closes with Montavius coldly demanding, “So where’s my money, Hailey?”
Overall, the episode effectively sets the audience up for next week, for what is sure to be an intense and action-packed finale. The first half is slow, but only noticeably so because of the past episodes that have mixed dialogue with riveting pole dancing numbers.
The increased dialogue, as well as a focus on costume parallels and fresh camera techniques, clearly displays Katori Hall’s skill in creating a work that is more than just a commercial television program.
For instance, Hailey begins in a flashback with Montavius and her dancing in a lacy white number and then is wearing a very similar outfit for her final night at The Pynk and her unexpected reunion with Montavius.
Furthermore, there is a scene with Mississippi (Shannon Thornton) and Lil Murda (J. Alphonse Nicholson) where she is using her knowledge of stage fright and pole-dancing to prepare him for his headlining performance with her later that night. She has him take off his clothes and implores him to feel the same vulnerability exotic dancers experience when they are taking off their clothes in front of a sometimes, ruthless crowd.
The strength it takes to be an exotic dancer has been a consistent theme throughout “P-Valley;” however, this is the first scene that the message is explicitly addressed through dialogue. Though I found the scene to be effective, it does not measure to the creative ways the crew has found to use cinematography to relay the same message.
This episode also introduces a fresh camera shot that is used twice in the episode and had never been utilized previously. The camera appears to use the human eye to capture the reflection of a person opposite the eye that is being filmed, creating a funnel and distorted view of the character. This technique is called the “Eye Reflection Shot” and requires the use of the eye as a mirror-ball and a specific angle to hide the camera from the shot.
The first scene the “Eye Reflection Shot” is used is when Hailey is dancing for Andre (Parker Sawyers), and Hailey’s topless body is captured in his captivated eyes. The second time this is used is in the final scene between Hailey and Montavius, when Hailey’s eye captures Montavius demanding answers from Hailey.
Using the eye as the lens in which the audience is seeing the characters creates a fish-bowl effect, distorting the subject. In the first case, Hailey’s body is distorted in a sensual way due to the context. However, in the second case, Montavius appears larger and more aggressive, depicting a much more threatening appearance.
In all, the episode is effective in invoking excitement for next week’s finale and yet another installment rich with drama and a captivating plot. It was certainly at a different pace than what “P-Valley” fans have experienced in the past; however, I would argue that the use of dialogue, new camera shot techniques and story parallels through costume work, it is one of the more symbolic and artistically brilliant episodes to date.
The fight to bring P-Valley to fans was not easy, but Katori Hall has given a voice to exotic dancers in a beautiful way that resonates with many. Artists like Cardi B have worked to shift pole-dancing culture into a display of athleticism and power rather than a tool for fetishization.
Stacy Lambe from Entertainment Tonight writes, “She [Katori Hall] even considers Hustlers, the 2019 film starring Jennifer Lopez and featuring Cardi B in a supporting role, and P-Valley cousins because of ‘the fact that we are centering the female gaze within this world, which for so long has always been about a man’s story inside of that space,’ Hall says.”
P-Valley is making strides in feminist media to give a voice to the powerful women that dance in the Mississippi Delta and beyond. To witness the sheer impact, the Twitter hashtag, #PValley, speaks for itself.
The eighth and final episode of season one will air this Sunday, Sep. 6, on Starz at 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.