Time season 2 highlights the beauty and horror of the female body
"Women's bodies are more central to this drama than any other drama I have written." CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM ALL 3 EPISODES.
*Warning: Contains spoilers from all three episodes of Time season 2.*
Note: The observations made in this feature are not applicable to all women, but simply reflect the experiences of some women.
For the second season of Time, creator and writer Jimmy McGovern shifted the focus to a women's prison, something he hadn't initially considered, but was intrigued by after the BBC floated the idea. But before he put pen to paper, he had one condition: McGovern wanted a female writer working alongside him, which opened the door for Helen Black (Life and Death in the Warehouse).
As I said in my review, male writers aren't incapable of writing female characters well, but lived experience can elevate storytelling.
"Women's bodies are more central to this drama than any other drama I have written," he explained. "That's why I needed a woman to work with."
The female body is spotlighted in a number of ways throughout the three episodes, from the mundane to the life-altering.
Orla's period starts unexpectedly while she's being housed in a temporary cell. The single mother-of-three (Jodie Whittaker), who was sentenced to six months, wasn't expecting to be sent down for "fiddling leccy", certainly not immediately after her court hearing, so didn't think to take her contraceptive pills with her.
Several pairs of bloody knickers lie in the corner of the room, stained beyond saving. Once you've done time, is that how the rest of the world perceives you? Under the withering eye of her eldest child Kyle, it certainly feels that way.
Without any sanitary products to hand in that moment, Orla's only solution is to shove toilet paper in her underwear until she can get sorted. Her only means of washing herself then and there is with a pitiful bar of soap at a tiny sink. She vigorously scrubs her hands and inner thighs, doing the best she can with what she's got, as she always has. But it's messy and inadequate, and one of the many ways, big and small, that prison can strip people of their dignity.
Just as Orla's period is unexpected, so is Kelsey's pregnancy. Before it's confirmed by the nurse, the 19-year-old heroin addict (Bella Ramsey) had no idea she was carrying. But even that confirmation isn't enough to stop her from taking drugs, and she later decides to have an abortion.
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But when Abi tells her that the law will "go easier" on her if she is expecting, her eyes light up. Kelsey senses an opportunity. This pregnancy is her ticket out of there.
After her first scan, however, during which she hears her baby's heartbeat for the first time, something inside her stirs. The breakthrough that had yet to happen before then, even with several stints in prison under her belt, finally arrived. Kelsey not only wants to keep her son, she wants to do right by him, deciding to reduce her methadone intake with a view to kicking her habit altogether.
It's sad that she herself wasn't enough to inspire that desire for change, but it's also moving to witness that fundamental shift within her as she thinks about someone other than herself, the gnarled hands of addiction loosening slightly. After years of abusing her own body and being exploited by others, such as her boyfriend Adam, there is a glimmer of hope.
But that is very nearly extinguished when her waters break, again unexpectedly, as she begins to bleed profusely. For a moment, it's unknown if Kelsey or her baby will survive the birth. And with no staff available to help in that critical moment, another damning indictment of the government's prison funding cuts, her fellow inmates, led by former nurse Abi (Tamara Lawrance), step up to the challenge.
Abi has never delivered a baby before, but she has no choice. It's life or death – and all of the women choose life, together.
As they gather around Kelsey to support her and will her on, with Abi guiding her through, all grievances are cast aside. It's a display of shared sisterhood, at the centre of which is the sheer power and majesty of the female body and what it can endure, against all odds.
And, crucially, it also offers a stark contrast to the role that Kelsey's body previously played in the drama.
When we first met her, she was used as a vessel to smuggle drugs into prison and feed her habit. She would conceal them in intimate regions, or Adam would covertly pass them to her through a kiss, both of them confidant in the knowledge that full body searches in UK women's prisons are only carried out if there's reasonable suspicion.
Kelsey was little more than Adam's drug mule, further details of which we learn later during the court hearing. But now, she has reclaimed her body.
Kelsey knows that she's so much more.
In the drama's second season, McGovern and Black also explore how the female body can be weaponised.
When Tanya is removed from the block for fashioning a homemade blade, which she intended to use on Abi, Donna is hungry for revenge. She approaches her in her cell, but rather than launch straight into an attack, she uses her womanhood to draw Abi in.
She claims she's found a lump on her breast and wants the former nurse to take a look, which Abi agrees to, albeit hesitantly at first. She instructs Donna to remove some of her clothing and then asks if she consents to being touched, before beginning the examination.
It's an intimate moment. Donna is half-dressed as Abi works her fingers across her neck and chest. They're barely standing a foot apart from one another, Donna watching Abi with a burning intensity that could, in another scenario, be read as lust. But, in a split second, the blade in her hand becomes visible.
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Before Abi is able to act, she's slashed across the cheek, with Donna narrowly, and unintentionally, missing her eye. It highlights that women not only have the capacity to be cruel and violent to one another, they can also be calculating, as seen when Donna exploits the so-called female code to inflict maximum damage.
That's not the first time Abi is punished by her inmates. On another occasion, her towel is stolen while she's taking a shower, leaving her with no option but to return to her cell wet and naked as they enjoy the day's entertainment.
Though it pales in comparison to the assault, it's nonetheless unsettling watching other women not only expose her in that manner, but also delight in her humiliation, heaping further shame upon her as retribution for murdering her baby.
Just as they band together for Kelsey, the sisterhood can so easily disintegrate in that pressure cooker environment, their shared world teetering on a knife edge at all times, with the female body playing a central role within that.
In Time season 2, we witness both the beauty and horror of what it means to be a woman.
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