British ITV drama Bad Girls entered its eighth season this autumn with quite a reputation to uphold. Despite being a mainstream show in an industry that consistently ignores LGBT people, each previous Bad Girls season courageously brought complex, interesting lesbian and bisexual characters to life, and early indications were that the producers and writers were ready to continue this trend for the show’s eighth — and potentially final — season.
Before the first episode aired, the British press was abuzz over rumors of a new, central, lesbian story line. Reportedly, new prison wing governor Lou Stoke — played by Amanda Donohoe, who famously was part of network TV’s first lesbian kiss on L.A. Law in 1991 — was going to be gay and have a relationship with lesbian inmate Pat Kerrigan (Liz May Brice). These reports delighted Bad Girls‘ loyal lesbian fan base, as it brought to mind the best years of the series, when inmate Nikki Wade (Mandana Jones) developed a relationship with wing governor Helen Stewart (Simone Lahbib) in the show’s first three seasons.
Unfortunately, the reality of Season 8 was not nearly as entertaining as the rumors.
Not unlike the early years of Bad Girls, the writers teased viewers with potentially gay situations early on. In the first episode, Kerrigan — usually not one to help authority figures of any kind — came to Lou’s aid during a prison walkout, a touching moment that seemed like a teaser for future plotlines; in fact, this was the same way Helen and Nikki first became close in Season 1.
The innuendoes and tensions were only heightened by the next episode, when rumors began circulating around Larkhall Prison that Stoke and her boss, Joy Masterton (Ellie Haddington), were secretly in a relationship.
But in the third episode, Bad Girls took a sudden about-face from the potential lesbian love story when Stoke declared that she “could no longer resist” Dr. Rowan Dunlop, the smarmy new male doctor in the prison. The two began having an office romance of sorts, though Dunlop couldn’t date Stoke properly because he was still married to his pregnant wife. Nonetheless, the Dunlop-Stoke romance dominated much of the rest of the season, until both characters were abruptly dismissed from the prison — and the show — in Episode 9, following a violent altercation over Dunlop’s seedy drug trafficking to Stoke’s sister.
Not only was this troubling because fans missed out on another potential lesbian relationship, but the treatment of Lou Stoke and, to some extent, actress Amanda Donohoe, was problematic at best.
Stoke was never a particularly well-developed character, and her idiotic behavior was a real waste for an actress like Donohoe. Stoke not only arrived drunk for her first day at Larkhall, but she remained hopelessly naive to Dr. Dunlop’s antics throughout the season. By the end of her story line, he had tried to kill Stoke’s sister after she threatened to report him for giving out drugs, and he was also using the prisoners’ mental illnesses to hawk a documentary, all under Stoke’s careless watch.
This occurred in direct opposition to the occasional glimpses viewers had of Stoke’s compassionate attitude toward Larkhall’s prisoners. It almost came as a relief when her plot line abruptly ended, though it did so in an anti-climactic and unexpectedly sudden way: She was fired and she simply walked out, hardly the exit expected from a lead actress.