One of the magical things about Minx is that it remains clear-eyed about the 1970s. Fantasizing about a revisionist history that downplays how bad things were for the marginalized is a well-observed American pastime, one that is dazzled by aesthetics and pointedly ignores the politics of the time. Minx serves up a delicious tea tray of glamorous clothes, high hair, and groovy vibes, but it also keeps the darker realities firmly in view. The last time I discussed this show, it was to celebrate Shelly, the wonderful character portrayed brightly by Lennon Parham. I touched on how Shelly’s arc this season was about her sexuality and how it reckoned with the so-called “sexual revolution.” The most recent episode, “god closes a door, opens a gloryhole,” turns its gaze onto a dark reality of the 1970s that still menaces us to this day and finds Shelly bearing witness to it.
On the other side of this gif is spoilers for season 2 of Minx.
While Joyce, our main character, is sorting through potential Minx International editors with newly-minted manager Tina and RWRD Constance, Richie (Oscar Montoya) and Bambi (Jessica Lowe) realize there’s a problem: their most recent centerfold model ran his mother over with a car and oops, the magazine going to print features him draping his body and dick over a car, or as Richie calls it, “the murder weapon.” Richie remembers the bathhouse pitch that was nixed a few episodes ago by Joyce and Constance for being too openly gay. He pushes for it with the energy of a playful mouse in the absence of cats, but it’s also the magazine’s last hope to get a usable centerfold together in time for print. Richie and Bambi rush to the Emerald Springs bathhouse and call Shelly in to write some hot new Bella LaRouche smut to fill the magazine out. As Shelly searches for a writing-friendly spot in the tile-lined grottos, Richie fills a pool with queer men to capture on film. He’s adamant about realizing his vision of naked men everywhere, but Jyoce and Constance’s trepidation rings in his ears as he snaps at the models to stop canoodling. The moment is beautifully played by Montoya, who allows the conflict to play on his face and in the tensing of his shoulders. Respectability politics are a hell of a thing then and now. Luckily, Richie changes his tune after the bathhouse owner reminds him of the power of a queer person being in Richie’s position: he can do things differently and make a real statement. This lights a new fire in Richie, who sends the Minx staff out of the room and shoots his models embracing and cuddling each other in the water. It’s a sweet turn for our fave gay photographer who is finally putting his queer self into his work at Minx.
Of course, that golden moment is fleeting; a man runs panicked through the bathing chamber and soon everyone is scrambling as the police come stampeding through the doors. It’s a raid: queer men are dragged from the water, slammed against walls, beaten by nightsticks, and handcuffed. Shelly leaves the office she was holed up in to see what the racket is and is shocked by the sight of pigs beating queers down. Locked out of the room, Shelly rushes through the chaos looking for an exit before finding Bambi in a sauna. Shelly is as confused as she is alarmed, asking what the police are even doing here when the men of the bathhouse “aren’t doing anything wrong.” As she processes with Bambi, who is going through her own crisis of identity and purpose, this is the reality of queerness in America in the 1970s (and now): it doesn’t matter that they’re not breaking any law, queerness is deviant enough to be punished. It all comes home for Shelly who appears to realize something when she accuses Bambi of “making” Shelly feel some kind of way.
As awful as it all is, Richie and Shelly respond with action. Richie picks up his camera and wades into the fracas to document the whole thing. As consenting adults who have broken no laws are rounded up by the police, Richie’s camera flashes, capturing everything. A record of this raid exists and Richie has found a new way to channel his art and his sexuality in the pursuit of justice for the growing queer movement. Shelly takes a huge personal step. After watching the pigs rough up queer people for no reason, she struggles with her Bella LaRouche story, finding each turn of phrase unfit to express what she’s feeling. We hear Bella’s story in voiceover as Shelly comes out of the closet in Bella’s voice. The word “lesbian” sets her free and she must be true to herself. As the episode ends, Shelly is watching her husband Lenny read the story and are left wondering what happens next.
Minx is a show about sexuality and gender in the 1970s that doesn’t present a rosy view of things. Then, as now, queer people are not entirely safe being themselves in public life. Not even friends and allies of queer people are safe these days, to say nothing of the renewed antagonism we see against queer and trans people today. Richie and Shelly show two different ways to respond to ongoing bigotry and injustice. Richie reminds us not to turn away and to look straight at the monstrousness, to not allow it to be forgotten or unaddressed. Shelly reminds us that the ignorance of society is no match for self-actualization. After the violence at the bathhouse, instead of shrinking from her truth, she embraces it. This is enormously resonant in 2023, as society once again beats up on a chosen scapegoat. As America strives to hurt the LGBTQ+ community and make them invisible, it’s more important than ever to be proud. In a time when queerness is criminalized (be that the ’70s or today), Minx asks you to be gay, do crime.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the series being covered here wouldn’t exist.