|Colette Dalal Tchantcho as Ondine de Valmont|
So Dangerous Liaisons premiered last night to a fairly lukewarm response, and to be honest...I don't care. I'm gonna keep watching; it's already been renewed for a season 2. These period pieces from Starz aren't for everybody, and if Starz wasn't trying so hard to appeal to anyone other than period piece enthusiasts, Becoming Elizabeth would still be alive. Furthermore, brown people are finally becoming the new normal in period pieces, and right on time. Because despite being an enthusiast, I don't watch any new period pieces that don't feature melanin.
Spoilers to follow.
Dangerous Liaisons isn't the story we know; it's actually the prequel to those events. In the usual telling of the story, the Vicomte de Valmont and Marquise de Merteuil (Sebastian and Catherine, for the Cruel Intentions crowd) are already these vile, manipulative monsters who entertain themselves by ruining other people's lives. The prequel intends to show us how they became those people.
By the way, the Vicomte's first name Pascal, and the Marquise's is Genevieve (portrayed by Lesley Manville of Harlots fame; hopefully Starz will buy the rights to that one and bring it back to life).
When we first meet Pascal de Valmont, he's a broke mapmaker who's been sleeping with Genevieve, trying to blackmail her with the love letters she's written him. Yes. See, Genevieve is married to one of the most powerful men in France, and Pascal wants to force her into getting her husband to grant him a title.
Our story seems simple enough until we factor in Camille, a prostitute Pascal is (allegedly) in love with and whom he proposes to at the beginning of the episode. However, whenever the subject of Pascal comes up, brothel maid Victoire feels her Black girl spidey senses start tingling. When the two women find about a letter from Genevieve, Victoire (Kosar Ali) figures where there's smoke there must be fire, and quickly deduces where Pascal's hiding the rest of his letters. Turns out, she's right: Pascal's been sleeping with EVERYBODY, collecting letters from everybody, and finessing them for whatever money and trinkets he can. In other words, he's a prostitute. He just doesn't like being called that.
|Victoire et Camille|
Genevieve agrees, and decides to create a backstory for Camille before making her over and introducing her to society. And here is where the writing fell flat for me. It felt rushed and inauthentic, almost like a weak trope in a smutty fanfiction. Nevertheless, I digress.
Pascal doesn't know Victoire took his letter collection; he's too busy finessing another woman, and then paying his stepmother a visit.
And here's where we meet Ondine de Valmont. Right away, she comes off as this really bitchy villainess, and for once, I'm here for it. At some point in the prior years, she met Pascal's father (when she already had a child of her own), and finessed the old man into cutting his OWN son out of the will in favor of her and her son. So we learn that Pascal does indeed come from staggering wealth, with a vast, beautiful estate...he just got kicked out of it the moment his dad keeled over.
Ondine tells Pascal in no uncertain terms that he ain't shit, he ain't getting shit, and he needs to go (preferably somewhere else) and pray about it. It's after this kick in the balls that he finds out his letter collection is missing and he no longer has his leverage over Genevieve. At the opera, the Marquise tells him that he ain't shit, he ain't getting shit, and doesn't even bother telling him to pray about it.
The episode ends with a shot of Camille living her best life at that same opera with Genevieve.
So far, I'm okay-ish with this setup. I'm more interested in Genevieve and Ondine than I am Camille. I don't really like Victoire being a maid, so I'd like to see her have some sort of come-up a la Rahima from The Serpent Queen. I don't give a fuck about debating historical accuracy; I want to see my brown girls shine--period.
As much as I hate sex scenes, I appreciate that Lesley Manville got to get her freak on right off the bat, and with a younger man no less. As much as we've seen crusty old dudes in the sack with twenty-year-old actresses who clearly wanted to vomit, this is a major step up for the genre.
Dangerous Liaisons drops new episodes on Sundays.