Over the course of its premiere season, Another Period has, for the most part, stuck to one overarching theme per episode, as referenced by each week’s title. We’ve seen “Divorce” and “Funeral” and “Pageant” in the last few weeks, episodes primarily dealing with the absurdities existent in those very things at the turn of the 20th century. The show prides itself on drawing parallels to illustrate how much things have changed and how much they truly haven’t.
With “Senate,” the show uses the “freak mustache fire” that claimed the life of Senator Ambrose Burnside and left an open Senate seat as a springboard to lambast politics and sexuality. While Another Period doesn’t necessarily explore how the two are intertwined, they easily sit side-by-side. Alongside homosexuality and hysteria, those head-scratching late 19th/early 20th century medical conundrums, the show explores women’s suffrage and what the wealthy white men on Capitol Hill really do all day. Lillian clarifies their purpose: “It’s more like a drinking club that decides the laws.”
Where before the show has taken on too much to its detriment, this episode works well despite the multiple storylines. The difference comes down to the fact that they don’t compete against one another, as they sometimes have in the past. Every part receives equal play and propels the episode forward.
At long last, five episodes into the first season, viewers finally learn more about the family’s patriarch, Commodore Bellacourt (David Koechner). Although seen in the opening credits alongside his wife Dodo, Commodore has only appeared briefly this season to establish his affair with Celine aka Chair. In “Senate” he plays catalyst, bringing with him news of the recent Senate opening along with his plan to have Frederick take over the job. Despite Frederick’s obvious stupidity—he believes all rocks are alive—he’ll fit in well in Washington…if he first passes a psychological evaluation. And who better to conduct such a test than the one and only Sigmund Freud (played by Chris Parnell)?
Freud concludes Frederick is a homosexual, but allays any fears by explaining, “Homosexuality is quite curable. There are lots of approaches. There is soaking in the blood of a dying Clydesdale, there is eating a live wolverine, slathering one’s genitals in a paste of milk and ground elephant tusk, leeches on the anus, an electrical current to the anus. Also, training in the masculine arts.” Parnell’s sincere delivery contrasts the speech’s inherent hyperbole. At once a critique of medicine at the time, which had more in common with folklore than science, the show reveals the period’s cultural hegemony and its effect on matters of identity, gender and sexuality.
After trying to cure himself, Frederick despairs and ends up bemoaning his fate to Beatrice, which naturally leads to some hot and heavy action between the pair. When Freud discovers the two, he’s relieved Frederick has been cured. “You’re not at all concerned that I’m having sex with my sister?” Frederick asks. “Seems perfectly natural to me,” Freud replies. Incest, it would seem, trumps homosexuality. In Another Period’s world, the latter is a medical aberration while the former is merely practice for the future familial duties between husband and wife.
Elsewhere in the mansion, Lillian and Beatrice join forces to stop Hortense’s suffragette club. “You’re trying to ruin a permanent vacation for half the species!” Lillian scolds them. “If women are allowed to vote it could lead to a world where women become doctors or lawyers, or God forbid, tennis players,” bringing to mind the recent fallout The New York Times faced over its article on Wimbledon champion Serena Williams and her athletic body. Throughout the show, Lillian has disparaged women, women’s rights and anything that stands to interrupt her pleasure, which primarily involves cream time (when she and Beatrice suck the filling out of cream puffs and throw the shells at servants) and chowder bath (when she and Beatrice eat clam chowder in the bath). Her perspective is not only funny for being so ludicrous, but also serves as a pointed reminder that not all opposition women faced came from men.
The tension between the suffragettes and the Bellacourt sisters reaches a head, leading to an all-out brawl. Labeling the women as “hysterical,” Freud sets up a room to treat Lillian, Beatrice, and their mother Dodo, which gives way to one of the show’s more outrageous—yet still hilarious—scenes. “It is believed that female sex moisture turns venomous if not released through regular climax,” he explains before “relieving” each one through varied means of stimulation. He has a horrified Blanche tickle Beatrice between the legs with a feather, while he dons an old fashioned vibrator on his hand and services Lillian, and Garfield rides a bike attached to a dildo which penetrates Dodo when he goes fast enough. The wide shot closing out the scene further illustrates how ridiculous the whole thing is, but the physical comedy works well with all three actresses reacting vocally to her “exam.”
Thanks to the show’s satirical nature, its historical framework both is and isn’t a reality. The context or characters may be historical to a point, but that doesn’t mean they will always behave accordingly. And that’s usually when the laughs kick up a notch.
Amanda Wicks is a freelance writer specializing in comedy and music. Follow her on Twitter.