The patriarchy did not and does not create women who care only about wallpaper and make-up; the patriarchy created (and creates) women whose only sphere of influence was over the appearance of their homes and their bodies, whose only modes of self-expression were the superficial, the ‘meaningless’. In the fourth episode of the series Marnie argued with Hector about wallpaper not because she considers wallpaper so important in and of itself but for the same reason that armies will fight for years over a strip of land: because one concession leads to another — and she had already been forced to concede so much that wallpaper was all she had left to fight for. Bel’s mother says as much when she states that, ‘It all matters very much to me, sweetheart. I just don’t let my face show that,’: just because she refuses to give herself wrinkles over things she has been rendered powerless to change doesn’t mean she doesn’t care. Women on The Hour exist on various levels, only one of which is superficial, and, in a way, Bel’s mother’s relentless joie de vivre is as much a triumph over the men who would use her up and throw her away as Bel’s status as a producer is a triumph over men like McCain.
While not a flawless show, The Hour is a surprisingly nuanced look at the interpersonal and political tensions and pressures of 1956; unlike the writers of some shows, the writers of The Hour understand that personal pressures like the desire to succeed as a woman in spite of the patriarchy, and the way in which male privilege manifests differently for different men, informs the way people respond to political pressures. While most male characters on the show display some misogyny, the way that manifests differs in a way which depends on (1) who is displaying it and what they have to gain from it, and (2) who they are targeting with it; while homophobia pervades the reality of the show, it manifests differently in Marnie (who, in a sense, has to make a display of it as a way of ingratiating herself with the straight men who control her life), Hector (who almost certainly considers himself ‘progressive’ as a man who understands that gay men are also people, but who is not against using knowledge of their sexuality as a weapon against specific gay men), and Freddie (who is not so much homophobic as completely unaware that gay people even exist). The show is driven by complex ethical and personal dilemmas and characters are defined by the decisions they make in context of what they stand to gain, both personally and politically, and what they stand to lose; nobody behaves in ways which can’t be explained from the framework of who they are as a person. Nothing on The Hour is meaningless, nobody lives ‘lightly’ — it all matters. And the sheer, rare brilliance of this, of the way in which the show has been structured and the way it unfurls on emotional and intellectual levels has made it one of the most entertaining and engaging shows on television right now — and more than worthy of a second series.