TV Review: Bonding (Season 1)

Bonding (Netflix) Artwork

Episode 1: Old Friends, New Names
The opening to the series begins with Pete nervously making his way into a red-lit hallway, with several people in different BDSM and Fetish gear, as well as a man being forced out for violence against an unseen Mistress. This then expands into Pete being admitted to see “Mistress May”, who is actually his old high school friend Tiffany. Tiff quickly explains that she needs Pete to act as security during her work, and Pete is quickly thrust into the world of professional BDSM. 

Throughout the episode, we see more of the two characters’ situations, with Pete struggling to make ends meet and unable to pay his rent, while Tiff has her own apartment and is studying for college. The first introduction to the world of BDSM in the show is with the character of Fred, who seems to have a kink for verbal humiliation. While Pete struggles at first, he quickly finds his feet and manages to bring Fred to a comedic climax. We then quickly learn that Pete is unsure of his ability to continue in this line of work, but decides it is worth trying, and choses the alias Carter. 

The first episode quickly sets the tone for the series, mixing comedy, sex, and social commentary on the stigmatisms of BDSM and sex work as a whole. The opening episode also shows that the characters seem to have some issues from their past that they have not worked through yet.

Episode 2: Pete Shy
This episode delves a bit further into Pete’s life, showing him struggling with his own self confidence through his inability to perform his comedy routine and running out when he is called on stage. This is further solidified by his inability to pee when anyone else is nearby. Pete is also given the number of one of his customers during his day job as a waiter, after a conversation about getting past their nerves at the urinal. 

We are also shown more about Tiff’s line of work, and the different type of people that come to her and indulge in this side of sex- mainly a nervous mother and wife, looking to hire Tiff for her husband. 

Pete and Tiff then have a short argument about what they will or won’t do with regular, Fred. Pete is then pushed to participate in the scene with Fred by peeing on him, at Fred’s request. This conflict quickly shows the confidence issues Pete has with being able to urinate while anyone else is present. This problem is solved when Pete remembers his conversation from earlier, and begins to sing Happy Birthday to make himself more at ease. This works, allowing him to be able to pee on Fred, all the while having Pete, Tiff, and Fred singing Happy Birthday. 

This episode manages to further the slight tensions between Tiff and Pete, while also allowing Pete to become more comfortable with this new line of work and world he has found himself in. Furthermore, it helps to normalise the line of work, and highlights the stigma and embarrassment that comes with sexual fetish.

Episode 3: The Past Is Not Always Behind
Episode 3 has Pete open up to his roommate, Frank, about his new line of work. This leads to his roommate requesting Pete and Tiff’s services for some anal play that his girlfriend refuses to partake in with him. 

Unable to contact Tiff, Pete decides to do this by himself. After an awkward beginning, the two manage to get into the swing of things, for the climax of the scene to end abruptly with Franks partner, Porsche, interrupting the two and punching Pete.

We also learn more about Tiff’s life outside of her Dominatrix work, with her taking part in her college lecture on psychology. We are also introduced to her classmate Doug, who shows an obvious interest in Tiff. However, we see Tiff’s reluctance to get involved or open up to anyone when she makes up lies to avoid a date with Doug. 

The episode then progresses to Pete and Tiff catching up at a bar, where they are interrupted by a former schoolmate who has had too much to drink. This encounter leads to Tiff and Pete having an honest heart to heart and discussing why Tiff cut Pete out of her life after High School. We also get the first real part of their history, with the reveal that Tiff took Pete’s virginity before he had come out. This also serves to show the insecurity and vulnerability that Tiff feels about herself and sex, due to her past of men only being interested in her for sex.

Episode 4: Let’s Get Physical
This episode begins with our protagonist pair arriving at the home of the house-wife that was introduced two episodes prior. It is here that the two split up, with Tiff going with the husband, and Pete remaining downstairs with the wife. While Tiff is tickling the husband upstairs, allowing him to indulge his desires, Pete discusses with the wife about the difficulties of partners having different sexual desires, with the wife clearly struggling. 

The episode progresses with Pete going on a first date with Josh, which begins badly due to a miscommunication of what they would be doing. After a short argument, the pair come to a compromise and end up opening up and having a good time. 

Meanwhile, Tiff is in her college when she comes across her professor acting inappropriate with her classmate, who is visibly uncomfortable. Tiff interrupts, allowing her classmate, Kate, to get out. Tiff confronts her professor about the situation and how inappropriate it is. It is also implied that this isn’t the first time Tiff has had to endure something of this nature. 

The episode ends with Tiff agreeing to go on a date with classmate, Doug, after he says he would like to hang out with her, even as just a friend. 

This episode helps to further dispel the myth of gay men only caring about sex and that there is more to their relationships, while also dealing with sexual harassment and abuse towards women. The episode sends a clear message about solidarity between women, and the inappropriateness of men making unwanted advances towards women.

Episode 5: Double Date
Episode 5 begins with Pete and Tiff getting ready for their respective dates, but escalates into an argument in which Pete points out Tiffs need to constantly be in control. After Pete angrily leaves, Tiff thinks on the things Pete said before she leaves for her date. 

Once at her date, we see Tiff opening up slightly to Doug, and begin to enjoy herself and have a real connection with him. They bond over their competitive natures while playing ping-ball at the arcade. However, this is interrupted by one of Tiff’s clients showing up to profess their love for her. This causes Tiff to close up and leave, abandoning Doug at the arcade. 

We are also shown Pete and Josh becoming closer, and the night ending with Pete and Porsche making amends and both apologising for their previous actions. 

This episode helps to open Tiff’s character to the audience, showing her more fun and caring side, while also showing the difficulties she faced living a dual life.

Episode 6: Penguins
This episode opens with Pete going into the dungeon to apologise to Tiff, only to be met with a man in a penguin costume. After waiting for Tiff with no sign of her showing up, the two begin the scene, with Pete feeling uncomfortable. This escalates into Pete being pinned down and having to exert himself and spank the client, while reminding him that No means No. This short scene, that starts as comedy, subtly shows the dangers faced by sex workers, and why Tiff felt the need to have someone else there with her. While this is done subtly, it is a precursor to a later storyline.

However, this does lead to Pete taking on the mantle of “Master Carter”, and finally gives him the confidence to perform his stand-up routine at the comedy club using this same alias. It is also here that we see the support he is receiving from both Josh and his regular client, Fred, who are both there to watch his routine. 

At the same time, Tiff has a conversation with Doug, and comes clean with him regarding her work and what she does. Doug, similarly, is honest with Tiff, telling her that he isn’t sure how he feels about this revelation. The episode then progresses to show Tiff, Kate, and two of the college faculty members confronting their professor and removing him from class. 

Tiff is then able to come clean to everyone else, and explain about her sexual past, and how being a dominatrix and studying psychology allowed her to work on fixing herself, with everyone in the class, including Doug, accepting this and volunteering for a bondage lesson.

Episode 7: Into the Woods
The season finale has our protagonists meeting at Pete’s day job, and making up. This also allows Tiff, Doug, and Josh to meet for the first time. The remainder of the episode is split between current day, and their prom night. 

In the present day, Pete and Tiff go to a new wealthy clients home, who they have not yet met. Pete has to use the bathroom before they begin, but is quickly locked in by the client, Trevor. 

Trevor then begins discussing the arrangements with Tiff, but she is very quickly made uncomfortable when the client begins referring to Tiff as property to be bought. 

In the flashbacks, we see Pete and Tiff on their prom night, getting high in a car. After talking, they begin to kiss and this progresses to the pair having sex. After the sex, they are startled by the police showing up. They are forced to run, and Tiff decides they need to split up and go their separate ways to avoid the police. 

Back in the present day, Trevor begins to become threatening, wielding a knife and telling Tiff that Pete has been locked in the bathroom. It’s at the same time that Pete realises why he recognised the man- he was the one who was thrown out in the opening episode. After Tiff knees Trevor in the groin, Pete is able to escape the bathroom and takes the knife that Trevor dropped. While threatening Pete, Tiff sneaks up behind him and stabs him in the back, giving the pair a chance to escape. Similar to their prom night, the police quickly arrive to search for them. The pair then flee together, rather than splitting up like before. 

This episode serves as a satisfying ending to the storylines that have been ongoing between Tiff and Pete. It is also used to highlight the threat and dangers posed by sex workers, and the threat of violence, rape, and even murder, and the all too common belief that they are objects and are being “bought” rather than providing a service. This was hinted at in the previous episode, but takes centre stage as a plot point in this episode.

Overall Review:
“Bonding” has a short run time per episode (15 minutes), and as such it uses each moment and scene to progress the plot, add to characters, or to give background to the characters. No moment is wasted, and each episode leaves you wanting more. 

The show explores the stigma of sex work, as well as the preconceptions and stereotypes of Gay relationships between men.

The show uses a light hearted, comedic tone for the majority of the episode, allowing viewers to get drawn into the story. This tone is then contrasted by more serious moments, allowing these scenes and plot points to fully hit home without any jokes or humour. 

Overall, “Bonding” is a show that is well worth the watch, for a fun, short story that explores themes of homosexuality, sex work, and the struggles of sexual abuse and harassment. The show ends in a way that allows the series to be complete with one season, but leaves it open for further stories- which will be happening in the now confirmed Season 2. 

* Bonding season 1 is available on Netflix.


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