Fifty Shades Darker: Chapter Twenty-One
Quick side-note: I wrote about Fifty Shades and consent in pop culture earlier this week, and you can find the article here if you missed it.
You know there are only thirty-three pages left in this hideous book? I can’t believe how quickly we ploughed through this one- and, with the glistening prospect of Fifty Shades Freed on the horizon, how far we still have left to go. This is the second-last chapter (!) of Darker, and Ana has just given Christian some time in the playroom as a birthday present.
Christian asks if there’s anything Ana doesn’t want, and she replies that she doesn’t want him taking pictures of her- a clear reference to the fact she found his stash of photos of previous subs, which she still hasn’t confronted him about, by the way. He’s baffled, but agrees, and they enter the playroom, where Christian puts on some music.
“He presses some buttons, and after a moment, the sound of a subway train echoes round the room. He turns it down so that the slow, hypnotic electronic beat that follows becomes ambient. A woman starts to sing, I don’t know who she is but her voice is soft yet rasping and the beat is measured, deliberate . . . erotic. Oh my.”
Trains. Trains. You’d think Christian would be rich enough and tech enough and smart enough to set this track to go from AFTER the fucking bit with the train in it, but maybe it’s meant to be hot? “I want to plough you like a freight train,” etc. And it’s a subway train, maybe it’s meant to evoke the trains-entering-tunnels imagery of so many sex scenes of yesteryear. All of which are more explicit than this book, on a side note.
Christians asks Ana if she’s only there for him, but she promises that she wants to be there too- but, um, didn’t she hate BDSM in the last book? She describes it as “assault” pretty regularly, and talks about how much it scares her. Why is she suddenly cool with it? Oh, because the plot requires it in order to have this sex scene? My bad, I thought I might get to see some character development over the course of this Godforsaken middle child of a book.
Christians gets Ana to undress, and she does so, with lots of references to inner-Goddessing along the way. Then, Christian gets out that iconic tie-
“He places the tie around my neck, and slowly but dexterously ties it in what I assume is a fine Windsor knot.”
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?! There are so many stupid, pointless little details in this sex scene that add nothing at all to the atmosphere. I doubt any readers were like “Ooh, a fine Windsor knot”, while frigging themselves into a puddle, and it brings nothing to the moment- no tension, no imagery, just “Ana is SMART look how SMART she is” at a time when it’s so not needed. Christian uses the tie to pull her around a bit, and then-
” “You just have to say stop. You know that, don’t you?” he whispers against my throat”.”
Ah, that’s nice- consent. Except, well, earlier in the book she explicitly said no and he kept going, and in the last book, she was crying too hard to speak and he carried on regardless. But yeah, just say stop, there’s no reason to think he’ll override your consent.
He then tells her he’s going to finger her arse a bit, and when Ana asks about whether or not his Dom persona will make an appearance, we get this extremely natural bit of dialogue-
” “I’m your lover, Anastasia, not your Dom. I love to hear your laugh and your girlish giggle. I like you relaxed and happy, like you are in José’s photos. That’s the girl that fell into my office. That’s the girl I fell in love with.”
I’m sure we all know or have known a man in their twenties- picture him, saying this, right now. It’s wrong, isn’t it? Profoundly wrong. This is how a hundred-year-old vampire might speak, just off the top of my head, but whatever. Also, a Dom can like to hear someone laugh, and enjoy someone being relaxed and happy, because Doms aren’t emotionless automatons who want a person to suffer every second of every day. AND, to finish up, when the opposite-POV novel Grey came out, it’s revealed than when Ana fell into his office, he IMMEDIATELY thinks about domming her– sticking ginger up her arse so he can spank her without her clenching her cheeks and so forth. So, yeah, bullshit on all the levels.
Christian guides Ana to a table, and tells her to get on it.
“My inner goddess can’t wait to find out—she’s already scissor-kicked onto the table and is watching him with adoration. ”
You…you can’t scissor kick on to something, can you? That would be painful as hell. I shouldn’t have to spend this long thinking about the physics of what her inner goddess is up to. I shouldn’t have to spend this long thinking about her inner goddess at all, but you get the point. Ana chats to Christian a bit, calling him irresistible, and he threatens to spank her. She revels in this, because a while ago this “threat” would have “subdued” her, but now she doesn’t mind it. Hey, progress, right? Ana actually likes some of the stuff they do, and can consent to it without intimidation!
““Behave,” he growls and stands back, gazing at me and slaps the leather cuffs across his palm. And the warning is there, implicit in his actions. ”
Aaaaand not so much. The “warning”? Of what? I thought she could just say no and he would stop. I’m genuinely confused as to what the warning is here, but I don’t like the thought of it being tied into her restraining her. He ties her up, then removes the tie from her and massages her neck and shoulders-
“I groan softly as he works his way down toward my increasingly aching breasts, aching for his touch. It’s tantalizing. I arch my body further into his deft touch, but his hands glide to my sides, slow, measured, in time to the beat of the music, and studiously avoid my breasts. I groan, but I don’t know if it’s from pleasure or frustration.”
Great line-editing. Much novel. Very published. Wow.
Christian sticks a butt-plug in her vagina (?) and then fingers her arse a little. And what follows is another scene which could so very easily be one with very murky consent thanks to EL James’ determination to write it that way-
““Christian, please!” “
Hush, baby. Hang in there.”
This is too much—all this overstimulation, everywhere. […]
““Christian,” I pant, sounding desperate even to my own ears.
“Hush, feel it, Ana. Don’t be afraid.” […]
“Argh!” I cry out, and Christian wraps himself around me, holding me, as my body continues to pulse mercilessly inside.
“No!” I shout again, pleading, and this time he tugs the vibrator out of me, and his finger, too, as my body continues to convulse.”
What’s…I mean, what’s going on here? Yeah, I get that it’s supposed to be intense, but does intensity come with pleading your partner to stop? Well, we don’t know what she’s pleading for- and neither does Christian, because he tells her to “hush” and “hang in there”, even though she could be asking for him to stop. Another stop of the bad dominant train to add to the map, I suppose.
They’re done, and they make love and after a section break Ana cries about how much she loves him (creepy). Then they chat about how much Ana loves him, how he’s the “most compassionate man” she’s ever met (snort), before Ana goes to make him breakfast, and exchanges messages with Kate about meeting later.
We jump to the next day, and Ana makes lunch for the two of them while they exchange emails (they’re in the same fucking house, aren’t they? Christ). After informing her that the sundress she’s wearing is for his eyes only (blargh) and no-one else should see her in it, Christian appears with a phone call for Ana- it’s Ray, her stepdad, who Christian has gone ahead and asked for permission to marry Ana. You know, just like she suggested he didn’t do. Ray asked to talk to Ana, and asks if she’s sure about this.
““He’s my happily ever after,” I whisper.
“Whoa.” Ray says after a moment, his tone softer.
“Annie, Annie, Annie. You’re such a headstrong young woman. I hope to God you know what you’re doing. Hand me back to him, will you?””
Fucking Christ almighty. She spouts some hallmark niceties, and Ray is convinced? These aren’t concrete reasons to be with him- she’s not saying his reliable, intelligent, funny, great in bed, kind, any actual real shit that she could base a relationship on. Just that he’s “everything”, and Ray just takes that as read. Why does no-one in this book give the remotest shit about what actually happens to Ana? God, I suppose it gets her needy as off their lawn. Can’t say I blame them in that respect. Ray gives Christian his blessing, and Ana and her fiance sit down to lunch. And, this time, Christian asks why she requested he didn’t take her picture in the playroom the night before. She pauses before answering-
““Ana,” he snaps. “What is it?” He makes me jump, and his voice commands me to look at him. When did I think he didn’t intimidate me?”
But he’s her happily ever after, isn’t he? This man who intimidates her and snaps at her when he doesn’t answer her quickly enough? He explains why he has them-
““This is going to sound cold, but—they’re an insurance policy,” he whispers steeling himself for my response.
How in the name of fuck does that work? He’s going to deny having kinky sex (which no-one even cares about these days anyway) by showing people pictures that he took and kept of women involved in kinky sex acts? I DON’T UNDERSTAAAAND.
There’s some more picture-related craic, where Christian says he’ll get rid of them, etc, and then Ana calls her mother to tell her about the engagement. Ana’s mother asks if she’s pregnant-
“Disappointment slices through my heart, and I’m saddened that she would think that of me. But then I remember with an ever-sinking feeling that she was pregnant with me when she married my father”
Because women who get pregnant before they’re married are dirty sluts, amirite? What the fuck even is this paragraph doing here, seriously? I need answers. Is this just there to remind us how much better Ana is than every other women character in this book, because it is hard to remember that when Ana is such a raging bitch.
Ana’s mother is happy for them, and hints at them having kids-which makes her a sequel-psychic, because that’s what happens in Freed- and then Ana goes to bake Christian a cake for his birthday. Oh, and finds he’s deposited fifty THOUSAND dollars into her account, but she can’t complain, because he told her she would have to get used to having extra money if she wanted to be with him. We breeze straight by that, and on to the more important fact that Christian loves the cake she baked him.
Christian’s father arrives, and wishes him a happy birthday- and is swiftly followed by Kate, who is steaming mad and holding a piece of paper.
” Completely at a loss, I take it from her and scan it quickly. My mouth dries. Holy shit. It’s my e-mail response to Christian, discussing the contract.”
And the chapter ends on someone else pissing on BDSM, just like EL has been doing since she first put pen to paper in this ridiculous trilogy. Only one more chapter left! Join me next week for the epic finale.