Make no mistake: It's women who come out on top in Minx's Battle of the Sexes, which plays out in various ways across Season 2, Episode 5, "A Stately Pleasure Dome Decree."
With Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) and Doug (Jake Johnson) heading to Las Vegas to woo international buyers, Bottom Dollar's employees turn their attention to one of the biggest cultural moments of the 1970s: the tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, dubbed the "Battle of the Sexes" by promoters. When the male models call King's talent into question — "I could return that serve with my hands tied behind my back," one says — Shelly (Lennon Parham) challenges them to prove it. In that moment, Minx makes (likely) history with the first televised penis-tennis match, in which Dustin (Chris Riggi) shoves his junk into the bottom of a tennis racket and stands opposite Shelly on the chalk-lined court.
Dustin technically wins the penis-tennis competition — he does, in fact, return Shelly's serve without using his hands — but his glory is fleeting. The racket becomes stuck on his penis, and he spends the rest of the episode attempting to rectify his athletic equipment-related mistake. When a second model (Beau Minniear) finds himself in the same situation after giving one too many pieces of "advice on the smartest way to handle the problem," it bluntly reinforces Minx's argument that men are victims of their own hubris. Or, as Shelly, drunk on Tina's (Idara Victor) special cocktail and female empowerment, cackles from across the office, "Men are so dumb!"
While the tennis racket mishap is an overly simplistic way of addressing the show's "women rule, men drool" theme (even if it is entertaining), the goings-on in Las Vegas are far more nuanced. As Doug works to take Minx global, Joyce gears up to participate in a panel about women's magazine publishing, and she's stunned to learn that she'll be speaking alongside her old friend Maggie (Gillian Jacobs), who's now editing a rival publication, Gal! The rest of the panelists — all men — clearly hope to pit Joyce and Maggie against one another, and initially, it works. Joyce makes a few cracks about Gal!'s embrace of diet-pill advertisements and Minx's superior circulation numbers, but when she sees how much the men are enjoying the conflict, she changes her tune. She steps in to defend Maggie, and together, they put the male editors on blast for the lack of female representation at their respective magazines.
But right when it seems that Joyce and Maggie's coup has repaired their friendship, which was damaged in the final few episodes of Season 1, the Minx editor learns the truth: Maggie previously brokered a deal with the men and agreed to their "catfight" approach. Though she went along with Joyce's women-uplifting-women perspective on stage, the gentleman's agreement, as it were, indicates Maggie doesn't actually share those values — or at the very least, she believes adhering to the conditions set forth by her male counterparts is the best way to elevate Gal! and earn the industry's respect.
Maggie's betrayal causes something to flip in Joyce, who begrudgingly accepts that if she wants to win this power struggle, her usual "kumbaya" mentality isn't going to cut it. Taking a cue from the "aggressive" businessmen she's been interacting with throughout the season, Joyce and Doug acquire Gal!, an ultimate show of strength. "Shifting gears from seller to buyer — buying up Gal! just to kill it — that's a big move, Joycey," Doug says proudly. "I didn't know you had it in you."
Though he doesn't say it outright, Doug implies that by playing the game like a man, Joyce is finally stepping into her power, but she doesn't quite see it that way. Joyce questions whether she should feel proud of her accomplishment or disappointed in herself. "I don't know, it doesn't make me evil?" she asks Doug. He attempts to quash her self-doubt, saying, "No. It makes you the queen."
Lovibond's fading smile suggests that while her character understands Doug's words to be true, she remains unconvinced about the compromises she had to make along the way. Joyce has just discovered that even in the Battle of the Sexes, there's a moral cost to being the queen. With just three episodes left in Minx Season 2, the question becomes whether she'll continue to betray her values in order to stay on the throne, or if the old, principled Joyce will re-emerge.
Minx Season 2 airs Fridays at 9:00 PM ET on Starz. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.