Pistol

"Pistol" features, from left, Louis Partridge as Sid Vicious, Anson Boon as John Lyndon, Toby Wallace as Steve Jones. 

'Pistol' (Hulu)

It’s surprising that the FX series "Pistol," which tells the story of the infamous band the Sex Pistols, ends with a joyful scene, a recreation of the band’s benefit performance on Christmas day 1977 for the children of striking firefighters in Huddersfield. It’s a giddy spectacle that shows the band in good cheer and good unity.

The scene highlights what could have been, had the band not self-destructed. Despite the hype, there was a lot of good in the Sex Pistols. Things could have worked out better. In that way, the band and the series mirror each other.

​As directed by Danny Boyle, "Pistol" is “inspired” by the memoir of Pistols guitar player Steve Jones (Toby Wallace), now a successful podcaster, and traces the band from formation to implosion. It begins at the London boutique owned by provocateur Malcolm McLaren (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his partner, politically-radical fashion designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley). The Sex shop defined and dressed the punk movement in England in 1977 and was a gathering place for a community characters who would populate the scene, like Billy Idol, Adam Ant, and Chrissie Hynde.

​"Pistol" stresses that the band wasn’t just a music group but the result of the efforts of an entire community of people with various roles to play in conceptualizing and realizing what the Sex Pistols would become. At the center were McLaren and Westwood, but they were joined by the woman called “the original Sex Pistol,” Jordan (Maisie Williams) who shaped and personified the band’s visual image, as well as Helen Wellington-Lloyd a.k.a. Helen of Troy (Francesca Mills), a South African-born graphic designer with dwarfism who created the iconic record covers, T-shirts, and more that defined the public and historical perception of them.

​While the band members themselves are the obvious focus of the series — Anson Boon as Johnny Rotten is particularly good in portraying the fiercely intelligent, angry, and acid-tongued young man grappling with his ego and trying to use the band as a platform to speak for people without a voice — it’s based on guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir and so his story tends to dominate, unfortunately, since it pushes aside the back stories of Rotten and bassist Sid Vicious (Louis Partridge).

​It’s a particular detriment in regard to Vicious. Partridge plays him with an appropriate mix of sweetness, lunkheadedness, and confused brutality, but Boyle chooses to only really pick up the well-known heroin train wreck narrative that was so well portrayed in the film "Sid And Nancy." By lazily choosing to ignore his earlier life, Boyle ignores the actual person and misses an opportunity to add context and sympathy to his eventual fate. It’s a major misstep.

​This kind of obstructive blunder is most apparent in the series portrayal of singer Hynde (Sydney Chandler). In real life, Hynde worked in the Sex Shop for a couple of months, had a very brief fling with guitarist Jones, an unsuccessful music association with McLaren, and was only involved with the Sex Pistols at the very fringes. Unfortunately, the series chooses to expand her role in the story to a largely fictional one, misrepresenting her relationship with Jones as long term, inserting a musical tutelage and partnership with him, and suggesting that she sought a place within the Sex Pistols. The most absurd moment comes when Hynde is depicted as concocting her lyrics for her early hit “Kid” while singing a lullaby to Sid Vicious’ heroin-addled girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Emma Appleton) in yet another incident that, though portrayed, never happened.

​Part of Boyle’s stated intent was to give more credit to the women in the punk movement who were shunted aside, but the preoccupation with creating fictions around Hynde causes the series to marginalize them all over again. Only Westwood comes out with suitable credit given to her, though without much context. Wellington-Lloyd gets screen-time, but very little insight or clarity on her contributions. Despite the hype of Williams’ participation and the lip-service paid to Jordan’s importance, in a great disservice Jordan is minimized to a painful degree.

​Goth punk legend Siouxsie Sioux (Beth Dillon) is portrayed as part of the Sex shop crowd, but only as a background member even though she, along with her bands the Banshees and the Creatures, would rise to prominence and carry on the dark and experimental aspects of late ‘70s punk much more faithfully than Hynde would. Pushing Hynde into the center stage seems more of a ploy to hook American audiences, but every moment spent on fabrications about her is a moment taken away from the women who actually deserve the credit.

​Whether you like them or loathe them, or a merely indifferent to them, the Sex Pistols were a turning point in the style, culture and business of modern music, and their existence pushed us into a world of new sounds and new ideas. There are moments in Boyle’s series that capture the danger and chaos of the story, particularly in the final episode, but mostly he seems to want to corral it into something more orderly and less organic.

​That’s a shame, because the real story of the band is one of communities and crowds and social associations smashing together and making something that demanded attention in the form of a band. It was a shriek born of a formless and reckless horde, coalescing vividly before it fizzled into a dark dust that settled everywhere, on all of us. Boyle portrayed disorder effectively in "Trainspotting," but 25 years later, he seems to have forgotten his own wisdom.