The Insert Shot: Secretary
By Tom Houseman
March 29, 2012
Both Lee and Mr. Grey are addicted to this power dynamic. The problem arises when this dynamic negatively affects their work environment. Mr. Grey understands that he cannot run a professional law office while carrying on this kind of affair with his secretary. Lee, who has less at stake professionally than Mr. Grey does, and is also far more emotionally involved, has no interest in ending their affair or giving up her new addiction. Mr. Grey, however, sees more clearly the detrimental effect of his addiction on his job, and decides to quit cold turkey. The red marker that Mr. Grey uses to circle the typos in Lee's typing is an obvious symbol of their shared addiction. It stands out on every page, highlighting her flaws as a way of degrading her and showing his control over her. But Mr. Grey realizes that he cannot run a practice while having this kind of a relationship with his secretary, which is why he abruptly stops dominating and beating Lee. One of the clearest physical manifestations of this transition is that he throws away all of his red markers, which we both see and are told by Lee, making it abundantly clear how important they are. The imposing cup of red markers that was on Mr. Grey's desk is removed, and with it the relationship that Mr. Grey and Lee had.
But while both of them understand the roles in their relationship, it is never openly discussed between them. They fall into the roles so effortlessly that there is never any open communication, which means that when Mr. Grey ends the relationship, he is unable to articulate to her what he is going through. Instead he merely pretends that nothing ever happened. But because she has a much stronger emotional investment than he does, she is deeply hurt by what feels to her like betrayal and abandonment. She only sees the positive aspect of their affair, not the deleterious consequences. This is the disconnect from which the conflict is derived. Lee sees their affair as part of a relationship, while for Mr. Grey it is a diversion.
When Lee attempts to reignite their affair, she does so by playing to his addiction. The worm that she places in an envelope brings out Mr. Grey's last red pen, which he had hidden out of sight but clearly not out of mind. Bringing back their power dynamic also strengthens its intensity, but what it does not do is further develop it. This is the exact same dynamic that existed before, which is what both of them think they want. But Lee has made it abundantly clear, to the viewer if not to herself, that she needs a deeper emotional connection from Mr. Grey in addition to the physical aspect. Mr. Grey also craves this emotional connection, although much less obviously than Lee does. He denies this need because he believes that what they are doing is a game, and while he focuses on the fact that it is a game he is able to ignore his emotional investment.
Although he relapses, Mr. Grey still realizes that he cannot have this kind of affair with his secretary in a professional atmosphere. He understands that the red markers are not the real temptation, but that with Lee in his office he will not be able to resist the temptation. That is why he fires her. Lee once again interprets this action as a repudiation of her, as if he was breaking up with her. Mr. Grey does not intend to break her heart because in his mind the heart is not involved in their activities, and yet her heart is broken. That they have such different takes on what their relationship means is why it cannot continue as it is, and for Mr. Grey that means that it has to end.