It’s rare that I find myself absolutely spellbound when watching a television show, but it was the unique case I found myself in at the conclusion of last night’s episode of Degrassi, “Bitter Sweet Symphony,” that aired on TeenNick.
The episode featured the suicide death of Campbell Saunders (Dylan Everett), a tormented high school hockey star. Probably the most memorable television show I’ve seen focusing on teen suicide was One Tree Hill’s “With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept,” where Jimmy Edwards opened fire at his school before killing himself. “Bitter Sweet Symphony” stands up brilliantly alongside the One Tree Hill classic.
While the character of Campbell had only been on the show for a short time, he stood out (which takes a lot with such a huge cast) for the fact he was such an anomaly. He wasn’t the typical high school outcast picked on by the populars, but was a kindhearted boy that was a prodigy on his city’s junior league hockey team. He dated an attractive girl, but had one problem that made him different from so many of the traditional suicidal archetypes—he was a talented athlete who absolutely hated his gift.
Being a star athlete in high school usually means instant popularity and a potential gateway to the college or pro ranks. For him it led to a life of misery. He ended up expressing his feelings through uncontrollable acts of rage and one specific comment from a classmate is what drove him over the edge.
I’d been out of the loop on Degrassi for quite some time. I missed the season première last Friday, but made sure to catch up on it last night and I’m glad I did. It was one of the best episodes of the 12 seasons I’ve watched. While longtime Degrassi fans fawn over the glory days ruled by iconic characters as Spinner Mason (Shane Kippel), Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald), and Jimmy Brooks (Aubrey Graham better known as Drake), this episode proved that the current generation can more than hold their own against the stars of yesteryear.
The hallmark of any great show lies in the quality of its acting and that is where the episode shined most. If the acting was merely decent then it would not be the least bit memorable. From the moment Campbell’s body was discovered to the closing scene, the episode explored every range of emotion imaginable with a suicide. I’m man enough to admit I was just about in tears at certain points. The key performances of Maya Matlin (Olivia Scriven) and Mike Dallas (Demetrius Joyette) were that believable.
A particular scene of Maya playing her cello juxtaposed against various reactions of students learning the initial news was especially powerful in a way I didn’t expect. The scene displayed a level of sophistication that shows of its genre infrequently reach. On an artistic note, I liked how Campbell’s body was never shown. It was discovered in the school greenhouse so we can assume he hung himself with some kind of gardening hose, but it was never made clear which method of suicide he used. It made for a more intriguing tale.
The episode left such an impression on me because it was a moment I didn’t see coming. When you watch a show long enough you can almost predict what will happen, particularly when that show is based in a high school setting. With One Tree Hill, Jimmy was a social outcast so it made perfect storyline sense for him to snap and take his own life. It’s entirely different to do so with a hockey prodigy who was seen having a romantic evening with his girlfriend in the scene prior to his demise. I give kudos to the writers for taking a truly unexpected turn of events in a genre known for taking the easy way out.
Most important, the episode provided a realistic glance of the mental anguish a suicide leaves on the family and friends of the victim. Those left behind will forever ask the question of what could they have done differently to prevent it.
If anyone reading this is thinking suicidal thoughts then please seek help from a friend, family member, or counselor. If you know someone thinking those thoughts then please intervene before it’s too late. A list of resources for help can be found here.
Even if you’re not a fan of Degrassi, I’d encourage you to check out the replay. You won’t regret it.