Degrassi Review: Unbelievable

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Following in the footsteps of an overall lackluster season, Degrassi returned to form with “Unbelievable.” This was arguably the strongest episode since last summer’s “Honey” and “Young Forever,” and season twelve’s “Bittersweet Symphony.”

While it’s easy to criticize the long-running teen drama, very few shows do as good a job of addressing controversial teen issues in such a respectful manner.

“Unbelievable” tackled the often taboo subject of sexual assault in exceptional fashion.

Even before the episode aired, there was a sense that we were going to be in for something outside the norm. For starters, it aired at 10 p.m. instead of its usual 9 p.m. timeslot. There was also a warning advising viewers that there would be sexually-graphic content shown.

While there was skepticism as to whether the episode would be little more than an updated copy of previous ones dealing with the rape culture and sexual assault. With all due respect to the quality of those episodes, “Unbelievable” was far stronger because of the focus given to the impact the incident left on the larger cast instead of a single individual.

The episode revolves around Zoe Rivas gradually coming to terms with the realization that something terrible happened to her after passing out at a house party, and Becky Baker’s  relentless search for the truth as to what really transpired that evening.

The following are five key talking points I took away from watching:

1. Victimization of Females

Zoe's less than flattering reputation caused many to judge her unfairly.

Zoe’s less than flattering reputation caused many to judge her unfairly.

Our society views a man with multiple romantic interests as being completely normal whereas a female engaging in the same behavior is considered a whore. While the double standard on display is altogether different in this episode, there are lingering similarities.

Zoe was the victim of a repulsive act. However, her intoxication is used as an excuse to justify what happened to her. Many of her closest friends initially dismissed the severity of her claims because of her less than flattering reputation.

This action was most apparent during a scene of Miles Hollingsworth lashing out at his fellow basketball teammates for trying to cover up the truth (it was revealed that members of the team had committed the act, the only question was who?). Tristan Milligan was more concerned about the cancellation of a pep rally than he was over the welfare of a fellow student. Team captain Mike Dallas immediately went into damage control mode sensing that one of his teammates was the guilty party.

Despite whatever reputation a female has, their pleas for help deserve to be treated with the same respect as their male counterparts.

2. Moral Responsibility

Zoe convinces Miles that he is just as much to blame for the incident.

Zoe convinces Miles that he is just as much to blame for the incident.

If something bad happens to someone in your nearby vicinity, is it your moral obligation to intervene?

This was a question posed during a scene involving Miles and Zoe. Miles was attempting to convince Zoe to admit to Mya that he and Winston Chu had nothing to do with her rape. Both were initial suspects after surveillance footage surfaced of them carrying Zoe away to the pool house

While Miles is honest about his involvement, Zoe tells him that he is partially at fault for what happened to her. She criticized their decision to leave her prone body unattended. At the very least, they should’ve put her in a safer area.

3. Operating From a Power Position

Luke (on right) lives the ideal high school lifestyle of partying and popularity. Plus his father is a minister.

Luke (on right) lives the ideal high school lifestyle of partying and popularity. Plus his father is a minister.

After Luke Baker is revealed as the culprit, he goes to great lengths to remind Zoe of the futility of her efforts in bringing him to justice.

He suggests they forget about the incident and continue living their normal lives. Of course, his life remains remarkably similar to how it was beforehand while the entire school considers Zoe as trash.

Luke even tells Zoe that no one will believe her word over his because he’s a Christian and a member of the school’s hockey and basketball teams. While Zoe knows the truth, he makes her feel as though she must be silenced due to his pristine public image.

There are several real world examples of this kind of behavior happening in scandals involving major political and religious figures. They truly believe their social standing absolves them of any misconduct, particularly concerning matters of sexual abuse. 

4. Persistence Pays Off

The wall behind Becky is a testament to her tenacity as a journalist.

The wall behind Becky is a testament to her tenacity as a journalist.

A major underlying theme of this episode is Becky’s persistence in getting to the bottom of what happened to Zoe.

While the episode begins with Becky tackling a rather general news assignment (interviewing students about their experiences with alcohol), she eventually stumbles onto a story much bigger in scope than anything she imagined. She essentially becomes a one-woman defense for Zoe. Her tenacity wins over many of the same classmates who felt indifference towards Zoe’s ordeal.

5. Confronting a Wayward Sibling

The truth hurts.

The truth hurts.

Becky’s efforts pay off in a most unexpected manner when she discovers her brother Luke as the one who assaulted Zoe. Anyone who has watched Degrassi since Becky’s arrival knows how serious she takes her Christian faith and familial values. The moment she saw the videos of her brother making out with a wasted Zoe was the single best acting performance of the episode.

Despite her conflicted feelings, she does the right thing by turning over Luke’s cell phone to authorities. She then watches as he’s escorted into a police car.

Final Thoughts: “Unbelievable” is a very strong episode and a positive sign of what’s to come  for the remainder of this season. The writers and producers did a remarkable job of magnifying the ramifications that one bad decision can have on a group of people.

It was also a star making performance for both Sarah Fisher and Ana Golja. For two actors whose characters mostly play second fiddle, they did a superb job of carrying the enormity of the episode’s emotional weight.

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