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After a solid outing in Who Do You Think You Are, Degrassi continues to be strong overall in Barely Breathing.  This episode represents Degrassi’s willingness to occasionally step outside of predictable and cliché storytelling.  One of the show’s strengths since its rebranding in season 10 has been the ability to create stories and have characters behave in the “gray area.”  Both Maya and Alli’s storylines swim freely in that realm, while Dallas’ plot is s sneaky brilliant continuity play.

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1314-1MAYA PLOT REVIEW: When you see storylines that involve bullying on TV, it’s usually one sided.  There’s a clear victim, who suffers embarrassment at the hands of an antagonist.  Degrassi does one better here, having the bullied retaliate (in a way that isn’t extreme, i.e. Rick Murray in Time Stands Still).  It begs the question, do two wrongs make a right?

Absolutely not.

Maya still finds herself being harassed by people because of the defamatory Facerange page.  Miles comes to her rescue after some guy attempts to grope Maya in an empty classroom.  Though obvious to viewers (because there’s only one main character who hates Maya), Matlin learns that Zoë was the one behind the hate page.  This leads to a physical fight between the two, which lands them in Simpson’s office.  Maya and Zoë receive two weeks detention for fighting, but Simpson says can’t punish Zoë for cyberbullying because school computers weren’t used in the process.  There is the option for Maya to press charges against Zoë, but neither her mom nor Ms. Rivas think it’s necessary.

1314-2Maya’s furious that Zoë basically received a slap on the wrist, and retaliates by performing a song for her class with lyrics that talk about how she wants to kill Zoë.  Maya gets suspended, and though she feels as if her mom isn’t in her corner Mrs. Matlin agrees to back Maya if she does want to press charges against Zoë.  After a brief house visit from Miles that ends with a kiss Maya decides not to press charges, opting to move on instead.

Barely Breathing is an appropriate title for this plot, given that there’s so many moving parts in the episode it’s almost overwhelming.  The big thing is that there’s multiple routes this story could’ve taken, and choosing one direction means abandoning what could’ve been an even more (or less) interesting perspective.  By the end of this episode the effects of cyberbullying specifically feels oddly enough like a wasted storyline idea.  As prevalent and aggressive as cyberbullying today, there’s a disconnect between the gut-wrenching feeling of helplessness associated with cyberbullying and Maya’s pleas for action if one watches this as a standalone episode, primarily because the only instance of harassment in this episode is a weak effort by a guy listed in the ending credits as “Maya’s Harasser.”

However, the strength of this leg of the story lies in how someone being bullied from a generic standpoint reacts.  Maya takes an aggressive approach with her song, which crosses the line.  It’s a weird, yet enjoyable feeling being split over Maya’s actions versus her intentions.  Maya’s frustration is understandable, highlighted by a moment in Simpson’s office where Zoë shoots Maya a smug look as she leaves.  We want to see her exact revenge on Zoë, but we must acknowledge that she went too far and that the punishment she received was warranted.  Zoë remains virtually unscathed in the episode, serving as a constant reminder to Maya that life isn’t always fair, and those who wrong us don’t always receive the karma we think they deserve.

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1314-3DALLAS PLOT REVIEW: Well played, Degrassi.

A throwaway line in an episode winds up being a centerpiece of Dallas’ character nearly a year later.  Drew wakes up one morning to find Dallas missing and his room completely empty.  As the Ice Hounds load up the team bus, Drew spots the hockey team’s new captain, Luke Baker.  Drew learns that Dallas was cut from the team, and none of the other players have seen or talked to him in weeks.

Dallas shows up for class with a hangover, and gets sick during his presentation with Drew.  Later, Dallas tells Drew that he’s moving back home because he doesn’t know who he is without hockey.  Drew tells Dallas that he considers him to be a brother, and doesn’t want to lose him too after having lost Adam.  In the end, Dallas decides to stay in Toronto.

In the episode season 12 episode Never Ever, Dallas told Katie that his window of opportunity in hockey was closing because he’s “just not NHL material.”  He said that an injury forcing him to quit the game would be easier on his ego than not getting into the NHL because he’s not good enough.  He finally comes face-to-face with the reality of the latter, which explains his recent erratic behavior.  Hockey was Dallas’ life, so it’s understandable he’d be lost without it.  There’s a sad irony given his statement in Never Ever, though he knew his chances were slim, his conversation with drew outside of the Media Immersion room in Barely Breathing indicated that he always hopeful anyway.  Drew and Dallas are the best bromance (and probably friendship in general) on Degrassi at the moment, as the two share a couple of endearing moments.  Dallas’ future might be uncertain, but he and Drew are certainly highlights in Degrassi Season 13.

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1314-4ALLI PLOT REVIEW:  Alli finds herself covering up the bruise on her face after being hit by Leo in order to hide it from Clare and Jenna.  Leo sends Alli balloons and an “I’m sorry” card, but she throws them away as she chooses to focus on her SATs.  After Alli ignores all of Leo’s calls, he shows up at Degrassi to talk to her.  Leo tells her that he loves her, and admits that he has rage issues and is “broken.”  He says that he needs her help, but Alli just walks away.

The next day Alli tells Leo that she loves him, and that if they’re going to be together he will have to go to therapy.  He agrees, and Alli tells him it’s his last chance; if he hits her again, she’s gone for good.

Everything about this storyline to date has been awkward in one way or another.  The show initially tried to pitch Alli and Leo as an epic romance, something only the two of them seemed to believe.  We’ve seen them transition into something not even close to that;  Leo’s temper has caused him to be physically abusive toward Alli not once, but twice. At one point watching Alli and Leo was unbearable in a “this relationship is pointless” way.  Now I find myself feeling uncomfortable because of the current circumstances, as one watching this storyline should.

Degrassi could’ve followed the predictable path, and have Alli be resolute in her decision to stay away from Leo after he slapped her in Who Do You Think You Are.  It would follow a formula similar to Kathleen Mead’s abusive relationship in Degrassi High.  Her boyfriend, Scott, was physically aggressive multiple times, each instance becoming more violent until she reached her breaking point and walked away.

Kathleen’s storyline was scary because of how quickly Scott flew into a blind rage, a mentality so reckless that at one point he abused her in the middle of Degrassi’s hallways in plain sight.  With Alli the vibe is more sadness than fear, watching a girl with a bright future continually getting sucked into a toxic situation.  The discomfort watching this storyline is based on the show’s willingness to extend this plot longer expected.  Viewers are looking at it with the “fool me once…” mentality, while Degrassi takes it one step further…a reality that’s difficult to swallow.

But as some question what message this plot sends, believing that it implies that it’s okay for a guy to abuse you, I think of it this way: is it better to show that it’s never okay for someone to abuse you and that you should leave an abusive relationship immediately, or show the heartbreaking consequences of what happens when one chooses to stay in said relationship?  Alli may have forgiven Leo for now, but I still can’t imagine a scenario where Degrassi would, in good conscience, allow this to end “happily ever after.”

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Posted by Kary

20 Comments

  1. I wonder if Degrassi is actually going to have Leo be a man of his word and get help? I mean, surely that has happened in real life, right? I’m being serious— I think that’s what they’re doing.

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  2. I have to say, Dallas was the one character I was truly looking forward to seeing this block after his breakdown over Cam. He didn’t disappoint. I also love the continuity of his storyline: His drinking doesn’t come from nowhere; he’s seen drinking at prom and at school with his teammates, and even on the roof after Cam dies. I hope he has more plots (though, surely, that’s doubtful) before he graduates. Demitrius is such an asset to the show, especially alongside a strong actor like Luke.

    Now, Maya, on the other hand. Ugh. I understand she’s 15 and all, but I felt it was pretty inappropriate of the writers to have Maya write a song telling someone to “die” after she has encountered the consequences of such words firsthand when it came to Cam. Not cool.

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  3. I loved the Maya/Zoe plot in this episode, and I think it deserves more than an A. For anyone who’s ever really been bullied, it’s so easy to side with Maya throughout this whole thing. While Maya is a strong girl has been enduring the constant torment for months now, it’s not surprising that being betrayed by Zoe made her reach her breaking point. The thing that many of us bullied wish we had that Maya had is balls, for sure. I wish I was able to completely call out my tormentors like that in front of a class. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way, and the bullied getting off essentially scot-free is a sad reality.

    Besides the fact that there was a gray area created where there’s no sole victims, but everyone is a victim, just to different degrees (even though I think Maya is clearly the victim here and if anyone thinks about defending Zoe/calls her as much of a victim as Maya, they’re delusional), Degrassi did a good of instilling rage inside of me for the first time since Underneath It All. Again, it might be because of my resonation with Maya because I’ve experienced bullying, but I legitimately felt angry along with Maya as the events of this episode unfolded. Seeing Zoe’s smirk as she walked out of the principal’s office made me angered to the point that I wanted to do some pretty extreme stuff, because all I saw in her were my bullies.

    Overall, this Maya/Zoe feud has been pretty good. The fight scene could’ve been better, but it’d be silly to expect something of the caliber of Alli and Bianca’s fight from girls like Maya and Zoe. Also, the fight wasn’t the climax of the entire episode, because it went beyond that – the fact that Zoe was getting off essentially scot-free, setting the stage for Maya’s anger to explode with the song.

    I would give this plot an A.

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  4. Also, it literally doesn’t make ANY sense to me that someone could say that Zoe is as much as a victim (or even more) as Maya is in this whole scenario. The song that Maya wrote PALES in comparison to all the shit that Zoe has done to her. It makes me seriously angry that people would even think to defend the bully if a situation like this happened in real life (which I’m sure it does). SMH.

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    1. I can’t bring myself to even respond to some of the comments I’ve seen. I saw someone balk at the idea of Maya pressing charges because they thought Maya’s death threat was “much worse” than being cyberbullied (why people are even comparing the two is beyond me, because that’s not even the point). Then they were completely dismissive of the fact that Maya was cyberbullied, harassed and slut shamed by a majority of her peers by saying that the naked pictures weren’t really of Maya anyway. The sad part is that these are females who are saying this.

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      1. hearditthroughthegrapevine November 8, 2013 at 11:49 pm

        Unfortunately, Kary, slut-shaming most often happens between women and girls. It’s sad that females aren’t embracing and building each other up; instead, they’re constantly competing with each other. I loved the line where Maya tells Miles that no one would ever make a page about him. A quick sentence that perfectly sums up the double standard.

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      2. I just have to say that I agree with you guys about Slut Shaming. It’s one of the things about our society that upsets me greatly; that girls and women are made to feel ashamed of their sexuality.

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  5. Overall, I thought this episode was good. Surprisingly enough it was the two other plots that made this episode for me and not Maya’s but even so there were some bright spots in the latter.

    A Plot
    The issue that I had with this plot was that like Kary said, the cyber bullying seemed to cool off by the end of this episode. I don’t know many cases where the victim would decide not to press charges against said person but in this case Maya only did that because she has “things to look forward to” after haven kissed Miles. Speaking of which, I know that Miles defended Maya in this episode but the problem I’m having is that the writers should have saved them getting together for a subplot of another episode, like say next week. Even the fact that she doesn’t experience the effects of Cam’s suicide to make her not jump into a relationship shows just how poorly the writers have been portraying Maya this season. The scene where was sexually harassed by a random guy was a bit over the top in my opinion. Mostly because it seemed unrealistic that a creep would do that in an OPEN classroom just for Miles to save the day. Another over the top thing in this plot was of course Maya’s “song” to Zoe at the end. Here you have a chance to flesh out Maya’s anger towards Zoe and instead they express it by doing something like this. I understand it’s karma but still if Maya wanted to press charges, which I doubted from a mile away, then it would be unsuccessful due to her doing something like this to Zoe.
    Don’t get me wrong. Not everything in this episode was bad. I liked Ana’s acting especially the scene where she gave Maya a smug look in Simpson’s office. Even though I wasn’t a fan of Maya’s fight with Zoe, just like how I wasn’t a fan of her “fight” with Tori, I liked the energy of their argument beforehand. And kudos to anyone who decided to create the “Rubber Room” of Degrassi. Hopefully we’ll see more of those people in the future than say Miles and Maya cuddling together.
    For me, this was a plot that was set up well in “Who Do You Think You Are” but managed to disappoint me a bit since Maya got a happy ending despite what she went through in this episode.
    Grade: B-

    B Plot
    The simplicity of Dallas’ plot in this episode was excellent. It really showed that the writers have not forgotten about Dallas’ traits from last season. He is still excellent as a supporting character as Demetrius brings him to life. It’s hard that he got cut from the Ice Hounds but life throws you curve balls sometimes. It’s nice to see how Drew and Dallas have grown throughout their friendship from what I gathered during the heartwarming moments of this plot. And I agree with Kary much like Season 12’s Jake and Mo, Dallas and Drew are currently the best bromance/friendship on this show.
    Grade: A

    C Plot
    I could feel Alli’s fear in this episode. It’s a bit predictable that she would go back to Leo but how it happens is fascinating to me. Even though Leo is going to get help that doesn’t shrink away any of the fragility in their relationship. Here’s hoping that the next time Alli and Leo are portrayed we get an in-depth look into the mind of Alli’s thought process throughout giving Leo another chance; As for this overall plot, let’s just be thankful that these two are not as poorly portrayed as they were in Paris.
    Grade: B+

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  6. I thought the first dead song that she sang with Miles was pretty funny!

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  7. Enjoyed all the comments. The show should let Kary write an episode arc and we could give him input he might use. ……I thought Maya was going to call big sister Katie at Stanford once she found out about Zoe. Katie could have got 1 of her super geek friends to fight fire with fire by setting up an untraceable web site where people could specualte and gossip why Zoe was bounced off her hit show. Zoe could go to Maya in desperation and plead for a truce. ……I kind of thought Leo wouldn’t mistreat Ali at all when he first came to Toronto. I thought there would be a stressful trigger point that would have him totally unravel. They could have had Alis first boy friend, bad boy Johnny, bump into them at the Dot. Leo could put 2 and 2 together and yell at her for being a slut for sleeping with Johnny. Johnny would than give Leo the beating of his life in public. Leo would retaliate by going after Ali later. ……On the other hand if someone truely wants to change there is a chance it could happen. Maybe keep them together but no happily ever after for them. That belongs to Drew and Bianca.

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  8. Alas, it was Zoe, and not Zig behind the bullying, and while I knew to expect that, a part of me still hoped it wouldn’t be her.

    But seriously, what is going on with Zig? I feel like he needs a story line, especially with Maya and Miles possibly making their couple debut once her suspension is over.

    Another side thing that personally annoyed me was Mrs. Matlin. I’m sorry but in this episode she really deserved an ignorant mom award. How could she not tell the difference between people taking and the tv? And how could she not see that giddy look on Maya’s face after kissing Miles? I mean her facial expression and voice made no sense with the topic of conversation. It was obviously one of a lovestruck teenager with ulterior motives and her mom never noticed? I’m sorry but that just made no sense to me, because if that was me with one of my parents when I was Maya’s age, they would have known something was up if my face and voice looked and sounded like hers.

    Overall though this was another solid episode and I hope it stays this way.

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    1. Yeah her mom deserves that award. I tell you…if the Golden Raspberry Awards expanded to a TV nominee selection, her actress would be a contender haha

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  9. I thought this episode was very well put together to finish out the plots from the previous episode. Each plot had firm footing to stand on for the most part, and any shortcomings with each of them were rather minor. As mostly everyone else has said here, Who Do You Think You Are and Barely Breathing were a very good pair of episodes.

    A Plot/Maya: I’m no expert on the whole issue of cyber bullying, but this was interesting that the writers chose not to follow through with what I thought would have been the predictable route, legal action against Zoe. Ana’s portrayal of a unrepentant diva was spot on, especially her little grin at the end of the scene in Mr. Simpson’s office. As far as timing goes, this did seem a bit off as far as formally crowning Miles and Maya as a couple. I guess the writers had to fit it in somewhere, and it did seem to close her plot for this episode fairly well. To be honest, I think that the writers have done a decent job with Maya in this context. She has been obvious in her attraction to Miles, but had been reluctant to take the final step and be with him, considering her events from Season 12’s C Block.

    B Plot/Dallas: Demetrius was able to again showcase why, as many above have said, that he has been a valuable asset to Degrassi since he arrived on the scene last year. His plot seemed to come out of nowhere last week, but it was intriguing and he sold it well enough to make us want more. The wrap up to his plot this week in Barely Breathing was simply excellent. It gave us the insight the into crushing disappointment of an alpha-male athlete who has basically had to come to terms with the fact that he’s not going to make it to the NHL. Dallas’ drinking has been established since last year and was put into good effect here, actually highlighting his depression/angst more so. Usually Mr. Joyette is used in a support role, where he excels. Once again, he has reminded us of his acting talents by being showcased as the main role with a plot of his own. Demetrius and Luke seem to have very good chemistry when working together which has made this duo a treat to watch, in my humble opinion.

    C Plot/Alli: Melinda Shankar and the Degrassi writers were able to reasonably and realistically show Alli’s fear in this episode. Her character doesn’t want to “let go” of a guy she thinks is potentially a keeper, even with his abusive tendencies. Usually, shows would portray a woman in an abusive relationship as someone who feels they stay in it because there’s no way out for them. Degrassi however, has done a good job of pointing out that there is always a choice in this regard, with Alli seemingly more than willing to dump Leo overboard, only to reluctantly take him back on her own accord. I truly hated this pairing due to their disastrous debut in the Paris Summer Block, but since the school year has started, their plots have improved immensely. I give the actors and writers credit on this, because it was so painful to see Melinda’s last year on the show start out so badly received by viewers. I wish good luck to all of them going forward with this storyline now that it has stopped being the consistent weak point of an episode.

    Degrassi, in the last few weeks, seems to have gotten its mojo back with some episodes of very good quality that have successfully evolved characters, couples, and their storylines.

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  10. I was just wondering what a “rubber room” is. Could someone inform me please.

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  11. Not to start any sort of rumors, but I’m just curious…does anyone else see the possibility of the Leo/Alli plot turning down hill in a very, very big way? With having Cam and Adam’s deaths this year, I don’t see anything in this block, but maybe by the end of Season 13, do you think they may have Alli and Leo together for a while, things turning better, then one thing happens and he goes too far and kills her? Don’t want to get too grim, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

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    1. Leo hurting her again I could see but killing her? Not by a long shot. That would be too over the top and unnecessary.

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    2. Kill? No way just based on the idea that they wouldn’t dare kill off two main characters in one season. I definitely do see things getting better, then later in the season Leo snaps and beats her to the point where she’d need medical attention (nothing crazy like her winding up in a coma though).

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    3. I could see Leo doing this. I don’t think it would be a premeditated first degree murder though. I had a scenario where Leo sees Ali with old flame Johnny at the Dot. Maybe he would internalize his anger and let it build up. Than when they are alone he could strike her and she could bang her head on a table or car door and accidently die. …..Didn’t Rick, before the school shooting, hit Terry so hard she went into a coma and the show wrote her off? This is Alis last year so a tragedy would hit her more than say Maya.

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  12. I was so mad at Maya’a story line. I wish she pressed charges. I wish victims of bully charge their bullies more often. Yes, it’s a long process, and it’ll probably never go away but someone has to be held for their actions and I’m just so furious with Simpson. Given his experiences at Degrassi he should have known how bad bullying can affect the school, yet I felt she just sat on his hands and did nothing. Even her mother , I felt no emotions on behalf of her daughter. It felt like almost no one was in Maya’s corner fighting with her and that just pisses me off. SO what do you do when it feels theirs nothing you can do, you over act. Yes, Maya’s song was wrong and she should have been punished, but at least she did something instead of lying in the fetal position!

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    1. If Mrs. Matlin had at least given her reasons for refusing to press charges right there, the whole incident might have been avoided. I agree that the plot was wrapped up too neatly, Maya wanting to fight back and then suddenly letting it pass just because Miles liked her. Did that suddenly make it okay?

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