I remember the days when I was one of those Degrassi fans who always felt the need to constantly compare what’s happening on the show now to how the way things were during the early years of The Next Generation. The frame of mind was always “Well TNG did it better!”
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve ultimately realized that while TNG had some great things happen, it was nowhere near being a perfect series, and I shouldn’t allow the rose-colored glasses I was wearing to automatically discount some of the things that the current series does. Both eras have their flaws, but at the same time both bring things to the table the other doesn’t or can’t.
Believe is a fine example of great work by the current Degrassi team. Throughout this storyline longtime fans can’t help but be reminded of what happened when Paige Michalchuk was raped in season 2. There was a followup episode later in the season, and it wasn’t brought up again until Ghost In The Machine in season 4. It was then we saw a complete meltdown of this strong female character, as Dean wasn’t convicted in court and was able to live his life as if nothing ever happened. As powerful as that storyline was, there just wasn’t enough time to add as much depth to the story as we’ve seen with Zoë’s plot in season 13. It’s a rarity to see an A and B plot that are equally as strong in terms of what they bring emotionally, working in tandem to tell a powerful story. Instead of simply matching the emotional intensity of Unbelievable, Believe surpasses it.
ZOE PLOT RECAP: As the trial nears, Zoë’s lawyer tells her she needs to avoid talking to the press. However, once the trial starts and the defense begins to question Zoë’s credibility, she decides to take things into her own hands by telling a reporter her side of the story. The reporter publishes an article that is then used against Zoë in court, and with a “True Story” documentary that reveals Zoë was fired from West Drive for popping pills, she’s dumped by her agent. Zoë takes Zig’s bag and steals some pills with the intention of getting high. She winds up confronting the reporter who published the story and Zoë breaks down afterward, contemplating suicide. Zig talks Zoë out of taking a handful of pills, and he goes with her to court so she can give her final statement. Zoë feels relieved when Luke and Neil are found guilty of sexually assaulting her, as well as distributing child pornography.
Zoë’s storyline is a gripping emotional rollercoaster. She begins the episode full of hope that justice will be served, but immediately panics once she sees how unfriendly the judicial process is. The defense’s strategy is to paint her as someone who probably consented based on her history as a “celebrity party girl.” They want to show her as someone who routinely regrets having sex with boys, but this time decided to declare she was raped. During his testimony, when asked if Zoë consented, Luke ‘cleverly‘ says “Well, she never said no.” Later, when Becky asks him if Zoë ever said she wanted to fool around, Luke’s response is “No, but a guy can just tell.” Knowingly or not, he delivers the wrong answer twice to the same question; it doesn’t matter if she never said no, “Only YES means YES” as the shirt Maya created and wore throughout this episode said.
It’s disturbingly ironic when we see Keisha wearing that same shirt, as she and Frankie are completely misguided in their focus of what really matters in this situation. They chastise Zoë for her constant desire to receive attention from the opposite sex. As true as it may be, it’s completely irrelevant to the fact that two males performed sexual acts on her without her consent. On one hand it’s hard to be unforgivably angry at them, because their ignorance comes from their youth. However, true frustration comes in thinking about how they could easily reach adulthood without being taught about rape culture, which rears its ugly head in the form of excuses and discussions about everything except the most important point: the victim is not to blame.
Ana Golja impresses with her acting once again, as Zoë nearly melts down to the breaking point. Degrassi perfectly timed responding to a question we’ve wondered for most of this season: Why was Zoë fired from West Drive? There’s little revealed besides stating Zoë abused prescription pills, but she quickly jumps back into the habit as her world crumbles around her. I love that Zig, who currently relates to Zoë’s feeling of helplessness because of his own issues, comes to her aid when she needs it most.
We’ve witnessed rape storylines over the course of Degrassi’s history. Characters such as Paige Michalchuk and Darcy Edwards found closure in other ways, but this is the first time someone receives the justice they deserve. As Zoë stands there, all alone in the empty courtroom, it’s as if she finally has the space to breathe a sigh of relief after everything she’s been through. But as this storyline finally comes to an end, hopefully some of the most-important words ever uttered on this show remain the most memorable to viewers:
“I’ve made a lot of bad choices…and probably going to make a lot more. I did not choose to be sexually assaulted. If you don’t convict Luke Baker and Neil Martin today, you’re saying I deserved it. You’re saying that other girls and boys that, they’ll deserve it too. Well, they don’t. I don’t. I’m not sure I want to live in a world where that’s true.”
BECKY PLOT RECAP: Becky’s nervous about testifying for the trial because her brother’s lawyer doesn’t want Becky to mention anything about the video she saw on Luke’s phone. Becky becomes so overwhelmed by the trial that she skips court and intentionally gets lost in the woods with Drew while on a field trip. She tells Drew that she doesn’t know what to do, and Drew advises her to talk to her brother. The next day Luke begs Becky to lie for him, however she tells the truth and also admits that Luke told her Zoë never consented. After Luke is found guilty Becky tries to console her family, however her mother tells her that things won’t be okay.
Sarah Fisher teams up with Ana again to deliver another 1-2 punch with their acting chops. Becky’s situation is a grueling as Zoë’s, but in a different way. You’ve got this person who grew up in a home with very strong values, and now her family is pressuring her to suddenly go against everything they’ve taught her. “If I don’t lie on the stand my family hates me, and if I do I hate myself,” Becky tells Drew. In my preview of this episode I wrote about how I felt like Drew comparing and saying his brother Adam wouldn’t give up on him wasn’t meant to be taken literally. As Becky asked Luke one final time if Zoë consented it was clear he still didn’t get it. By telling the truth she’s ultimately not giving up on him learning the difference between right and wrong in this situation.
One of the best scenes in season 13 comes when the judge reads the verdict. I’ve never experienced such joy and pain simultaneously while watching Degrassi before. While we’re finally able to breathe a sigh of relief for Zoë, I’m absolutely heartbroken for Becky as this is the final blow that rips her family apart. “Don’t worry, we’ll get through this as a family,” Becky says to her mom, who simply replies “I’m not sure we will.”
It’s bad enough that her parents distanced themselves from her once this whole thing started, and now that Becky’s crucial testimony helped get Luke convicted she’s bound to become even more isolated. Instead of painting a picture that everything ends “happily ever after” for all involved once the guilty verdict is read, we’re left with the disheartening reality that Becky’s nightmare is truly beginning as Zoë’s is coming to an end.
“C PLOT” REVIEW
Though there technically was a “C” plot, while watching the actual episode it felt more like just a hodgepodge of side events that played a role in the outcome of Zoë’s storyline. We see Zig getting drawn back into the gang because Vince has shown up at the school and basically threatens him. Zig gets pulled into Zoë’s storyline when she spots him dealing drugs at school, and she takes his backpack in order to score some pills. Zig realizes she’s stolen from him, and finds her contemplating overdosing on the pills on a school bus. Just like we saw with Becky and Drew’s interaction, it makes sense for Zig to be the one to talk to Zoë here since he also feels as if he’s caught between a rock and a hard place. Later, Zoë offers to pay off Zig’s drug debt. It’s a heartwarming gesture as Zoë credits Zig with literally saving her life. He didn’t “fix” everything for her, he simply encouraged her to take the first step toward helping herself. She does the same for him, despite us not knowing how or if Zig will get out of the gang.
Also, kudos to Winston for doing the right thing and telling the truth during his testimony. Miles asking him to lie on the stand was absolutely nonsensical and selfish, given the circumstances and punishment Winston could’ve received for committing perjury. We’ve all been there where we’re asked to do something we feel uncomfortable doing. I just want to point out how great it is that in this Degrassi episode, we saw two characters (Becky and Winston) who were being heavily pressured into making a bad decision, but they stayed true to themselves and did the right thing anyway.
It’s easy to get caught up in the fandom hoopla that is “Matlingsworth,” but there’s so much more to this than Degrassi “adding unnecessary relationship drama instead of focusing on Zoë.” Maya feels bad for Zoë, so Miles sees this as an opportunity to get back in Maya’s good graces by helping to show support for Zoë. Things take a disturbing twist when Miles wants Winston to lie during his testimony, and not mention the fact Miles was about to have a drunken hookup with Zoë at the party. Winston tells the truth anyway, and instead of giving Miles a second chance, Maya leaves him for good.
“When things go wrong you do the horrible thing, you do the ugly thing,” Maya screams at Miles. I love the truth of that statement; we’ve seen by Miles’ actions in season 13 that he becomes vindictive when things don’t go his way. It’s great because we see Maya, one of the smarter characters on this show at the moment, instantly put the kibosh on things. “I can’t wait around every time to pick up the pieces every time you freak out!” she says. Going back to that moment in the woods with Drew and Becky, Drew said Adam would never give up on him. There’s a similar thread here as Miles begs Maya not to abandon him again. However, Maya’s too tired of Miles’ immaturity to stick around. Miles has really deep issues, presumably caused by his dysfunctional home life, that will drain Maya emotionally and drag her down if she stays and tries to “save” him. It’s not about Maya giving up on Miles, it’s about Maya wisely choosing not to give up her sanity and self worth for the sake of some boy who keeps repeating his mistakes.