Degrassi: Next Class steps on the gas pedal in #NoFilter, fearlessly venturing into dark and depressing territory. This episode, aimed at Generation Z, reminds me of a formula often used throughout Degrassi Junior High in the 1980’s. Those episodes contained three different plots, but a similar theme ran through all three.
Don’t be fooled by the show’s upbeat theme song and the mantra “Whatever it takes.” Through powerful dialogue, #NoFilter effectively punches viewers in the face with the reality that everything isn’t always going to be okay.
RECAP: When Miles skips school to go back home, he discovers his mom having sex with someone in a bedroom. Back at Degrassi, Miles vents to Winston and jokingly threatens to kill the unknown man his mom is seeing. Miles and Mrs. Hollingsworth are called into a meeting with Principal Simpson, who believes Miles was threatening a student after someone recorded Miles’ threat and posted it online. Facing potential suspension, Miles reveals he was talking about his mom’s new lover. At home, Mrs. Hollingsworth reveals to Miles, Hunter and Frankie that the man she’s been seeing is Mr. Hollingsworth, and Miles angrily storms away.
This plot could win all of the awards based on Miles’ monologue alone. It’s a difficult pill to swallow regardless of which side you’re on, serving up a bold truth no one wants to actively acknowledge. The easiest example is one that occurs daily, when we exchange empty pleasantries with each other in passing. “How are you?” “I’m doing well, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you.” It really is just a bunch of crap.
In the context of this story, Miles’ feelings don’t matter to his mother, and that hurts. We can’t forget that she’s also damaged goods, incapable of understanding the true impact going back to Mr. Hollingsworth has on her kids because of her own mental anguish. It’s such a heartbreaking cycle of pain that no one in this family has the ability to escape.
Degrassi: Next Class has made it their mission to inject social media at every turn and the message they’re sending here is so underrated. Some kid is randomly filming Miles venting about his mom’s lover. The reality is there’s no way we believe he’d actually kill the guy, but the perception of a video posted and shared hundreds of times online dictates that Miles is making threats aimed at another student. In a world where every other tweet/Facebook post is a viral video of someone doing something, it can’t be stressed enough how easy it is for private behavior to become public fodder, regardless of intent.
Degrassi is going into its third season dealing with Miles’ personal issues with his father. This storyline serves as an uncomfortable reminder that destructive family drama can be never-ending.
RECAP: Zoë and Grace pair up for a class assignment where they must create an animation of where they think their life will be in fifteen years. While Zoë starts joking around with Grace about her piercings, Grace abruptly walks away. Grace also avoids Zoë, who tries to visit her at home later that day. Zoë winds up confronting Grace in the bathroom about her weird behavior, and Grace coughs up blood. When Zoë takes Grace home she learns that Grace has cystic fibrosis, a deadly illness with no cure. Zoë tries to be supportive by researching the disease and telling Grace to be positive, but that pisses Grace off…she’s tired of everyone telling her to be positive and then abandoning her because they can’t accept the fact she’s dying. In an attempt to reconcile with Grace, Zoë finishes their project which shows her mourning Grace at her funeral.
#NoFilter deals with the reality of embracing sadness and darkness, and Grace’s storyline takes a brilliantly dark turn with the revelation that she’s going to die at an early age. Upon Zoë learning that Grace has cystic fibrosis she does what anyone else would do, researching and offering support while also ignorant to the fact Grace has probably exhausted every avenue available in hope for a cure.
And now Grace is the exhausted one, moreso from the well-meaning yet empty comments of hope and positivity than the illness itself. The story she reveals about her month-long stay in the hospital when she was six years old is heartbreaking. In the beginning people came to visit her, but after a while they stopped coming. She learned at a young age that’s how it is when you’re in a lengthy battle with illness, physical or mental; people are there for you in the beginning with their uplifiting commentary and promises of being there for you through everything, but eventually you’re left to deal with your struggles alone because they can’t handle it.
Contrary to what Zoë said, Grace Cardinal hasn’t given up. Grace has actually embraced death, and she’s frustrated that everyone else refuses to do the same. No one wants to think about their own death, let alone the death of someone else.
Grace doesn’t want or need people telling her everything is going to be okay, or treating her as if she’s a charity case. She wants to be treated normally during the time she has left, and by the end of this episode Zoë’s on the right path to doing just that.
RECAP: Shay and Lola show up to Degrassi to see Frankie with a new hairstyle. They’re immediately concerned because as Lola puts it, “Changing your hair is a cry for help.” Frankie isn’t interested in hanging out, so she goes home and cries alone. She receives a message online from a stranger complimenting her hair, and Frankie tells them that her life has been falling apart and her friends don’t understand her. Frankie finds comfort in the online stranger until she realize it’s Shay and Lola catfishing her. She melts down in the music room and Jonah sternly tells her that her friends actually do get what she’s going through and she needs to talk to them. Shay and Lola tell Frankie they catfished her because she wouldn’t tell them what’s wrong, and Frankie says she feels like they wanted her to go back to who she used to be. They tell Frankie they accept her no matter what and the three make up.
This is a story where you can understand where both Frankie and Shay/Lola are coming from. It can be frustrating when your friends start distancing themselves and refusing to talk to you.
The scene where Frankie talks to the stranger online reminds me of so many of us in this space. Frankie doesn’t feel her friends get it, so she’s willing to take attention from anyone who will, even if they’re anonymous. “Real world people always disappoint,” Frankie’s brother Hunter said in season 13. If you’re in the Degrassi fandom long enough, you’ll see some of your fellow fans flat out say their internet friends are better than real life ones. The internet is a weird place where it’s kind of considered not real, but at the same time the feelings we invest in online relationships are far from fiction.
However, the heart of the story lies in the fact Frankie’s embracing the emotional changes within her. She says she feels like Shay and Lola want her to go back to the way to she was before her life fell apart, but it never actually came across that way. They’ve just noticed Frankie’s sad and want her to be happy again, and given that she’s not afraid of evolving as a person, she will be eventually.