FRANKIE PLOT SUMMARY: In order to smooth things over with Northern Tech, Frankie decides to invite them to Degrassi for a diversity mixer. She divides up everyone by blood type in order to point that out despite how different people are, in the end we’re all basically the same. When Frankie says race doesn’t matter and that they should put the banner incident behind them, Kara gets upset. Frankie also admits to the drawing and says that she just made a mistake. However, Kara still says the drawing was racist despite Frankie saying she didn’t mean it like that. Frustrated because she’s tired of being viewed as the villain, Frankie storms off. Later, as Goldi explains white privilege to Frankie, they learn people are using Yael’s “High School Secrets” app to call Frankie a racist. Frankie demands Yael shut down the app, but Yael says it’s not the app’s fault that people are saying those things, and that Frankie should try harder to listen to what other people are saying. That gives Frankie the idea to meet with the girls from Northern Tech at The Dot. She apologizes for offending them and tells them she didn’t realize why their school was called “The Zoo,” conversing with them in a hasty manner and leaving before the Northern Tech girls can speak since Degrassi has a volleyball game. When Frankie arrives to the team bus she learns Kara tweeted that Frankie said “I’m sorry for offending you.” Shay tells her that kind of apology always comes across insincere, and Frankie becomes defensive. Ultimately, Shay starts to believe that Frankie really is racist, and the team leaves for their game without her.
Have you ever watched someone try so hard to avoid something from happening that they unintentionally engage in self-sabotage, and said thing happens anyway? That’s exactly what we’re seeing with Frankie in this storyline. It’s so frustrating watching someone’s perception of a situation cause them to dig themselves into an unnecessary hole, because this entire situation has spiraled out of control and right into Frankie’s worst nightmare: people now think she’s indeed a racist.
This storyline is more complex than the same flimsy, dismissive arguments I keep reading, and ironically they show exactly why this storyline is needed:
*It’s not that big of a deal!
*They’re being unfair toward her!
*Frankie wasn’t the only one who drew on the banner, what about the rest of the team!
*Frankie’s not racist, but Degrassi’s trying to make it seem like she is!
And my favorite, the logical fallacy that since Northern Tech pranked Degrassi first and they didn’t get in trouble for shaming Frankie and TRESPASSING (as if this is a dick waving contest in which we must prove one act is worse than the other), it’s ridiculous that Frankie’s getting railroaded for what she did!
This is a detailed story with a lot of moving parts that don’t fit into the generic narrative of “Is Frankie racist? YES or NO are the only possible answers to this divisive question!” Ultimately, this plot comes down to Frankie Hollingsworth, her own actions and the fact that she’s unaware of how said actions have affected other people.
“Everybody’s got a different way of seeing things,” Yael says, as Frankie’s upset because she feels no one’s listening to what she’s saying. I’ve been harping on the “There is no reality, only perception” thing since Next Class Season 1, with Zig and Maya’s situation being a shining example of how people’s perception of reality (Zig thought Maya was cheating) can be different from actual reality (she wasn’t cheating…as a matter of fact she was in love with Zig).
Like I said in my review of #TurntUp, I can’t stress enough that despite the fact WE (the viewers) know Frankie and know she didn’t draw the gorilla with racist intent, THEY (Northern Tech) know literally nothing about her as a person. And a lack of malicious intent doesn’t automatically preclude you from consequences for your actions.
“Racism runs deep,” Jonah tells Frankie during a scene in which he explains there is no “easy fix” for situations regarding racism. That makes Frankie’s whitesplaining at the diversity mixer even more ridiculous, as she tries to tell a group of minorities that race doesn’t matter and the whole banner thing is silly because we all evolved from monkeys anyway.
In a perfect world we’d all view each other “as one race,” but that’s not how the real world works. Your race/sex/religion/class/looks do matter. We have biases and make assumptions about people on a daily basis because of them, and we’ve engaged in everything from microaggressions to wars against each other because of them since the beginning of civilization. While Frankie’s using her “race doesn’t matter” speech as a primary argument for why she isn’t a racist, it dismisses the fact that Northern Tech’s students ARE looked down upon directly because of their race and economic status.
I like how Degrassi compounded the situation by having people anonymously drag Frankie through Yael’s app. It’s not right that they’re saying horrible things about her, but it adds a layer of uncomfortable realism to an already uncomfortable situation when you’ve got strangers online aggressively chiming in to trash someone, a regular occurrence in today’s call-out culture. The icing on the cake is Frankie’s rushed apology when addressing Northern Tech’s black players at The Dot. She literally went from acknowledging that she didn’t let them speak the last time they met to once again not letting them get a word in, the second meeting she’d called in this episode to tell the world why she isn’t a racist.
As she watches the bus drive away after Shay kicked her off the volleyball team, Frankie’s downfall isn’t because she’s practically viewed now as the leader of Degrassi’s KKK chapter. It’s because she’s been so hellbent on being defensive that at no point in any of this has she ever tried to understand why what she did was wrong, or actually listened to anything that anyone has tried to tell her.
TRISTAN PLOT SUMMARY: Tristan finds himself hesitant to have “the talk” with Miles about whether or not their relationship is official because he’s afraid of scaring him off. However, Zoë believes Tristan needs to know where Miles stands so that history doesn’t repeat itself Triles is tasked with taking care of a robot baby for a class assignment, and when Miles doesn’t seem to wanna take the baby home for the night, Tristan decides to take care of it since he’s so afraid of pressuring Miles into anything. Winston points out to Tristan that Miles isn’t big on commitment and responsibility, and Tristan gets defensive. However, Tristan ends up confronting Miles about him not helping with their assignment. While Miles thinks the baby is a dumb toy Tristan views it as a symbol of their relationship, and while arguing Tristan drops the baby. He admits he’s afraid Miles will bail on their relationship, and Miles agrees to take care of the baby. Later, Triles gets an “A” on their assignment, both admit they’re worried about messing up their relationship and they confirm that they’re officially together.
Tristan and Miles reuniting also means a heightened sense of paranoia that the past could potentially repeat itself. I enjoyed watching Tristan catch himself possibly falling into the same trap he did the last time they dated when he blindly made excuses for Miles’ negligent behavior.
The robot baby assignment is probably going to be one of my favorite backdrops ever, and I love when Degrassi comes up with creative events that help tell the story. We see Tristan projecting all of his Triles hopes and dreams onto the assignment while Miles views it as just another dumb school project. We’ve watched Miles turn his life around since hitting rock bottom last season, but his IDGAF attitude toward their project shows that even though he’s in a good place mentally, he’s not this perfect character who now magically cares about schoolwork outside of creative writing.
If Tristan had only given Miles the okay to play basketball we might’ve gotten a remake of a classic Degrassi moment, but similar to Jenna years ago Tristan calls out his partner on his sketchy behavior. “You can’t just throw it away when you get bored,” he says about the baby (aka their relationship) to Miles.
Tristan’s always been kind of a pushover when it comes to relationships, allowing himself to become so wrapped up in his feelings that he can’t see what’s happening right in front of him. In Next Class he’s felt like a secondary character more than ever, and he still has dick-ish tendencies, but at the same time we’ve also seen the most personal growth in how his character has gone from placing love on a pedestal to viewing it through a more realistic lens.
YAEL PLOT SUMMARY: As the only girl in their tech class, no one takes Yael’s “High School Secrets” app (an online support group where people can post secrets anonymously) seriously. Baaz and Vijay’s “Brown Cloud” fart app is inferior, so she accepts Bazz’s bet: if their app gets more downloads than hers, she has to go out on a date with him. While Baaz and Vijay’s app is a hit, Yael’s frustrated that hers isnt. Hunter advises Yael that sometimes you have to be ruthless, so she starts posting school rumors and gossip onto her app. Yael’s happy when the app’s download skyrocket, but she starts to feel bad when Frankie asks her to shut down the app because it’s being used to post cruel comments about her. Baaz wins the bet when Yael decides she doesn’t want to compromise her integrity for success and shuts down the app.
This is the second time Degrassi has addressed this theme in Next Class, in which a female character faces an uphill battle in an industry where women are treated as inferior to men. In Season 1’s #NotOkay, Degrassi crafted a great story around Maya’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female artist. While Yael’s looking for the same thing in the tech industry, several things seem to get in the way of making this storyline as compelling as the former.
At this point in Next Class it’s literally a toss up between Yael and Baaz as to which one of them is the least-developed character on the show; it also doesn’t help that our first impression of these two basically revolved them soaking in the “oozing pits of moral iniquity” as conspirators in Maya’s trolling. This plot is an attempt to get Yael’s character back on track, as her initial motivation for the High School Secrets app and her other tech ideas show her heart is in the right place.
But if we’re looking at this plot in reference to the episode’s title, suggesting that the story is centered around Yael fighting against male privilege, that’s where things get confusing thanks to an absolute truth of a line by Hunter Hollingsworth: “Lots of people are into really stupid stuff.”
This plot could be seen as Baaz and Vijay getting rewarded despite barely putting forth any effort into their app, while Yael worked her ass off to creative an innovative UI only for no one to care about hers. However, the entire point of the contest itself is to get the most downloads, not who’s put in the most work or has the best interface. There’s also absolutely no way that creating an app where high school teenagers can post anonymously could possibly be a good idea, regardless of the app’s specs.
Yael is intellectually superior to Baaz and Vijay by a mile, but with High School Secrets it’s just as much about (if not more) her trying to make up for her role in harassing Maya in Season 1 as it is her proving her technological dominance. That’s why she’s quick to pull the app despite its popularity once she turned it into a gossip app; just like in #SorryNotSorry, she once again she’s linked to hateful anonymous behavior and has to come face to face with the person it’s hurting when Frankie confronts her.
We know that Yael’s extremely intelligent, goal driven and ready to use her powers for a greater good. We know this plot presents male privilege, moral conflict and the realization that people will, at times, love the most stupid things over others that are considered helpful or important. “Everybody’s got a different way of seeing things,” she says, but I’m having difficulty trying to see what Degrassi’s attempting to say with all of these points packed into this brief story.