It might not be a “go there” theme, but the Degrassi: Next Class Season 3 debut presents one of the most controversial topics of today’s society: safe spaces. The idea is that everyone should feel free to be who they are and exist away from behaviors that might be uncomfortable or triggering.
“I want this to be a safe space where everyone feels free to be themselves,” Zoë says in her speech. But the show also uses two of #BreakTheInternet’s storylines to show that it’s impossible for every safe space to be a safe place for everyone, and that the concept of a “safe space” is far more subjective and expansive than our modern day’s debate suggests.
ZOE PLOT RECAP: With Tristan still in the hospital, Zoë’s the new school president. She’s busy making Degrassi a welcoming place for the new Syrian students when Vijay and Degrassi’s QSA stage a “kiss in” protest. They’re upset that their club was moved to an old Janitor’s closet to give the Syrians a prayer room. When Vijay accuses her of being homophobic, Zoë admits for the first time publicly that she’s gay. While running errands with VP Goldi, she freaks out when she sees Vijay has posted a vlog calling her a self-hating gay for treating the Syrian students better than the QSA. Zoë’s afraid her mom will find out she’s gay, and in the panic Zoë crashes her car into a fire hydrant. Later at the scene Zoë’s mom arrives; she saw the video, but she doesn’t believe Zoë’s gay and says that it’s awful that someone would say such “bad things” about her. Zoë decides that she can’t treat the QSA poorly and tells Goldi that them and the Syrian students will have to share the same office, and they’ll handle any conflicts accordingly. New president Zoë gives a speech where she comes out to the entire school, and she tells everyone that Degrassi should be a place where everyone feels welcome. Zoë says her mom won’t believe she’s gay unless she actually spotted Zoë kissing someone, and Zoë’s introduced to new Syrian student Rasha, who’s impressed what Zoë did handling the office drama.
Since the beginning of Degrassi: Next Class, we’ve seen characters running for office who say they want Degrassi to be a place for everyone. The show does a good job here of intertwining that thought with Zoë’s personal life, as her mom’s behavior serves as a strong reminder of how it feels to be isolated.
Zoë took a huge step in admitting that she’s gay, first to Winston and then the entire school, but her biggest challenge will be dealing with her mom’s anti-gay behavior. I laughed as Grace told Zoë that “No one has a problem with gay people anymore.” We’ve definitely come a LONG way, but there are still plenty of people in this world who are homophobic, and there always will be. It’s easy to say Zoë should just come out to her mom and let the chips fall where they may, but her mom has always been the only family that she has. The bond between family can be a difficult one to break, even in the most toxic of situations.
You’ve gotta love the setup of Zoë’s mom with this storyline, so confident that she knows her daughter well enough to believe she can’t possibly be gay. “You mean that horrible video?” Ms. Rivas says. “I wouldn’t want anyone saying those awful things about me, either.” All you have to do is imagine how it’d feel to hear a parent tell you to your face how horrible of a person they think you are.
After all that Zoë’s been through during the past four seasons it’s great to see her reach a point where she can stand tall and fight for herself with poise and maturity. With the show planting the seeds for her and Rasha, she’ll need to do it again soon.
MILES PLOT RECAP: Everyone involved in the bus crash survived with no major injuries except for Tristan, who’s been in a coma for 10 weeks. During that time, Miles has been posting personal updates about Tristan’s condition onto Degrassi’s social page. He’s stoked when he sees Tristan’s finger twitch, but when he goes to post about it he finds out he’s been blocked from posting on Degrassi’s page, because the personal updates have made other students uncomfortable. In class, the other students agree that his updates were too personal, and Esme says Miles has been deluding himself by holding onto every shred of hope Tristan will pull through. She also tells him that Tristan’s finger twitching was just an involuntary response that meant nothing. Later, Tristan’s mom confirms the same thing, telling Miles that he shouldn’t drop his entire life to be by Tristan’s side nonstop when the prognosis looks so bleak. At Degrassi, Miles is spotted tearing down posters and Lola keeps him from getting into trouble. She’s upset because she feels as if no one cares about her feelings, and Miles feels the same way. In class, Miles uses a graphic image of Tristan to present how he spent his summer, and how he feels like he’s the only person who hasn’t given up on Tristan. Esme attacks Miles when he says Tristan isn’t going to leave him the way that everyone has left her. Miles is given detention for his outburst, and so has Lola for hers. Lola tells Miles he can talk to her about Tristan anytime he wants, and the two become friends.
While Degrassi is more direct in its safe space storyline with Zoë, the show presents a more subtle angle in both Miles’ and Lola’s storylines. Miles has become obsessed with Tristan’s condition, and it’s heartbreaking watching him trapped in that cycle. He feels as if everyone else has just given up on Tristan, but from the all of the scenes in Mr. Mitchell’s class with Zig, Esme, Jonah, Grace and Winston, everyone just wants their lives to revert back to normal, and that’s just not possible if their every moment is spent being reminded of the crash. Meanwhile, as they try to move on, Miles’ life has come to a complete halt as he’s desperate to believe the one thing he cares about most in the world won’t leave him.
The conversation between Miles and Lola is a perfect summary of how impossible it is to fit concepts into the boxes we constantly try to place them in. “We have to care about everyone’s feelings…unless our feeling are hurting their feelings, then we’re not allowed to have any feelings,” Lola says. In a world where we’re told our feelings matter, they only matter to others when it’s important or convenient to them.
Miles says that there isn’t a safe space for everyone, and whether or not that’s true is completely dependent on how you choose look at it. Can the world itself be a safe space where every single person can truly be themselves and express their feelings the way they want to? Societies past and present has proven the answer to that to be a resounding “Hell no.” However, that doesn’t mean that people can’t have safe spaces, or that those spaces in any capacity are silly for existing. Your “man cave,” your social club or activity, or even burying yourself into an obsession with this TV show can function as a safe space away from the insanity of the world.
Forget all of the media hype and drama around that saying. As we watched Miles and Lola sitting in detention connecting with each other, both digitally and emotionally, we see that sometimes a safe space isn’t a college campus or an office at Degrassi; often times we end up finding a safe space in each other.
LOLA PLOT RECAP: Lola feels uncomfortable seeing Shay and Tiny together, so she decides to post a throwback photo of her and Tiny being cozy online. The picture upsets Shay, and then the two get into a subtweeting war over it during class. Mr. Perino decides the class should do hold a mock trial to solve the conflict, and Lola angrily admits that she feels like Shay stole Tiny from her. Lola’s sent to the Simpson’s office for swearing, but spots Miles tearing down posters in the hallway. She stops them and the two have a conversation where they connect over the fact they feel like no one cares about their feelings. Later, Lola and Miles are seen in detention; Lola tells Miles she can talk to her about Tristan anytime, and she friends him online.
This plot is so tricky because I think a lot of us have been in a situation where you’re swallowing your feelings for the sake of someone close to you, but should we be doing that? If Lola puts her feelings out there that she’s bitter over Shay and Tiny’s relationship, what is the resolution she’s expecting? How should Shay respond to that? Does one person’s feelings trump the other’s, or can these conflicting sides truly co-exist in the same space?
Both of their feelings are valid, but what I love is there isn’t really a concrete answer to any of this. There’s also the fact that now both Lola and Shay have been on this side of the issue, watching someone they have feelings for date their best friend.
Because this is Lola the conflict runs through social media, everything from Lola posting the photo to her and Shay pulling a classic fandom move with their indirects. “TFW your friend used a like/RT question to prove a point, knowing people are more likely to hit like” is a brilliant comeback from Shay, one that rings too true in an age where everything’s valued or perceived as right based on the number of likes/RTs/favorites/reblogs and not necessarily the content itself. Confirmation bias at its finest.
We see the wheels of Degrassi social structure churning with Lola and Miles separating from their friends to connect with each other. This plot is setting up for a bigger story for them, but the supporting characters in Lola’s storyline bring a lot of humor to a situation we know from experience is no fun to deal with in real life.
*The newbies! Great casual intros for both Rasha and Saad.
*Simpson’s comment about being afraid Miles’ posts will be triggering comes full circle when we see Esme’s response to the graphic image of Tristan during Miles’ presentation. Her attacking him and her knowledge about Tristan’s involuntary response reveals that she’s experienced this situation herself.
*Some funny moments in this episode: Vijay’s “kiss in” protest and everything that came out of Baaz’s mouth. I loved the mock trial, something the show hasn’t done in ages!
*Before Zoë’s speech, the scene starts with Jonah carelessly bumping into Baaz, who responds by saying “Okay.” I love the nuance of a passing interaction like that. Putting that kind of thought into a meaningless moment that says a lot about the detail that we’ll see throughout this season.
*More #ContinuityFTW: Zig talking about the summer dance program he did with Esme, learning that Hunter is on parole for the swatting, Jonah and Grace wondering where Maya is and they reference Zoë’s self harm.
*Though she never says it, Goldi’s facial expressions clearly show she’s uncomfortable with homosexuality.