The popular slang term “woke” means being socially aware of what’s going on around you. It’s typically a good thing, but Degrassi uses this term as the title to signify these characters opening their eyes to the harsh reality of their worlds. Zoë learns her mom isn’t going to accept her for who she is, Jankie comes to realize what’s become of their relationship and Maya realizes a way for her to finally find peace.
ZOE PLOT RECAP: Zoë is surprised at how calm her mom’s been after having catching her and Rasha kiss, so Zoë invites Rasha to her mom’s wedding. However, Ms. Rivas tells Zoë that Rasha isn’t allowed to come; Zoë’s mom is still convinced her daughter isn’t gay, and is just going through a phase. Despite that, Zoë wants Rasha to come anyway. After seeing an unconventionally feminine lesbian couple happily walking down the street, Zoë decides to wear a tuxedo to her mom’s wedding so people will stop second-guessing whether or not she’s gay. At the wedding, Zoë introduces Rasha to Ms. Rivas as her girlfriend, and Zoë’s mom proceeds as if nothing’s wrong. Later, Ms. Rivas confronts Zoë when she sees Zoë and Rasha kiss, demanding that they stop. Zoë refuses and her mom calls her selfish for bringing Rasha to the wedding after she said no. Zoë’s asked to leave, and as she storms out with Rasha following behind the two get into a fight. Rasha’s upset because Zoë lied about her being invited to the wedding, and being publicly hated for her sexuality by Ms. Rivas reminded Rasha of the time in Syria she was reported to the cops for being gay. Rasha tell Zoë that she can’t trust her anymore, and walks off. Later, a teary Zoë is comforted by Grace at The Dot. Zoë says she didn’t mean to hurt anyone, but all she hoped was that her mom would accept her being gay if she saw her happy with Rasha. Grace tells Zoë she can stay at her place for as long as she wants, and the two head home.
Degrassi’s found past success through characters desperately trying to be loved and accepted by their parents (i.e. Miles), and it feels just as heartbreaking when we look at it through Zoë’s perspective. We’ve watched Zoë spend her entire existence on Degrassi (5 seasons now) trying to find love and acceptance from people, from friendships to relationships and now her mom.
It’s funny because if we look back at Zoë’s earlier years on the show, we see Ms. Rivas is a core factor behind Zoë’s behavior. Oh how it’s easy to forget that Zoë joined Degrassi as a fallen TV star, pushed into stardom by Ms. Rivas at six months old. Every role Zoë played and every audition she’d attended had been her trying not only to impress the world, but to also not disappoint the only person in her life, her mom.
There’s irony in Ms. Rivas calling Zoë selfish; she’d had control over most of Zoë’s life for her own personal gain, and now she wants to control Zoë to make sure her daughter remains within the boundaries of her religious values. “I love you despite who you are,” Ms. Rivas says. The importance of Zoë having finally accepted herself shines bright here, standing up for herself in the face of one of the worst rejections a daughter or son could possibly face.
Zoë’s always been defiant, but it’s interesting how her behavior transforms her relationship with Rasha into a casualty of this war with her mom. Degrassi’s shown us time and time again that when it comes down to it, life is all about perspective. If Rasha hadn’t experienced being accosted for her sexuality in the past, maybe Zoë’s actions at the wedding wouldn’t have been a big deal. “What does that matter?” Zoë says, unaware that where Rasha comes from people are imprisoned, tortured and executed for being gay.
“I thought if she saw us together…she’d be able to finally accept me,” Zoë says. Hope has been a major theme in Season 3, but unfortunately Zoë realizes that sometimes hope isn’t enough.
FRANKIE PLOT RECAP: While still on her break with Jonah, Frankie’s been reading a relationship book to figure things out. Hunter’s also having relationship trouble with Yael, so without his knowledge Frankie uses the techniques in the book to see if she can repair Hunter/Yael’s relationship via Facerange. Later, Hunter’s upset when he finds out Frankie pretended to be him and told Yael that he loves her, so he takes her phone and does the same thing to Jonah. Frankie freaks out and feels like she has to explain herself to Jonah, so she heads to Ms. Rivas’ wedding to find him. She tells him about what Hunter did, but that she does love him and wants their relationship to work despite their toxic behavior. Jonah says he’ll call her later, but when he never does she checks his Facerange messages again. Just as she’s doing that he walks in with a bouquet of flowers. When he sees what he’s doing, Jonah tells her that she’s lost his trust and he breaks up with her.
Clichéd criticisms of whatever the current generation of Degrassi is usually involve generically stating how the “original” seasons (TNG) were better. Degrassi’s “The Next Generation” days were great, but they surely weren’t without flaws. I’m a firm believer that each generation has its strengths and weaknesses, with a strength of the recent seasons being the ability to flesh out more individual stories over longer periods.
The story of Frankie’s relationship is the exact type of plot that TNG could’ve (and probably would’ve) done in just one episode. However, the Next Class team opts for a slow burn, and this plot is a prime example of when I talk about Season 3 feeling authentic. Similar to Hunter and Yael’s relationship at this point in the season, Degrassi delves into the uncomfortable period in between with Jankie, aka “relationship limbo.”
I love the symbolism of Frankie reading the self-help book, helping Hunter’s relationship with Yael, but eventually destroying her own in the end. How is it that we can fix other people’s problems with ease, but we can’t do that for ourselves?
Another way to tell the writers are paying attention to extreme detail in Season 3 is Jonah’s line right before he broke up with Frankie. “All year, you’ve second-guessed my feelings for you and I liked you enough to give it a pass.” Frankie’s been jerking him around emotionally and he really hasn’t called her out in the way he needs to until this moment. I think Jonah’s line is really important in understanding just how common it is to “bend the rules” for people we like, friendships and relationships alike. Even in the context of watching Degrassi, fans will give significantly more leeway to their favorite characters when they’re problematic, while any other character who does the same thing is considered trash.
But with relationships, the emotional stakes are far higher. One thing that bothers me is that we never find out what the “T” is in that “CAT” technique Frankie was reading about. My brain wants to believe the “T” is something about “trust,” but seeing as how both are lacking in the end it makes perfect sense anyway.
MAYA PLOT RECAP: Maya’s doctor diagnoses her with depression, but she refuses to believe the diagnosis. At home, Maya’s mom is helping Maya go through the exercises her doctor has assigned, but Maya gets so angry that she takes the book and throws it at her great grandmother’s antique mirror, breaking it. Maya’s mom is upset because the mirror meant a lot to her, and Maya just responds by saying “Whatever.” Later, Maya overhears her mom and sister Katie talking, and her mom saying she feels like she’s failed as a parent. Katie’s back because she says they should have family time, but Maya blows her off by saying she’s busy and promptly leaves. We see Maya head to an ATM at The Dot and she withdraws a large sum of money. Esme asks Maya if she’s going on a trip and she says “Yeah, something like that,” and she randomly asks Esme to take care of Zig for her. Maya returns home and we see she’s set up a girls’ night for her mom and Katie, and she also got the mirror fixed. Maya tells her mom and sister that she knows things have been hard because of her, but she has a plan to make it all better. At the end of the night, we Maya head to the bathroom, and she we see her smile as she takes a bunch of random prescription pills from the medicine cabinet and places them in a container. Katie walks in and Maya said she’s glad she came to make things easier on their mom, and the two sisters share a hug.
What more could be said about this amazing story? We start off with the show covering the forever false assumption that depression just means you’re sad. The doctor tells Maya, “Depression’s a disease that can take many forms.”
Then Degrassi makes Maya unforgiving in the scene where she breaks the mirror. Normally you’d expect a character to realize what they’ve done and instantly regret it, but Maya’s indifference toward what she’s done and her mom’s fear is what makes this scene memorable. “Whatever. I always thought it was ugly,” she says, walking out without an ounce of remorse.
This show has tackled suicide and mental illness, but never in a way where someone takes joy in knowing their death will bring relief. Maya’s words echo even louder as we watch her gather a collection of pills. “I fixed the mirror or…at least I tried,” she said earlier. She’s mentioned this season that she can’t do anything no matter how hard she tries; it’s as if Maya has accepted that she’s trapped underwater, and ready to let the current take her farther down. Next Class is unrelenting in showing darkness from the inside, making it impossible to ignore what we often miss from the outside.