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Why the ‘Felicity’ Date Rape Storyline Was Important and Still Is

7 Apr

Teen TV often deals with some pretty heavy subjects relating to sex and one area where Julie Hammerle and I have praised Felicity in our conversations both here and over at This Was TV is how it explores matters of sexual health. One such storyline which was handled with sensitivity was when Julie was date raped by Zach in season 1 and the reason I felt it was necessary to bring this up is due to this interview from Cosmopolitan with Devon Gummersall. Gummersall also played Brian Krakow on My So-Called Life and like many other fans of this show I went to Twitter with all caps blaring when he appeared as Peggy’s date on Mad Men.

The post Mad Men interviews with Gummersall have mostly stuck with reminiscing about MSCL (you know I am so here for this) and Mad Men, which is why when the Felicity rape storyline is broached Gummersall’s response is incredibly disappointing “I loved being on the show, but in the end I realized that it was sort of a mistake to do that kind of a storyline. I would have much rather been on the show more long-term and done something that didn’t have to end in such a bad way.”

Felicity ep 4 Brian Krakow all grown upI’m guessing that playing a rapist is not high up on any actor’s wish list and his character on Felicity was a sweet and shy guy, not necessarily who you might expect to do something like this. Gummersall notes how quickly the storyline turned “And also it’s weird because it started out with this light-heartedness, the whole thing with him washing his clothes the wrong way and all his clothes were pink, and he was a sweet guy. And all of a sudden he becomes this bad person and you’re like, What?” This factor is something we addressed when we talked about these episodes as we liked Zach a whole bunch and then he did this; not every rapist is a scary dude hiding behind a bush with a knife or waiting for any girl to get drunk at a party. Sometimes it is the guy who you trust and doesn’t listen when you say no. This story is not played for sensation, instead it is portrayed with sensitivity in showing the consequences of a sadly common scenario like this.

So for all of you who haven’t seen the episode in years/have never seen it here is a brief explanation of what happens in “Drawing the Line.” Zach is dating Julie and they’ve been fooling around a bit. Julie wants to take things slow as she’s been hurt in the past by guys who haven’t been good for her and while we only hear about the assault after the fact (not showing it puts the audience in the position of choosing a side to believe) it becomes quite clear that Julie said no and Zach carried on regardless. The scene where Julie describes what happened to Felicity is devastating and heartbreaking right down to details such as he rolled over and fell asleep after he was done. Julie does not think it is rape at first and she blames herself; scenes like these add to why this episode is such a vital piece of television.

Felicity 1.08 Julie and FelicityI didn’t watch these episodes when they first aired in 1998 and it was depressing to note when we watched them for This Was TV in 2013 for This Was TV how relevant it is 15 years later. This is still the case in 2015 and the issue of consent in college is sadly still a hot topic. One of the reasons why Devon Gummersall’s response is so disappointing is that he can’t see the wider social implications of a story like this instead it all revolves around being sad that he couldn’t be on the show longer because his character did something awful or because of the reaction he received as he references what fans said to him “Oh my God, you were Brian Krakow and then you broke our hearts when you were on Felicity because we were like, ‘Oh my God, Krakow raped her.'” And I was like, Dear God, what have I done?” I get that this must suck to have a fan encounter like this, but putting a storyline out there like this has far more value. In our discussion I talk about how to me he is Brian Krakow still, but ultimately I can disassociate between the two characters. And it’s not like I don’t still heart Brian Krakow after this.

While watching the new episode of Mad Men (spoiler alert) and Stevie went back to Peggy’s all drunk and horny I momentarily worried we were going to get a repeat of the Zach incident. Thankfully this was not the case and Stevie listened to what Peggy said. My fears weren’t due to the role Gummersall has played in the past, instead Zach provides a frame of reference for a character that doesn’t get what consent means.

Felicity challenges our perceptions of characters and their actions in the two-parter “Drawing the Line.” It also calls into question the conclusions we have drawn from previous episodes as I had incorrectly assumed that Julie had slept with Ben. When Ben punches Zach he also emphatically beats him with words too, telling Zach “The difference is, when you told me to stop, I did.” Zing.

Gummersall ends this brief foray into Felicity with “I never talked to J.J. Abrams or Matt Reeves about that actually, but I wonder. I bet you they were like, “Yeah, maybe we should have gone in a different direction with that.” I wonder if they think that. I don’t know.” I really hope they didn’t think that because in terms of important storytelling this is one of Felicity’s benchmark moments addressing a subject which is sadly all too relevant almost 20 years later.

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One Response to “Why the ‘Felicity’ Date Rape Storyline Was Important and Still Is”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. TV Rewind: Felicity, “Felicity Interrupted” & “Back to the Future” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 18, 2015

    […] rape storyline was handled, also still depressingly relevant even if certain actors involved with said storyline disagree. There were maybe a few too many pregnancy scares and actual pregnancies for my liking and it is a […]

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