In case the millions-strong march this past weekend didn’t already drive the point home, the Season 1 “Sweet/Vicious” finale (Jan. 24) came through to prove that the not-so-secret weapon for progressive change is intersectional allyship rallying behind strong women. Breaking down the institutional reasons for the often-tragic conflicts women face is only part of the battle, and “Sweet/Vicious” gave us a powerful to-do list for exactly how it can be accomplished: With love, honesty and grace.
A lot happens over the course of the finale’s two long hours — so much you could be forgiven for experiencing whiplash and/or wondering if Darlington University’s actually located in Mystic Falls, badass Bennett witches ready to pop out and hex Nate (Dylan McTee) at any moment — but the overarching theme is that victory can only be achieved when good people work together to resist an uncaring and unjust status quo.
In the case of the low-key mystery surrounding the duo’s season-opening manslaughter, all the teamwork required for Jules and Ophelia (Eliza Bennett and Taylor Dearden) to free Tyler (Nick Fink) from jail without incriminating themselves is the two of them putting their brains (and brawn) together with their state’s Megan’s Law database (and the years of work by good, tireless civil servants that went into establishing both) to find a truly heinous predator to pin the murder on.
It’s a gut-satisfying wrap on an arc that was never the point of the show in the first place, and if it’s just a bit too tidy to be entirely believable, well, the fact that creeps like the unseen patsy — who just as unbelievably exist IRL — justifies a bit of wish fulfillment.
As for Jules’ Title IX case against Nate — and everything that follows — that’s where the real victory lies: In allyship, communication and bravery.
As long as external pressures, combined with internalized uncertainty, trapped Jules alone with her experience, no measure of personal justice or peace could be found. Finding a friend and beatdown teammate in Ophelia provided some measure of healing, but as Jules’ vicious tirade against her in last week’s Bacchanal episode showed, the cycle of externally directed violence that Ophelia’s presence has been helping Jules perpetuate only served to pull her further and further from the path to true recovery. It was only when Kennedy shed the scales from her eyes and stepped across to stand at Jules’ side that the spark of hope inside Jules found oxygen.
Kennedy fanned that spark into flame this week, fortifying Jules enough she could return to the Title IX office — and the dismissive counselor (Keiko Agena) who discouraged her from reporting anything the semester previous — to finally make an official complaint. It’s a pivotal development in Jules’ personal journey — but it’s the long-awaited invitation to her Greek-world friends to deeply consider their role in her experience, as we see in their individual testimonies, as the officers ask despairingly judgmental questions — that sets the stage for justice on a larger scale.
On the Zeta side, Fiona, Kennedy and Mackenzie (Lindsay Chambers, all-star Aisha Dee, and Skyler Day) uniquely demonstrate the strength of their sisterhood: Kennedy is a lioness; Mackenzie is visibly shaken to her core as she takes responsibility for having assumed the best when leaving Jules behind with the Omega brothers; Fiona refuses in the sweetest tones possible to let the Title IX reps bully her into feeling guilty about participating in college parties or judging anyone for enjoying sex (“I don’t call anyone promiscuous,” she responds with the sugariest don’t-even-try-me smile when they push her to categorize Jules as such); even Gaby (Victoria Park), airy and noncommittal as she is to incriminating her own activities, doesn’t give in to the Title IX reps pushing her to blame Jules in any way.
Or, as showrunner and creator Robinson says:
On the Omega frat side, the only testimonial we see (aside from Nate’s) is from Miles (Ethan Dawes), Nate’s stoner bro who encouraged Nate to go after Jules at the Hoes & CEOs party in the first place. He starts the interview not taking anything seriously, all but laughing in their faces when they ask if there were drugs and alcohol at the party. But when they ask, in a tone that clearly communicates what their opinion about Jules will be if he tells the truth, “What was her state of inebriation when she went upstairs?” Miles’ immediate response is the truth: Super wasted.
The second it comes out of his mouth, you can see the gears in Miles’s mind shift, and after a long pause he continues: “…Yeah, she could…barely walk on her own,” he mumbles, before turning his gaze straight ahead, horror dawning.
The tone taken by the Title IX reps throughout the interviews — Jules’s harrowing testimony and Nate’s self-delusional one included — sets our expectation that, despite the solidarity shown by Jules’ friends and the strength of her innocence in their recollections, the verdict will not fall in her favor. But then, it does.
And then… It doesn’t: The verdict gets kicked up the chain, and the university President — who, Jules notes with barely-concealed fury, “has never met me, knows nothing about who I am or what I’ve been through” — declares Nate innocent.
Which is where the allyship set up in those Title IX interviews kicks into high gear: Mackenzie seeks out Jules for a stunning heart-to-heart about her responsibility as their house’s Safety Chair, and her decision to institute a “No Zeta Left Behind” rule for all future events. Kennedy and the rest of the Zetas, using the very meta hashtag #SWEETVICIOUS (thanks, recent takedown Brody), reach out to the vigilante team via Twitter to take justice into their own hands… And Miles returns to the Omega house to confront Nate in an effort to get the truth out, for good or ill.
Harris, meanwhile, is on a rollercoaster — going from last week’s resentment at the disregard Ophelia’s vigilante activities show for his legal avocation, to shock at the jaded dismissal the town’s District Attorney has for the rape culture on Darlington’s campus that created the opening for a vigilante in the first place:
“It’s a fool’s errand,” the DA says, with zero hint of sadness in her voice: “We’re city funded, but the livelihood of this city lives and dies on that university.”
Even O’s boyfriend Evan (Stephen Friedrich) is cottoning to the disaster that is the campus’ sexual assault policy, as a girl on his floor was discouraged from officially reporting her assault for fear of the vigilante retaliating against her assaulter.
“Don’t they know that if they would just do something, the vigilante wouldn’t be needed in the first place?” he asks, nearly weeping from the exhaustion of his self-imposed responsibility to make sure she doesn’t hurt herself.
Everyone in Jules’ and Ophelia’s lives are ready to fight. And while the girls all getting in on Jules and Ophelia’s #IntimiNate plan — warning him, sugary-sweet, that he’s in terrible danger — is satisfying and hilarious… It’s ultimately — and crucially — the allyship of the men of Darlington University that is the most heartening… Specifically, the surprising support Miles offers.
Miles is in the last position to easily see or accept what is happening to to the women in his life — in great part because, as part of a fraternity, he has fewer opportunities to experience women as a significant part of that life. Further, as seemingly the only non-athlete member of an all-athlete fraternity, he has everything to gain by making no effort to look beyond his brothers’ sides of any story, and everything to lose by questioning them.
And still, he does. In spite of his lifelong friendship with Nate, and the social censure he risks by crossing the line to Jules’s side, he steps up to the vigilantes’ challenge: He baits Nate into cutting loose with this most incriminating and innermost thoughts on camera — including his justifications for the rape of a girl he and Miles went to high school with.
Jules and Ophelia, and the Zeta girls, all do their part scaring Nate half to death in the lead-up to his very public takedown — but it’s Miles’s great work that finishes him off, and Miles who stares him in the eye and salutes as Nate is all but dragged from a public rally in his honor, once the video showing the whole world the toxic scum he is has ended.
It’s tempting to argue that, when injustice has been around for an impossibly long time, anyone only coming around to allyship at the worst moment of crisis barely deserves a side-eye, let alone a cookie. But injustice is a system, and those privileged enough to not even recognize it before it touches them personally also suffer. Not as directly, not physically, but their experience of the world — and thus, the good they can put back into it — suffers from this limited understanding.
Would we prefer for the Mileses of the world to recognize — before an assault can happen — the predators among their fellow dudes, and the system that gives them all a pass? Would we prefer for all dudes to just be Tylers and Evans, and stand by their strong, smart ladies, no matter the cost? Yes, absolutely.
But that’s not how the system works yet. So if we can win a Miles over to our side — if we can win a hundred thousand white men willing to wear their pink caps — carry signs reading “I WAS GOING TO WRITE MY OPINION BUT IT’S PROBABLY ABOUT TIME WHITE MEN JUST SHUT UP AND LISTENED,” and “’SCREW IT, I’LL DO IT’ — BLACK WOMEN” — there’s no reason not to accept. Let us celebrate it. Let us use it to empower ourselves to understand the intersecting vectors and reach of every privilege we have and do not have, and honor them: Let us do the work to make a stronger, fairer world.
And let the Sweet/Vicious community website that went live in the last minutes of “Sweet/Vicious” Season 1 — amid scenes of Tyler, Evan and Harris formally joining in their efforts — bring us an even more rewarding and intersectional Season 2.
The first season of “Sweet/Vicious” is available on MTV.com, or via the MTV app. Watch, share, and celebrate it. You won’t see another show this nutritive or powerful — much less this solidly good; this well-written and -made, when the mission statement alone might have been enough — many times in your life… And there’s not a person in that life that doesn’t deserve its rich, brilliant delights.
And there are more people in your life than you would ever imagine who need your strength and help now. Please visit It’s On Us for ways to join the fight, Not Alone and RAINN for immediate help, and don’t ever forget it:
It’s good to be sweet. But for now, at least, it’s occasionally necessary to be vicious. Don’t be afraid. You’re not alone in this. You never were.