There is a species of magical creature in the “Harry Potter” universe — the winged, skeletal thestral — that can only be seen by those who have also seen death firsthand. To those who haven’t suffered that trauma, these demon pegasi remain invisible, and the work they do in the wizarding world just blends into the background noise of all the other quotidian enchantments.
In the real world, as the third episode of MTV’s ‘Sweet/Vicious’ hammers home, it’s rapists who are the thestrals. For those without personal experience of sexual assault and its fallout, these demons remain invisible, we stay comfortable in our blindness — and the terror they inflict on their victims just blends into the background noise of quotidian romantic entanglements.
Take, for one example, Jesse, the young woman whose Mate-app rapist becomes Jules and Ophelia’s newest target: Up until the point her date went violently wrong, Jesse had experienced a safe world, one with the potential for magic and romance. Darlington’s campus teemed with possible connections and the Mate app was just a tool to seek them out. But then she was assaulted, and a darker world became visible. Darlington was no longer a space she could walk safely through. Mate was no longer a tool for magic, but one (to Ophelia’s disgust) for catfishing predators to bait their prey.
Or for another example, Jules herself, whose rapist is her best friend’s boyfriend, and therefore an inextricable part of her daily life: Up until he raped her the year before, she had been a girl who…well, she doesn’t even know, she tells Ophelia as she tries to come to terms with the possibility that because of how her rape changed her, she may never be able to be in a real relationship again.
“I barely remember who I was before,” she says. “But I miss that girl.” All she knows for certain is that that girl, whoever she was, didn’t jab her crushes in the throat when they surprised her on the street, and didn’t leap away when they barely touched her knee.
Our glimpses of the truth behind the curtain of rape culture are isolating. Every time we see Jesse, she is alone: Alone on the steps as she runs from her attacker, trying and failing to explain the experience to someone on the phone; alone on her bed as she vlogs her confusion about what happened, and whose fault it was; alone even in her and Jules’ rape survivors’ support group, where the women are all together, but still islands of their own grief.
Jules, too, is alone — at least outside the bubble of justice she and Ophelia have built. We know from last week that her failure with the Westbrook cops means she feels she can’t talk to her cop-dad, and that her affection for Kennedy (and fear of Nate) means she feels she can’t talk to her best friend.
Jules’ everyday life, like that of most vigilantes and assault survivors alike, is a reverse-“Truman Show” lie, and the toll that lie is taking on her is nowhere clearer than in the scene in which she is trapped in her bedroom, in her bed, as Kennedy allows Nate to beg her forgiveness and understanding after the couple spent the week at increasingly heated odds over Kennedy’s right to ambition.
In this bottle universe, Jules and Kennedy tucked next to each other in bed as Nate towers over them begging his case, the parallel realities of thestral- and non-thestral vision are stark. Every heartfelt plea from Nate’s mouth finds a skeptical but feeling expression on Kennedy’s face, while Jules slides deeper and deeper into nauseated panic. The demon creature is there, but only one girl can see it.
But thankfully, it’s exactly this painful isolation “Sweet/Vicious,” both as a show and as a story, has taken aim at — unlike the thestrals, all it takes to see the truth about rape culture IRL is the willingness to believe women, and take them seriously. Ophelia believes Jules. Ophelia and Jules believe Jesse. And Darren Ford, hacked by Ophelia to serve himself up to their unapologetically violent vigilante justice for what he did to Jesse — and what he was planning to do to other Mate dates? Well, he definitely believes them.
One down, a whole wall to go.
- Gabby and Fiona’s floaty mushroom trip? *chef kiss*
- If you still watch MTV for the music, Grimes’ appearance on Song Exploder explaining the process behind ‘Kill v. Maim’ (the soundtrack to Jules and Ophelia’s training montage) is worth a listen.
- Speaking of that training montage, what super-powering mineral is in Westport’s water that makes it so easy to master self-defense skills, and how can we all get some?
- What other uses has Ophelia’s tiny Faraday cage even HAD? And what did she do with Carter’s phone before getting it into the cage?
“Sweet/Vicious” airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on MTV. Thank goodness.