“It’s a setup, actually,” says Rachel (guest star Corinne Foxx) with an eyeroll in the cold open of this week’s “Sweet/Vicious” — at the very moment her looming sexual assault is being set up by the guy she’s rolling her eyes at.
In other, less capable hands, a line this on-the-nose would be debilitating — a knife thrown straight into the hamstring, if you will. Add in an eyeroll? Fam, please. But “Sweet/Vicious,” MTV’s ever-sharpening diamond of a rally against the everyday violence, both large scale and small, of our culture’s baked-in sexism? They get the execution exactly right.
Their trick: the fact that it’s all a setup, actually — not just Rachel’s assault in the Uber-analogue rideshare “Get In,” but every moment leading up to it, and every moment after.
The setup is men colluding, actively and passively, in arranging the board to facilitate women being taken advantage of. The roofie-administering wingman, the men behind the scenes at Get In who ignore Rachel’s harrowing ride report after the assault, the Darlington campus cop being so ineffectual and powerless and bumbling that his “investigation” — into even the idea of a vigilante going after the campus’ network of sexual predators — is given inherent air quotes.
The setup is privilege and power poisoning the psyche, making it so that the privileged and powerful believe themselves impervious to consequences: Landon Mays (the Get In driver/rapist/son of Darlington’s Dean played by Max Ehrich) laughing bloodily in Ophelia’s (Taylor Dearden) face as her holy war against his predation suddenly turns him into the victim. Or last week’s Kappa queens reveling in their status as not just campus- but nationwide Greek System royalty.
…Or, of course, this episode’s twisted reveal that Nate (Dylan McTee) is so blind to his position of power/actions he’s reinterpreted Jules’ (Eliza Bennett) rape as their mutual “cheating” this entire time — and the veiled threat that goes along with that idea, that Jules getting attacked might somehow end up being played as betrayal of her best friend Kennedy (Aisha Dee).
The setup is that it is so uncomfortable and upsetting to acknowledge the evil that pervades the darkest parts of our reality that any attempt to bring those evils to light sets the person making that attempt up for attack or recrimination: Jules’ completely justified fear that being honest with Kennedy about her boyfriend being a rapist will lose her that friendship. Or Ophelia barely escaping the two-fronted sneak attack after miscalculating the mechanics of the Get In assault scheme.
Or the ugly sight of Ophelia and Jules’ entire model of justice becoming the new evil, after Ophelia blindly chases Landon into a public space — where her knife-throwing assault is captured on dozens of good citizens’ live social feeds.
The setup is that your best intentions are no match for other people’s demons: Tyler can’t possibly know that his goofy jokes about Orion accidentally killing his princess-girlfriend’s sister would hit so close to the literal fact that Jules’ fight against a sexual predator resulted in the accidental death of his brother — or that her own assault and the secrets it’s still spinning could be another kind of sister attack. Harris (Brandon Mychal Smith) can’t possibly know that the story he so doggedly pursues to make his Law Journal name will put his sexual predator-fighting best friend in physical danger.
Nate (deep breath) can’t possibly know that the way the world has trained him to behave around women, and what to expect from them, could be so wildly, viciously different than what is moral and correct. And it’s this last one that kills, because it’s the setup we all labor under: A system so perfectly designed to protect and heal itself that the only villains it recognizes are its own victims.
That setup is the endless unfairness of life under patriarchy — and the eyeroll is the reaction we’re most likely to get whenever we bring up that fact. It’s what Jules and Ophelia know in their bones. It’s what “Sweet/Vicious” isn’t shying away from showing us week after week. And the return of that unflinching take, honestly, is one of the only things making January, 2017 worth looking forward to.
- “I prefer to think of it as a Walk of Triumph” — A+++++ Harris, well done. Every show should repeat this truth at least once.
- We definitely need some blanks filled in on whatever bonding happened between Kennedy and Ophelia at last week’s art opening. Overcoming their oil+water tension — between Kennedy’s glowing goddess cheer and Ophelia’s deadpan ambivalence — was a fun prospect for the rest of the season, especially with their shared love of Jules becoming more of an issue as things progress.
- Tyler is a prince among men, building such a romantic, dare we say “PLL”-esque, monument of an apology for Jules after she overstepped with the pop-up art show of art without permission, much less the clinical anxiety she triggered and then didn’t apologize for (best intentions vs. demons and all). A PRINCE.
- Just in case you hadn’t caught on to the Ophelia + Evan ship name, Taylor Dearden’s got your back:
“Sweet/Vicious” returns to MTV Jan. 3.