Friday, 5 November 2010

Private Practice's After School Special

Last night's episode of Private Practice, entitled "Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?", was a doozie. It featured the rape of a main character and her very unsettling reaction to what happened to her. I have a feeling future weeks will focus on the Charlotte's responsibility to admit that she was raped, and head down the "bad guy gets his" route that we would expect from a primetime drama. This episode as a stand-alone, however, was superb. I was particularly affected by the way Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) fought the victim label like a wounded wild animal. That character has always found what she thought was strength in her ability to be domineering and powerful, which is why she and sad puppy man-child Cooper are good together. In this episode, Strickland did a nice job conveying a sense of vulnerability in a character that hates letting people see her be vulnerable. She's still tough as nails, but now she's broken.

A couple of thoughts about the episode:
- The episode was bookened by the "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major: I. Prélude", which featured prominently in my favorite episode of The West Wing, "Noël" from season 2, when Josh faces the reality of his PTSD. Is there something about this piece and traumatic occurrences on primetime TV shows? Perhaps it's just pop classical enough to illicit a reaction, letting us viewers know that it's "serious time" now. In any case, I thought it complimented the action well.

- The rape scene at the end of the episode was surprisingly explicit. It felt odd to me that they tried to make it a big reveal that Nicholas Brendon's character was the rapist. Wasn't that pretty obvious from the get-go? While the rape scene at the end was harrowing and it gave KaDee Stickland even more to work with, I wonder if it was completely necessary. Wasn't her description of the rape to Addison shocking enough? It's like Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death in Hamlet ("When down her weedy trophies and herself/Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;/And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up"): we don't need to see it to understand the horror of the situation. I understand that it was all about the "reveal" of the rapist's identity, but it still strikes me as something that might have been gratuitous.

- This show, which at the beginning seemed to be attempting a light, Grey's Anatomy tone, has really hit its stride doing darker plots. I loved getting to watch the aftermath of Violet's attack last season, and I think the show has greatly benefited from letting Addison take a more cynical approach to things in her profession. I know it's crazy to say this, but this show really doesn't suck.

Did any of you watch the episode? Did you find it affective or just another attempt to shock us?


  1. I didn't see this episode, but your post seemed to spell it out pretty well. I'm pretty biased against shows and movies with graphic rape scenes. First of all, there are sickos who get off on it, and second of all, they say that 1/4 American women has had some sort of encounter with a guy who did something inappropriate (no matter how far it got).

    These are two groups that don't need to see rape on commercial, mass-appeal TV. Sure, if it's a serious art movie, then maybe. I don't know if Private Practice was trying to make a statement, then maybe it's fine there too.

    It sounds like PP is trying to exploit something so it can be taken more seriously or be seen as a good show. I can't imagine a situation where it is absolutely necessary to have a rape scene. The aftermaths, colors, dreams, speeches, and other stuff like that can be enough.

  2. I agree. Showing the actual rape, even just a little of it, felt exploitative to me. The opening sequence featured the victim collecting herself after it had a occurred. It was minimalist and it was disturbing; it was enough. There wasn't a skewed point of view issue with the main character, either, because we already believed she was telling the truth. The writers were trying to make showing the rape scene a big "ah-ha! That's the rapist!" moment, but they'd already spelled that out for us.

    I like that PP is pursuing this plot because we always need more awareness about sexual assault on the mainstream media, besides the simple fact that I think it's a compelling character thing for this show. But I completely agree that there's no need to show it. They should have kept it at the character level (e.g., her reaction to the situation) without showing the actual assault.

    Until the final scene, though, I thought the episode was excellent.