Despite the fact that “The Little Girl” centers on Olivia and Andy’s testimonies, what they have to say feels oddly secondary to almost everything else that happens in the episode. I’m reluctant to say that the trial structure is getting stale since we’re only a little over halfway through the season, but I’m starting to get worried that that might be the case. The same thing happens at every trial: A character says something nice, and then gets torn apart by the defense as some new drama comes to light.
So let’s start with the teenagers. The student body at Liberty is starting to fall apart (to the point that I started wondering if the administration had any sway at all, mostly because it doesn’t seem like the students mostly just wander the halls and “skip” nonexistent classes, and because I don’t understand how Justin is suddenly just reenrolled). Tensions get dangerously high.
The catalyzing factor is, of course, the tapes. Everyone’s dirty laundry is now out in the open — somebody even plays Bryce’s confession to Clay about raping Hannah over the intercom — which has made everyone involved an object of morbid fascination, and in some cases, the target of bullying. Tyler is unceremoniously locked in a closet, and Zach discovers that someone has taken pictures of his little sister and left them in his locker.
As should be the case, Bryce is taking the most heat. Someone has spray-painted “RAPIST” on his locker, and people are literally running to avoid him in the halls. A few students are also finally working up the courage to confront him. The first is Justin, who Bryce easily deflects, calling him white trash. The second is Marcus, who, granted, only takes action because he’s being blackmailed with the lap-dance video. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the school’s new “Walker Field,” he takes to the stand to make a speech — and calls Bryce a rapist in front of the gathered students and their parents.
The principal tries to do some damage control by calling it a prank, but it’s too late. Even his parents are starting to doubt his innocence. Or rather, his mother is, while his father steadfastly says that it’s just a matter of other students “[wanting] what Bryce has.” And Zach, now paranoid about what’s going on at school, finally puts a little distance between himself and Bryce, taking his little sister and leaving the ceremony before it begins.
If any of you, like me, have been wondering what’s up with Chloe — she can’t be completely clueless, especially not now — “The Little Girl” offers up a bit of an answer. She’s clearly uncomfortable at the ceremony for reasons beyond Marcus’s outburst, and she’s become a topic of gossip herself, as the other girls at the school try to figure out if she’s just ignorant of Bryce’s history or if she’s somehow okay with it. Chloe’s situation is, of course, more complicated than that, as evidenced by the fact that she scratches out all of the slurs written about Jessica in the school bathroom stalls.
But, generously speaking, it’s too little, too late, as Jess is still an object of morbid fascination for most of the school. She’s dealing with her parents — who tell her that they need to take the tapes to the police — as well as this series’s prodigal son, Justin. She’s still wary of him given his role in her rape, and it’s obvious to the point that he backslides on heroin and almost overdoses. His survival seems to be something of a wake-up call, as soon after he recovers, he finally goes home to his mother.
Jess’s wake-up call comes in the form of Olivia. They share a conversation about pain and how to cope with it, and Olivia not-so-subtly eggs Jess to tell the truth about what happened to her by saying that it takes courage to face one’s pain. It’d be a sweet moment if it didn’t feel self-serving on Olivia’s part, as well as on the part of the narrative.
The same goes for the resolution of Skye’s story line. Skye has always deserved better, particularly given Sosie Bacon’s innately warm, lovely performance, and when Clay finally discovers that she’s been at a mental health facility and comes to visit her, it feels like an unearned absolution for him rather than a proper ending for her. There are some relevant points made about how everyone’s unique brain chemistry dictates what medications will or won’t work, and wanting to change, but the arc that the story serves feels too pat. The only part of Clay’s arc in this episode that doesn’t feel flat is when Justin, furious about the tapes being released, asks Clay what gives him the right to share the details of all of their lives.
Though it ought to be the source of the episode’s third revelation, Clay seems to be spiraling instead. He fights with his projection of Hannah; though she apologizes for the chaos she created with the tapes, saying that she wasn’t thinking about who she’d hurt, Clay doesn’t relent. He tells her she did an evil thing, which is a harsh indictment, as well as a huge character about-face.
• In his speech at the ceremony, Marcus mentions that he’s head of a school society called “EnGUYtened” — for enlightened guys — which is easily one of the funniest details in this entire show.
• Though I don’t want to say too much just yet, I can see where Tyler’s story is going, and I don’t like it. (I’m also not huge on Alex’s dalliances with shooter games, though that’s a different barrel of fish.)
• Speaking of narrative payoffs, Tony’s also starting to feel some pressure, as Caleb, the guy he’s sweet on, is training a one-eyed man who seems to have some history with Tony, though it’s a mystery as to exactly what that history is.
• This episode is truly Return of the King--esque in how many endings it has.