The Sex Lives of College Girls
Welcome back to Everything Goes Wrong, where everything goes wrong. We’re almost at the series finish line and, because of that, this is a fairly heavy episode. Sadly, most of the jokes land with an awkward thud, earning a few featherlight laughs from me, but no jokes are worse than those Bela uses to cool the atmosphere around her assault. With that said, this recap is basically going to be bad news bad news, so let’s dive right into Bela’s very bad situation.
I don’t know about you, but I’m confused about how we’re meant to feel about the push-pull between Bela and the Catullan, so I ended up rewatching her scenes a few times, and I’m still confused. Bela tells her friends over breakfast that she plans to head over to the Title IX office to “figure out the best way to handle a gross dude with a weirdly shaped dick.” Quickly, we’re hit with a misplaced joke about Ryan’s dick feeling like a squishy “can of soup” (sounds way too girthy, see a doctor immediately) and Kimberly shouting, “Yes, all women!” as Bela heads out.
For me, the flippant dialogue muddied the tone around Bela’s assault. You could argue that Bela and her friends are trying to make a difficult situation a little easier with comedy or maybe that the reality of the situation just hasn’t really hit Bela yet, but the sharp turn from last episode’s difficult conversation with Alicia to a buoyant dick joke over breakfast is jarring.
At the Title IX office, Bela informs the representative about the soup dick, so we get the same bad joke twice in a row, which is really thoughtful of the writers. Bela asks when the office will be informing her “strict Indian parents” so she can flee the country or if it has a “sexual witness protection program,” something Carla is interested in as well.
Sexual assault is undeniably difficult to talk about with parents, especially if you perceive your parents as more willing to admonish you than your perpetrator, which often happens in the South Asian community. I know that as a South Asian girl who has experienced assault, which is probably why this scene disappoints me so much. It is an opportunity to thoughtfully discuss an important and real problem among South Asians, the resistance for women to come forward, but instead we get Bela being bashfully Indian again.
The Title IX officer suggests that Bela take a few weeks off from the Catullan to avoid seeing Ryan, something Bela takes issue with not because Ryan is the problem and should be asked to leave the Catullan, not her, but because taking weeks off will put a dent in her team bonding. “You do not know how comedy works,” Bela declares and heads to the Catullan headquarters anyway. She becomes uneasy quickly after being in the same room as Ryan and laments to her roommates in a gladly received bit of social commentary about how if she does report Ryan to Title IX, she’ll likely be picked apart as a victim.
Bela instead tells Evangeline and Eric (Mekki Leeper) about what happened to her and Carla. As demanded by this show’s shallow interpretation of feminism, Evangeline is understanding (not all women are) while Eric pushes Ryan’s “nice guy” status only to repent and swear to “do something” later in the episode. I find it hard to believe that Ryan is a repeat offender and a close friend if these two had no idea Ryan assaulted Bela and Carla, even after Carla abruptly dropped out of their club. But I get the sense that I’m thinking about this 100 percent harder than the show is, so let’s just move on.
Lucky for us, Whitney has her own tonally bizarre moment after she finds out Dalton had an affair with a student at Ithaca College. When Whitney walks into the locker room for the first time after the student paper’s story breaks, at first, every girl stares at her in tense silence. It’s uncomfortable, and you ready yourself for some bomb. Instead, the unexpected: Whitney apologizes for “what happened” and asks for her team’s forgiveness, which they promptly grant her because, rightfully, “Dalton is clearly the problem here. He’s older, and he was your coach.” They cheer, group hug, and start soccer practice. Okay, great, so why even hire all the sullen extras crossing their arms? It’s just weird! Based on the characters’ lackluster reactions, Whitney could have just been talking about a failed relationship with another soccer star; Bela’s assault could be easily replaced with an awkward kiss. I mean, even Pretty Little Liars gave us some inner turmoil!
At this point in the episode, I found it difficult to shoo away the unbelievable dialogue as “just their way of processing” because, ultimately, these characters haven’t been established outside of their trauma well enough for us to successfully interpret every opaque sentence. In college, my assault ran a similar course to Bela’s. It was a “nice guy” on the newspaper. I never reported it because I didn’t want to deal with it or his reaction, and I kept attending meetings anyway. But despite how much I pushed myself to move on, I was anguished. My story of healing, like many other people’s, was convoluted, but Bela’s story doesn’t feel that way; it feels underwritten.
Now, are you tired of watching teenagers experience unfamiliar, devastating emotional events, thus forcing you to process your own? No? Okay, good. The other Saint Laurent shoe drops for Leighton, who takes a romantic overnight trip with Alicia but ruins it with her paranoia. Soon into their trip, she anxiously asks Alicia to delete an Instagram post that has her purse in the background, an incendiary moment that breaks Alicia down. She tearfully tells Leighton that she “can’t go backward,” sneaking around and hiding her relationship as if she’s in the closet, too, but Leighton pushes back, saying that she’s not ready and not interested. She’s terrified that her sexuality will define who she is, maybe into someone more “political,” a quip Alicia feels to be pointed at her. This all confirms that their already fragile relationship is over, and although Leighton is undoubtedly heartbroken, she’s back to being unwilling to show it.
The regression is hard to see, but I’m curious about what it means for her in the final episode. Will Leighton find the strength to overcome her unfounded fears, no doubt ingrained in her by her parents? Until then, she’s overcoming sibling loyalty. Quickly after returning to campus, motivated by her inability to clean up her own mess, Leighton takes care of Nico’s and tells Maya the truth. Maybe not the best to throw stones in secret houses, but Nico is just my imaginary friend, so I’m okay with it. But I’m anticipating a rock bottom for Leighton, which, however painful, will at least pressure her to make her way back up.
The only roommate I don’t feel completely sorry for is Kimberly, who, other than the accidental cheating, has made her bed. After choosing to forgo her classes and extra-credit opportunity in favor of Nico’s UTI-bestowing doingus, Kimberly uses his test copy to cheat on her midterm. She uses her UTI as an excuse to go to frequently use the bathroom, where she’s hidden the test copy in a stall’s pad box. Of course, Kimberly gets caught, and as punishment, she, uh, walks home, I guess? At my school, cheating could get you expelled, but maybe Essex is one of those new-age colleges that lets you cheat as long as you actively have something going on in your urethra. I hope it clears up by the finale.