Sweet/Vicious‘s Finale Caps an Uneasy Vigilante Origin Story

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The first season finale of Sweet/Vicious aired a couple of weeks ago with a double episode (“An Innocent Man,” written by Amanda Lasher, and “Pure Heroine,” written by series creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson). Halfway through its run, I praised the show as one of the best that MTV has ever aired, so I wanted to touch base now that it’s aired in full. There will be spoilers for the full season; if you haven’t watched it, though, you need to stop being part of the problem and be part of the goddamn solution.

So, what did I think? Well, the ending wasn’t as satisfying as I was hoping it would be. But the series as a whole was fantastic, and the finale was still plenty good enough to leave me wanting more.

To be clear, Robinson and Lasher threw some fascinating, well-executed ideas into those last two episodes. The Title IX board ruling in favor of Jules after she reported her rape was shocking, especially since the judgmental line of questioning (as well as a visit from Nate’s coach) suggested that the fix was in. It was a brilliant rebuke of every reason that Jules and Ophelia started down the vigilante path, and to see them have to grapple with that, even just for a moment, was incredible. There’s the shock, pleasant as it is, and then there’s that “cold light of day” feeling as Jules takes stock of all that was done to her and all she did to herself. More importantly, though, thanks in part to the #SweetVicious hashtag that started trending during the hearing, there’s the realization that the world is by no means against her, even if there is no shortage of misguided or downright horrible people who would love to convince her otherwise.

Even when the ruling is overturned by the Dean, the effect of that is still felt in the unique way Jules and Ophelia decide to go after Nate; this time, it’s as much psychological as it is physical, attacking his ego and his sense of security. And it’s a plan that’s more willing to let others into the game—out of necessity, to be sure, but it would never have happened without that rediscovered sense of trust in certain pockets of their community. This isn’t explicitly spelled out, to be sure, but I believe there’s a reason why those black envelopes and the Sweet/Vicious branding didn’t enter Ophelia’s enterprising mind until after the Title IX hearing.

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Where it falls short for me, personally, is the execution of Jules and Ophelia’s masterstroke. On paper, it’s amazing: Nate’s guilt-stricken friend gets him on tape ranting about another girl he raped back when he was in high school, and the recording is played back at an awards ceremony in his honor. In one fell swoop, Jules gets a measure of revenge by making Nate a pariah, the Dean gets humiliated for vindicating such an obvious prick, and Darlington University is put on fucking notice. But there’s no sense of gravity to the event; it lands with all the impact of the grumpy school principal in a cheap kids movie getting showered in toilet water while the school laughs at him.

Part of the issue stems from Dylan McTee’s performance during Nate’s rant to his friend, which includes that old “these girls ask for it, dressing the way they do” chestnut. I’m not sure it’s necessarily the actor’s fault, though: It’s a line of thinking that’s real and far too common, but as an ally (or someone who likes to think of himself as one) who’s always laughed at that load of horseshit and was never targeted by someone who thinks that way, it can’t help but come off as tired. For what it’s worth, I thought McTee did much better portraying Nate with the kind of quiet menace he dropped in episode 5, where he cornered Jules at the sorority house and casually reframed the rape as “cheating,” implicitly threatening her friendship with Kennedy. It painted a much clearer picture of the diseased mind that drives Nate.

Another way to look at it, though, is that maybe it’s not supposed to feel that cathartic. This show has always been distrustful of vigilantism, if sympathetic to its appeal. To have it feel like Jules and Ophelia scored a game-changing victory would seem hollow, especially when the show is quietly setting up “Ye Old Vagilantes” to take on the institutions that enable rape culture in the next season.

In my initial piece, I never mentioned Ophelia’s friend Harris, an aspiring lawyer played by Brandon Mychal Smith. Harris is a different kind of character from Smith’s better known role (Sam from You’re the Worst), but Smith gives him a charm and a sense of justice that makes him a pleasure to watch, even when he doesn’t have much to do besides be Ophelia’s friend and boss. Thankfully, he got pulled into the story in the back half of the season once he picked up on the trail of The Vigilantes, and he does some wonderful work in the last few episodes when he figures out that he’s been chasing Jules and Ophelia all along. (His confrontation with Ophelia at the top of episode 9 is particularly shattering, and Taylor Dearden does a great job portraying Ophelia’s resulting spiral from it.) In the end, he ends up taking a well-earned internship with the local DA, reluctantly agreeing to keep what he’s learned a secret. But once he learns that the DA has been burying Darlington rape cases because it could threaten the town’s bottom line, he immediately volunteers to be an inside man for Jules and Ophelia. So between that, and Darlington’s dean overturning Nate’s rape conviction, there’s a clear marker of where this is all headed, and I’m psyched to get there.

But maybe that’s why I feel like the show should be moving on from Nate; perhaps with Darlington’s administration offering him up as a sacrificial lamb so that the wheels can stay greased. Instead, he—along with the rapist Jules and Ophelia beat up in episode 7—is left as a loose end to threaten the girls next season. Given the ways this show uses genre trappings to mirror the ways a survivor copes with trauma, it makes sense to keep Nate around as a shadow for Jules. Really, all of it is technically fantastic, and if MTV is generous enough to give the show a second season, I’ve got high hopes for it. I just wish it pumped me up instead of wound me down.

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Before I wrap this up, I just want to take a moment to recognize what a great superhero origin story this first season was in general. Batman Begins comes to mind in particular; Sweet/Vicious is, of course, cheaper, poppier, and much funnier, but it follows that same psychological exploration of its hero, as well as the meticulous construction of its brand. So it feels appropriate that it ended with the setup of Jules and Ophelia’s own Batsignal, the Sweet/Vicious cloud. The only thing that was missing was “I never said ‘Thank you.'” I don’t necessarily think that means next season would be The Dark Knight, but I hope to God we find out.

Post By Chuck Winters (24 Posts)

Film school graduate who never learned how to bitterly hate half of everything he watches. He lives in noted cultural hotspot Suburban Long Island, where he is working on his first novel.

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