"A teacher" might not have the buzz, but its effects last long after you look at it.
(Editor's note: This post contains spoiler for the end of the FX on Hulu series "A Teacher".)
Being a television journalist means always being two weeks and two months behind most programs. There are shows to consume as soon as screeners arrive and others that you longingly watch on your DVR as weeks turn into months before you finally have a free evening to be caught up with.
To my dismay, the FX on Hulu series "A Teacher" was one of those shows that was brushed aside in the rush of vacation content just so I could catch up in the New Year. And I haven't stopped thinking about it since.
In “A Teacher,” an adaptation of her 2013 film of the same name, Hannah Fidell told her story of a high school educator who enters into an illegal sexual relationship with a new life of a teenage student in 10 30-minute episodes That said relationship – but what is more important, the consequences – needs to be explored with greater depth.
The criminally underrated Kate Mara plays Claire, a 30-year-old teacher with a beautiful home, a decent husband, an Instagram-driven impulse to get pregnant, and an acute lack of interest in any of the previously listed aspects of her life. "Love, Simon" star Nick Robinson is Eric, a charismatic 17 year old who is very popular with his co-workers, a nice boy who takes care of his younger brothers while their single mother works, and desperately tries his test to improve scores so that he can attend the University of Texas. Kate is a new teacher in high school, and when she first crosses paths with Eric, her chemistry is undeniable.
If you read this description and sigh, I can hardly blame you. Teacher / student romances have been the fodder for trashy lifetime movies as well as serious subplots of drama, not to mention porn. For some, there is nothing more sexual than taking advantage of the power dynamic. So it makes sense that the audience may not be ready to dive into a series on a subject that has been so poorly explored for so long.
But "A Teacher" is not that show.
Don't get me wrong, it took me a while to come to this conclusion on my own. In the first few episodes, the intent of the show seems slightly amorphous. Two beautiful people flirt in a way that we want to accept, in a way that masquerades as almost acceptable. Type of. Does the show remember that it is wrong of them to be together? Does the audience? Is that important?
All right, yes maybe and yes.
As very early episodes of the series seem to be the same old story of forbidden lust and love, there are tiny narratives that suggest that “A Teacher” absolutely knows who the bad guy in this story is, even when she doesn't . (In addition, each episode is preceded by a trigger warning for maintenance and a link to resources for more information.)
Screenshot / YouTube
So much of what works on the series comes from its finale, which involves a leap in time into the future and a chance crossroads between Claire and Eric, who are now 10 years older. In a badly advised meeting, they discuss the direction in which their respective lives have gone. Claire is remarried and has two children of her own. She lives in fear, she says, that her past will be discovered, that neighborhood mothers will recognize who she is or who she used to be. She mourns that her well-being depends on someone doing a single Google search for her name.
Eric has little understanding of their problems. We see him return from work and lead therapeutic wilderness retreats for children who have suffered trauma, and he berates Claire for her negligence and neglect. He was a kid and his burden doesn't depend on a google search, his trauma is always with him.
It also plays on the actors' faces in every scene where they break a new taboo. The first time they have sex it happens because Claire is indescribably jealous of another teenager that Eric shows an interest in after Claire shut him down. She leads him to her car in an abandoned parking lot and he runs after it, almost dragging his feet. Here is the moment when, in theory, every teenage fantasy and the emotions that play on Robinson's face are marked by reluctance and uncertainty. He appears to be aroused by circumstances, which is just a basic physiological response, but he also seems to be absolutely vomiting at any moment.
That is the totality of their relationship. Claire leads Eric into the wild and doesn't care if he gets lost along the way as long as she gets lost in her own life. Eric never looked for an escape, but it became a parachute for an adult who knew better and made it worse.
Chris Large / FX
It's not so much that Claire is an irredeemable character that has nothing good in it. The fact is that she is unable to take real responsibility for her own mistakes, while at the same time being unable to forgive those who may have wronged her along the way. "A teacher" dances frivolously with this complexity, refusing to formulate it for them and refusing to cut corners. Claire sacrifices everything to pursue Eric, but that is not love. It is a crime. Being able to put a life back together is a luxury that abusers can afford that victims often do not have.
The series barely made a jump on the pop culture radar with its release, which was due to a number of reasons including its exclusive availability on Hulu, its late-year debut, or the weekly release structure after an initial drop of three episodes. Or it could be because of the show's shaky reviews, many of which depended on seeing only the first six episodes of the series, and lacking the central back half to provide context for the previous one.
There are only so many stories to tell and so many are repeated over and over again. What's rarer is a series that aims to tell an old story with a new understanding of the material it is picking up and a clear concept of how the ideas of consent continue to mature. Search for "A Teacher" and learn something new from an old trope.