By Julie Hammerle and Emma Fraser
Season 1, Episodes 6 and 7: “Cheating” and “Drawing the Line, Part 1”
Original airdates: Nov. 3 & 10, 1998
Julie: Time to talk about how the artist formerly known as Brian Krakow has disappointed us verily.
I’m going to skip “Cheating” for a moment and jump right into “Drawing the Line, Part 1,” and episode whose ultimate subject matter ultimately dwarfs whatever dumb problems Ben and Felicity were having vis a vis her completely rewriting his English paper.
Zach, the Pink Guy, raped Julie.
First of all, I will say, the episode was rather artfully done, from a writing standpoint. The main storyline was Noel complaining to his R.A. compatriots about how he was sick of Felicity coming to him with all her Ben problems. They told him (or his fictional advisee friend) to “draw the line.” Much of this Noel/Felicity storyline was played for laughs, leaving the viewer with a false sense of security that this was going to be an episode where not much bad happened.
The big dramatic story revolved around Elena and her need to transfer schools because her scholarship didn’t come through. She had attended a private high school on a needs-based scholarship and she did not want anyone in college to judge her for being poor, as kids may or may not have judged her back in high school. This got us some nice little moments between Elena and Blair and Felicity and, especially, Noel, who ‘fessed up to being a poor kid from a big Irish-Catholic family. We’ll get to more about this later, I’m sure.
(Oh yeah, the Elena story also dragged in the “drawing the line” theme by Felicity once again doing her buttinsky thing and looking through Elena’s file folder in the admissions office. Felicity just loves abusing her power.)
The Julie/Zach storyline seemed like a nice little romantic romp. They were the cute couple in the beginnings of love. They were kissing in public. He was asking her to write music for his student film. Things were going well and he seemed content to take things as slowly as Julie wanted.
Until they both got drunk one night and he decided he no longer wanted to take things slow.
We didn’t see any of it. We only saw them arriving home a little tipsy, falling onto Julie’s dorm room while kissing. Then we saw the aftermath from Felicity’s POV. She showed up to say hi and Julie was in a bad mood, asking for a sweater that she had loaned Felicity. Felicity noticed that Julie’s bedsheets were crumpled up and stuffed in the garbage can. Felicity asked what happened and Julie told her. Zach had gotten aggressive. She had told him no.
Now, I feel like this is a bit of a touchy subject to discuss. On the one hand, of course Zach’s a dick. There’s really no debating it. Julie said no. He got aggressive. She’s feeling wounded the next day. He gots to get got.
But I want to talk about it from a storytelling/TV perspective. This shit came out of nowhere. No warning, nothing (other than Julie telling him she wanted to go slow in this hour). We had just spent four episodes getting to know and love Zach, and then the writers pull this on us. I’m just angry as a TV viewer. I liked Zach as a character, as a presence on the show. He was the only guy we had spent much time with that wasn’t involved in the Felicity clusterfrak, and I’m sad to see him go out this way.
That said, maybe the unexpectedness of Zach raping Julie is kind of the point. She didn’t expect it. She felt safe with him and then — BOOM. That’s scary stuff. So for that, I guess I have to commend the writers, but I’m still sad about what we’ve lost with Zach as a character. Does that make sense?
Emma: That all makes perfect sense and the unexpectedness is such a shock for both Julie and us as the audience. Zach as we have seen prior or this comes across as the sweet, not entirely confident guy who might not have had that much experience with women before college. In this respect he has been very different to the two guys who make up the Felicity love triangle – Noel is sweet but as we’ve found out has a secret girlfriend who he has been dating for two years and Ben likes to get it on with lots of girls, but not Felicity. It looked like Julie had found a keeper and like Julie we were lulled into this false sense of security.
Julie talked about wanting things to be different with Zach as she normally goes for guys who don’t turn out to be good for her, she mentioned in “Spooked” how she wasn’t used to be treating like an actual person and that’s why she initially backed away from Zach because he seemed like a good guy. Instead he’s not a good guy at all and this scene is so devastating as it quickly dawns on both Felicity and us that Zach has assaulted her.
I know that this isn’t the same character as Brian Krakow, but it’s hard sometimes to leave behind these associations. When a storyline like this one occurs it’s much easier to separate the two.
The writing and acting in the scene is so well done and it hurts because it feels pretty accurate. We know from horrific statistics that sexual assaults are high at college (this recent news story shows just how bad it is) and so it’s important that a show like this covers these kinds of issues. While I don’t know what the aftermath is (I wanted to write this without having any knowledge of what is to come) I’m worried that Julie is going to blame herself. We’ve seen how she talks about herself in regards to guys and that she has little self worth in this area. Julie obviously isn’t the reason why this happened, Zach is. We saw her stopping things getting hot and heavy the previous day and she told him no on this occasion too. The slow and measured way that Julie recounts the events of the night befor is devastating and she’s clearly in shock. The detail about him rolling over and falling asleep after he did it like it was nothing killed me and it feels so incredibly raw.
Urgh everything about this story is so horrible, but kudos to Abrams and Reeves for covering something so fraught and real in this way. This is the first time that I have finished an episode of Felicity feeling suddenly so drained and it didn’t come across as them doing a Very Special Episode. It felt very real. I also think that not showing the scene will lead to a she said/he said situation which will make me feel very icky but once again is sadly how these things can play out. For the record I am very much on Julie’s side, no question about it.
Now it’s hard to move on from that especially to some of the more trivial aspects of the episode and I’m going to briefly talk about the R.A. hangouts which provided a lot of fun interludes throughout the episode. From the sounds of it they all have a certain amount of stuff to deal with and up until this point Noel’s biggest challenge has been to make sure John Cho’s roommate doesn’t kill him (where are you John Cho?) and not to fall in love with Felicity (failed on that one). After this episode he’s going to have a very serious issue to deal with. There’s a whole bunch of familiar faces like Taraji P. Henson and that guy who looks like Landry and they all know that Noel has a crush and the ‘friend’ he is talking about is him – this is the second episode in a row where Noel discusses a hypothetical friend – but I’m glad he has a support network considering all of the stuff he has to listen to on a daily basis.
This might be the prefect place to talk about Noel and Felicity, instead I want to talk about the Noel and Elena scene and I realized I have written a mini essay so I will throw it over to you – what did you think about Noel’s big speech to Elena? And as Noel said “It’s a speech moment.”
Julie: I know we’ll have more to say about Zach after the next episode, so I’ll move on. Also, I don’t want to give anything away. Also, I don’t know if I remember exactly what happens.
I also want to talk about Noel and Elena. We decided after watching the Halloween episode,that we love Noel when he’s not with Felicity. That idea holds up in “Drawing the Line, Part 1.” Even though he’s talking about Felicity in his many, frequent R.A. meetings (I’m not sure R.A.s meet all that often. I think once a week, usually. I’ll have to ask John, who was an R.A.), R.A. meeting Noel is funny and cute and checks the sad sack, puppy dog eyes at the door. And when he shows up at Elena’s door to talk about financial aid, he proves that he’s thoughtful and sincere and has earned his spot as the dorm floor counselor (a position that means more to him than just being able to solve his residents’ problems; boy needs the money).
I loved this little exchange, partly because I’m obsessed with the notion of college as a place to start over, a place to be a completely new person. Elena didn’t want to be the poor African-American girl who lives with only her father. She showed up at school, dressing chic, looking the part. The only hint we’ve had that she might not have a ton of money was in regards to her desire to win one of the free fridges, but even then I thought that was more about simply winning, for Elena.
Noel’s kind of the same. He’s cute. He dresses nicely. He has his own computer (a complete luxury for a college student back in 1998, you young whippersnappers with your iPads and Macbook Airs). Back in our day, we had to compete for the two working computers in the lab, which had one printer that was usually out of ink. And we had to walk two miles up hill both ways in the snow to get to that computer lab. You all have it so easy nowadays.
Anyway, Noel. He comes from a big family, without a lot of extra money to spread around. Noel has taken out loans and applied for scholarships. He’ll be paying for college until he’s well into his thirties, but he’s OK with that. Because he wants that degree. Elena doesn’t want the stigma of taking a handout to follow her around. But she changes her mind once she meets the woman who is looking to fund a black girl from a single parent family in the tri–state area who is studying medicine and, probably, named Elena. This is the most specific scholarship of all time, like it was created with Elena in mind. Eventually, she takes it, and is happy about it. And we get to keep Elena around for a while.
We should probably move on to Noel and Felicity next, but what did you think about Elena’s storyline?
Emma: The Elena story was a really interesting take on something that could be done in a clunky manner and it actually reminds me of an appearance by Kerry Washington on Real Time with Bill Maher last year talking about affirmative action – sorry about all the smugness but Washington is unsurprisingly great. She talks about how not everyone starts out on an even scale and how affirmative action shouldn’t just be based on race but should also cover things like socioeconomic situations, gender, religion etc. I can understand why Elena wants to be at NYU based on her own merit and I agree with your reinvention point, she doesn’t want to feel how she did at high school. Elena doesn’t want to feel like she needs extra help based on her gender, race or financial situation but sometimes that extra help is needed. I know that if my tuition wasn’t paid for then I would have found it hard to go and while I’ve paid off my grad loan my undergrad one is still racking up the interest.
Perception is a funny thing and of course we make snap judgements and knowing that Elena comes from a single parent family has me speculating that her mother is dead – I’ve come to this conclusion based on her father’s fear of letting his kids out on Halloween and that she doesn’t want to let anyone get too close to her. I’m a top notch detective of course. Noel shows why Felicity keeps coming to him with how he handles the Elena situation as he doesn’t tell her explicitly to take the money but by revealing his own personal situation he shows that yes first appearances can be deceiving. Noel is a white preppy boy even if he’s not from wealth, so I’m glad that he acknowledges that he can’t pretend to know exactly what she is going through, all he can offer is his own perspective.
Maybe Noel will makes his big bucks on NoelCrane.com (yes this site really exists) and I love that in 1998 someone having a website seemed like such a confusing concept. Not for Noel though, Noel knows. Also why doe Noel type with his keyboard on his lap? Maybe he really wanted a laptop but could only afford a desktop. Speaking of computers, I didn’t get one until my third year so I totally know the pain of having to find one in the computer lab when everyone has essays due. Getting one in my final year was a life saver and pen drives were starting to become more prevalent then, I got one with my laptop but at the time my university has two printers in the entire place that took pen drives so the waiting game continued but just in another form.
So Noel and Felicity and at first I wondered if that kiss episode had ever happened, it isn’t mentioned explicitly as an event in either episode but Hannah finally gets a mention when Felicity wakes Noel up in the middle of the night to yell at him about his Ben line. Noel has told Felicity that he no longer wants to hear about her Ben issues – currently she has many – and I can see where he’s coming from, not because he has feelings for her but because she doesn’t seem to talk about ANYTHING else.
Julie: In Noel’s defense, I use a laptop most of the time, but I do tend to put the keyboard on my lap when typing from the desktop. Noel Crane: He’s just like Us.
My freshman year roommate (whom I’ve mentioned before; we did not get along/had nothing at all in common) did have her own computer. I did not have much access to it, so I was constantly going to the computer lab in the union building at odd times or opting to do my work in weird places, like the music building or the basement of the liberal arts building. I had to get creative. It made for some fun times.
Ah, pen drives. I got my first one senior year when I was taking a screenwriting class. Memories. Still had to write the damn screenplay in the middle of the crowded computer lab, though.
Yes, Felicity only talks about Ben, and Noel is completely right to draw the line on that one. Someone, maybe one of her girlfriends, needs to slap her upside the head to knock some sense into her.
And this might be the perfect place to segue backwards into “Cheating” and Felicity’s big buttinsky moment.
What in the goddamn hell was Felicity thinking? She and Ben were working together on their English homework, she offered to print his paper (more evidence of the lack of computer resources back in the late ’90s), and then she changed his paper to help him get a better grade. Ben was accused of not writing the paper, even though he had done the initial work himself, and for some unknown reason, he’s not willing to throw Felicity under the bus for her moronic actions.
What. Is. Her. Problem? She needs to stop. She needs to get a life. Hopefully during this Ben-imposed break she will get a hobby or a hermit crab or something. She needs something else to occupy her mind space besides Ben. The girl is obsessed, and I’m glad that Ben finally wised up and cut her out of his life.
What say you about Felicity’s actions? And, oh yeah, what’s your big cheating story?
Emma: Yeah this Felicity rewriting Ben’s essay had me yelling at the screened because WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?
But first my very own plagiarism story and this is going to sound dramatic almost ruined my entire degree. So long story short in my second year I hadn’t got the best grades so in my final year I had to get a 2:1 in all my classes to get a 2:1 overall (and here I realize that we might have different grading systems) and basically if you want to do a post grad you pretty much need a 2:1 or higher to get on. So one of my units was an advanced philosophy class and it covered a lot of in depth stuff and so for another class I wrote an essay that used a lot of the lecture notes from this advanced class. My professor just assumed that I’d plagiarised and gave me 30% and if this grade had stuck it would have fucked up my entire grade. I went to see the professor running the course who gave me a far less formal version of what Ben got and he bumped it up to 65% (the required 2:1) in a 15 minute meeting. The worst thing was the guy asked at the start of class who had done the advanced class so could keep in mind who might have the wider knowledge. The best thing was I got 75% (which is classified as a first) in the exam answering a question on a similar topic. That guy can suck it. This happened almost 10 years ago but I might still be a little bitter. Like Ben I didn’t cheat. I probably cried a lot more than him. Wow this a long and probably not that interesting story. Have you any college related plagiarism tales?
Back to Felicity and the moment Felicity sits at the computer it’s obvious what’s going to happen, even though it’s THE dumbest idea. The thing that struck me was how it didn’t dawn on her that she was doing something particularly wrong, like she really doesn’t see what the big deal is. As soon as Noel whips out his trustee R.A. Handbook (this sounds way dirtier than intended) she knows it’s bad news, his “What the fuck were you thinking?” reaction also adds to this realization. Plagiarism was one of the hot topics that got drilled into us when we started university and I like that the internet was this shiny new thing that the Dean refers to buying essays online, it’s ok because Noel knows (and mentions his website for the first time).
On this occasion I can totally understand why Felicity turns to Noel for her Ben problem because he is the point of contact for these kinds of issues as the R.A. When he goes to the Dean and tells his story about his friend the Dean assumes it is Noel who cheated because Noel is terrible at lying. Where Felicity crosses the line that Noel hasn’t drawn yet is by asking Noel to go see Ben, which he does because Felicity asks him to. This leads to our second awkward Ben/Noel solo interaction (ok Sean is there, being Sean) where Noel reiterates Felicity’s desire to help but rewriting someone’s essay (especially when they haven’t asked) is crossing so many boundaries.
I have some thoughts about Ben in all this but I thought I would hand it back to you to get your take on it all. What did you think about Noel’s involvement in all of this?
Julie: You were totally the Ben Covington back in college, having professors underestimate you. Way to overcome!
I’ve never had any cheating experiences, but I do know what it’s like to hold grudges against people of authority, so that. And yes, your guy can suck it.
I do remember cheating being a huge deal back in college, and that this storyline has been used on other shows (namely, old school 90210; everything relates back to that show). It was not surprising that good boy R.A. Noel nearly lost his shit when Felicity admitted to him what she had done. I didn’t think he needed to take it straight up the ladder to the head honcho, though. Maybe he should’ve talked to his Resident Coordinator first. I obviously know too much about the R.A. system. I’ve got friends in high places.
I want to bring up the random male on male relationships in this show. You mention Noel going to see Ben, but we’ve also seen Zach hanging out with Ben and Blair hanging out with Ben on separate occasions. Does Ben not have any guy friends who aren’t tangentially related to Felicity? Maybe he really does kind of love her. He’s subliminally inserting himself into her friend group. Why can’t Ben make friends on his own?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on Ben (namely, his biting off the head of one of Sean’s marzipan boxers, which was done in the most oddly erotic way). Also, if this show were real and set in 2013, would we definitely be Twitter friends with Noel? Of course, then I’d have two Twitter friends named Noel, and that would not stand.
Emma: So to Ben and a thought occurred to me after reading your observation about all of the guys hanging out with him and yes it does feel like a way to connect to Felicity, but I also think it’s a way to code Ben as a guy’s guy. This is in opposition to Noel who has basically spent pretty much 90% of his screen time with women.
One of Ben’s friends is Sean, but this feels like a friendship of convenience and Sean just wants to test out his very random ideas on Ben and anyone else who happens to visit. Sean has also started a new ideas book after his last one got taken and when he mentions it to Felicity it’s like he forgot she probably had a lot more taken from her that day like a sense of safety. One of these ideas is marzipan boxers and it makes no sense to me why this should be a thing, as you mention it does lead to some very sensual eating from Ben. It’s pretty weird and might be why Noel refused to bite the head off the boxer Sean gave him, he’s just not into that kind of thing.
The opening scene teases a potential kiss between Felicity and Ben as they’re clearly getting closer but instead Ben just flicks some food out of Felicity’s teeth, not cool Ben. We’ve previously discussed if Ben knows that he is leading Felicity on and at this point I can’t buy that Ben is that much of a dumb dumb to not see how much she likes him. I think he enjoys the attention but on this occasion Felicity goes to far and rewrites his essay.
I get why Ben is so mad about her doing his work for him because he seems genuinely happy with his effort and when he finds out what she has done he assumes it’s because she thinks he is stupid. Felicity’s explanation as to why she did it is something I don’t totally buy – she claims it’s because at school all she had was her grades and she wanted to give him that too. I think it’s a reaction to the frustration of him not kissing her and maybe in her mind he would have subconsciously known that Felicity helped and fallen madly in love with her, that’s a pretty halfbaked theory. Why do you think she did it?
I do still find it hard to believe that Felicity didn’t know that doing something like this is incredibly serious but I will put that down to the giddiness she feels when she’s thinking about Ben. It’s pretty brutal when he yells at her to leave him alone but I also think she deserves it.
After the Zach reveal I have revised my which character is based on JJ Abrams theory and I’m going with Noel, mostly because he has a website. And yes I think we would totally be Twitter friends with Noel Crane in 2013.
It’s hard to talk about the cute Zach/Julie Solaris story knowing what comes after but I did like Finch from American Pie’s deconstruction of male film students who go to NYU and that he works in a video store.
Julie: Ha! Things we know about Ben Covington: Marzipan fetishist.
Man, I completely forgot that the almost kiss thing happened in this episode. It feels so long ago, and so much has happened since. And, yeah, he loves the attention he was getting from Felicity, but this near-kiss was probably the reason she felt so compelled to buy him a better English grade. It’s really all your fault, Ben.
I think you’re dead on about why she changed his paper. She thought he’d be thankful and finally, truly fall in love with her. Not a great plan, Felicity. This storyline really illustrates just how immature Felicity is. She’s book smart, but she has no idea how to behave around people. She doesn’t have much self-awareness, which is sometimes endearing, but oftentimes problematic.
Now that we know what happens between Zach and Julie, it just makes Finch that much cuter. Maybe (after giving herself some tike to heal) Julie should go back to the video store and ask him for some more movie help.
What say you? Anything else to add?
Emma: Going through the screencaps I realized that we didn’t mention the mystery of Meghan’s box; is this the start of JJ Abrams magical mystery box motif? That’s all I have I think! Even though some of the stuff we’ve discussed has been tough I think it shows the broad range of topics that Felicity covers at this early stage. Congratulations to anyone who has read all of this tome.