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A Teacher - Episode 2 - Review

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The second episode of A Teacher made some great strides, but I still need more. The pacing was better this time around and rather than plod along the story started racing toward its climax. The hazy, dreamlike quality of the first episode is mostly gone, which is for the best. That dreamy style just doesn’t fit the subject matter. Character development is rolling along for Eric (Nick Robinson) but Claire (Kate Mara) still lacks dimensionality. Unfortunately, I still can’t shake the feeling that the powers that be are attempting to show that every story has layers, even those with a clear villain. I’m willing to be proven wrong. I hope I’m proven wrong. Until then, I remain cautious.

A full month has passed, and the cozy days of fall are the perfect time for teenage debauchery, so we get some drinking and sexing. Where teenage drinking and sexing happen, the police are sure to follow.

Eric is in a panic, thinking about how a citation on his record might impact his future. He pleads with the police officer, but the officer remains unmoved. Claire told us Eric was smart, and so he is. He notices the name on the officer’s badge. It’s Wilson. The officer is Claire’s brother, Nate (Adam David Thompson), and Eric begs him to call Claire instead of his mom. This writing choice is too convenient by a whole lot. It’s just too easy. To all the writers, it’s okay to make your audience work.

While Eric is drinking and sexing, Claire is home with her husband (Ashley Zuckerman). When she receives the call from her brother, she asks him to let it slide, so he does. When Claire tells her husband she’s going to pick up a student in need, he thinks it’s bizarre but can’t spare much more than a furrowed brow and a quick glance away from his phone. Does anyone know the husband’s name?

We get it. Claire’s husband is inattentive, but there is so little to her personality that I still can’t muster any empathy or sympathy for her situation. When Claire arrives, she has a quick conversation with her brother, lectures Eric about the stupidity of his choices, and swears him to secrecy. Now that Claire and Eric are forever linked by this secret, they are on a first name basis. This isn’t unexpected. We knew they had to deeply link the two characters to give Claire’s coming manipulations a foothold, so while the circumstances are convenient, the execution ultimately works.

Next we get a little montage of Eric’s morning. A little masturbation, a few pushups, and a shower. I’ve never been a teenage boy, but it seems accurate. Apparently, Eric’s morning routine means he missed Claire’s calls, so she does what anyone would do, she shows up at his house—unannounced. I’m not mad because it means we get a glimpse of Eric’s cutie pie little brothers.

The surprise home visit results in a spontaneous road trip. I’m not sure the impromptu getaway was Claire’s original idea or if she was spurred on by Eric’s momentary shirtlessness. Once they’re in the car, Eric asks where they’re going because he feels like Claire is kidnapping him. She’s not taking him over state lines, so not kidnapping, but there are three episodes left. Turns out they are going to visit the University of Texas.

Eric’s reaction to this news seems outsized. He acts awed or incredulous. She didn’t say he was getting a seat on the next shuttle to the moon; she said let’s drive 25-minutes to walk around a public space. I’m just so confused. Many of Claire’s responses are devoid of emotion whereas Eric’s exceed what’s expected or necessary. Is this an acting choice? A directing choice? A script issue? Trust me, I get that he is likely a co-parent to his little brothers and puts a great deal of pressure on himself academically, as well as working a job and playing a sport, so any attention is surprising and welcome, but that reaction was a little too much.

Once on campus, Eric runs into what we can assume is a former friend from school who invites him, along with Claire, to kegs and eggs. I don’t know what that is, but it sounds gastronomically questionable. Eric begs off, but Claire interjects saying they can swing by, which earns her more cool points.
At the kegs and eggs, which is just brunch and beer, Eric and Claire exchange stories. We get another reason behind Claire’s need to push boundaries and chase the rush, she didn’t have the true college experience because she was too busy taking care of her alcoholic father. Eric acts surprised, but to every college student not attending kegs and eggs parties, your experience is valid too. Eric shares that he never knew his father. This is a moment that should and would bond people together, but this is a student and his teacher. Never forget that.

Claire tells Eric not to grow up too quickly, which really kicked me in the chest because the choices she’s making are going to blow up his life. The next few scenes perfectly encapsulate that point. Eric notices a green chile in Claire’s hair, and as he removes it, they lock eyes. Claire keeps making questionable choices only to pull back from the brink before making an even worse choice. She breaks their locked gaze and deletes his text messages but friends him on Instagram and posts about their day together. It still doesn’t feel like the show is taking a clear stand against the relationship.

Back at home, Claire discovers her husband bought some musical instruments with their savings. He’s starting a band. Of course he is. Claire thinks it’s idiotic, I agree, and they fight. Is the husband a doctor? The husband as a caricature is a little too heavy handed. He travels for work. He isn’t affectionate. He makes large purchases without consulting her. He starts a band. They want to place Claire in the role of the neglected wife, but there’s an inherent problem with that choice. Admittedly, Claire’s husband sort of sucks, but what he’s doing isn’t criminal. And what he’s doing certainly doesn’t work as an excuse or catalyst for her relationship with Eric.

Serving as a contrast to Claire’s home life, we finally meet Eric’s mom. They seem to have a good relationship. He shares that Claire took him on a tour of campus. Mom seems concerned but not enough to probe deeper. Although, her look after he leaves the kitchen says mom might be hip to the dangers ahead.

At school, Eric chats with his friends. When he smiles over Claire’s Instagram post, they notice. They’re more attuned to his moods than I would have believed. I like this bit of growth. As off putting as I found them in the first episode, I’m rooting for them to be there for Eric when A Teacher comes to an end.
Proving himself as impulsive as every teenager ever, Eric feels that Claire’s classroom is the best place to make a romantic declaration. It was a good one—“I like being out in the world with you.” And here was Claire’s final chance to course correct. An opportunity to slap him down hard, crush the crush, do the right thing. The path to redemption was within reach, but Claire slapped it away and embraced the role of monster. Sure, when Eric kisses her she pushes him away, but after she sends him packing, she presses her fingers to her lips while her breath quickens. And so the episode ends.

I’m starting to think the lack of development with Claire is an intentional choice. Eric on the other hand is being fleshed out—friends, cute little brothers, an invested mother, goals, and dreams. His future on the surface appears bright. If the uneven characterization is intentional, it’s a good choice. While we can easily see the destruction on the horizon, I still need them to do a better job painting Claire a villain. There are no complexities to be found when it comes to this situation. There is right. There is wrong. There is victim. There is victimizer. There is child. There is adult.

Given the content of the show, the sexual assault and grooming of a child at the hands of an adult, the episode ends by offering help to those in need—
What did you think? Are you nervous for episode three?

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