Degrassi Junior High “Rumor Has It” (part 1 of 5)
In other news, Arthur and Yick bored everybody into deep, restful sleep in their quest to get taller.
So here we are: episode six of Degrassi Junior High. And I think, for the very first time, there’s no reason for me to digress in this intro. I don’t have any business about the extended Degrassi universe to get out of the way first. Not that there isn’t tons of stuff I could be talking about, like TNG Season 7 (which just came out on DVD), or the upcoming TV movie, or how several of the original TNG cast members have moved onto other shows like The Vampire Diaries, and now there’s yet another generation, a next next generation if you will, roaming the halls of Degrassi (it’s basically the Deep Space Nine spin-off I anticipated so long ago), and so on and so forth.
But it’s time to cut the crap. It’s been over two years since I started on this crazy adventure of recapping every single Degrassi Junior High episode, and I’m only up to episode six. It’s time to get a move on, because I really have no desire to be an senior citizen still writing about the lives and loves of junior high school students in the 1980s.
Actually, I do have something to say about at least one Degrassi spin-off from the early ‘90s. In between the last episode of Degrassi High and the TV movie that ended the series, School’s Out!, it appears a lot of the cast had nothing to do, really. So they all hopped in a van, traveled across Canada, and interviewed real teens about real teen problems.
The result was Degrassi Talks, a short-run documentary series that featured the cast of Degrassi talking to Canadians teens about their lives. (Seriously, this show really exists. It’s included as a bonus feature on the Degrassi Junior High box set and everything.) I only bring this up because the current episode, “Rumor Has It”, gets referenced a bit in the Degrassi Talks episode dealing with “Sexuality”, and in the process we get to know a little bit more about a certain cast member’s family. But I’ll save that for the end of recap, where it’ll make a lot more sense.
And now, at long last, the Very Special Lesbian Episode of Degrassi Junior High. Or, to be more precise, the Very Special I Might Have a Crush on My Teacher of the Same Sex Episode. The former, as you can tell, is easier to type. This is where Sweet Caitlin Ryan has lesbian dreams about Sweet Ms. Avery. Yes, they’re both sweet, so this episode should be doubly sweet, especially for me personally. It seems like I’ve been promising/threatening this recap for ages, so I hope the ep is just as great as what I’ve been imagining in my head all this time.
The episode begins in Ms. Avery’s classroom, and it doesn’t take a trained eye to spot that things aren’t quite what they seem. The classroom is just way too neat and pretty. And Ms. Avery is speaking to the class from behind a huge row of lilacs. In fact, there are flowers everywhere. It is truly midnight at the Oasis.
Ms. Avery’s lecture is some sort of unfocused, pseudo-feminist rant. “Throughout history,” she says, “a lot of our heroines have been lost, or left unrecorded, due largely to the fact that most historians are men.” Hey, that’s not true. The heroin hasn’t been lost; plenty of it was freebased by the guy who wrote this episode. Oh, heroine, with an E. Never mind.
Ms. Avery rocks a pink pantsuit as she speaks to the class in soft, sultry tones. A shot of the students shows everyone sitting bolt upright at their desks, spines perfectly straight, hands folded in front of them. So, another indication that all is not as it seems.
Of course, if it were only the boys sitting like this, I’d assume they were all just trying to hide their raging boners. Come on, I don’t see how anyone could sit in Ms. Avery’s class day after day and not sport wood from time to time. I’m getting a little chubby at the moment myself, to tell you the truth. But this theory doesn’t hold up, because the girls are sitting exactly the same way.
One of the girls is Sweet Caitlin Ryan, played by the angelic Stacie Mistysyn, whom I’ve already discussed at great length on this website. Caitlin beams and smiles in the direction of Ms. Avery. Totally unprompted, she turns to her best friend (and school VP) Susie Rivera and says, “Ms. Avery is the best teacher I ever had! She makes stuff so interesting!” Ms. Avery’s class is so much better than Cats! I’m going to sit in Ms. Avery’s class again and again!
So, all the kids are sitting upright and they’re all focused forward and hanging on Ms. Avery’s every word. I think you can guess what’s going on here. Clearly, the students have all been brainwashed, and Mr. Raditch will be showing up any minute now with a big pitcher of Kool-Aid. Or, maybe not.
Ms. Avery speaks of the great women of ages past. Her list includes Mary Queen of Scots, Madame Curie, and Amelia Earhart. Let’s see here now: Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, Marie Curie died of radiation poisoning, and I think we all know the fate of Amelia Earhart. So, not exactly the most inspirational list of female pioneers there. What’s even weirder is how Avery is putting all kinds of sexy inflections on every word. Feminism never seemed so hot.
Ms. Avery then calls Caitlin up to her desk. Caitlin strolls on up, and eventually ends up very nearly sitting in Ms. Avery’s lap. Avery compliments her “essay” on “native peoples”. Because this is Caitlin Ryan we’re talking about, and what else would she write an essay about, other than “native peoples”?
Avery gets all touchy-feely with Caitlin, and calls her the “best student I ever had!” But then another student speaks up. I’ll just say it’s Kathleen, in the outside chance that you remember who she is, but if you don’t, more on her in a minute.
Kathleen has something she’d like to share with the class. “Miss Avery’s gay, you know! She’s a lesbian!” Okay, then. Since we’re sharing, I’d like to mention that Mr. Raditch wears women’s underwear.
Ms. Avery tells Caitlin to ignore her. “We don’t care what they think, do we?” Okay, but as a teacher, you might care that a student is interrupting class to question your sexual orientation. But, no, Ms. Avery doesn’t seem bothered in the least. And by now, I’m pretty sure you must have some idea of why everyone’s acting so strange. But even if you do, please don’t skip ahead and ruin the twist ending.
Suddenly, the soundtrack is filled with frantic whispers of “Ms. Avery’s gay!” and “She’s a lesbian!” All the kids whisper to each other maniacally, and make sinister faces. One girl goes way beyond the call of duty, and makes a face that calls to mind members of the Manson family.
All the students continue to whisper to each other: “She’s queer!” “She’s gay!” “I heard the rumors!” But consider this: Kathleen just loudly and blatantly outed Ms. Avery to the entire class. So why does everyone need to whisper?
And now they all begin to look demonically possessed. Just to make the whole scene extra-crazy, all close-ups are shot with a wide angle lens. And then we hear what sounds like the pipe organ from a horror movie, and there’s a zoom-in on Caitlin looking terrified.
And… well, what do you know, Caitlin wakes up in a cold sweat. She’s in bed, and it’s the middle of the night. It was all a dream, you see, he says to the surprise of no one. She softly cries out, “No!” And then she struggles to get back to sleep, tightly cradling a stuffed monkey. The stuffed monkey, you’ll be relieved to know, will be making several more cameos later in the show.
That old familiar drum machine kicks in, and it’s off to the opening credits.
So, there you have it: the time-honored art of Dream Sequence As Character Development. It’s a device used thousands of times in movie and TV history (where it most certainly was not forgotten by male historians), and it’ll surely be used many more times before this particular series ends.
But what does this dream sequence reveal, exactly? It seems the whole point of it is that Ms. Avery might be a lesbian, and Caitlin might be attracted to her. Considering how I made fun of the plot of the previous episode for being inconsequential, I’m obligated to say that the writers have sure made up for it with this one. This is a story I would definitely like to explore in further detail. Sold!
After the credits comes the title of the episode: “Rumor Has It”. Spelled just like that. As you might know, Degrassi was (and is) a Canadian production, so there’s a “U” conspicuously missing there. So I’m guessing this is one of those many occasions where the show made blatant attempts to cover up its Canadian origins.
Of course, I’m watching the US release of these DVDs, so it’s entirely possible the title was changed for the US airing on PBS. Regardless, there’s an unspoken implication all throughout Degrassi Junior High that this show takes place in Anytown, USA. Other than the accents (which seem to be limited to two words: “a-boot” and “sore-ry”), the show almost never gives us any indication of exactly where it takes place.
It would eventually culminate with characters blatantly using American currency, which I understand caused something of an uproar in Canada at the time. But Degrassi: The Next Generation would later atone for these sins and more. TNG is about as forthright about its locale as, say, L.A. Law or Boston Legal. In the early years, they would even drop in interstitial shots of Toronto landmarks, like the CN Tower, and, umm… umm… Well, I’m sure you all know plenty of Toronto landmarks off the top of your heads, so no need for me to delve into them here.