Follow the whole rewatch here!
Content warning for this post: the two episodes we're discussing this week deal with sexual assault.
This is a really hard series of episodes to talk about in the context of one of our silly Rewatch Projects. In 1998, Felicity handled a sexual assault narrative with the kind of gravity and candor that we wouldn't see again on network television for years. "Drawing the Line: Part 1" and "Part 2" deserve to be talked about and appreciated for that fact, but as you can imagine, we're going to go kind of light on gifs and jokes this time around.
It's also worth noting that both episodes, while thoughtfully written by series creator J.J. Abrams, were directed by women (Ellen S. Pressman and Joan Tewkesbury, respectively), and the more difficult "Part 2" was co-written by Riley Weston. That's a thoughtful approach by Abrams, and it shows in these episodes.
Before we get started, let's toast to Julie Emrick, who's stronger, kinder and better than anyone should be asked to be this week.
The Felicity Drinking Game Rules
Drink once every time:
Felicity is endearingly earnest.
Ben smiles sheepishly.
Noel is adorkable.
Elena is a better friend than anyone deserves.
Meghan is mean and it's awesome.
Javier butchers a word or figure of speech.
Richard freaks out (in a good or bad way).
Drink twice every time:
Felicity stresses you out.
Felicity says, "Dear Sally."
Sean invents something.
Javier refers to Ben as “Benjamin.”
Let's get into it.
1.7 "Drawing the Line: Part 1"
The episode starts like a lot of Felicity eps: light, goofy, sweet. Noel's soliciting the advice of his fellow Resident Advisors, talking about a "resident" under his guidance (spoiler alert: he's talking about himself) who has a crush on this girl (Felicity, obvs) who only wants to talk to him about another guy (yeah, that's Ben). The other advisors recommend that Noel "draw a line" - in other words, he should eject himself from the friend zone by telling Felicity she can't talk to him about Ben anymore. After a few nervous stops and starts, Noel draws the line, and Felicity does NOT handle it well. At first, she's awkward, and then she's angry, telling Noel - not entirely incorrectly - that he has no right to draw a line, since he has a girlfriend, and also friendships shouldn't come with conditions. Noel panics and tries to redraw the line, telling Felicity that she can talk to Noel about Ben so long as she never discusses sex, and really, this is getting ridiculous, so Felicity decides to draw her own damn line. We never really hear where that line goes, but I imagine it's not going to be in Noel's favor.
Meanwhile, Elena's scholarship isn't coming through, and she might have to leave UNY. She's upset and refuses to confide in anyone, but Blair picks up on what's going on, and he asks Felicity to look into Elena's file for him. Felicity - who's still majorly in the doghouse with Ben, and has recently come to the no-duh realization that she is a "buttinski" - is reluctant, but eventually agrees, and then she finds a new scholarship that will work for Elena, earmarked for a low-income African-American pre-med woman. Elena's horrified at the idea that her friend and boyfriend are offering her charity, and we find out she's especially sensitive about it because she was mocked in high school by her rich classmates because she was a scholarship student. Fortunately, Noel sweeps in at just the right moment with a patented Noel Crane Speech, telling Elena he's also a scholarship student, and he doesn't let it bother him, because all he's ever wanted is to graduate from UNY, so who cares how he pays for it? Noel also says, perfectly, that he knows he can never understand Elena's experience, but if there was a scholarship for "white, Irish Catholic kids with preppy clothes and webpages," he'd grab it in a heartbeat. Elena's moved by this speech, and she thanks Blain and Felicity and takes the scholarship. Also Ben's touched by what Felicity did for her friend, so he forgives her for being such an incorrigible buttinski.
So. Okay. Julie and Zach are getting along well, kissing in the cafeteria, and Julie seems really happy. Zach's student film is going to be seen by a producer, and he asks her to score it for him. She's flattered, and they start to kiss, and Zach moves faster than Julie wants. Julie's very clear about this, telling him she wants to go slow, and he apologizes sheepishly. Later, after they've recorded the score, they celebrate with some drinks, and then go back to Julie's room. The next morning (and I am so thankful to Felicity for knowing that we don't need to see the assault, because we've seen hundreds of scenes like it and sometimes the most powerful way to tell a story is by not showing it), Felicity goes to Julie's room, and finds her quiet and upset. Her mattress is bare, and her sheets are in the trashcan. Felicity understands, and sits down with Julie, and asks her what happened. Julie tells her that she and Zach slept together, and Zach was "pretty aggressive," and then he just rolled over and went to sleep. Felicity asks her if she wanted to have sex with Zach, and Julie shakes her head no. Felicity asks if Julie told Zach that, and Julie nods her head yes. And then they both sit quietly for a moment, before we go into the credits.
How many times do I have to take a drink?
Ben is understandably distant for most of the episode, and Noel's a total idiot with Felicity, but he's so wonderful with Elena. Sarah was completely right last week when she said that Noel and Elena's friendship is one of the best parts of the entire series.
One of Noel's fellow RAs is Taraji P. Henson!
Introducing Meghan's Box
"Drawing the Line: Part 1" offers some levity in the form of Meghan's box, a long-running and enigmatic plot point on Felicity. Herein we see the dawn of J.J. Abrams’ famed storytelling device: the Mystery Box. (It’s not normally so literal. But in Meghan’s case, it’s super literal.)
She’s convinced that Felicity’s looked in her weird, creepy-looking box. When Felicity tells her she wants nothing to do with Meghan’s box, Meghan’s all...
Y2K Nostalgia Moment
Felicity wants her Sarah McLachlan CD back from Julie.
1.8 "Drawing the Line: Part 2"
Felicity wants so badly to be supportive, to be there for her friend. In a lot of ways, she's doing all the right things: she's listening to her, and loving her. She goes with her to the hospital, and she urges her to see a counselor. Most importantly, Felicity believes Julie, the way all victims of abuse should be believed: instantly, with no qualifications. But she's also Felicity, and she can't help but be who she is: a bit of a buttinski, a bit self-righteous. She wants Julie to report the crime, and of course Julie should, but also that needs to be Julie's decision, made on Julie's own time, and Felicity can't help but press the situation every time they're together. And Felicity does what she always does when she's confused: she goes to Noel. Of course I understand - Noel's their RA, and he's been trained to deal with this exact situation. And moreover, he's Felicity's friend, and Julie's, too. But then Noel tells Zach's RA, which I also understand, because it's the safe, responsible thing to do. But in the end, despite how much they love her and how well they mean, it's not Felicity or Noel who's there for Julie in exactly the way she needs. It's Ben.
But even before that, Julie's doctor is the first person who tells Julie what she needs to hear. After Felicity's convinced Julie that she needs to be examined to make sure she's okay, Julie recounts every step of what happened to her doctor, and she’s so vulnerable and quiet, while also showing this amazing, admirable determination to get through it. After finishing the story – the details of which are heartbreaking and amount to the fact that Julie told Zach to stop, again and again, and he didn’t – she says to the doctor:
I don’t want to get melodramatic with this, because I did not scream, I didn’t hit him, and he wasn’t violent, you know. He left this morning like nothing had even happened, like nothing was wrong. I mean, I don’t even know if – I mean, you wouldn’t call this rape, would you?
The doctor looks her in the eyes, gently and solemnly, and replies, “Yeah. I would.”
Amy Jo Johnson is so incredible in this scene, in this episode. It’s so hard to watch, and also so important. This was 1998, two decades before the Me Too movement. There were millions of people at this time who would hear Julie’s story and say that it wasn’t rape, or that it was some “lesser” version of rape, not rape rape but date rape. This one scene, when the doctor looks her in the eyes and tells her that her story matters, that it counts, is probably the most powerful moment I can think of on any of these so-called WB teen dramas.
Despite Felicity's urging, Julie's not ready to report the crime yet, and later, they run into Zach in the cafeteria, and it's awful, because he really doesn't seem to understand that anything's wrong. He's willfully obtuse, like he’s choosing not to register this thing that he’s done. It does a number on Julie, who's growing resentful of Felicity's endless advice, especially after Zach's RA tells him that Julie's calling their encounter rape (I cannot BELIEVE the RA does this), and Zach confronts Julie in the laundry room where they first met. He shouts, and grabs her arm, treating her like the villain, gaslighting her while Amy Jo Johnson just gets smaller and smaller in the scene. "I like you! Maybe it wasn’t perfect, but god, it wasn’t a crime," he says. Julie goes to Felicity, furious that she told Noel, and then she breaks my heart into a million pieces by telling Felicity that she could never understand, because she isn't like Julie. "It's my fault," she says. This is the message she gives out to guys. This isn't the first time something like this has happened to Julie, so who's fault is that? Felicity tells her it isn't her fault, but Julie still isn't ready to hear it.
After Ben hears what happens, he starts punching Zach in the cafeteria, and while I just about never approve of violence, I admit that it's satisfying. Especially when Zach yells for Ben to stop, and he does, and then Ben says, "See, the difference is, when you said stop, I did." Ben goes to talk to Julie, and he does just the right thing in every way here, first by asking her if it's okay if he talks to her, because he knows everyone's been preaching to her lately, and she's probably tired of it. Julie gives him permission to give a speech, and he says maybe the only thing that could help in this moment: that he used to blame himself for his dad’s abuse, but after years of being disappointed and kicked around by the man who's supposed to love and protect him, he finally realized: “It wasn’t me. It was him.” And then he hugs her.
Julie goes to the counselor, and she reports the rape. She's studying with Ben and Felicity when she decides she wants to talk to Zach, because it's her turn to speak after he did all the talking in the laundry room. She tells Zach she's reporting him, that what he did was a crime. "No, you didn’t rip off my clothes, I understand that, but it was still rape." He tells her he knows - apparently, he's been thinking since Ben attacked him in the cafeteria, and he finally acknowledges the severity of what he did. He's leaving school and going home. He tells her he knows it's no excuse, but it was his first time, and I never really know how to feel about that. The way they write Zach is so interesting - he's not a cartoon villain. He's a person. A person who did a terrible thing. He gives Julie a letter, and the episode ends with her reading it silently on her bed.
How many times do I have to take a drink?
What else happened?
A hyper, nightlife- and fashion-obsessed high school student is supposed to tour UNY and stay with Felicity. This storyline is mostly relevant for the way Elena immediately agrees to take the student without asking questions because Felicity tells her she needs her (<3 and also drink!), and because the high school student and Meghan end up being besties over their shared love of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and clubs that sound like Stefon sketches on SNL.
Noel grew a goatee. Oh, Noel.
Oh, Ben. I'm glad Julie has you.
Whew. That's it for this week. Meet Posh here next Wednesday morning as she takes on the much lighter "Thanksgiving" and "Finally," two of Felicity S1's best eps.
Shameless Self-Promotion: Check out our Felicity-inspired merch in the FYA Store!