These stories vary dramatically. But it’s peculiar that each shares with Private Practice this motif of a tough woman who tries to power through her trauma, a notion by now as fetishized as any notion of fragility. It’s a plot twist with a prismatic ambiguity: You can view it as realistic (because it’s true that few women report their rapes), as perversely affirming (there’s a Wild West stoicism to these women, like cowboys who shrug off a beating), or as troubling—however great these series are, there’s something punitive about seeing a succession of strong women who are ravaged and then go silent.
Private Practice wasn’t perfect. The police scenes felt like melodrama of the greasier kind. (It didn’t help that Charlotte’s rapist was played by Nicholas Brendon, a.k.a. Xander from Buffy—what’s up with the sweet nerds as rapists? It wasn’t so long ago that Brian Krakow date-raped Felicity’s friend.) By the time he broke under interrogation—spilling excuses like “she had it coming”—it was clear the guy was mentally ill, and thus not responsible for his actions, which gave the episode significantly less weight and realism.
The other part that made me twitch with discomfort was the final sequence, in which Charlotte—fragile, furious, exposed—walked the gauntlet of the hospital staff. As that classical piano played, the present was intercut with flashbacks to the rape, some in close-up (Charlotte’s screaming face), some from a distance. You could feel the producers struggling to find a visual vocabulary to break through the clichés. But no matter how well-intentioned the people behind the camera are, a rape scene is also a sex scene. And TV shows are, by their nature, fantasies. This scene wasn’t sexy, but there was a part of me that thought the bolder move would be not to show it at all.