So, what if I'm not OK?
That seemed to be the running theme of A Teacher Season 1 Episode 9 as both Claire and Eric struggled with their new normal.
Of course, they were nowhere near OK, despite their continued pleas to the contrary. Fortunately, by the end of the installment, both reached the realization that no matter how hard they tried to hide it, they were, in fact, not fine.
Starting with Eric, he's in a pretty dark place after Claire's rejection.
Lethargic and surly, Eric has seemed to cut everyone out of life as he sinks further and further into despair.
He's no longer the reckless partying lothario we saw on A Teacher Season 1 Episode 7. For a while, Eric chose to bury his pain and guilt by excessively indulging in the frat lifestyle, and he was still socializing with others.
The Eric we meet in the present day continues to bottle his emotions, but he's also become disinterested in life.
As a result, he's stopped going to class, putting his academic future in jeopardy, and stopped hanging out with his friends.
It's a more subdued and dejected Eric, who still isn't ready to accept that he needs help until a chance meeting at the bar.
Eric: You all right?
Chloe: I’m not gonna hook up with you. I’m… you’re way too young, and I just got out of a long-term thing. Five years. It’s been really hard.
Chloe: Yeah, my friends know it has. They just don’t want to hear about it. They just want to fix me, as if sex could fix me. I can’t really… I can’t really talk to them about it. I can’t really talk to anybody about it. No one understands. I don’t know, I just feel so confused. When we first were together, I was so madly in love with him. I felt sick. But he put me through the wringer, and now that I’m out of it, I can see how unhappy I was. I don’t want to feel this way anymore.
What started as possibly being the girl to drag Eric out of depression ended up happening, albeit in a different way.
Instead of having Chloe be a romantic prospect who convinces Eric to get the help he needs so they can be together, Grace Gummer's character was a kindred spirit, nursing a broken heart after getting out of a toxic relationship herself.
Through Chloe, Eric was able to see the parallels to his own relationship with Claire and finally get some much-needed perspective.
Eric is still pretty messed up by what happened with Claire, but he's no longer looking at their relationship through rose-colored glasses for maybe the first time.
He can't see yet just how inappropriate and screwy everything was but listening to Chloe pour her heart out to him allowed Eric to see things from a new angle.
It was as if he was listening to someone impartially describe his and Claire's relationship for the first time.
In this iteration, no one was commending Eric for banging his teacher or unnecessarily vilifying Claire.
It was just a statement of facts that resonated with Eric, allowing him to see the truth for how things were, not how he remembered or wished they were.
It was a small moment, but it got through to Eric.
After insisting to no end he was fine, Eric accepted that he needed help and made the first smart decision in a while by choosing to go home.
Sandra: What’s wrong.
Eric: No, I just thought I’d come home, you know, for the weekend, or maybe longer. I need help, mom. I need help.
Sandra: I know. I’m glad you came home.
Nothing will be solved magically overnight, but as they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.
Well, Eric admitted he needs help, so hopefully, with due time, he can find a way to move on with his life.
No one said it'd be easy, but again, it's a start.
And then there's Claire.
Watching her downward spiral was difficult because, on the one hand, it's hard to feel sympathy for her after everything she's done and the way she destroyed the lives of those around her.
On the other hand, though, no one deserves to be degraded like that, and after hearing her tale of woe about how scarring it was to grow up with an alcoholic father, we -- or at least I -- can't help but feel a little sorry for her.
This doesn't erase or excuse her behavior over the past two years, but it does humanize her more as a character, and we, as the audience, have to reconcile these different sides of Claire.
She's selfish and inconsiderate and self-destructive and predatory, but she's also more than just her worse character traits.
We see Claire struggling as she tries to make sense of her worth and identity.
Guy: I don’t think I can hit you any harder without hurting you.
Claire: Just do it. Come on.
Guy: Are you OK? Oh my god, I am so…
Claire: Why’d you stop? Come on.
Guy: No, no, no, I’m not.
Claire: Come on. That was great. Keep doing it.
Guy: You’re fucking bleeding.
Claire: I’m fine.
Guy: I don’t think I can do this. I’m really sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to. Are you OK? No, like actually, are you OK?
So much of how Claire defined herself -- teacher, wife, sister -- have been stripped away, leaving her to grapple with her new titles -- felon, sexual predator.
These latter seem to have overridden everything from her former, and Claire finds herself readily accepting whatever is thrown her way, not believing that she deserves better.
Watching Claire not only accept but also seek out the debasing treatment from her internet date highlighted how much her sense of worth is tied into what others think.
She's at such a low point in her life that she started to believe that was all she would ever be.
Gone is the 'holier than tho' persona who believes she was unjustly punished, replaced by this depressive, fatalistic character.
While it's about time Claire got off her high horse, she still doesn't seem to realize why her affair with Eric was wrong, other than it hurt those closest to her.
That's frustrating to watch, seemingly cheapening Claire's melancholy.
It's almost as if she doesn't deserve to be this sad or feel this way, still not grasping the weight of her poor decision-making.
Maybe it's nitpicky, but any emotional breakthrough doesn't feel earned, which again adds to my disparate feelings about Claire.
Wyatt: Claire? Claire? Talk to me. What is it, Claire?
Claire: Stop trying to help me.
Wyatt: I’m just trying to do right by you.
Claire: I can’t even look at you. This whole good man act. You know I used to go through our trash when I was a kid? I used to count the number of empties to make sure you weren’t going to die. I was 10 years old, and I would get into bed terrified, thinking, maybe I missed a cue or something, and that when I woke up, you’d be gone. What, now I’m supposed to watch you thrive? Knowing that you could beat it, you just couldn’t do it for me.
Wyatt: Claire, I wish I could go back. I would give anything to be able to…
Claire: I have spent my entire life running from you, trying to feel safe. I… I wanted to help kids that were like me and give them what… what I never got, and somehow I’ve hurt everyone, and I’ve fucked everything up, and I don’t know how to fix it, and I’m such a fucking horrible person.
Wyatt: You are gonna find a way to keep going, I promise you.
Claire: I don’t want to be here. Everybody wants me gone. I just want to be fucking gone.
Wyatt: I know. I know it feels that way, but you got to stay. You gotta stay. You gotta.
If this was the writers' goal, then kudos to them, for it's about the first time Claire has felt like an actual character worth caring about.
Over the past eight episodes, she's oscillated between predatory teacher, egotistical wife, and haughty sister.
Now, for the first time, we get to see this broken woman that Claire has hinted at throughout the series but never showed.
She's often used her traumatic childhood as an excuse for her behavior, but it's hard to take her at her word when she's always playing the victim.
Here, we get a stripped-down, vulnerable version of Claire, and it works, so far as making us feel something other than disdain toward her.
If the writers had introduced this version of Claire sooner, the series would have been able to tell a more nuanced version of an illicit affair instead of the half-baked iteration we got.
Some stray thoughts:
Matt finally got to say his piece to Claire, and it was glorious. In comparison to Nate, Matt's reaction to Claire was pretty tame, but at least he got to say what was on his mind, and hopefully, good things continue to happen for him, not that we'll ever know.
Even though Eric quit the frat, you'd think some of his friends or at least Cody would be more worried about him. Did Eric manage to alienate everyone in his social circle other than his roommate Ryan, who still gives a damn, or did the series not spend time depicting that?
Did anyone else think this episode felt like a series finale instead of a penultimate episode? If so, did you wish this was the last episode, or do you still want to see what else the writers have in store?
On a slightly unrelated note, if you guys haven't seen Saturday Night Live's parody skit of A Teacher, I highly recommend it. In short, it's how the situation between Claire and Eric should have played out had Claire been the professional she was supposed to be. It's highly entertaining and worth a watch.
So what did you think, TV Fanatics?
What was it about Chloe that got through to Eric?
Has your opinion of Claire changed?
Do you wish this was the series finale?
Don't forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts. If you missed the penultimate episode, remember you can watch A Teacher online at TV Fanatic.
Jessica Lerner was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in October 2021.