As many of you might have already known, or some of you found out in the last Stardust Drive Podcast, I’m a regular watcher of the MuchMusic show, Degrassi.
Now I’ve been tuning in to the show since 2010, around the time they started their 10th season, and transitioned from being “The Next Generation” into simply “Degrassi”, with their focus shifted towards a much younger, teen audience, as well as myself and Adam (sorry Adam, just had to bring you into this).
Originally airing on CTV, Degrassi: The Next Generation’s Seasons 1 to 9 were definitely classics among long-time fans that stayed and watched a core cast of characters grow, while introducing a new batch of characters every season to liven up the mix. What made a lot of these episodes great is that they took a lot of chances, and introduced a little shock value and drama in to the show.
Two of its most talked about episodes, Season 4’s Time Stands Still, which involved Aubrey Graham’s (a.k.a. Drake) character being shot and paralyzed from the waist down. As well in Season 6’s Rock This Town, when Ryan Cooley’s character J.T. Yorke, a class clown character who had been with the series since Day 1, was written off to get killed in a back-alley stabbing by a gang member from a rival school. These episodes are not only great to watch, but they provide shock value and tension to a series that seems to have lightened its dramatic tone in recent years.
Until last night…
In the two-part episode Bitter Sweet Symphony, the Degrassi students return to a new semester and a Spirit Week rally, where we find character Campbell Saunders, a new character introduced at the start of Season 12 (portrayed by Dylan Everett) returns from his hometown of Kapuskasing to reunite with his girlfriend, Maya (portrayed by Olivia Scriven). Throughout the season, we’ve seen much of Cam’s character development and how he has a lot of problems that he’s finding hard to deal with. He’s been receiving a lot of pressure from his fellow hockey teammates on and off the ice, as a potential first-round pick for the NHL and he’s only a sophomore, he’s got relationship drama (like all of us do at times), as well he is portrayed as being quite socially awkward and is bullied on occasion.
This episode was meant to be Cam’s breaking point, as another character Zig (portrayed by Ricardo Hoyos), who also has a crush on Maya, urges Cam to get out of Maya’s life for good, and calls him a psycho.
And that’s exactly what he does…
Because in last night’s part two episode of Bitter Sweet Symphony, we discover that the growing fan favorite character Campbell Saunders, commits suicide at the school, and his body is discovered by another fan favorite Eli Goldsworthy (portrayed by Munro Chambers), who was introduced in Season 10 and has already seen his fair share of drama throughout his being on the program.
Part two is an immensely powerful episode, because not only does it target the very touchy subject of suicide, a topic that has not been covered in Degrassi since Degrassi High back in the 1990s, but we get to really see a lot of character development in the characters left to grieve for Cam’s death. Plus the writers and producers behind the episode worked really hard in order to get this episode right.
According to behind-the-scenes footage, Campbell Saunders’ character was written from the get-go to go down this path, but of course, this was not revealed until after last night’s dramatic episode.
I have to give much praise and respect to Epitome Pictures and the show Degrassi because I feel they’ve done justice for the first time since their “Next Generation” years. I feel that for too long, the show had been playing it safe with a lot of their characters and their storylines, even appeasing the fans a little and giving them what they wanted to see.
Instead of giving the fans what they want to see, you should be giving them something they need to see. Degrassi has enough of a fan base that you are able to deliver a message of this caliber and have people stop and listen. And sometimes, not every episode can end with a happy ending, and that’s something that Degrassi has been able to showcase with Bitter Sweet Symphony. They could have easily dodged the bullet and made Cam’s character instead have attempted suicide and failed. Sure, you could’ve still given a message out afterwards like they did, through their “MuchTalks: Degrassi” special, but you’d miss the point entirely.
What this episode was trying to show was the different sides of how people deal with death in their life, and all of the reactions to Cam’s death were natural and realistics portrayals: Numbness (Maya), Sadness (Alli, Tristan), Comedy (Mo), Sympathy (Marisol, Fiona), Wondering (Jake), Helpfulness (Tori, Katie), Guilt (Zig, Dallas), Curiosity (Dave, Connor), Anger (Becky), and Denial (Eli).
Personally, I loved the character of Campbell Saunders. I found him to be very relatable with much potential to be the next Eli of the series.
So of course like many climactic episodes of the past, including Time Stands Still and Rock This Town like I mentioned earlier, Bitter Sweet Symphony has already had a ripple effect that will last for the rest of this season, maybe even longer, as the weight of Cam’s death will shake the foundations of Degrassi and its characters in ways we haven’t seen in a while. I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the season will play out.
But this episode does deliver an important message that we should all take away, and this comes about two weeks after a national initiative. Bell Let’s Talk Day took place two weeks ago this coming Tuesday, and was an initiative that sought to raise money for mental health initiatives and depression. On February 12th, Canadians were asked to text or tweet with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk, and for every text or tweet, Bell would donate 5 cents to mental health initiatives. This episode is a prime example that if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or something to the extreme, that it’s important to reach out and get help. The MuchTalks: Degrassi special after the episode was a 30-minute special dedicated to discussing the impact of the episode, and to discuss the idea of opening up and sharing stories of depression and the impact that it has had on our lives.
We may all know or have known of someone who has battled depression, but sometimes these symptoms are not as obvious to spot, and its not until its too late that we grow to realize that we could’ve done so much more. That’s the example Bitter Sweet Symphony was trying to give.
Kids Help Phone is always available to answer and listen to your stories. You can reach out and give them a call anytime at 1-800-668-6868, or reach them online at kidshelpphone.ca.