Older-woman, younger-male relationship is unromanticized in “A Teacher”

Content Warning: This article contains reference to statutory rape and predatory abuse and spoilers.

The FX miniseries “A Teacher” debuted on Hulu, following the tale of an inappropriate yet realistically possible student-teacher relationship. It premiered on Nov. 10 with the release of three episodes. The show is based on Hannah Fiddell’s movie of the same name, and Fiddell created and co-directed it. 

The story follows a seemingly bland high school teacher, Claire Wilson, as she struggles with a contentious marriage, infertility and an oblivious husband. She is portrayed as bored with her lifestyle, living a comfortable middle-class suburban dream that lacks excitement. It seems as though viewers are being set up to empathize with her eventual bad decisions. 

Wilson eventually engages in an illegal relationship with a 17-year-old student Eric Walker, a charming and precocious teenager. He is the oldest child of a single mother, and frequently has to babysit his two younger brothers. He also works at a diner, which is where he and Wilson have their first conversation that hints at their developing emotional connection. 

It starts out with the inappropriate, albeit not illegal, offer of antagonist Wilson to tutor Walker for SAT prep. What follows is a series of escalating events, depicting grooming and eventually leading to statutory rape. It’s important to name this abuse because at some points in the series, the editing of the show appears to wash over the fact that Walker is a child and Wilson is abusing her power – as well as him. 

The show portrays their relationship very matter-of-fact, neither glorifying nor making a judgement on Wilson’s illegal and immoral behavior. It may seem as though this is to put the onus of the judgment on the viewer. 

Culturally, there is a glorification of older female relationships with younger males. This is seen in many other pop-culture references, such as the show “Shameless” as well as the film “That’s My Boy” where a 13-year-old is the victim of his eighth grade teacher. “A Teacher” tries to tackle this phenomena through exemplifying a female abuser in a realistic setting without making it a joke.

In one instance of the show, Walker is caught drinking at a party after it is shut down by local police. Upon getting caught, he realizes the officer who caught him is Wilson’s brother, so he calls her to try to get him out of the situation. She obliges, and makes him promise not to tell anyone. Even though her brother is a police officer, he does not suspect Wilson of inappropriate behavior because she is not what people would consider a typical predator. 

“A Teacher” exemplifies that anyone is capable of being a predator. By depicting predatory grooming, it also brings awareness to the myriad of ways that abusers gain their victim’s trust. It remains to be seen if the show will continue in this exposing fashion, or if it will lean into glamorizing Walker’s abuse. 

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