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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

"Baby Reindeer:" A Heart-Wrenching Tale of Overcoming Trauma

In April of this year, an unassuming mini series quietly made its way onto Netflix and skyrocketed to #1 on the site's charts. Baby Reindeer is an autobiographical psychological thriller/black comedy, centering around the life of the creator, Richard Gadd. It tells the story of how Gadd was stalked by an older woman while in his 20's, and the show is named after the nickname she often called him. However, it's not merely a crime thriller, it's so much more than just that. It's actually a harrowing tale of a man coming to grips with his masculinity, ambitions, and sexual trauma. I had no idea when I started this humble mini series that it would end up being some of the best television I had ever seen.

Baby Reindeer starts off by telling the story of Donny Dunn, a struggling comedian working as a bartender in London. One day, a 42 year old woman named Martha Scott walks into his bar looking visibly upset, claiming she cannot even afford a drink. He feels sorry for her, and brews her a cup of tea on the house, and that's where it all began. Martha quickly became attached to Donny and started intensely stalking him, sending him hundreds upon hundreds of shoddily typed emails, harassing his family, etc. This goes on for the next three episodes, as we see Martha's constant presence ruin Donny's love life, job, and mental state. And for the first three episodes, Baby Reindeer is a gripping, beautifully shot psychological thriller, but it's not until Episode 4 that the show takes a hard left turn, and it stops being a story about a stalker, it starts being a story about rape.

In the very first scene of the show, we see Donny walk into a police station to report someone stalking him, when the officer asks him if anything directly threatening has happened, he says no. We see over the course of the next three episodes that Martha physically assaulted him and his girlfriend, groped him, and sent various concerning emails. At this point, Donny has researched Martha's name and knows that she previously did time in prison for stalking and is clearly a dangerous person. The audience is left wondering why on Earth Donny answered: "no." But in episode four, we get our long-awaited answer.

As Donny flashes back to several years earlier, we see him perform his comedy at the Edinburgh Festival in a local pub, much to the dismay of everyone else at the bar. By some chance encounter, Donny runs into a man named Darrien O'Connor, a television writer for the wildly successful show, "Cottonmouth." After learning of Darrien's success and his experience working with some of his comedy idols, Donny becomes overjoyed when he finds out that Darrien wants to take him under his wing and help his comedy career. Donny begins spending every weekend at Darrien's lavish apartment, taking every drug imaginable, from LSD to heroin. Despite all of this, Donny is still convinced that this is all somehow helping his writing career, little did he know...he was being groomed. This eventually culminates one day when Donny has a bad trip on LSD and wakes up to find out that he's been raped by Darrien.

Like anyone, Donny goes through a laundry list of emotions after discovering his assault, most profound of all is that he begins questioning his sexuality. This leads to his relationship crumbling, and introduces a period of hyper-sexuality where he pursues unsafe, sexual encounters with multiple partners. Hyper-sexuality is a common symptom of sexual trauma. When he begins a new relationship, he struggles with impotence, it's clear that his body is still in shock and won't let Donny ever forget what happened to him. Years later, he has still not told anyone about his assault and holds it in like a heavily guarded secret.

But what does this have to do with Martha? After all, being stalked is very different than being raped. But is it really? To have your personal life invaded by an unwelcome voyeur. To take advantage of someone and disguise it as love. There's a perpetrator, a victim, and a lack of consent. So every time Martha sent Donny an explicit email, or came into his place of work, in a way, Donny was experiencing his assault over and over again. So when asked at the police station whether Martha had done anything clearly threatening or dangerous, Donny said "no." Because, in Gadd's words: "I couldn't stand the irony, of reporting her but not him... To admit to her was to admit to him. And I hadn't admitted him to anyone yet." And when the policeman asks "Why did it take you so long to report it?" he simply replies: "I don't know."

By the end of the fourth episode, I couldn't believe what I had seen, my jaw was on the floor. Never before had I seen writing this honest, this sobering, and this vulnerable. Writing about one's own sexual assault is a daunting task, and turning it into art is like climbing a mountain, and when you're a man, that mountain is Everest. The conversation about sexual assault has evolved tremendously in recent years, but not in terms of men. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 1 in 33 men have experienced attempted rape in their lifetime, but these cases rarely ever get pursued because the victims are ashamed to come forward, or even admit what happened to them, meaning that the number is likely much higher. In Baby Reindeer, Richard Gadd replaced his shame with acceptance, and used his inner pain to create some truly incredible art. The show conveys how much sexual assault not only affects the victim, but those around them.

Perhaps the most haunting scene in the whole show is when Donny finally admits to his parents what happened to him. In a tearful confession, he admits that he didn't come forward because he didn't want to be seen as "less of a man." To his shock, his stoic father admits that he too, is a survivor, having been molested as a child while in the Catholic church. Here, we see a family come together through a shared trauma, and it's a scene that won't leave you any time soon.

After admitting what happened to him, Donny's life begins to turn around. He becomes more self-assured, for the first time in a long while, he is filled with acceptance and optimism rather than animosity. He even returns to Darrien's apartment, where he is offered a writer's position, and instead of confronting the man who violated him, they just chat, and it's clear that a lot of wounds have healed. Donny properly reports Martha to the police and is soon arrested and sentenced for her crimes. In the next few weeks, Donny finds himself listening to all the obsessive voicemails Martha left him. After hours upon hours of scrolling through hundreds of messages, Donny slowly but surely starts having sympathy for the devil. It's here where we finally learn the origin of the nickname, "Baby Reindeer," which comes from a stuffed animal Martha would hold onto whenever her parents fought, the only positive memory she had of her entire childhood. As the show ends, we see Donny cry at a local bar, and when he orders a drink, the bartender informs him it's "on the house," just like he did the day him and Martha met. Donny comes to the realization that he and Martha weren't so different, they were both victims of abuse and were trying to cope in any way they could.

Baby Reindeer couldn't have been an easy thing to write. Confronting one's own trauma is a task fit for no one, and attempting to turn it into art for others to judge is an extraordinary act of courage. Whatever you've been through in life, you will have an easy time resonating with Donny, and maybe even see yourself in his character. Never before have I encountered a piece of media this raw, this soul-bearing, by the time the credits rolled after the last episode, all I wanted to do was watch it ten more times. Baby Reindeer carries a powerful message that pain is a big part of life, and you can let it ruin you, or take advantage of it. But more importantly, it shows that nobody is ever truly alone, and that the cycle of abuse affects all of us, and we're the only one's who can stop it.

I cannot possibly recommend this show enough. Richard Gadd, from the bottom of my heart thank you for being so vulnerable in your writing and creating something so vulnerable to share with the world.

If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual abuse or trauma, the RAINN hotline's number is 1-800-656-4673. Help is out there and you are never alone.

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2 Yorum

Abe Selby
Abe Selby
06 May

this is an excellent read!

06 May
Şu kişiye cevap veriliyor:

thank you very much!

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