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What Bonding Gets Right About High-School Trauma

The drunken high-school reunion in Episode 3 is painful for every nerd out there.
  • Zoe Levin  and Brendan Scannell star as former high school misfits turned sex workers in Bonding (Netflix)
    Zoe Levin and Brendan Scannell star as former high school misfits turned sex workers in Bonding (Netflix)

    If you told me last week that I'd be watching a show about a dominatrix-slash-grad-student that I found simply by logging into Netflix, I'd tell you that it'd have to be a dark comedy in order to be true. And indeed, it is. Bonding, created by Rightor Doyle, premiered on Netflix this week with only seven episodes, each running approximately 15 minutes each. But it wasn't until the third episode where I really felt a connection.

    Having never been a grad student, nor a dominatrix, I initially couldn't relate to the main character Tiff, played by Zoe Levin. Known better as Mistress Mae to her clientele, it almost seemed as if she took her day job as a way to have her own little secret. But as we learn, the money is good, which is what draws her old high school friend Pete (Brendan Scannell) to become her reluctant assistant. Before she shared her secret, Pete had thought she was a 911 operator.

    As the episodes continue, we learn that the two have been estranged since high school. That dynamic is explored more in "The Past Is Not Always Behind," which brings an off-the-clock Tiff and Pete to a bar, where they run into someone they used to know.

    Slurring her words is Chelsea (played by Amy Bettina), a girl styled much like a 2010 version of Megan Fox. She recognizes Tiff almost immediately and goes to sit next to the duo. While you might assume that the two were close after Chelsea utters the greeting of "Get up and squeeze me, girl," the two had little in common besides one school play.

    While Pete doesn't recognize Chelsea immediately, she remembers him as someone who "used to be fat." "Not that fat," Pete says. "Not that thin, though," Chelsea states while pushing back a piece of hair. "Not thin at all."

    Obviously overserved, Chelsea adds that she can't believe she's talking to underclassmen, even though it's obviously been quite some time since everyone's graduated — at least six years. It's almost painful to watch Chelsea hold onto the rumors and judgments long after everyone else has moved on with their lives.

    It was at this very moment when I felt for both Tiff and Pete. In high school, my hobbies weren't necessarily the popular ones. I wasn't the lead in the play like Chelsea — instead, I was on the makeup crew. I was the editor of our school paper, which, to credit my underfunded public school, was on newsprint and not copier paper. And, let's not forget those two years of marching band where I tried to convince people that I could actually play the flute.

    I loved my high school years, but I also knew there were better things ahead. And that mantra gave me the patience to move forward and onward in a world of Chelseas. I didn't have it bad, but I knew that there were people out there who'd easily be willing to put me down to inflate their own egos. Even though we're all Facebook friends now, I still fear that bar meet-up where one small imperfection from 2002 could become a hot topic once again.

    Of course, our heroes in Bonding did the right thing. All of Chelsea's jabs went right past them. They didn't feel the need to insult back — at least, not openly. They rightfully giggled as Chelsea drunkenly fell off of her stool, but managed to walk her home and keep her company in the bathroom as she vomited out both her alcohol and her reason for being in the bar in the first place.

    All she was looking for was someone to talk to. But the only people she actually spoke with were the "two losers that [she] did a pretty shit production of West Side Story with." It was at that moment where she wondered if Tiff and Pete even remembered her. To which Pete replied, "Of course we remember you, Casey." Cue more smirks.

    After all of these years, Chelsea still views these two as "the losers," even after crediting their choice to move to New York — which is a win in her eyes. It only makes you wonder how many painful interactions the characters had back in the day. Even so, Tiff acknowledges Chelsea and gives her the benefit of the doubt, only strengthening her character.

    It could be due to the fact that Tiff’s secret job requires her to communicate with her clients in a different way. Or, it could be because the awkward moments of high school shaped her to be the better person in situations like this. Chelsea's intoxicated speech also reveals that Tiff and Pete had slept together in high school — something that's later revealed to be true, even though Pete, today, identifies as being gay.

    Chelsea's appearance at the bar brought up so many conversations and events that both Tiff and Pete likely wanted to forget about. Which is kind of important to witness for others who've been the Tiff in a world of Chelseas.

    If you're wondering whether or not your appearance, extracurriculars, or a minor piece of gossip that circulated in high school will actually matter years out, know it'll only be in the minds of people who view those years as their best — the people who never really allowed themselves to truly grow and move forward.

    All seven episodes of Bonding are available for streaming on Netflix. 
    Talk about the show in our forums.

    Karen Belz has contributed to sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, and So Yummy. Follow her on Twitter at @KarenEBelz.

    TOPICS: Netflix, Bonding, Brendan Scannell, Rightor Doyle, Zoe Levin