Impulse: Four ways the pilot addresses rape culture


YouTube Premium’s newest original series Impulse is way more than sci-fi thriller about teleportation. Content Warning: Sexual Assault

When I first heard about the premise of Impulse, I debated for a while about whether I wanted to cover the show.

I’m definitely a fan of action and sci-fi, but the fact that the teenage main character’s journey would in some ways begin as a result of a classmate sexually assaulting her raised some red flags for me.

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I was worried Impulse would follow the lead of many other shows and merely use a female characters’ sexual assault for shock value to attract viewers and then move on from it.

After watching the pilot, though, I was impressed by how showrunner Lauren LeFranc addressed the entire culture surrounding sexual violence. Here are the ways in which she did so:

1. Repeated Advances

Within the first six minutes of the pilot, we learn that popular basketball player Clay Boone (Tanner Stine) has been unrelentingly pursuing Henrietta “Henry” Coles (Maddie Hasson), the main character. When he asks her to go to the upcoming game with him, she declines, pointing out that he’s “struck out ten times already.”

But it’s clear that he’s going to keep trying and equally apparent that she doesn’t see him as any kind of threat. After all, he appears to be a nice guy. Take pretty much every early 2000s movie, for example, and guys are always pursuing girls uninterested in them, and it’s played for comedy.

LeFranc knows how unfunny it actually is but also how programmed we as a society have been to not see such behavior as predatory.

2. Like father, like son

As soon as he is introduced, it’s very apparent that Clay’s father Bill (David James Elliot) is the definition of toxic masculinity: authoritarian, violent, and incapable of empathy. He criticizes Clay for not taking basketball practice seriously enough, call him “a p***y” and repeatedly hitting him.

I suppose the scene could be meant to garner viewers’ sympathy for Clay before the assault. Henry, who witnesses the exchange, seems to feel bad for him. However, I don’t think that was LeFranc’s primary intention.

Among the many issues #MeToo has brought to light, one of the most important is that sexual violence does not happen in a vacuum. Obviously, there are absolutely no excuses for such behavior, but identifying the root causes of it is a critical part of working to end the epidemic and preventing its outbreak in future generations.

LeFranc seems to understand that violence is often more cyclical than spontaneous. Clay’s brother Lucas (Craig Arnold), for example, also shares their father’s violent tendencies, which later puts Henry in danger.

3. Expecting something in return

Henry has a seizure disorder, which is somehow tied to her teleporting ability. However, outside of the sci-fi dimension, the seizures are initially frustrating for her because her doctors take away her license.

She has to rely on her new quasi-stepsister Jenna Hope (Sarah Desjardins), with whom she does not get along, to drive her to school every day.

Then, Deputy Anna Hulce (Enuka Okuma) catches Henry tagging a concrete barrier on the side of the road one night, but agrees to let her off if she pays a fine. Henry’s mom Cleo (Missi Pyle) and her mom’s boyfriend Thomas (Matt Gordon) decide to sell Henry’s car, much to her chagrin, to pay it. But Clay’s father owns the car lot, so Henry realizes she could get the car back with Clay’s help.

Clay agrees and the heist is successful, and Henry parks the car in a trailer park so her mom can’t find it. She then gets in Clay’s pickup truck so he can drive her home.

It’s clear to viewers that Clay wants to take advantage of the situation. He whips out a joint, which doesn’t bother Henry because she is a pot smoker herself.

The two take hits and start kissing, but then Henry starts to feel uncomfortable as Clay tries to get to second base. She says she should go home and assumes Clay will stop. Clay does not take no for an answer.

4. Forced to stay silent

The assault causes Henry to seize, which then causes her to teleport to her bedroom, along with part of Clay’s truck. The rest of the truck is crushed by her inadvertent teleportation with Clay inside and his spine breaks.

Since Clay is seemingly the most popular kid in school, Henry’s classmates are devastated by his injury.

She is forced to stay silent about the incident to prevent herself from being implicated in connection with his injuries. As everyone around her celebrates their fallen hero, she, like so many other survivors, is unable to expose the kind of person her assailant really is.

Next: Impulse Ep. 2: Five scenes that prove you should be watching

Henry is able to turn one person: Jenna. After Henry tells her what happened, Jenna immediately comes to Henry’s aid. I’m hoping their bond will only grow stronger as Henry needs someone in her corner.

Impulse is currently streaming on YouTube Premium