Impulse Ep. 6: An unflinching look at intimacy after assault


Impulse brings Henry’s trauma back to the forefront as she rekindles a romance with an old boyfriend. CW: Sexual Assault

Episode six, “In Memoriam,” is incredibly painful to watch, but that is why it’s so important. As much as Henry (Maddie Hasson) wants to move on and as much as viewers want her to be able to move on, Impulse showrunner Lauren LeFranc remains committed to depicting the complete, honest and brutal aftermath of sexual assault.

Here are four ways in which the episode addresses the reality of intimacy after an assault:

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1. The opposite of Clay

After driving Henry back from Vermont in Impulse episode five, Josh (Amadeus Serafini), her boyfriend before she moved to Reston, decides to stay in town for a few days. In many ways, his presence is beneficial to Henry. She smiles and laughs more than she has in any other episode.

Josh takes her tagging, which she hadn’t done since the assault. Even just by talking with him about the past and about his life, she is able to focus on things other than the assault and her teleporting abilities, if only temporarily.

Tragically, none of that changes the reality of how psychological triggers work. Even the most loving and caring person can unintentionally trigger memories of abuse carried out by another person. It is part of the reason why, after an assault, survivors can feel isolated even from the people they’re closest to.

2. Triggers

After Josh picks Henry up from school, he tries to get her to open up about what’s been going on because he knows something is wrong. Henry decides she doesn’t want to talk about it. Instead, she hopes that by rekindling her positive and consensual relationship with Josh, she can move past the trauma of her sexual assault.

Josh tries to make sure she really wants to make out instead of talk, and Henry insists she does. However, within moments, she starts having a panic attack. Josh worries he did something wrong. Henry says he didn’t and feels compelled to apologize for putting him in such a position.

Josh, to his credit, assures her she has nothing to apologize for and does his best to comfort her by taking her tagging.

Later in the episode, Henry and Josh go to a hotel. At first, they’re just joking around and eating candy. However, when Josh reveals that he almost OD’d after Henry left, the mood shifts and Henry initiates sex. The scene is entirely romantic without panic attacks or flashbacks. It seems as though Henry might really be able to move on.

Soon afterward, however, Henry is brutally awoken by a vision of Clay grabbing her thigh while lying next to her in bed. Henry then sees it’s really Josh, sound asleep, next to her, but that does not stop the panic attack.

In one of the most painful moments to watch in Impulse thus far, Henry runs into the bathroom and turns on the shower to not raise Josh’s suspicions. She then sits down beside the tub, shaking and sobbing as quietly as possible.

3. Unconditional support

When Henry later walks out of the bathroom, she realizes Josh knows something is wrong, and she doesn’t know what to say. Josh stands up, and she realizes she doesn’t need to say anything. She walks into his arms, and Josh states what she already figured out. Josh knows it is Henry herself, and not what happened to her, that is most important.

4. Control

The episode ends with Henry furiously confronting Clay (Tanner Stine) about the assault in an effort to regain control of her life and get closure. He denies doing anything wrong and insists that since she kissed him, she must have wanted to something to happen.

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Growing increasingly angry, Henry reveals that she put Clay in his wheelchair and she is “glad” she did because now he “can never hurt anyone else.”

Clay says he doesn’t believe her but seems distressed nonetheless. He flashes back to their encounter from his perspective, which shows Henry wanting to stop but then seemingly giving in. It’s clear Clay still does not ask for consent even in his version of the events.