A Teacher Episode 1 recap: Claire Wilson starts at Westerbrook High

In A Teacher Episode 1, Claire starts her first day teaching at a new school and meets her students, including Eric, a senior in her AP English class.

On this pleasant Tuesday in November, Hulu/FX has released the first three episodes of their controversial new show, A Teacher. Before getting into the A Teacher Episode 1 recap, let me set the stage a little.

Content warning: This series contains sexual situations and depictions of grooming that may be disturbing to some.

This series, which stars Kate Mara and Nick Robinson, seeks to explore the complexities of predatory relationships and grooming tactics. Taking place during the 2013-14 school year, Mara’s character, Claire Wilson, starts her new job at a small-town Texas high school and slowly starts to cross boundaries with Robinson’s character, an athletic senior named Eric Walker. I’m not sure if A Teacher is a show we need right now, though I’ll refrain from judging until I see how the story plays out.

However, it will be interesting to see if A Teacher can successfully navigate the double standard we often see perpetuated by our society regarding female-on-male abuse.

Also, as someone who grew up on shows like Gossip Girl, The OC, One Tree Hill and Pretty Little Liars — all of which featured romanticized adult/teen relationships to some degree — it’s nice to have a show that tackles just how harmful these relationships are, instead of telling teens they’re illicit, but sexy (ahem, Ezra/Aria)!

A Teacher Episode 1 begins by introducing Claire, both to viewers and students, as the new AP English teacher. Initially, she seems fairly innocuous, but then she steals a tube of lipstick from a local store. At home, we learn that Claire is somewhat dissatisfied with her marriage to Matt (Ashley Zukerman), who frequently travels. They’re trying to get pregnant, but it feels like something is severely lacking in their relationship. When Claire tells her husband about the lipstick, he admits to finding it a little weird. It’s clear Claire gets a little thrill out of breaking the rules and is marginally disappointed that he doesn’t get it.

During her first day, Claire impressed upon her class of seniors, Eric included, the importance of Dylan Thomas. She reads his iconic poem, “Do Not Go Gently Into the Night,” as the episode cuts between Claire reading and Eric leading raucous chants and celebrations through the hallway for the senior class. It seems the excitement of getting older and nearing graduation has them all pumped for the year to come.

We pivot to Eric, who visits with his teacher to discuss a possible college scholarship. Mr. Castillo says he is a good fit for the scholarship he’s after; he’s pre-med, captain of the soccer team, and holds a job at the local diner while balancing a full course load. The only thing he needs to achieve is 1250 on the SATs.

At practice after, Eric’s teammate and friend Logan (Shane Harper) notices Claire leaving school and comments on how hot she is. He’s impressed she’s Eric’s teacher. Eric isn’t so sure he agrees. “She’s too hot to be a teacher.” “She’s alright. She assigned us so much f——-g homework. Like, first day. So, I don’t know. Jury’s still out.”

Eric, Logan and their other friend Josh (Dylan Schmid) hang out after school, and it quickly becomes apparent that Eric’s friends don’t quite grasp his financial situation. Eric needs a scholarship for a reason, but they make quips about him not having a car and assume he can get them free food at the diner where he works when they need some post-weed munchies. It’s at the diner that Eric and Claire’s paths cross once again. Instead of finishing her wine and frozen TV dinner, Claire opts to go out when Matt texts her to say his flight got canceled, and he won’t be home that night.

Logan and Josh leave early, leaving Eric and Claire alone at the diner. She picks up his tab after he comments on his friends taking advantage of his job. They get to talking. Claire reveals she went to UT for school. Eric is impressed. He’s wanted to go there since he was a kid, but he can’t seem to get his SAT score up to par. “I’m just bad at taking tests.” Eric immediately sees in Claire the possibility of someone who could help his dreams come true. It spells danger.

Claire says it’s not as hard as he thinks, that it’s more about understanding certain strategic rules than anything. Eric wonders if she would be able to tutor him. So long as the school says it’s okay, Claire doesn’t see why she couldn’t. Once they’re done eating, Claire gives Eric a ride home. They make more small talk. She tells him her brother lives nearby, and they bond over a shared love of Frank Ocean. It’s obvious there is a mutual attraction between the two of them, no matter how inappropriate.

That night, Claire fantasizes about Eric. She wakes up to Matt getting home, having decided to take a late flight. Still aroused from her dream, Claire initiates sex with Matt. But it’s quick and unsatisfying for her.

A Teacher Episode 1

A TEACHER Episode 1 — Pictured: (l-r) Kate Mara as Claire Walker, Nick Robinson as Eric Walker. CR: Chris Large/FX

The next day, Claire sets out to meet Eric at the diner to start their SAT tutoring. On her way out the door, she lies to Matt, telling him she’s going out with her new teacher friend instead.

A Teacher Episode 1: Gradebook

  • Matt’s T-shirt had the biggest hole in it during his first scene. I’ve never seen a television character wear something so relatable to sleep in.
  • At one point, Eric tells Logan that he looks like a 30-year-old man — Shane Harper is 27.
  • The way this show is filmed like an upbeat indie dramedy feels…strange. I almost wish it had taken more of a thriller approach.
  • Kate Mara is 37, and Nick Robinson is 25. They look close in age like they could date in real life. In some ways, that makes the show’s mission (which I assume will show how damaging this type of predatory relationship is) a little perplexing. That said, it would be ickier to watch if a 19 or 20-year-old actor portrayed Eric. Then again, wouldn’t that be the point?
  • Stemming from that point, Decider‘s review made a good point that the show intentionally does its best to sell the romance to make it uncomfortable. “The resulting drama makes viewers complicit in ‘A Teacher’’s most horrendous crimes, while also examining our society’s sexualization of teenagers.” I’m not entirely sure I agree with the execution yet, but it’s something to keep in mind.
  • I wonder if it would have been better to tell this story solely from the victim’s perspective.

What did you think of A Teacher Episode 1? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!

The first three episodes of A Teacher are now streaming on Hulu. New episodes will be released on Tuesdays going forward.