For the past few episodes, Sweet/Vicious has started to tell the season’s biggest, most important story: Jules’ sexual assault and how she got to the place where we found her in the pilot. But telling that story meant telling the story of countless real-life victims, and it’s not a matter that show creator Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and her team took lightly.
“We really did look into ourselves and ask, ‘How do we feel about this? Does this feel right to us? Does this feel correct?’ Because when you start to get into the minutia of it and trying to make everybody happy, you’re not going to make something good. You’re just going to make something that feels all over the place,” Robinson tells EW. “So we looked into ourselves and we thought about the research we did, and I hope that we have made something, and it seems that we’ve made something, that is resonating and people are responding to, which is incredible.”
With the help of lots and lots of research, the show carefully crafted every moment of Jules’ journey. Along the way, some details stood out as more striking than others. For example, the moment when Nate informed Jules that, in his mind, the sex had been consensual. All this time, Nate thought Jules was avoiding him because they’d “cheated.”
“I read a lot,” Robinson says about creating that moment. “In the Nate of it all, we wanted to make sure that this character was not a one-dimensional villain, because I don’t think that that is representative of young men today. I think that they are just as complicated as women. And yes, there are some dudes out there who are malicious and who are doing very bad things, and there are some men out there where they’re doing bad things but the circumstances are not that black-and-white. We wanted to tell that story, and I think that’s just as important because that story opens up the conversation of: ‘Are we educating young men on consent?'”
All that’s not to say that Nate isn’t a villain on the show. “In episode 6, when he is faced with a choice of: Do I do the right thing or do I barrel down this avenue of a destructive lie, he chooses the latter. He does become this villain, but he grows into that rather than starting at that, because we thought that evolution was way more interesting and felt more real to what’s happening,” Robinson says.
Another powerful scene took place during the show’s seventh episode, which flashed back to the night of Jules’ attack. After Jules is assaulted, she reaches out to a Title IX officer at the school for help. Only, what she finds is a woman who questions the validity of her story: Did she misinterpret her assault? It’s a moment that shocked some and will probably resonate with others. And it’s another detail that Robinson knew she wanted to include.
“We actually spoke to a Title IX officer at a very big school. We talked to her, and she had a lot of information for us, not just about how she handles things — because she is very good at her job — but she also educated us on where the shortcomings are happening at schools with Title IX offices that are not run by people who understand how to do this job,” Robinson says. “That’s happening a lot, so it’s women and men who aren’t necessarily malicious or looking to hurt anyone. They just literally aren’t qualified to do this job, yet they have the job.”
In the end, Jules’ story was the show’s greatest challenge and also its greatest triumph. “There were times where we would break a story and we would be sitting there and we would all be like, ‘No, it’s not good enough. It’s not doing them justice. We have to dig deeper. There’s something better here; we have to find it,'” Robinson says. “Because when you’re telling this story, you’re not just telling a fantastical superhero story — you’re taking on an issue that deserves to be told right, and we did feel the pressure of that and I just wanted to make something that we could all be proud of and I feel that we did. I am very proud of it.”
Sweet/Vicious airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.