“Private Practice” has always been a little more serious than its older sibling, “Grey’s Anatomy.” But “Private Practice” at times still channels elements of Shonda Rhime’s earlier creation, with snappy dialogue, the occasional quirky medical disorder, and lots of sex.
But on November 4, “Private Practice” aired an episode completely (well, okay, mostly) devoid of all those adolescent indulgences. The episode, entitled, “Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?” was about rape.
The previous episode, “All in the Family,” was typical of “Private Practice.” It had all the usual elements: moral dilemmas (a married man trying to conceive a child with his wife gets in a car accident with a male prostitute, forcing Pete to decide whether to tell the wife; a man impregnates his comatose wife and–perhaps to foreshadow this week’s episode–Sam and Addison debate whether it constitutes rape). There’s clever dialogue, hip music, even a hint of hot, consensual sex.
But at the end of the episode, we saw a man attack Dr. Charlotte King. We were left with our mouths open, waiting to find out what happened.
“Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King” picks up right where we left off, but from the very beginning it’s easy to think one is watching a completely different show.
Instead of the latest indie rock hit, the show opens with Bach’s “Prelude in C Major.” Instead of a montage of sweaty bodies enjoying each other in bed, we’re shown a devastated office with lamps and furniture strewn about, and Charlotte struggling to stand.
This is not the flashy show we’re used to. It’s not even the thoughtfully paced show about ethical dilemmas that we’re used to. For the duration of this episode, “Private Practice” was transformed into a gritty and emotional piece of art, shedding light on a grisly crime.
According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 191,670 victims of rape or sexual assault reported in 2005. Yet, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 60% of sexual assaults go unreported to the police.
And it seems like that’s one of the points this episode was trying to hit home. Dr. King is a strong, proud woman–so she insists on only reporting a robbery, not the rape. She only confides the true depth of her pain to Addison, who grudgingly accepts Charlotte’s decision to stay silent.
I watch TV on Hulu, and always scour the review section afterward to gauge what other viewers are thinking. Most reviews were positive, but some people were offended. These people felt that “Private Practice” was exploiting rape for ratings during “Sweeps Week.”
Interestingly enough, Jezebel.com reports that RAINN was actually involved with the episode to ensure “that everything we did was suitable to the story of the survivor of this kind of crime,” according to KaDee Strickland, who plays Dr. King.
Strickland adds, “It’s not resolved in four episodes. It’s not like it just goes away. It is a part of who I will be on this show as long as this show is on the air, and I love that. That’s real.”
Which, in my opinion, is evidence that this episode was not merely a publicity stunt to boost ratings. While the characters on both “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” are at times quite juvenile, what I’ve always appreciated about both shows is that they deal with difficult issues in a way that is at once interesting, thought-provoking, and educational.
The “rape episode” is a perfect example of that.