Clique's Sexual Assault Storyline Is Disturbing, Messy & Feels Frighteningly Real

Photo: courtesy of BBC
Warning! This feature contains spoilers for series two of BBC Three’s Clique
The second series of BBC Three’s psychological drama Clique takes us back to a fictional university in Edinburgh. We’re reunited with protagonist Holly (Synnøve Karlsen) on familiar stomping ground but with a starkly different narrative from the first season. This time the trigger for a whirlwind of controversy is Jack (Leo Suter), a fellow second-year student and the cornerstone of a mysterious male friendship group, who has been accused of sexual assault.
After a beach bonfire party, Holly’s housemates Rayna (Imogen King) and Fraser (Stuart Campbell) are attacked by two men on their walk home – Fraser is beaten up while Rayna is stripped of her clothes and has the words "no thanks" written across her back in marker pen. Jack is the prime suspect.
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It’s an upsetting scenario to see played out in distorted flashbacks. What Clique boldly explores from the first episode is something we don't often hear about. What happens when accusations have been made, no legal action is taken and people around you start to question whether you’re telling the truth?
In the context of how much we’ve progressed with the #MeToo movement, it’s increasingly difficult to fathom what it might be to deny another woman’s claims of sexual assault (Lena Dunham gave us a lesson in how not to handle that situation in real life). Nevertheless, the series teeters across this complex territory when Rayna’s two best friends have dramatically different responses to what she says went down.
Louise (Sophia Brown), who you’ll remember as a member of last season’s female clique, jumps to Rayna’s defence. She channels her anger into the activist group Women Rise, leading a protest against the university for its inaction. Holly is hesitant, though. She questions whether Rayna’s being honest about what really happened on that walk home and is quickly made suspicious by Fraser and Rayna's behaviour in the following days. Despite Louise’s frustration at her taking the wrong "side", Holly begins a frenzied pursuit of the truth.
On the one side you've got Jack and his band of brothers, who fiercely defend his innocence, despite his troubling past. The boys are led in their endeavours by a suspicious man called Ben, a provocateur of gender politics and promoter of the frustrating sexist presumption that men are victims in this era of feminism. They perform stunts to expose "injustice" and rile the "oversensitive snowflakes" within the university.
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On the other side there's Rayna who, after coming forward with the accusation, is swiftly taken under local MP Agnes' wing. The incident takes place in the run-up to elections and Agnes, who happens to be Jack's mother, rushes to Rayna's defence and uses her as a catalyst for her women-focused campaign, damning her son's credibility in the process.
Messy isn't even the half of it. The biggest discomfort is probably having to absorb the boys' perspective. The entire story that Clique tells is shrouded in secrets, lies and past traumas that have been deeply buried by all the key players. This intricately layered series asks the questions that I don't think any of us have wanted to ask. The lingering "what if" that hangs over each episode undermines Rayna's story even when we don't want it to. It speaks to our hidden fears about #MeToo, and rattles the already terrifying prospect of coming forward as a survivor of sexual assault.
As a result, so much depends on whether or not Rayna is telling the truth. She tells Holly that "sometimes the truth and a lie are the same thing". Murder, suicide, psychiatric trauma, political scheming, controversial sexual relationships and every complicated level of mental health all feature; the only issue is that the chaos on the periphery comes close to overshadowing the terrifying plot point at the centre of the series – a young woman was raped. Period. While there's much to explore in what the various responses to the incident tell us about how society still struggles to respond to sexual assault, Clique demonstrates how easy it is for those who have experienced something like this to be lost in the surrounding agenda.
If you have experienced sexual violence of any kind, please visit Rape Crisis or call 0808 802 9999.
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