We have a long television road ahead of us for 2020. It’s so winding that there are two entire streaming platforms — each equipped with dozens of series — that are months away from premiering. Yet Netflix has already given viewers one of the darkest twists of the year with the closing episodes of New Year's Day-premiering Spinning Out.
Serena Baker (Willow Shields), the 16-year-old little sister of protagonist Kat Baker (Kaya Scodelario), is the center of the skating series' disturbing final twist. Because, as season 1 finale “Kiss and Cry” explores, Serena has been sexually exploited by her sports doctor, Ethan Parker (Charlie Hewson), a man previously posed as a dreamboat.
It’s a chilling ending that reveals the true goal of Spinning Out is so much bigger than sexy winter sports infighting.
Ninth episode “#1 Mom” lays the groundwork for the disturbing Serena-Ethan reveal. We see Serena sending nude photos to someone and frantically texting them throughout the chapter. In the final shot of “Mom,” the camera zooms in on Serena’s face as she unloads all of her anxieties. “[It] feels like we had sex and then you didn’t wanna hear from me anymore,” she complains. Since the shot is so tight on Serena’s face, it is still possible she really is speaking to the boy she claims to be dating: Drew Davis (Jamie Champagne). Drew is a fellow teen and the little brother of Justin Davis (Evan Roderick), Kat’s skating partner.
Then Spinning Out zooms out. It’s Ethan, a grown man who could easily be in his 30s. This is who Serena had “sex” with. But Serena is 16. Ethan is an adult. Anything going on between them is criminal and coercive, particularly in Spinning Out’s home of Idaho where the age of consent is 18. Any sexual contact between Serena and Ethan is legally statutory rape. Unfortunately, Serena is convinced Ethan loves her.
All of Serena's romantic beliefs come crashing down in the finale. A large chunk of the previous episode is dedicated to the growing relationship between Ethan and Jenn Yu (Amanda Zhou), an age-appropriate love interest for the doctor and Kat’s closest friend. Ethan initially lies to Serena about his date with Jenn and blames it on surgery. Serena learns the truth in “Kiss and Cry” when she sees Ethan flirting with Jenn at the stadium hosting skating sectionals. He pulls a move on Serena that looks identical to one he used on Serena earlier in the episode. Serena is devastated and confronts Ethan in the middle of a public hallway.
This is when an already upsetting tale of abuse takes an even more sinister turn. Ethan tells Serena he thought they were “having fun,” and that she isn’t “mature enough to handle” their so-called arrangement. He calls her a “stupid kid.” It’s a dizzyingly fast mix of gaslighting and victim-blaming. All of a sudden, Ethan’s manipulation of a teen girl has become her fault. To further protect himself, Ethan tells Serena she shouldn’t tell anyone about their “relationship” for her own good.
“Reputation is a big part of all this, right?” he asks about the skating community. “Wouldn’t want to ruin yours.”
It’s sickening to think that such a story coming to light could hurt Serena, the injured party, so much more than Ethan. But that trap is what Ethan is banking on to continue his criminal behavior. It’s impossible to not think about the the U.S.A. gymnastics sex abuse scandal — and the sport’s disgraced former lead doctor Larry Nassar, who is now a convicted sexual abuser — as Serena is bullied into silence. As with ice skating, gymnastics is also a sport heavily populated by young, vulnerable girls like Serena.
Ethan, knowing society’s tendency to doubt girls, uses that failing again Serena when Kat learns he raped her sister. He claims that he never had a relationship with Serena and that she is a “lonely” kid who became “obsessed” with him. “This is just a case of a delusional teenage girl with a crush,” he says. One is immediately struck by how quickly Ethan crafted these substantial lies.
Kat still doesn’t believe Ethan. She returns to the locker room — where Serena and their mom Carol Baker (January Jones) came to terms with the attack — to figure out what to do next with her family. After nearly 10 full episodes of Baker women betrayals, they come together. Carol urges Kat to skate in her pairs competition and pledges to take care of Serena. Carol does, and, in a short flash-forward, shows up to Ethan’s home to bash him with a baseball bat and report an assault to the police. It is suggested that Carol is talking about the assault Ethan committed against her daughter.
It is unclear what happens to Serena after the day of sectionals, since the “present day” timeline cuts just as Kat and Justin begin their long-form program. But, whatever it is, at least we know the Baker women are finally on one team.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).