Spoilers for A Teacher “Episode 10” below.
FX on Hulu’s unsettling miniseries A Teacher depicts a scenario that’s all too familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a teen drama. An attractive new teacher, Claire (Kate Mara) draws stares from her male students, and in particular from Eric (Nick Robinson). When the two run into each other outside of class, there’s a spark. Claire, stuck in an unhappy marriage and resentful about her own troubled youth, almost immediately starts crossing boundaries with Eric: going to parties with him, confiding in him, and giving him private tutoring sessions. Before long, Claire has seduced Eric—while allowing him to believe he seduced her.
Unlike most pop-cultural depictions of a student-teacher romance, A Teacher has no qualms about depicting the relationship as the predatory crime that it is. After the affair is revealed midway through the season, the show devotes several episodes to exploring the years-long aftermath for Eric, who blames himself for the entire affair for a long time.
Robinson spoke to ELLE.com about the “bait and switch” A Teacher pulls with its central relationship, what he related to in Eric, and what viewers should take from that abrupt final scene.
What were your first impressions of the project?
I didn’t know much about it at all. I met with Hannah early last year for what I thought was a general meeting, and when I got there, Kate Mara was sitting there too. They both started talking to me about A Teacher, so that was my first introduction to it. They did a great job pitching it and it sounded really interesting. I hadn’t read any scripts and I hadn’t seen Hannah’s movie, so it was only after that meeting that I started to put all the pieces together. But from Hannah and Kate’s telling of it, the show sounded intense and complex and intriguing.
The show walks a fine line of depicting a real spark between Claire and Eric without glamorizing what’s happening. As an actor, how conscious were you of that tension, particularly in the early scenes with Kate?
I think the spark is that classic bait and switch. The spark is to get the audience interested—as a viewer, you see two characters have chemistry onscreen and you’re automatically programmed to root for them, you know? That’s no different here—it’s just that over the course of the series, you really get to see why these two people should not be together. I think around episode 3, 4, 5, things really start to take a turn and challenge the audience’s initial reaction to the relationship. I think Hannah and Kate both set out to play into some of the stereotypes associated with a story like this, and then break those down.
Both in high school and at college, Eric is part of this very macho, bro-y culture, which has a clear impact on the way he processes what happened to him. His friends think it’s kind of awesome that he slept with his teacher.
Yeah, Eric is really trying to reconcile the views of his peers, the views of his parents or authority figures, and then his own view of the relationship. It breeds a lot of confusion. I think with Eric going to UT, he wants to play into what seems to be the dominant culture, at least at that frat, and be totally unaffected by this relationship and be lauded and praised for it. But that’s not the reality of what’s happening. It did affect him, and that’s what comes out. “Toxic masculinity” is a relatively new phrase, and I think the show is exploring some of that: the pitfalls of toxic masculinity, or just not being a very reflective person.
Was there anything in particular about Eric’s character that resonated with you?
Well, I went to a private school in Los Angeles for junior and senior year, and I did have a similar experience to Eric when he was in college, in some ways. Not to get too personal, but that was something I identified with: the frat culture, the party culture, the ways those two work hand-in-hand to limit self-introspection. The party scene can just be a cover for not experiencing other harder emotions, you know?
For sure. And Claire doesn’t seem great at self-introspection either—that becomes clear in their final scene.
Yeah, Eric is seeking closure, and hopefully, he found it. I don’t know, though, it’s kind of left slightly ambiguous at the end. I feel like that scenario would just be so frustrating, where she doesn’t see his reality and he doesn’t see hers. Both characters leave that meeting unfulfilled, ultimately. Hopefully, they both leave and go on with their lives, but who knows?
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