Spoiler warning for I Am Not Okay With This Season 1. Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This is a refreshingly brisk and ultimately optimistic adaptation that upends the awful, depressing ending found in Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name.
Content warning: discussions of self-harm and suicide.
I was not okay after reading Charles Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This. An oppressively bleak read, the graphic novel follows fifteen-year-old, telekinetically-powered Syd as she wobbles unsurely through life. It’s a story that explores the darkness that lies in a teen girl’s heart, and how that shadow can metastasize and overtake her, snuffing out the parts that make her feel whole and loved. It’s a story that tells you sometimes it doesn’t get better; it’s heart wrenchingly awful, the cold grasp of the ocean on your toes when you realize you’ve swam too far out to sea. Jonathan Entwistle’s adaptation of the same story, though, is like the peek of sunlight through the blinds, the reminder that things can get better, warmer.
The graphic novel is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes, which only grow darker as the chapters pass. Every successive tale is a gut punch as you realize you’re watching Syd sink deeper into the ocean in real time. “My name is Sydney,” she tells us. “I’m a boring fifteen year old white girl. And I’m super-skinny. Not hot-skinny either. More ugly-skinny.”
We learn that there’s not a single emotion that Syd feels she’s managing well. She stresses about the hideous pimples on her legs. She’s haunted by the memory of her deceased father. She’s in agony over having unrequited feelings for her friend Dina, and is furious that Dina is dating Brad, who always calls Syd homophobic slurs. She’s bullied at school, disinterested in homework, and she feels like her mom and her are operating on two totally dissimilar wave lengths.
We learn that Syd’s father had the same kind of telekinetic powers as her, and that he suffered severely from PTSD. We’re also told that Syd once found him curled up in the basement in the dark, and asked her to use her powers to “set him free.” She did.
Things get bleaker after we discover the part Syd had to play in her dad’s death. She kisses Dina but is rejected, so she attempts to get intimate with Ryan, a person working at her local convenience store, as a substitute. She withdraws when she realizes her powers are causing a shadowy monster to form, which nearly kills Ryan. The monster, a physical manifestation of her anger and depression, continues to isolate Syd across the rest of the novel.
After getting horrendously bullied, Syd lashes out and kills Brad, an action she soon regrets when she realizes it only pushes her and Dina further apart. By the end, Syd has decided that if nobody wants her around, and her powers make her a liability to everyone she loves, then it’s better if she just died.
“I don’t want to be a selfish bitch,” she explains to us. She climbs up a watch tower in the forest and uses her powers to blow her own head off.
It’s a heartbreaking ending, as dark as it gets, the kind of finale that would have done my mental health no favors if I read it at Syd’s age. It’s why I was dreading the Netflix adaptation: would they really render Syd’s suicide into full, horrifically gory 3D, after catching so much flak (rightfully) for portraying a suicide on 13 Reasons Why?
Thankfully, Entwistle realized you can’t market a show as YA — full of vintage wear and John Huges homages, all the way down to a Breakfast Club-themed episode — and end it with a bleak, bloody suicide of the teen girl protagonist. Instead, Entwistle interesting flips the script on Forsman, taking a story where a girl’s depression won and turning the I Am Not Okay With This adaptation into a type of horror-tinged female empowerment tale, with the opportunity to go full-on X-Men in a yet-to-be-renewed Season 2.
And it’s not just that Entwistle avoids the suicide ending entirely. It’s that the entire tone of the show feels different. It seems the side plot of Syd killing her father was removed entirely, and whereas comic Syd feels despairingly alone, in the show she has an actual safety net, with much stronger relationships with neighbor Stanley, her family, and Dina, especially. Comics Stanley was just a neighborhood pothead who Syd never really connected with, but here he’s an actual love interest and confidant, the Duckie to her Pretty in Pink Andie. Stanley is the most invested in helping Syd master her powers, and though he certainly annoys her at turns, he’s a reminder that she does have friends who desperately want to know she’s okay, and who see her for who she really is.
And if Stanley is Duckie here, then Dina is like Syd’s Blane. Entwistle gives Syd and Dina an actual openly acknowledged queer romance; though there’s not enough time for them to fully explore their feelings for each other, the fact that Dina comes around to feel the same way for Syd is miles away from their one-sided, wounding relationship in the comics.
There’s also the fact that show Syd handles her powers with more pluckiness than her comic book counterpart. Her ability to fell trees and float bowling balls scares her, but this Syd seems more resistant to sinking into misery. She’s more fierce than sad, and that changes how her powers act in the show. In the comic her stress over her unexplained powers causes her to self-harm, exploding her own finger; in the show, she just cracks a wall in half.
lets talk about syd in pink maybe……. pic.twitter.com/bTb8vOS2XT
— moved accs check pinned!! (@enbydina) February 26, 2020
This change in tone, and character really, feeds directly into the rewritten ending. As Dina and Syd acknowledge their feelings and float in each other’s arms at prom, Dina’s ex Brad comes up and begins to bully Syd in front of the whole school. Before she even realizes she’s done it, Syd pulls a Carrie and explodes Brad’s head, covering her white dress in bloody goop. Her comic death is thus given to her homophobic bully — a moment of depression and self-defeat turns into an act of white-hot angry vengeance. And Syd runs free.
In the final moments of the season, Syd climbs up the same watchtower that she does in the comics. Instead of kneeling down and saying goodbye though, she stands covered in blood, looking pensively over the dark forest. “I think I finally know how lonely my dad felt,” she narrates, which seems to hint that maybe she’ll do what her comic book counterpart did. But her eyes are steely, and instead, the shadowy figure appears: rather than a manifestation of her depression, here it’s an actual outside character.
“Who are you? Should I be afraid?” Syd asks the man in the trenchcoat.
“They should be afraid,” he tells her. “Let’s begin.”
Is it her father in disguise? A higher-up from the same military team her dad was on? A knock-off Professor Xavier? Who knows; the point is that Entwistle gives Syd her life back. He gives her the chance to see that things can get better: new friends can be made, love can blossom where there was none before, mentorship can be found in the most surprising of places, and feelings of despair can pass. For a show aimed at teens, there’s no better message to be had.