Netflix’s Soundtrack is a charming musical telling the story of the interracial relationship between musician Sam (Paul James) and artist Eleanor “Nellie” (Callie Hernandez), partly through flashbacks. The show’s charm, however, is ruined by the character’s selfishness centered around an abortion.
The first hint the show gives about an abortion is at the end of episode 6, “Track 6: Joanna and Eleanor,” when Nellie has just found out she’s pregnant. It also conveniently comes at a time when she and Sam are at an off-point in their relationship. “Whatever you decide I will support you, because it will be your choice,” says her mother, Margot (Madeleine Stowe).
When Nellie says she has something to tell Sam in the car, whatever it is is interrupted by a terrible accident. Viewers may presume that Nellie was telling Sam about the pregnancy, but we discover that she’s already had the abortion when going through her medical history at the hospital, Margot mentions “she recently terminated a pregnancy, surgically last week.”
Nellie’s father, Frank (Campbell Scott), assuming that Sam surely must know, let’s the abortion slip, which is how Sam first hears of it. Not only has he gotten into a car accident, the mother of his child had an abortion without any of his input.
What’s glaringly and completely absent from the show is any support for what Sam’s decision would have been. Any shock and disappointment Sam might be feeling is dismissed by his cousin Dante (Jahmil French) who visits him in the hospital.
Sam: Apparently, she might’ve an abortion last week and she didn’t tell me.
Dante: Shit, you think she’s two-timing you?
Sam: What? No.
Dante: If she had to get rid of it, it’s somebody else’s.
Sam: Fuck, are you high?
Dante: Listen to me, don’t freak out. Eleanor can do whatever she wants with her body and she doesn’t have to tell you nothing. You know De’Andra took the morning-after pill and didn’t tell me for seven months after. Women do things to protect themselves, you know that.
During an emotional reunion between Sam and Nellie, after she’s just gotten out of surgery from the crash, Nellie delves into the love she has for Sam, “us,” and herself. It’s also a way for the show to remind viewers that it’s all just about Nellie and her choice.
Sam: I know about the abortion.
Nellie: Sorry, I should have told you.
Sam: It’s all right, it’s… you know. It’s your choice.
Nellie: No, yeah, definitely my choice. Maybe a few months ago, not now. I was just scared to tell you ‘cause I was just afraid that…
Sam: What, that I would want it?
Nellie: No, more.
Sam: That you’d want to keep it because I’d want to keep it. El…
Nellie: I love you. I love us. But I’m just now starting to figure out how I’m gonna love myself. I’ve been doing what everybody else has wanted me to do for so long. And now that I am finally doing things that I want to be doing…
Sam: You meet me.
Is it really “all right,” though? Not only did Nellie have an abortion for frankly a selfish reason, but she didn’t even tell Sam. Would she have told him if not for the accident?
As it turns out, it’s not the only unplanned pregnancy Nellie and Sam face. In the show’s finale, Nellie finds out she’s pregnant, again, since the abortion supposedly re-started Nellie’s cycle and threw them off. It would seem the couple wasn’t using reliable birth control then, wouldn’t it?
Ultimately, Nellie decides to keep this baby, who we presume is her present day son, Barry (Isaiah Givens). The life Barry is given is a precious and fortunate one, but Nellie choosing life for him does not negate the fact that she aborted her and Sam’s child and Barry’s sibling, another African-American baby lost to abortion, as so many are.