Five mentally taxing hours into this Gossip Girl, I’ve decided that no one at Constance Billard, or maybe in the entire world, gives a shit about Zoya and Julien’s public-facing lives, and we’ve been duped this entire time.
Despite some intriguing subplots in this week’s episode, the main problem with “Hope Sinks” is that we’re led to believe that the sisters nailing a Halloween costume is a truly urgent matter that will make or break Julien’s new kind-vibez image on social media and overall popularity. The reaction they receive when they step into the “Hulaween” party immediately dispels this. But more importantly—and this speaks to the entire show thus far—we don’t really have a sense of the shifting power dynamics, at their school or online, that constantly have Julien and her minions on edge about her social standing. We mostly hear Monet and Luna relay information about Julien’s fluctuating prominence as opposed to seeing it. It would be helpful if we saw Julien interact with other classmates outside of her inner circle to get a sense of her alleged superiority or lack thereof. Does Julien strike fear in anyone? Do her peers even notice when she walks into school? I honestly think Luna and Monet, but mostly Monet, are suffering from some sort of Supporting Character Syndrome where they’ve assigned a random person the leading role in the movie of life, although it hasn’t been earned.
But let’s get into this episode, which I found pretty somber but in a good way. So far, this show has struggled to successfully meditate on its themes and establish a mood. However, there’s an overarching sense of isolation that comes across clearly in this episode with Max, Audrey, and Aki’s individual storylines. So far, our secondary cast of teenagers has proven to be much more empathetic and, frankly, human as we watch them deal with the pressing issues of their personal lives as opposed to stressing over their follower counts on Instagram — particularly Aki, who, while extremely soft-spoken, conveys so much confusion and loneliness regarding the ambiguous state of his sexuality and his feelings toward Max. Watching him navigate his discovery of Max and Rafa’s affair, it’s unclear whether Aki wants Max for himself or Rafa, who he’s apparently been trying to pursue on the low, or whether he’s genuinely concerned about the ethical implications of all this. Either way, this poor, pastel-haired child only knows anguish! Rafa ends up scaring Aki out of pressing on this issue any further by threatening to expose that he’s been “harassing” him, as if that’s a tantamount offense to his actions. And who knows what that even means coming from this man?? But Aki is so anxious and naive that he falls for this ridiculous both-sides-ing and, subsequently, has to flee a gay bar, which feels very symoblic of his current predicament.
Max and Rafa’s relationship ultimately comes to end because Max misses his friends and is suddenly hurt by the “revelation” that Rafa has a thing for fucking his students. I’m sorry. Wasn’t this already established when we first met Rafa? Isn’t that the only reason Max knew he had a chance with him in the first place? Why do we need one of his ex-flings showing up like the Ghost of Creeps Past to share this with him?
Meanwhile, Audrey’s home life fully crumbles when her mom reveals they have to go back to Connecticut — which Audrey reminds us only exists to create landmass between Boston and New York — and leave Constance Billard as a result of her financial woes. Their mother-daughter friction comes to a head when Audrey invites her mother’s old friends over for dinner in the hope that … she’ll miss her past socialite life? It’s not super clear. But they get into a Ladybird-level fight that ends with Audrey jumping out of the proverbial Subaru (i.e. bringing up her adulterous father). It’s important to mention that when Audrey relays this information to Julien, Aki, and the rest of their posse that they’re extremely unemotional about this and don’t offer her shelter in any of their giant penthouses. If this and Sonja Morgan’s arc on Real Housewives of New York prove anything, it’s that the more money your friends have the more worthless they become!
You can probably tell by now that I am dreading getting into the Zoya, Julien, and Obie of it all. That’s because the sisters are mostly concerned this episode with being seen in very dated post-elevator Beyoncé and Solange costumes at a very boring ball (with the exception of Billy Porter performing “I Put A Spell On You”). It would’ve made more sense for them to dress up as the Hadids. The Maras would’ve been funny. I don’t know. This reference just feels very tired! I get that these writers like putting these characters in conversation with pop-culture references (Aki and Audrey dressed up as Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach made me scream) and the history of the original show, but who really cares about this Instagrammable moment? I’m asking this literally in terms of the other characters on the show, who don’t even acknowledge their presence. Aside from Monet and Luna, who cares? There are two snobbish girls, Pippa and Bianca, from another school where a shooting almost occurred — this part of this episode is so random — who show up at the party dressed like Serena and Blair. They end up poaching Monet, which is obviously upsetting to Julien. But this whole conflict feels very inconsequential and unimportant.
Now onto Zoya and Obie. While it’s physically impossible for me to be invested in this couple, I did appreciate her annoyance with his constant guilt trips and random tangents about gentrification. This leads to her hanging out with a male student at another school where the gun incident took place, who ends up being a researcher for New York magazine (aye!!) for a story about Gossip Girl. This encounter is so chaotic but ultimately pointless that it feels like none of it happens once he disappears from the screen with his editor Nelly Yuki (wink, wink). It would’ve been more entertaining watching Zoya challenge Obie on his performative wokeness or Obie interacting with his evil billionaire parents.
Also, the fact that I even have to mention that opening gun scene, which I found so lazy and careless in its execution, annoys me. But it becomes the catalyst for Keller realizing that inciting the cyberbullying of children is wrong and shutting down Gossip Girl — before she inevitably reboots it again because this show can’t dwell in a character’s actions for more than five seconds. At this point, it’s become impossible to relate to any of these teachers. Keller’s deferred dreams of becoming a writer just aren’t cutting it in terms of rationalizing her behavior. The writers really jumped the shark with this teachers plot, but there has to be some way to infuse a tiny bit of humanity into this monster of a human being. Also, please give Tavi Gevinson something to do besides yell!
I’m excited for Audrey to possibly take center stage next week, with her mom’s hospitalization capping off this episode. The most intriguing development for sure will be whether or not her so-called friends decide to open their purses.
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