Not that this reboot started on a super-high note, but I’m surprised how quickly this show has descended from a fascinating mess, like a flipped-over vehicle on the side of the highway you can’t stop staring at, to visual Ambien.
The main problem I’m observing in this episode is that the writers are confusing intricate and fast-moving storylines with a compelling narrative. Yes, there are a lot of “things” “happening” on this show, but in the way that grass turning brown during the winter is a thing that happens, or lint collecting on a sweater is a thing that happens. There’s a lack of energy to the way drama unfolds despite the number of twists and turns shoved into one script. When characters make bad, impulsive decisions, particularly Julien, they aren’t bold or desperate enough for viewers to remember beyond the next scene. It’s also hard to visualize stakes for these actions, because normal consequences for bad behavior just don’t exist on this show.
The biggest example of this, so far, is the fallout from the Zoya’s admission fraud scandal. It’s strange that this is the storyline that established the initial rift between the long-lost sisters — and the first Gossip Girl bombshell — because nothing really comes of it. Zoya is ultimately allowed to stay at Constance Billard but gets put on probation, whatever that entails at this flimsy institution. To her father Nick, it means not ending up on Gossip Girl, which he creepily keeps tabs on. He’s also much more concerned with controlling Zoya’s very mild behavior than the fact that someone is spying on his daughter, which concerns me. Anyway, the school doesn’t want to publicly oust Zoya for fear of cancellation because she’s Black. This is somehow a bigger liability than the entire country knowing a literal child is in charge of a scholarship and eliciting some sort of probe by the Department of Education. Likewise, Julien and her father Davis somehow evade serious punishment as well. Great! What was this all for?
Now, let’s check in on our loony band of teachers, who I have to give credit to for adding the slightest tinge of comedy to this self-serious show. It’s their first parent-teacher conference of the school year, and they all seem equal parts scared and turned on by the number of wealthy adults they share a space with. Despite the whole “Gossip Girl as a survival tactic” plot that doesn’t really land, I’m very interested in these young professionals’ deeply unhealthy obsession with this toxic institution. These teachers have lost their minds, and we’re still meant to believe that the main driving force behind Gossip Girl is anxiety over employment? I wish the writers would’ve just gone full soap with a basic revenge narrative, maybe with Keller as an aggrieved, psychopathic ex-teacher. She could even be an expelled student with a wig on pretending to be a teacher, since Tavi Gevinson is the same age as the actors playing the students. It’s honestly never too late for a bonkers reveal on this type of show, as the original taught us.
Anyway, Keller continues her virtual assault on Julien in this episode by posting a photo of Zoya and Obie talking outside of her apartment building. This sends Julien into the most sedated version of “PR mode,” which includes giving scoops to Gossip Girl. Yawn! This love-triangle drama just giving isn’t what it’s supposed to give because (1) we’ve only seen Julien and Obie together for a millisecond, (2) they were an extremely odd couple in the first place, (3) Obie and Zoya lack fireworks when they’re together as well, and (4) Obie just isn’t the prize everyone is talking him up to be! Also, as I hinted at earlier, Julien isn’t angry enough about this situation for me, considering this is the number one violation of sister code, and she literally broke the law for Zoya to attend Constance Billard! At one point, Monet, who’s rightfully appalled about this, tells her that she has to show her who’s boss, and Julien’s response is, “I’m not about hierarchies.” Excuse me? What are we doing on this show if not tearing other bitches down?? This is the supposed heir to Blair Waldorf’s throne???
The writers are also really trying to make this beef between Zoya and Julien’s dads happen. This would be interesting to watch if the mom was alive, and Davis could still fight for her, but there’s nothing left for him to do besides get over it. Also, he’s extremely handsome and rich. Shouldn’t he be remarried to Irina Shayk or some other gorgeous model by now? Anyway, Davis and Nick meet at a school fundraiser that neither parties should be invited to amid this scandal but somehow are. They don’t even really have a confrontation and instead direct their anger at their children for inadvertently Parent-Trapping them. Maybe you two adult men should just not be so emotionally triggered at your old ages? Davis eventually apologizes to Julien, but God are these dudes annoying!
We also get some parent drama from Audrey, whose mom has gone on a depressive bender after her company filed for bankruptcy. I’m curious if this is a situation Audrey will even be mocked or ousted for in her circle, considering how non-cutthroat the Queen Bee is. Obviously, the worst consequence would be not being able to afford tuition at Constance Billard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these administrators, who clearly give zero fucks, let her attend for free. Anyway, Audrey invites her mother to the fundraiser, which she chairs, only for her to make a complete fool out of herself in front of everyone, even cutting her hand on a glass. Her drunken antics weren’t crazed or dramatic enough to elicit a gasp or a laugh from me, but the “rich kid with mommy issues” storyline has certainly been established. Cool! Moving on.
Aside from that, we have a tedious game of cat and mouse between Max and the teacher, who is very adamant about not sleeping with students. At first, it kind of seems like the show is doing an interesting flip on the student-teacher affair trope that often goes unexamined on teen shows. Max is very persistent and ignores the boundaries set by his teacher to the point where he seems deeply uncomfortable. But this teacher eventually admits to having a reputation of sleeping with male students as soon as they graduate, which basically means that he goes to work everyday pre-selecting children to sleep with later on. Um, gross. It turns out he’s not that different from your average high-school-show pedo, so I’m not sure why we pretended he wasn’t for a bit. Also, in my last recap, I described Max as a not-creepy Chuck Bass. I still wouldn’t put him on par with him after this episode, but there is a menacing quality to the way he approaches his sexual encounters that we’ll hopefully get some more insight on.
Overall, this episode falls flat primarily because of the show’s reliance on Zoya and Julien as the central conflict. Neither of them are combative or power-hungry enough for this quarrel to come across even slightly entertaining. Even Serena van der Woodsen, who wasn’t as outwardly thirsty as Blair Waldorf, had a bitch switch that she could turn on when it was time. The fact that I couldn’t even tell if Julien had ulterior motives when she convinced Zoya to stay at Constance Billard after she dropped out at the end of episode says as much!
Ultimately she does, because we find out she got Gossip Girl a blue check, presumably so she can use the account to do more damage to the Obie and Zoya relationship — which, by the way, Zoya feels perfectly comfortably parading in front of her sister’s face at the end of this episode after all the drama they just went through. I’m not sure why this isn’t being framed as an extremely petty and hurtful action on her part. I think most women watching this would find that this kind of behavior deserves a little hair pull in 2007 AND 2021.
• Is it sad that I didn’t even register that Audrey and Max have sex after the fundraiser because that’s how bored I was at the end of this episode?
• The art-supplies-for-the-less-fortunate shopping spree that Obie takes Zoya on for a “date” in this episode was deeply upsetting.
• Next episode, let’s give Aki something to do besides reacting to Max wanting to sleep with him or Audrey not wanting to sleep with him, please and thank you.
• What’s up with these teachers, who can’t be older than 30, and their understanding of social media? How do they not know if Gossip Girl gets shut down they can easily make another account?
• I’m still trying to figure out Monet and Luna’s relationship with Julien. Are they getting paid to be so concerned about her personal and professional life? Why do they care more about her image than she does? Either of them could easily be the HBIC if they wanted to. And honestly, it would be more fun to watch because they’re actual bitches.
• Does Max’s Chuck Bass impression sound like Ezra Miller to anyone?
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