With a refreshing change in direction — provided by Twin Peaks heiress Jennifer Lynch — a tighter script (by Lila Feinberg), a livelier score, and some goddamn levity, we’ve finally got an episode that contains some of the original Gossip Girl’s DNA (particularly in the character of Julien, who’s starting to feel like a living, breathing young person with a touch of Blair Waldorf’s signature neurosis and not just a bland simulacrum of a Gen-Z “cool girl”). “Lies Wide Shut” almost feels like it takes place in a separate universe from the first two episodes: It still moves at a violent pace, but the tone is noticeably more comedic, making all of these shenanigans easier to digest. The teen characters are showing personality and not just scrolling through their phones reacting to notifications. Our usually witless teachers finally get to display some wit when they’re forced into crisis mode (even if they’re ultimately digging themselves into a bigger hole). Thomas Doherty has even pulled back on the Chuck Bass impersonation, which really went off the rails in the previous episode. And honestly, what a game-changer.
Let’s start with a rundown of Keller & Co. I’m starting to feel like these characters deserve their own separate recap, maybe a newsletter, because their behavior and its potential consequences require so much analysis. But keeping it brief: The teachers are basically subjected to a witch hunt after the administrators discover Gossip Girl. The group ends up sacrificing Reema by giving her a tip to send to Gossip Girl (while they’re all under surveillance) that could possibly help her husband get rehired to a teaching job from which he was unfairly terminated. This is only a temporary solution for the rest of the teachers’ problems as long as they keep running Gossip Girl, and I’m not sure why the school can’t just contact Instagram or the police to get the account shut down. Also, one of them says Gossip Girl will be “impossible to trace” now that they’re getting tips from other schools and the account has gone citywide. Will it, though?
Now on to our teens. Julien has accepted defeat in the Obie department and is now searching for a hot new heir to maintain her Queen Bee status, like Mia Thermopolis in The Princess Diaries 2. In this universe, the characters must be aware of how sexist this requirement is, so we get a couple of stilted “fuck the patriarchy” comments and Brad Pitt references from Luna and Monet before they insist it’s something she has to do anyway. Max, being the most reflective of the bunch, suggests that Julien awaken her inner hot girl and have a wild night out with him to remind her of who she is. Multiple people throughout this episode, including Julien, point out that she has “lost her way,” and I’m not sure what this means because we don’t know what path she was previously on that didn’t include being the top bitch at school. But I certainly enjoy watching her have a coke-fueled identity crisis.
That night, she encounters a friendly blonde woman in the bathroom who turns out to be a songwriter her father has been secretly courting (and housing) for a year. This deeply upsets Julien, the way your parents not telling you every detail of their adult lives deeply upsets you when you’re a child. So she ends up inviting the woman to a Jeremy O. Harris play that she and her father attend at the end of the episode to confront them about it in person. More on that later!
Meanwhile, America’s second-worst couple (ranking just above Jared and Ivanka) are experiencing identity crises of their own. Zoya becomes the victim of a Twitter campaign led by Luna called #Zugly that features photos of her eating food and allegedly looking “ugly.” In order to stop it, she agrees to be Pygmalion-ed by Luna, who’s ready to jump ship from the sinking Titanic that is Julien. This story line is very amusing because Luna basically just slaps some eye shadow on Zoya and makes her wear heels. The writers don’t seem to understand that hotness according to Gen Z encompasses a range of aesthetics and fashion choices, from looking like a Kardashian to dressing like Elaine from Seinfeld. Oppressive body standards are obviously still a thing, but Zoya, who looks like an American Girl doll come to life, certainly fits them (at least in this world, where light-skinned Black girls can reign supreme over their white peers). Does it really matter if she dresses like she shops at the hipster side of H&M as opposed to, I don’t know, the business-casual side of H&M?
Obie is still spewing basic talking points about the urban working class at every turn. In one scene where he has dinner with Zoya and her dad, he gives him a rundown of — you guessed it — gentrification! This sort of lesson from Barron Trump would get you kicked out of my African American household immediately, but her dad ultimately finds him endearing. It’s Zoya who eventually tells him he needs to accept that he is and will always be a nepto-baby of capitalistic supervillains. At the very least, Zoya is a good audience surrogate.
Aki and Audrey’s very adult relationship problems are probably the funniest part of this entire episode. Not only are they cheating on each other with the same person and needlessly trying to make their relationship work like an unhappy married couple sticking it out for the kids, but they’re also trying butt stuff. Meanwhile, Max finds out that one of his dads is on a dating app, so he gets Aki to catfish him using the identity of his teacher crush, Rafa. This secret, along with everyone’s individual issues, comes to a head at a fictitious Jeremy O. Harris play titled Aaron. (What a week for this cameo, amirite?) Literally everyone on the show is somehow here for whatever reason, including hot teacher Rafa, whom Max messily invites. He ends up exposing his adulterous father, who’s no longer attracted to his husband as he has become more openly feminine. Julien also lets her dad know it’s totally not cool that he has a girlfriend she doesn’t know about, before they eventually make up in the sweetest way possible.
I would say 80 percent of this episode is just children being adorably naïve, bratty, and angry at their parents, which I found way more fun than watching Zoya and Julien be repeatedly reprimanded by their dads last week. Next week, I’m hoping Monet and Luna get some backstory and character development as they plan to stir up some chaos between Zoya and Julien. The “sidekick of the most popular girl at school” is a stock character that could use some updating. It would be a shame if these sharp, stunning girls are just lazily written off as followers this entire season.
• We finally see Monet making out with a girl after weeks of knowing that her character’s a “powerful lesbian,” according to Wikipedia. I know the children on Twitter have been waiting for this, so congrats!
• I loved how the teacher-witch-hunt story line this episode dovetails with last week’s Criterion release of Jill Sprecher’s Clockwatchers, in which a group of female office temps who find themselves at the center of an internal investigation start to turn on one another.
• We need an oral history on how Carla Hall ended up on this show.