I was really hoping I wouldn’t hear the series of words “immunocompromised mom DIED” in the first five minutes of this episode, but here we are! After a thoroughly amusing and classically chaotic episode last week, this show is back on its bullshit, shoving Zoya and Julien’s rather stale familial woes down our throats once again.
It’s not that this depressing-ass backstory that all of a sudden involves maternal death isn’t antithetical to a fun viewing. We found out that Serena van der Woodsen had a suicidal brother and kind of killed someone in season one of the original. But the latter revelation at least was soapy and hilariously over the top, bolstered by the iconic villainy of Georgina Sparks. Here, the dead mom trope as the underlying tension between these two families plays out so tediously that her passing feels more like an inconvenience than an actual source of loss and pain for these characters. We also know nothing about this woman other than that she’s dead and procreated with two men. Can we at least get some flashbacks? What was she like? Why did she leave Davis for Nick? What’s her name?? Why does the only image we see of this woman look like a stock photo in a picture frame from Walmart???
As I previously alluded to, we find out very abruptly at the start of this episode that Zoya’s mother died while giving birth to her. Gossip Girl, a.k.a Keller, announces this to the world, recognizing that teen birthdays are canonically rife with drama. Um, I guess? In the world of teen soaps, sure. Still, it’s frightening to watch this grown woman nearly foam at the mouth over a child having an awful birthday. Surprisingly, the teachers also think Keller needs to chill on her cyberstalking, not because it’s morally bankrupt but because she needs to focus more on her dreams of being a writer. Hold the phone. I get that, as an English teacher, she would have the inclination to write some fiction here and there. But you’re telling me this woman is risking her entire livelihood for a job that isn’t even the No. 1 thing she wants to do??
Anyway, Zoya spends most of the episode embarrassed about her birthday that almost no one really seems to care about, much less know the grim details of. Except Julien, whom Zoya assumes is the informant and lashes out at after Obie shows up to school with a bunch of food trucks for her. Hold on: Your sister got you a free spot at a fancy private school and her billionaire boyfriend just corralled several businesses for you, and you’re upset that she might have told someone about your birthday?? Also, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t want to be reminded about the anniversary of her mother’s death as much as you don’t!
The real juicy factoid of the day is that Zoya might be getting kicked out of her grandmother’s apartment, which she and her father have been squatting in since she moved to a nursing home. It’s Luna who shares this with Gossip Girl and seemingly reports it to the New York housing board, even though Julien is made out to be the culprit. For a second, it seems like we’re going to get a classic dueling-party scenario, after Julien announces an event at Webster Hall to honor her mother but really to win over her peers. So Zoya plans her own extravaganza with the help of Obie and even hires some random boy genius at school to dig up Julien’s old problematic tweets (“there’s a difference between being thick and fat!”) in order to thwart hers. If we had just stayed with this bitchy back-and-forth for the rest of the episode, I would’ve had a lot more fun. But Nick and Davis end up forcing their daughters to temporarily put their issues aside and hold a joint event that takes so many random turns. I personally think a better, more entertaining resolution for everyone involved would be an hour of much-needed group therapy!
Okay. Boring setup aside, let’s move on to my favorite not-so-in-love lovebirds, Aki and Audrey. I don’t care what Twitter says about Evan Mock allegedly behaving like a mannequin on this show. He’s my mannequin, and the subtlety he brings to Aki actually works for the character. I’m honestly more compelled watching him stutter and dart around the school awkwardly than, I don’t know, hearing Monet recite a list of pop-culture references in the same cadence over and over again. Don’t @ me! Anyway, Audrey is, like, very concerned now that Aki might be interested in boys, even though she’s been thirsting over a pansexual guy this whole time. She comes off weirdly conservative and judgmental in this episode, even though she tried to eat his ass a second ago. When she asks him point-blank if he’s gay at Zoya and Julien’s party he says he doesn’t know. This feels like the 20th time this question has been posed to him directly and indirectly since the premiere, so we’re either going to need some backstory soon or move out of this ambiguous phase with Audrey.
Meanwhile, Max, like Ally Maine, has gone off the deep end after his dad’s quasi-affair that he exposed. Not to victim blame, but this is why you stay out of grown folks’ business. This child is literally downing Altoid containers full of pills and is somehow still alive and speaking in coherent sentences. After a long game of cat-and-mouse/child-and-predator, Max manages to receive some affection from Rafa, who’s pretending to be a responsible adult concerned about his student’s well being but really wants to tap that emotionally vulnerable underage ass. And he does. Is this gross? Yes. Will the age-gap police on Twitter be in a tiff over this? Definitely. I’m just glad these writers finally committed to depicting some kind of heinous act on this historically inappropriate but currently overly corrective show, although I’m sure the next episode will open with Rafa in the back of a police car.
Now onto this very drab party that’s set against a backdrop of maternal mortality, has parent chaperones, and features a performance from Princess Nokia. (Compared to the elite musician cameos of the original — Robyn, Lady Gaga, Sonic Youth, No Doubt, Florence and the Machine — we’ve really regressed here.) I should also point out that, along with Nick and Davis, Keller & Co. are in attendance. I don’t know how many times I can repeat how creepy this group is throughout these recaps, but yeah.
Basically, this party implodes before neatly coming back together, like every acrimonious moment between these sisters, when Julien projects a video of Zoya, given to her by Luna and Monet, for the entire room. It shows Zoya vandalizing a school wall with her former Buffalo classmates before they lock her in a classroom and start calling her a “mom killer.” Fun stuff! Julien didn’t even know about the horrific last part of the video but owns up to being a bully in front of the entire crowd. LOL. One of the main problems with this show is that Julien isn’t a bully, and it only takes three seconds of self-reflection for her conscience to kick in. Zoya explains that incident was the reason she got kicked out of her school, and she and Julien lock eyes and do their special sister thing where they say each other’s first and middle names lovingly. Boo!
At the very least, this episode isn’t totally sleep-inducing, thanks to our much more fascinating supporting characters, and a tone that still feels a lot more playful and livelier than the first two episodes. But the writers still haven’t nailed an enthralling narrative for their two leading ladies who occupy so much story. Let’s hope we have a remorse-free episode next week, and the writers bring back some cocaine.
• Nick and Davis’s attractiveness really snuck up on me this episode. The added glasses and beard combo for Johnathan Fernandez has been game-changing. And the promise of Luke Kirby inevitably wearing a bomber jacket and a porkpie hat in the next episode has given me the strength to keep tuning in.
• The voice of Gossip Girl is becoming a little too Carrie Bradshaw for me. Why does the account sound like a quippy advice column at certain points and not like a terrifying, ominous force?
• When Keller mentioned Hannah Horvath, I had no idea whether she was referring to the fictional character or whether Hannah’s become a notable person in the world of this show. If the latter, I feel like the combined lunacy of Keller and Horvath existing in the same reality should rip a hole in the universe.