To those of us who have decided to stay on the rickety, unstable roller coaster that is Gossip Girl 2.0, for masochistic reasons, wanting to look at Luke Kirby in a bomber jacket, or otherwise: Pat yourselves on the back. Making it to the midpoint of this season is no small feat considering the amount of plot holes, aborted story lines, and lazy Serena and Blair references we’ve had to deal with. So bravo to you!
Although this week’s episode is still, um, not good, we can at least catch our breath with an hour that isn’t overstuffed with plot and that actually commits to carrying out the story lines it established earlier for our characters. Well, the characters who have storylines — which brings me once again to Julien. Unfortunately, this show still has no idea what it wants to do with her or why she’s even the protagonist six episodes in. This week, we find out that this alleged “influencer” has never posted any sponcon because she doesn’t collaborate with brands, which doesn’t add up on any level. It just doesn’t make sense that an attractive fashion influencer with enough clout to appear on TMZ isn’t raking in a single dime! It also doesn’t make sense that her power-hungry, social-media-savvy minions weren’t forcing her to collaborate with brands for her own image. Julien says she has declined paychecks because her dad provides for her financially, but even the wealthiest nepto-babies, including literal babies, are earning their own coin posting detox smoothies and teeth-whitening products!
The writers understand that Julien desperately needs something to do. But instead of returning to some of her earlier story lines, about her dad’s new girlfriend or her breakup with Monet that happened literally a second ago, we’re forced to watch her meet with reps from Glossier and L’oréal to discuss potential partnerships with her dad. It’s truly some of the most sleep-inducing television I’ve ever watched. And nothing’s more maddening than learning this person we were made to believe was a girlboss is, in fact, not a girlboss!
Speaking of this show’s commitment issues, I was shocked that this episode actually digs into Obie’s fraught relationship with his family, specifically with his steely German mother, Helena. Zoya’s still not convinced that Obie’s walking the walk as much as he’s talking the talk regarding his socialist beliefs. And he’s apparently not even brave enough to tell his mom he has a new, less rich, light-skinned girlfriend. After Zoya basically has to force a meeting between the three of them, they attend a dinner hosted by Aki’s dad, Roger, who runs a right-wing media conglomerate. He, along with Aki’s mom and Aki herself, is mostly present so we can get some context for Aki’s remaining in the closet. Zoya can’t resist but call out Roger for being a wealthy asshole, as if he hasn’t heard that a million times in his career. Nothing Zoya says is technically wrong. It just feels a little performative in the way she has accused Obie of being performative, when she has elected to have dinner with these monstrous people and let Roger pay for her caviar.
The dinner is ultimately a mess. Helena ignores Zoya throughout, and Obie is clearly embarrassed by her. Afterward, while everyone’s waiting for their cars, Roger complains about a lawsuit his company is dealing with after a CCO asked a gay employee to stop discussing their male spouse at work. Audrey, who’s also there, tells him to be careful with his words, saying “someone at the table” might be gay. Aki’s mom immediately suspects it’s Aki who has just dashed out of the vicinity. Outside, Obie complains to Zoya that she went “too hard” at Roger. When Helena calls Obie over to the cab to go home, Zoya instructs Obie to tell his mom to wait because he’s talking to his girlfriend like some sort of test, which is absolutely insane considering he’s like 12. Like any child with borderline respect for their parents’ authority, he gets inside the cab, and Zoya is left sulking on the sidewalk while her gorgeous lion mane blows in the wind. How dare this boy not keep the woman who gave birth to him waiting in the cold when you’ll see him at school the next morning!
I’ve been dreading whatever’s to come of this light flirtation between Keller and Nick, who’s at least 43 and thinks it’s appropriate to be pursuing his daughter’s 24-year-old teacher. The whole “please be my perfectly behaved daughter’s mentor” proposition under the guise of having her at his house is also creepy. In this episode, they have another dinner, and Keller gives us some more backstory on why her barely existent writing career flopped. She apparently just couldn’t handle that one of her classmates at her graduate program got a better reception from the class. No matter how eloquently she puts it, this is not an acceptable or sensical reason to give up on a craft. This is like dropping out of your high-school basketball team because you’re not as good as Lebron James. But Nick just nods sympathetically.
The wildest part of the date occurs when Jordan spots Keller and Nick talking outside of his apartment, snaps a photo, and posts it on Gossip Girl. When she confronts him about it, he goes into a spiel about how she’s crossing an ethical boundary as a journalist and Instagram-account owner by befriending one of the people they stalk. “You want to be God?” he says. “You have to be above it all. You can’t expose the truth when you’re a part of it!” Watching this monologue, which is delivered with all the seriousness in the world, I was upset at how much the writers have normalized the stupidity and insanity of these teachers. Nothing they have said or done on this show regarding the implementation of Gossip Girl has made an ounce of sense, and we just have to accept all of their hypocrisy and contradictions because the writers couldn’t construct a logical plot.
Now let’s get into what was truly the most harrowing yet underplayed portion of the episode: Rafa’s harassment of Max. While I’ve been grossed out by Rafa the entire season, his behavior in this episode, which includes telling Gossip Girl that Max has an STI because he won’t sleep with him, was on another level disturbing and unhinged. (Can I also take a moment to remind you that Gossip Girl went on hiatus in the last episode because Keller was worried they were mentally harming children, and this week they’re publishing an unsubstantiated rumor that a teenager has an STI??) Anyway, I think the writers are obviously aware of how demonic Rafa is, but his presence onscreen still feels kind of underwhelming for a villain on a high-school soap. All of his egregious actions play out so casually. I would appreciate some ominous music as he walks down the hallway with Max nervously averting his eyes when they see each other. We don’t really sense that Max is intimidated or bothered by him, even though he wants to be left alone. It’s also wild that Max’s dad doesn’t react at all when he tells him they’ve been hooking up. If there’s an ideal way to insert a moral lesson into a debaucherous show, it’s from the mouth of a naturally concerned parent!
Anyway, Max gets back at Rafa for the STI rumor by sending Gossip Girl a video of the two of them having sex. Before it can be published, Rafa deletes it, then convinces Keller to let him help run the account again. There are a million other channels where Max can still publish this video, but I’m sure the writers will frame his control of Gossip Girl as a huge hindrance.
This episode concludes with a three-way makeout sesh between Max, Audrey, and Aki, which the writers had to shoehorn in before the season hiatus. Audrey’s mom also wakes up from her coma in a pretty anticlimatic way. The big finale happens when Obie attends a rally at his parents’ new development that will possibly be used for Roger’s media company. This is framed as some grand gesture for Zoya and a bold move on Obie’s part, but we’ve seen him attend protests on social media and discuss attending protests before on this show, so I’m not sure why his attendance is passed off as unprecedented. Julien shows up, which is puzzling. I’m deeply confused over what this girl does and doesn’t care about!
A series of chaotic things unfolds. Roger exits the building after a tour with Helena and is pressed about the lawsuit by a reporter. He immediately defends himself by declaring that he can’t be homophobic because his son is gay. Aki, who’s present, runs up to the mic and clarifies that he’s bisexual in a very cute way. Zoya catches Julien and Obie talking at the protest and decides at this random moment that Julien is trying to steal her man and flees the scene. Julien also gets a phone call from the Black-owned makeup company she signed a contract with instructing her to leave the protest. She responds, “My politics are who I am.” What? Since when? What are your politics, again?? Helena informs Obie that the police have been called and tells him to leave, but he refuses. The police show up and start throwing tear gas. Obie and Julien find cover in an alley where they kiss before the screen goes black.
I let out the biggest laugh as the credits started to roll because, truly, what the hell have we spent a month watching?