Is there a character on television currently more tragic than Julien Calloway? I mean, good Lord. This poor kid has been under constant surveillance by sociopathic teachers. Her boyfriend dumped her for the first girl he could spot in a “Fight The Power” hoodie, who happened to be her sister. And that sister won’t let her make it to third period without ridiculing her for reasons that are always silly and usually about the ex-boyfriend she swooped up without any hesitation or remorse. And now this seemingly good-hearted teen has to navigate an online harassment campaign for allegedly supporting her father’s date-raping habit??
I knew inserting a Me Too scandal at this point in the season (or at all) was a mistake, considering how fruitless the whole Max/Rafa affair turned out to be and how haphazardly this show tackles Big Issues. I just didn’t realize how heavily this scenario would affect Julien. And I don’t mean emotionally because this news would obviously fuck up any teenager, particularly a public-facing one. I mean everyone, aside from Julien’s friends, Zoya and Keller, is literally blaming Davis’s actions on Julien in a deeply unrealistic way and not representative of this new age of accountability that the show keeps trying to portray through social media.
Additionally, I’m not sure what viewers are supposed to gain from watching Julien suffer through a bunch of shitty situations she doesn’t even deserve to be in? Because it’s certainly not amusing to watch. At least Blair Waldorf was enough of an asshole that she earned some of the mess she found herself in. Viewers got to laugh and experience some — cue Dorinda Medley’s Siri — Schadenfreude. She was also crafty and ruthless enough to find ways to dig herself out of her messes or hit her opponents back where it hurt. However, Julien is neither a media savant nor a mastermind Queen B, as Monet always reminds her. So her character arc, which is just a bunch of scribble, feels like watching a toddler play dodgeball against a gym class of teens.
Speaking of scenarios that children should not be in, at the start of the episode, Nick lets Zoya and Julien speak to one of the attorneys in his office about the texts they found in Davis’ Blackberry. She informs them of all the hurdles they would face pursuing legal action, including that Lauren would be exposed for lying if Riley came out with her accusations. The involvement of Lauren in this scandal still puzzles me. One, because the whole “accusing someone of sexual assault on behalf of someone else” thing is very sloppy and stupid. It’s also hard to believe that the “assistant” of a musical artist would go to these lengths. Maybe a sister or a best friend, but an assistant?? It seems like the writers wanted to add a layer of complexity to a plot that doesn’t really demand it, as we see when the attorney lays out the complexities of this particular subject matter.
Outside the office, Davis is waiting to talk to Julien. He claims that he didn’t intentionally harm any of the women and that he’s willing to cooperate with any investigation that needs to happen, although it doesn’t seem like there will be any. And the music biz certainly doesn’t care about predators permeating their industry. Anyway, after several attempts by Davis to explain his innocence, Julien decides to take matters into her own hands and get “the truth” from the women, as if the very explicit texts weren’t enough proof five minutes ago when she was trying to get her daddy locked up.
Before we get into this tonally serious but very comical chase through New York City, I have to mention the storyline with Max and his parents’ separation that is still ongoing. I get that Max is in denial about this whole thing, but how many more scenes do we have to watch of his dads poetically explaining to him that they’re over? We get it! We’re also not invested enough in their marriage as an audience to truly care. I would be much more interested in understanding the contrast between Max’s very “modern” love life and this idealized, absolutist view he has of his parents’ monogamy. Or maybe how the rejection he’s currently experiencing from Audrey and Aki is spilling over into this conflict? Every dilemma Max encounters on the show feels like it happens in a vacuum when they all have the same underlying theme, so I’m hoping for one, long scene with the school counselor to make it all make sense!
Meanwhile, Audrey and Aki’s relationship is a steady anchor throughout this increasingly chaotic episode. Can this show just morph into Scenes From a Marriage starring these two already?? At the start of the season, I initially made the joke of, “why do these teens think they have to be together??” But as this reboot veers into all sorts of directions, they seem to be the only relationship that really makes sense. Aki clearly admires Audrey’s confidence and acerbity. And Audrey needs a boyfriend who’s a good listener and kind of submissive. Additionally, neither of them seems to vibe with their families like that. So I guess I support them emotionally torturing each other until they go to different colleges and never speak again.
Anyhow, Aki’s upset that Audrey wants to mess with a cute barista at Ralph’s Coffee while he’s making plans to fuck a classmate named Rex, who looks like he should be in grad school. Aki thinks his external affairs are okay because he’s exploring something Audrey can’t offer him. But barista dude presumably just has a dick, so he doesn’t get why Audrey can’t just use his dick. It’s a very silly argument that ends with the two of them realizing that they don’t want to be in an open relationship, although I’m not buying that Aki has really put a seal on this exploration phase.
But back to Gossip Girl trying to ruin Julien’s life, I should mention that the person driving this campaign is an athletic coach of some sort named Scott, who looks like a yassified Ronan Farrow. The line this show tries to draw between Scott and Keller regarding their use of Gossip Girl is laughable. They’re all doing the same awful shit, but Scott just has more overtly gross, Harvey Levin energy.
The posts about Julien “protecting” her father have gotten so out of control that she has to go on her mission for the truth dressed like evil Kermit to avoid being stoned. With Zoya by her side and Obie as their volunteer chauffeur (ugh), she goes to the ultimate hideout, Bemelmans, to meet with one of the women but not without the paps and vigilantes tracking her down thanks to an incentive posted by Gossip Girl. (Audrey, Monet, and Luna try to confuse the paps, but it doesn’t work.) The meeting ends up being pointless anyway because the woman doesn’t want her life complicated by a public scandal, which makes it weird that she would even agree to meet with them in the first place.
Once they leave, Julien, Zoya, and Obie get chased throughout the city by paps and teens with iPhones because this story is just so riveting. They’re also trying to avoid all the drunk SantaCon dudes who are being obnoxious and creepy. For some reason, instead of pulling the plug on their Nancy Drew Mysteries, Julien meets Riley at another secret hideout (a museum!) to warn her not to come out with her story because of how it will affect Lauren. Keller, who tracks down Julien in an attempt to save her from everyone’s wrath, films their conversation on Instagram Live to “exonerate” her. But everyone online interprets this meeting (which is literally impossible to hear from where Keller is standing) as Julien trying to suppress Riley’s claims.
So we get a needle drop of Olivia Rodrigo’s “traitor” while the news spreads that Julien is silencing victims. The use of this song would make sense if Julien did, like, an ounce of something wrong. (She definitely should’ve minded her business, but she was never not on the side of the women). I feel like we should be hearing an acoustic ballad about being misunderstood if we’re trying to empathize with Julien in this moment or a song about regret, taking on the perspective of Keller. “I Started a Joke” is right there, folks! The bigger problem here is that this show has no idea who it wants us to root for or what behavior it intends to criticize. So we’re stuck once again with these muddled emotional moments and nothing valuable or insightful to glean from them.