Maybe I’m just revealing something about my own relationship to my parents, but I always remembered Family Weekend at college to be a big bag of shit. Small talking to adults about my major, showing them the shoebox dorm room where I bedded an r/indieheads poster the night before? No, thank you!
But one enjoyable and seemingly obligatory aspect of Family Weekend is unofficial Friends’ Parents Buy You Dinner night, where your friends’ parents buy you dinner and you eat your first vegetable in two months. This integral Family Weekend event makes up a huge chunk of this episode in a really nice change of pace for the series, much to the chagrin of the girls (and Nico), who are forced to suffer through a meal’s worth of their parents being rude or overbearing. But it’s because all of their parents came to dinner. You can only have one set of parents to make FPBYD night work, folks.
But before they can get that first sweet bite of wet, sliced cherry tomato, the roommates and their entire hall establish that they’re keeping secrets from their parents, vowing to “corroborate” for each other if duty calls. The secrets in question are all pretty tame sitcom things; Bela’s parents think she’s a neuroscience major, Leighton’s dad thinks Net-A-Porter is a site to buy textbooks, Kimberly told her parents she’s pursuing her “faith journey” at church every weekend, and Whitney convinced her mom that she joined the Young Republicans. No one is hiding a ketamine dependence, but the writers might be saving that for the Euphoria crossover episode next season.
The biggest unsaid secret, of course, is that Leighton is gay and in a relationship with Alicia. But if, like me, you found that previous episodes don’t really address why Leighton is so afraid to come out to her supportive peers, meeting her wealthy, conservative parents clears that up. It also explains all the tweed she owns.
Tangentially, there’s a long-running joke about Leighton’s mom wanting to have sex with her son, slippery little Nico himself. I kept waiting for Leighton to dramatically reveal that she has a stepmom, but the big stepmom reveal never came. So, I have to ask — do all white moms have a Jocasta complex? Are moms who love their sons canceled? Let me know in the comments.
In other mom news, it’s a big deal when Whitney’s famous senator mom comes to campus, but it seems like everyone is excited except Whitney. While watching Evette schmooze with members of a Black affinity house during a brunch event, Whitney snides to Kimberly that her mom is “so fake, it’s insane.” But she’s visibly crestfallen when Evette dodges her request to share something “kinda personal” (stinky Dalton reveal?!) for a ribbon-cutting.
Disappointing mom behavior aside, getting to know Whitney as a person outside of soccer and her affair is a welcome change. Whitney resents her mom’s high visibility and popularity, most likely because catering to the Joe Biden bumper stickers of America means much less time catering to Whitney’s emotional needs. Instead, Whitney clings to her father, a “very well-respected bassist in the Bay Area” who bows out of Parents’ Weekend to take a last-minute gig. All the roommates’ parents make a very big deal about it during Leighton’s expensive planned dinner, ignoring the fact that Whitney is a clearly heartbroken teen that just preemptively ordered her dad a rack of lamb.
I’m frustrated by the show whipping out the absent-Black-dad trope here, especially when Kimberly’s dad isn’t at the roommates’ dinner, either, making the mystique surrounding Whitney’s missing dad feel targeted. Kimberly’s dad isn’t even mentioned, but we do hear Leighton’s parents express slimy surprise that Whitney’s dad would have a “work emergency” since they “thought he was a musician.” Ultimately, this slime is a vehicle for Evette to defend her family and deliver this widely-applicable declaration to Whitney: “He doesn’t deserve the pedestal you put him on.” You can run, DALTON. But the context it appears in is disappointing all the same.
In spite of that, many of the conversations shared between the parents and their children helped give our main characters the emotional depth necessary for getting properly invested in their continuing stories. They were more thoughtful and more sensitive than the series usually allows us, and jokes took shape as subtle, clever quips instead of regurgitated Instagram memes (for the most part — a hallmate wears a shirt that says “twink” on it while warning everyone not to tell his parents he’s gay).
In fact, all these emotions, deepening, caramelizing, and calling each other gay, made the unthinkable happen: Kimberly and Nico are … kind of sexy? I guess they needed to put all that frustration with their parents somewhere! Or, at least, Nico did. The only roommate without visible tension with her parent, Kimberly instead works through her socioeconomic shame. She rolls up to dinner glittery and overdressed and gets hives upon seeing “price upon request” in the menu (it’s Salt Bae’s piss-covered tomahawk steak, piss not included).
Ultimately, her mother notices Kimberly’s heightened awareness of her social status, especially after an awkward breaking point when Leighton’s family insists on paying for dinner while she hoists cash onto the table. “You made me look like a street urchin in front of the rich people,” she laughs during a post-dinner walk back to her hotel. Kimberly tells her about struggling to fit in, at first denying that she’s changed only to quietly accept it, looking more grown-up and self-aware than she has until now. This noticeable difference between the expressly guileless Kimberly and the slightly more weathered, six-weeks-at-college Kimberly is probably why her burgeoning romance makes sense.
The two speak French at dinner at their parents’ request to hear what they’ve learned, and the secrecy of being the only two people who knew French at the table made their banter flirty and fun. I’m a sucker for a bit of intrigue; sue me!!! It helped make Kimberly’s nightcap visit to Nico’s frat house seem less like a giant child forcing two shirtless Barbies to kiss and more of a natural progression when they finally do kiss. Nico, of course, first has to inform Kimberly that “for what it’s worth, I don’t think of you as … poor, or anything like that,” winning himself the Guy In A V-Neck With The Least Class Consciousness award. Kimberly counters that she, in fact, is poor, which is “okay,” earning herself the Girl In A V-Neck With The Most Class Consciousness award. In any case, they kiss and go back to Nico’s room, and a more confident, self-aware Kimberly is born.
Bela’s goal of convincing her parents (Mueen Jahan and Kavi Ladnier) that she’s a sexless bookworm who loves neuroscience is perhaps the least intriguing of all the girls’, especially since it predictably fails, but it is the most real for this first-generation American writer (and I did actually major in cognitive science, hehe!).
Although she fails, as an aspiring comedy writer, Bela certainly commits to the bit. She takes her parents to a random biochemistry class, assures the other parents that neuroscience is her “passion,” and gives into her dads’ request that she says hello to the biochemistry professor when they spot him in the same restaurant. The professor gives her up, saying that she isn’t a student of his in front of her dad. Bela’s father is furious when she’s then forced to share her dream of being a writer, hitting her with the absolutely classic immigrant parent response of “This school is very expensive, and we are paying for you to study, […] not play.”
But although Bela’s parents are disappointed that she lied, aside from asking her to actually take biochemistry next semester, Bela’s mom pledges that she’ll help get her husband on the comedy train as long as Bela promises not to get too fanciful about her future. It’s nice. It all ends very nicely. This was a nice episode.