We need to talk about that cheer everyone does when they’re all in the stand at Whitney’s soccer game. “When I say ‘Es,’ you say ‘sex,’” screams a shirtless crowd member, “Es! Sex! Es! Sex!” I had to rewind this scene several times to fully take in the image of a packed bleacher fist-pumping and gut-screaming “sex!” I know many people are starting to love this show, and I am, too, in my own way. But sometimes I wonder if we’re all watching the same one.
Luckily, the rest of the episode is a little more subtle, continuing the more emotional turn the series started to take in episode six. Nico continues to pillage both pussy and my heart, oblivious to the fact that his hot, long-distance girlfriend is about to attend his surprise birthday party and ruin Kimberly’s life. I was very wrong about a plot twist, by the way: No ethical non-monogamy here, just some good, old-fashioned cheating.
But even before Maya comes into the picture, Kimberly is already halfway through her downward spiral. She’s badly failing econ, continues to miss classes for Nico’s solid gold balls, and she has a UTI. The latter is likely because she doesn’t pee after Nico repeatedly sticks his charger in her USB-C port, and Whitney calls UTIs a “right of passage,” but they really don’t have to be. Pee after sex, people. For her part, Kimberly holds her pee and moves the conversation to more fun things, like what she should get bacteria-ridden Nico for his birthday.
Lila suggests “something erotic, like a cock ring”; Whitney suggests a journal; and Lila scoffs at the idea of a hot guy journaling. “They just let their thoughts fade away, it’s what makes them hot.” So true, Lila. I have to commend Ilia Isorelýs Paulino, who has had maybe 15 lines in the season so far but still manages to be one of the funniest actors on the show. Kimberly settles on a bag of sour candy for a gift, which, sure, okay. Her co-worker, Canaan, is now definitely into Whitney, and he flirts with her at Sips, hoping to hang out again, but no one predicts that bacteria-free Whitney’s world is about to get rocked. There will be no hangouts tonight.
After spotting her husband search “is it illegal for a coach to sleep with a player,” a normal thing that all of us have surely Googled at one point or another, Dalton’s wife discovers he has had an “inappropriate sexual relationship,” as Coach Woods (Jillian Armenante) puts it when she brings Whitney in for questioning.
Understandably, Whitney is terrified about what the now-open information could do to her future, especially since, the show thoughtfully notes, escaping a publicly shaped narrative is a privilege few are afforded. So she tries to throw Coach Woods off her trail, pointing fingers at other players, wiping her hard drive, and buying a burner phone to call Dalton, who never picks up. I do love the procedural-drama energy, but I’m not sure that casual subterfuge is necessary since Whitney is, after all, a victim. That said, any college student knows that many Title IX offices are notoriously unhelpful, so, you know what, burner phone away.
But thankfully, it’s not necessary. Coach Woods agrees that Whitney, just barely an adult, is a victim. In her report of Dalton, Woods never shares Whitney’s name and assures her that a mistake made in her youth shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.
It was a just and almost maternal move from Coach Woods, but for Essex College, it seems to have been a problem. Both Dalton and Woods are dismissed, and the women’s soccer team is left to fend for itself through the upcoming NCAA tournament. But, um, on the bright side, there is a really good needle drop while they find out. It’s right when all shit from the episode storms: Anna von Hausswolff’s “Mountains Crave,” and, earlier, Helena Deland’s “Truth Nugget,” both moody, indie tracks I’d never expect to hear in this show, but remind me of when trashy 2000s teen shows would play Interpol. It is simply “a vibe.”
But back to the shit. No vibes, just shit. Bela is deep in it, and it feels bad to watch. I’m wondering, is it possible to write a show for girls that doesn’t immediately involve sexual abuse or assault in the first season, or would every TV producer in L.A. just die? I’m looking at you, Veronica Mars, Reign, 13 Reasons Why, Gossip Girl, Friday Night Lights, etc.
Surprising not a single soul, Catullan creep Ryan is a repeat offender. On their first day as Catullan members, fellow new recruit Carla (Isabella Roland) discloses to Bela that Ryan showed her “his dick. In a bad way.” Just like with Bela, Ryan lured Carla to his office under the pretense of sharing edits. Carla says she can’t think of anything else when she’s at Catullan and initially tries to find solidarity with Bela, who then lies and denies that Ryan has tried anything with her.
Feeling ostracized by the rest of the Catullan members and alone in her trauma, Carla quickly drops out of Catullan but wishes Bela well in her future there. Carla’s sustained niceness is enough to convince Bela to come clean about what happened to her. Leighton helps organize a safe space in the Women’s Center for Carla and Bela to discuss their experiences and presumably decide the next steps.
So much of Catullan membership is a red flag — the six hand jobs it took to get in, the racist alumni, the subtle and explicit misogyny of its members — and I don’t doubt that this particular plotline also functions as a commentary on often white, often male, deeply misogynist comedy spaces, which Mindy Kaling herself remembers experiencing at college. But because the noxious Catullan exists along with Whitney’s affair and Kimberly’s affair, I just wish we didn’t have to have all the bad-man things all at once. Showing these real, upsetting, or dangerous situations on TV is important, but so is timing. Personally, I don’t feel like I would know who Bela or Whitney are on a deeper, emotional level if they didn’t experience trauma so quickly, and I don’t think using women’s issues as a story shortcut is fair to the characters or to the audience. Sex Education recently taught us that TV is capable of incredibly thoughtful, empathetic depictions of assault that feel necessary, and as a result, impactful, adding to our connection to a character but never defining it. I don’t think we should settle for less.
But if we have to keep heading in this direction, I hope the Women’s Center creates a restorative circle with Ryan and gives Catullan a leadership makeover. Personally, I’d love to see a team-up between Bela and Evangeline (Sierra Katow), who seems to be the only woman member currently in a leadership role.
In comparison to the rest of her roommates, all discovering all the worst parts of being in a woman’s body, Leighton gets off easy this episode. Although, as expected, Alicia is already frustrated with Leighton’s inability to take their relationship outside of her bedroom, it feels like Leighton’s values are changing pretty quickly. I won’t be surprised if Alicia threatening to leave is what gives Leighton the final kick out of the closet, but I don’t doubt the pain for everyone in getting there.
At the very least, Leighton throws a very nice surprise birthday for king sicko Nico, who ends it telling a distraught Kimberly, “Don’t be like that,” as partygoers inside carry around mini cardboard cutouts of his shirtless selfie. First of all, where can I get one of those? Second of all, I’m eight episodes deep, and aside from my developing headcanon that Nico is a human bioweapon designed to destroy all the Vermont Cheesecake Factory locations, I don’t actually know what his character is supposed to be. Sometimes he’s stereotypically fratty, cheating on his girlfriend and hanging out with the bros shirtless just because. Most of the time, he has no defining personality traits, delivering sweet but throwaway lines that would make perfect sense coming out the mouths of any of the show’s romantic interests. Except for the French stuff, of course. Very original.
I’ve also looped back around to not completely understanding what Kimberly and Nico are doing as a pairing. The fact that he’s a cheater makes it seem like he was just interested in Kimberly for meaningless sex on the side, but if he’s supposed to be a tragically ran-through bro, then what is he doing with his sister’s mousy roommate, whom he shares late-night conversations with and tutors for school credit? It’s He’s All That levels of nonsensical incompatibility and 2-D characters for a second time this year. Addison Rae, get me out of here.