After three episodes, 'Gossip Girl' has hit its rhythm and this is the best of the bunch so far.
- 💻 Thomas Doherty proves Max is more than just the wild one of this group.
- 💻 Throwing support behind the arts during a time in which the stage lights have been turned off.
- 💻 More parental drama.
- 💻 An array of fun pop culture references and real-life figures appearing as themselves.
- 💻 The one Max downside is the back and forth with teacher Rafa.
- 💻 Yikes to who the teachers use as their scapegoat.
This post contains spoilers for Gossip Girl "Lies Wide Shut.”
Read our latest review here.
“Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life,” is a quote from writer Gabriel García Márquez that provides Gossip Girl (Kirsten Bell) with her opening talking point and the theme of “Lies Wide Shut.” The rise of social media is far from the cause of this old adage, but curated posts on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook have snapped this notion into focus in a more pronounced and widespread manner. The thread of public versus private (and secret) is woven through the parent, teacher, and teen storylines with a blind item causing some chaos in the established Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), Aki (Evan Mock), and Max (Thomas Doherty) love triangle. The latter has smooched one friend and slept with another, but trouble at home reveals a previously unseen vulnerability that ensures this student isn’t reduced to who he hooks up with.
In a bid to breathe life into Julien’s (Jordan Alexander) image after her recent breakup, she agrees to a “Manhattan Maxploration,” aka joining Max on a night out to blow out the dating cobwebs. This night of illicit substances offered on a tray like hors d’oeuvres is enlightening but not in a way that either teen expected. First of all, this is a very fun pairing after the angst of Audrey and Aki coupled with Julien moping about. There is no hint of flirtation or hooking up, and Max’s sexual appetite doesn’t mean he lacks platonic pals. While in the bathroom, Julien has the kind of reaffirming conversation with a stranger that is a mainstay of a nightclub experience. Both give the other a pep talk and this friendly woman spills that she is fed up with being kept a secret by the man she has been dating for the last year. Yes, the man in question is Julien’s father Davis (Luke Kirby) who has told his daughter he is away on business in Berlin when he hasn’t left the city. Of course, Julien spots her father from across the nightclub (he doesn’t see her) and the headwear he sports cannot hide his identity.
At this same moment, Max is figuring out where to go next by using the Scruff app (aka fake Grindr) and he is shocked to see an image of his dad Roy (John Benjamin Hickey) with a “newly single” status. To his knowledge, his dads’ marriage is fine and this is a rude awakening. Dinner at the Wolfes earlier in the episode is a little tense as Roy doesn’t seem too thrilled by Gideon’s (Todd Almond) blowout and fabulous McQueen ensemble, but there was nothing to suggest the 20-year marriage is over. Rather than confronting his father, Max decides to test Roy by cloning Rafa’s (Jason Gotay) profile and getting Aki to pose as their classics teacher — Max doesn’t want to sext his father. The latter is fair enough but dragging Rafa into this scheme is as unnecessary as this teacher/student potential romance storyline. Sure, this illegal dynamic is a teen TV mainstay, but have we not said all we need to with every teen show from Dawson’s Creek to Riverdale? Sure, those are heterosexual relationships but just because Max is pansexual and is “of age” (per his words in the pilot), it doesn’t make this trope any less tiresome (or illegal if anything does happen).
It wouldn’t be an episode of Gossip Girl (either OG or the reboot) without some sort of event, and this one is a doozy. Playwright Jeremy O’Harris has a new (fictitious) interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus that is previewing at the iconic Public Theater, and this sets the scene for some classic farce elements. After more than a year with the lights off, it is heartening to see the arts promoted with such vigor. The play’s the thing and Aaron focuses on Aaron the Moor from Shakespeare’s first (and most brutal) tragedy. The provocative production features male full-frontal nudity (yes this show is on HBO Max and not the CW) and audience participation, though we only see a small portion of the latter. This isn’t the first time Gossip Girl has embraced an interpretation of Shakespeare as Sleep No More (an interactive interpretation of Macbeth) was utilized in Season 5 of the original series. In this case, the O’Harris play only exists in this version of New York, but O’Harris does guest star and is thrilled to hear Zoya (Whitney Peak) schooling two older white men (one being Gideon) about the themes of the play. Earlier in the episode, Zoya has been suppressing her personality in a bid to be more likable to the folks on Twitter but here she learns that she should let her authentic self shine.
Zoya’s lesson at the hands of mean girl Luna (Zión Moreno) comes after Luna has got the Jul-Lions (Julien’s online followers) to get the word “Zugly” trending after Zoya is snapped eating pizza. Zoya is devastated by the online pile on — this storyline does stretch believability — and decides better the devil you know. Luna sees an opportunity here to source a replacement for Julien (just in case) and the tutorial features advice such as “Never eat, cry, PDA, MTA or wear flats” in public. The contrived point of this lesson is so Zoya can spill the secret that they are living in her grandmother’s rent-controlled apartment (even though her grandmother is now in assisted living). Luna claims she doesn’t care about this detail, but of course, she weaponizes it later on. Luna and Monet’s (Savannah Lee Smith) are still not defined beyond their ultra bitchy and judgy demeanor. They have more agency than Blair’s (Leighton Meester) minions but I want to see more from both beyond acting as Julien’s social media manager and stylist.
Pulling the strings is an important role but so far there are too many cooks vying for this position, which is why most episodes end up feeling somewhat overstuffed (a complaint I have made about the first two episodes). Zoya’s drama with her sister and Obie (Eli Brown) isn’t particularly compelling, even if it does fit into the whole public/personal/private themes laid out during the opening. The most successful storyline this week is getting insight into Max’s once stable home life and the performance Doherty gives as it crumbles around him. Aki gets a response from Roy on the hook-up app, and this is not enough for Max, instead, he turns this into a spectacle involving Rafa at the play. Tickets are switched and he ends up sat between Aki and Audrey — making it awkward for the couple who are avoiding each other — and Rafa takes his spot next to Max’s two dads. In the bar afterward, Rafa finds out that he has been a pawn in Max’s game and Roy admits that he is struggling with Gideon’s authentic gender-fluid self. Max responds to this breakup by getting wasted and telling Aki and Audrey about each other’s infidelity — he also reveals that Aki searched for other guys on Scruff too. He ends up back at Rafa’s, but thankfully, this is a non-sexual sleepover.
Julien also uses the play to call out her dad and invites his secret girlfriend Lola (Elizabeth Lail - star of You’s first season, which adds a fun OG GG connection) to the play. Davis is flummoxed by her arrival and quickly deduces that his daughter knows his secret. Later, he apologizes for his behavior and his separation of his dating life and home life was a way to protect her when she was younger. It is a nice moment and continuation from last week’s mea culpa and this pairing continues to embrace transparency.
Meanwhile, at school, the teachers are already facing a big obstacle as a parent has hired a Black Cube-style firm to investigate the identity of Gossip Girl. There is a reference to The Americans (how to beat a lie detector test) that felt like it was just for me and I am weak to this kind of pop-culture pandering — Top Chef’s Carla Hall also makes a guest appearance as the Wolfe family personal chef. After spiraling, the squad tries to find someone to label as a scapegoat so they can get the terrifying target off their back and it is pretty awful who they land on. Yep, they manage to screw over the one POC teacher who is actively involved in the scheme and this is a very bad look. I can’t tell if this is a purposeful choice to make characters like Kate (Tavi Gevinson) and Jordan (Adam Chanler-Berat) the real villains of it all or whether the optics were not taken into consideration. The so-called social experiment has ventured into problematic territory already and this is even worse. Reema (Rana Roy) doesn’t even consider that her colleagues and friends are behind this and thinks she is to blame for getting caught. She is much better off out of this ongoing project.
“The problem is that you’re famous for twenty-four hours a day and you can’t say, “Okay, I won’t be famous until tomorrow,” or press a button and say, “I won’t be famous here or now,” García Márquez said in a 1981 interview with The Paris Review, and this sentiment is spot on 30 years later. Gossip Girl is hitting its rhythm in its exploration of teen fame and privilege, even if the teachers are descending into machiavellian acts.
As someone who spends too much time on Twitter, it isn’t completely wild to imagine a hashtag going viral like this (especially if Julien is as famous as depicted). However, piling on a 14-year-old girl in this manner would surely get shut down pretty quickly and there would be as much support for a bullied teenager as those contributing to the hashtags and memes.
In the original series, costume designer Eric Daman showed that men’s fashion can go far beyond t-shirts and jeans with the suits, pocket squares, and scarves he draped Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) in. He is elevating the sartorial game further with Max, which includes how damn good he looked in a lace women’s Paco Rabanne shirt in the first episode. Max is clearly learning from his father Gideon and the audacious yellow and blue stripe Bode suit he wears to the play — Harry Styles is a fan of this brand! Chuck Bass would never and new GG is all the better for this style evolution.
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