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‘Gossip Girl’ 1.04 Review: Fire Walks With Z

A birthday party brings new truths to light, but lacks heat in "Firewalk With Z."

Whitney Peak in Gossip Girl
(Image: © HBO Max)

Our Verdict

Fun moments are scattered throughout, but some of the storylines are getting repetitive.

For

  • ✖️ The introduction of another scheming Sparks family member.
  • ✖️ Finding out Zoya's big secret.
  • ✖️ Zoya's complicated feelings about her birthday are dealt with grace.
  • ✖️ At least the hot dads aren't feuding.
  • ✖️ The other teachers getting a turn at playing GG.

Against

  • ✖️ The Zoya/Julien back and forth is getting rather stale.
  • ✖️ All the good scenes between Max and Rafa are undone this week.
  • ✖️ This can't be helped but party scenes in the age of Covid filming protocols look sparse.
  • ✖️ Bringing up old characters makes me miss the old characters more.

This post contains spoilers for Gossip Girl "Fire Walks With Z.”
Read our latest review 
here.

The ongoing feud between Blair (Leighton Meester) and Serena (Blake Lively) provided Kate Keller (Tavi Gevinson) with the spark of inspiration to find her voice when she brought the scandal-driven blog (or in this case, Instagram account) back to life. She took their long-running frenemy antics and decided to turn half-sisters Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak) into the next big rivalry. So far, Julien and Zoya’s back and forth hasn’t captured what made the original Constance Billard Queen B drama so compelling, and “Fire Walk With Z” further underscores the weakness of this particular plot. Everything comes to a head at the joint party they are forced to share by their fathers and one can only hope that this manufactured squabble will take a break from the spotlight. This is not the only issue with the episode, as Max’s (Thomas Doherty) storyline opts for the obvious teen TV trope I was hoping we were over by now (we are not), and all the good work is undone with a kiss.

Before getting to the hot and heavy action, the big event celebrated this week is Zoya’s 15th birthday! Except Zoya hates this day as her mother died while giving birth and guilt looms large. One aspect handled with grace is the complicated feelings Zoya has about the way she came into the world. Typically, the day after is when she celebrates but no one told Obie (Eli Brown) who does the big gesture thing with an array of food trucks at school. This is the most we have heard about Marianne so far, and to both teens, she is more of a concept than an actual person. Zoya thinks that if her mom hadn’t gone through with the pregnancy she would be alive. However, she is reassured that her mother knew the risk of carrying a baby to term with lupus, and she is not a murderer. Later, her reluctance to acknowledge her birthday is linked to the secret that caused her to leave Buffalo, and the video of this incident is the dirt that was dug up a few weeks ago. Unsurprisingly this moment is weaponized and played as part of Julien’s speech at the birthday extravaganza. 

It goes something like this: the popular (white) mean girls befriended her before egging her on to graffiti the school, followed by locking her in the lab. They proceeded to taunt her about her mother’s death and her “role” in this. Cruelty levels are high and it is no wonder she wants to forget this particular day. To get out of the room she started a fire and it was all caught on camera. Zoya’s birthday bad luck stacks up as her living arrangement is threatened when Luna (Zión Moreno) leaks the rent-controlled deception. The latter is blamed on Julien and if the pair stopped to think for a moment, they would realize how contrived the whole thing is they would realize Luna and Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) were the architects of the whole arrangement. 

Milo Sparks in Gossip Girl

(Image credit: HBO Max)

While the feud hits new petty and tiresome heights, Zoya does get a helping hand from a familiar source. Or rather, the son of a familiar source. Milo Sparks looks incredibly young (he’s a 10-year-old eighth-grader) and for a moment when he sat down next to Zoya on the Met steps I wondered if Gossip Girl had entered supernatural territory (crossover with Evil?), but no, this small child is just very pale. He also carries a teacup and has a framed photo of Blair in his library lair — along with photos of his mom with various dictators and celebrities. Milo’s mother was (and probably still is) the queen of the schemes and the iconic Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg) even had a scam related to her baby. She initially conned Dan (Penn Badgley) into thinking he was the father (he even signed the birth certificate) but this was just a ruse to get Georgina out of some deep shit — the wife of real father put out a hit. OG GG storylines really do sound wild when summarizing. Anyway, Milo feels for tormented Zoya and offers to help her get even against Julien (again, Julien wasn’t involved in the rent-related reveal).

The first port of call is Julien’s old tweets and Milo explains if you scroll back far enough there will be something. Earlier in the episode, Julien has launched a more authentic makeup-free version of herself so a fat-shaming missive goes against her curated image of kindness and being “effortlessly me.” Earlier in the episode, her dad’s girlfriend Lola (Elizabeth Lail) has remarked on doing a deep dive of her Insta, which Julien is uneasy about. Lola also brings up the videos that made Julien famous when she interviewed rock stars as a kid — her dad’s connections helped make her a star. Lola obviously didn’t scroll back through her tweets and after a seemingly sincere apology to her followers — via Instagram Live not a Notes app apology — her party guests come flocking back. Oh yes, she has organized an event to honor her mother and is donating the proceeds to a lupus charity. Davis (Luke Kirby) has to use his clout to get Princess Nokia to agree to play again and there is nothing Gossip Girl loves more (either version) than a performance by an IRL artist. 

Whitney Peak in Gossip Girl

(Image credit: HBO Max)

At the party, matters escalate as Milo launches bots after Julien, while Luna and Monet set their plan in motion to banish Zoya for good. Julien hasn’t seen the full version of the video and is horrified by the extended cut. The damage has been done and rather than run, Zoya stands there in tears. Much like the big crown sharing speech in Mean Girls, Julien speaks truthfully about the teen experience and the difficult dynamics, and yet it feels far more contrived. This “I’m a bully” mea culpa is meant to prove that Julien has woken up and this is the authentic her — including the messy, envious side. The problem is that Julien has been pretty nice up to this point and she lacks the insecurity and determination that fueled Blair. Monet and Luna are the architects and they know which buttons to press, so the power resides with them. This speech feels more insincere than the Instagram Story at the start of the episode, but if this temporarily puts an end to the Julien/Zoya flip-flopping then that’s a good thing. This episode has painted Julien into a “be kind” corner, so I am intrigued to see where they go next. 

Another reason why Blair and Serena’s back-and-forth worked is their shared history was built into the story (even in the early episodes) whereas this sisterly relationship is brand new. Davis and Nick (Johnathan Fernandez) are disappointed in their daughters but there is an upside. “Maybe them fighting isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it’s Marianne giving us a chance to work our own shit out,” Davis tells the man he no longer loathes. It would be better if she was alive and while I would love for Marianne to become more than a peacemaker 15 years after her death, I am glad the dads are not resorting to one-upping the other. It would be easy to put the hot dads at odds considering their painful history, but instead, any pettiness is being avoided (for now).

Jordan Alexander in Gossip Girl

(Image credit: HBO Max)

The same cannot be said for Max’s dad who blames him entirely for blowing up their family. Max is absent for the start of the episode and when he does show up he is high on a cocktail of pills. Both Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind) and Aki (Evan Mock) have being trying to get in contact while avoiding their own drama. They are unsuccessful and while Aki thinks he is bisexual, he also still loves Audrey, and as sweet as it is, this pair is still going through the motions. All Max wants to do is fuck his teacher Rafa (Jason Gotay) and confronts him in the shower — Elite’s shower antics are strictly student only and I wish Gossip Girl opted for the same. Rafa tries to do his best with Max but ends up reciprocating his kiss at the end of the episode, and I am so tired of teacher-student hook-ups on teen TV. No matter how much Max has pursued him, Rafa still has all the power and it doesn’t make it any less predatory. Rafa should’ve stuck with his “don’t fuck the students” policy.

Speaking of creepy teachers, Gossip Girl (Kristen Bell) announces they are not a person but a revolution that cannot be stomped out by Black Cube. Kate complains she has no time for other work, which includes submission for The Paris Review and yes, Kate is as much a Dan Humphrey stand-in as Obie is a rich version. She relinquishes control and it is fun seeing Jordan (Adam Chanler-Berat) and Wendy (Megan Ferguson) try to hone the GG voice. Kate is a frustrated writer (there is a reference to Hannah Horvath from Girls) and her desire to be the lead on all things GG is because she has finally got a baying audience. “This, I’m good at. This is where I am not just read but heard. What if in the end, Gossip Girl is all I’m good for?” she explains when she can’t keep away from the party. Sure, they don’t know who Kate is but this attention and power are enough. There is some balance by the end of the episode, but her quest for notoriety is strong and this group has already proved they lack scruples or loyalty. Unfortunately, this episode is more miss than hit and while the sparsely populated party is due to Covid protocols, the lackluster attendance sums up an episode that needs a boost.      

Julien and Audrey in Gossip Girl

(Image credit: HBO Max)

Best Dressed 

It is impossible not to look at Julien in the David Koma party dress that makes it look like the KiraKira+ app come to life, but it is the shot of her closet that is the most enviable. 

Biggest Huh 

The third part of Milo’s plan involved a “splash zone” and it seemed likely that Julien’s choice of glittering David Koma sheer dress was picked for the public humiliation. Instead, the effects of the Alcosynth (that Milo made sure was in all of Julien’s food) wore off as quickly as they came on. Zoya did tell Milo to call it off and while I am not a pharmacist this was a very convenient end to this confusing plot point. I do hope this isn’t the last we see of Georgina’s offspring.