Gossip Girl recap: World War Zoya

·11 min read

hbo max Jordan Alexander, Savannah Smith, and Zion Moreno on 'Gossip Girl'

In the Gossip Girl reboot, the only phrase uttered more than Miss Keller exclaiming, "This is working!" every time she cyberbullies a new student into doing their homework, is one of those students announcing, "from now on," only to follow it up with a confident declaration of intent… that they will manage to negate within, most often, a matter of minutes.

At the top of this episode, Julien hesitates for two seconds after turning on her morning ring light, then sets down her makeup brush and immediately goes on Instagram Live to make an announcement: "Starting here, starting now, I'm going clean, free — effortlessly me." And I am here to tell you that by the time the clock strikes 8 o'clock that night, Julien is wearing sparkly blue eyeshadow spanning almost the entire length of her face. It's the kind of impulsive behavior one should expect from a 16-year-old, but that doesn't make it any less embarrassing to watch. Yes girl, give us nothing but empty, ill-considered statements because literally, your brain is still forming! We support you!

To quote good friend of Davis Calloway, Princess Nokia: "I'm a pretty bitch on some petty s---."

Except, uh… a lot of it isn't so petty this episode. We find our gossip-y girls on the morning of a difficult day: it's Zoya's 15th birthday, but it's also the 15th anniversary of her and Julien's mother's death. As previously mentioned, Julien deals with the difficult day by declaring to her fans — as well as a highly disgruntled Monet and Luna — that she's going to be "more real, more honest, more vulnerable" than ever before. ("Vulnerability is the disease for the masses." – Monet)

Zoya is dealing with the anniversary by being understandably sullen. Even if it is her birthday, this is not a day of celebration for Zoya…

A memo that Obie, unfortunately, didn't receive before renting out a fleet of food trucks, and putting up "happy birthday Zoya" signs all over the Constance sidewalk. When Zoya tells him that she doesn't usually like to celebrate her birthday, Obie asks if it's because of religion — something he realizes he's never asked her about — only to be told that it's because her mom died giving birth to her. And given all these things fairly vital tidbits that Obie doesn't yet know about Zoya, I'm almost starting to suspect that every time he declares that he knows Zoya, and she's not acting like herself, it's simply because Obie has created an idea of Zoya in his head that she somehow isn't managing to live up to. Almost.

Anyway, will-they-or-wont-they(-and-yes-please-do) throuple MaxAudki aren't doing so great either. Audrey and Aki are avoiding each other after the revelation that Aki might not exclusively be attracted to women, something that Audrey is struggling not to be judgmental about, and therefore Aki is struggling to talk to her about. But no one is struggling more than Max, who is acting all the way out. Nobody has heard from him in the week since his dads decided to split up until he reappears at school, spilling out of a Mount Sinai Hospital, hands full of pill bottles, and making out with a number of nurses on his way out. It is wild! And Rafa is concerned… which he shows by allowing Max to loiter around screaming, "Stop screwing around, and just F--- ME already!" in the locker room where Rafa, a teacher, is fully nude.

Rafa seems to have genuine concern for Max's wellbeing… and he also seems to purposefully allow just enough boundaries to be crossed over just enough times so that he can convince himself that he put up a valiant effort to not sleep with his teenage student… only to say, "F--- it," and sleep with his student by episode's end. To which I say: Get a job! Stay away from him!

Of course, Rafa has a job: he is a teacher at Constance-St. Jude's, a receptacle for the worst 20-somethings in New York City, it seems. Miss Keller is once again complaining about how much work Gossip Girl is even though, as far as we know, she posts exclusively about Zoya and Julien. Now, Miss Keller has received the opportunity to submit a short story to her editor friend at the Paris Review, and Jordan and Wendy have to straight-up convince her to let them take over the account for a day so she can take advantage of the opportunity to be an actual writer, instead of her preferred position as an anonymous, power-hungry troll.

Later, Miss Keller will tell Zoya (y'know, the teenager whose every move she's been stalking and posting on the internet), "The sad thing about this world is that people like us have to constantly prove we belong," and I will absolutely guffaw myself off the couch and into another universe from the audacity.

With Wendy and Jordan at the helm of Gossip Girl, things get… well, exactly as bad as they've always been, except this time Julien and Zoya are playing along. Not because of Gossip Girl, of course — that's as inept an operation as ever. No, the real evil masterminds here have always been Luna and Monet, and they're finally sick enough of watching Julien tank the hard work they've devoted all of their best teenage years to by showing up to school without makeup on. (It should be noted that Zión Moreno and Savannah Lee Smith are really so delicious in these roles — they make it fun to watch teenagers be annoyed all the time.)

So, Luna and Monet set in motion the plan they've been working on for weeks. First, they tip off Zoya's building that she and her dad are illegally living in her grandma's rent-controlled apartment. Then, they tip off Gossip Girl that Zoya is being evicted, insinuate that Julien is the reason why, and Gossip Girl posts the intel, insinuating further that Zoya is already plotting her retaliation.

That's all it takes to get these sisters upset with each other all over again, and this time they're both swearing revenge. Luna and Monet convince Julien to throw a huge party to show Zoya up on her own birthday, and Zoya… well, Zoya has very few cards. She has no friends, no money, and a boyfriend who has a bunch of friends and a bunch of money but is constantly telling her that she shouldn't be bothered by her extremely upsetting circumstances. So, thank goodness, Obie pouts his way off the Met steps so his seat can be taken by a mysterious 10-year-old boy claiming to be an eighth-grader, drinking out of a gilded teacup.

He's overheard that Zoya has problems, and introduces himself as an excellent problem-solver who goes by the name of Milo…

Milo Sparks. That's right! The son of Georgina Sparks (and not-Dan-Humphrey)! Now, I admit, I didn't pick up on the surname the first time Milo dropped it, so I appreciated that things got much less subtle when Zoya arrived at Milo's house to find a gallery wall full of Georgina posing with terrible, famous, and terribly famous men. "My mom taught me early on that it isn't enough to go to war," this actual child tells Zoya while clicking away on his many monitor screens. "Wars never end — what you need is a coup." And since Zoya isn't willing to actually lie about Julien, Milo will have to use the truth to help Zoya solve her Julien problem.

The truth comes in the form of uncovering a years' old tweet of Julien's that reads, "There's a difference between thick and fat people." Hundreds of canceled RSVPs start rolling in for Julien's party, so she once again impulsively fires up Instagram and delivers what sounds to be a fully rehearsed speech about how this party was actually supposed to be a charitable affair to honor her mother's memory and support the Lupus Foundation of America…

It's a lie, and somehow the largeness of this lie manages to tip-off Julien and Zoya's dads that their daughters are feuding, and they eagerly join forces to put a stop to it. I'm glad to see that these men are just big softies who want their daughters to get along, but it also makes it difficult to believe that they once hated one another so much that Zoya and Julien had to secretly plot to attend school together. Anyway, their corny ass dads make them throw their parties together, but that ultimately just gives Zoya and Julien more ammunition to work with. Zoya embarrasses Julien by making it seem like she got sponsors for the party, and Milo drugs Julien's food so that she feels drunk even though she's not drinking. Unfortunately, we can't even blame Julien's next attack on being drugged (which is super not okay and never really addressed).

Julien realizes that she actually has one huge piece of ammunition left: the video of whatever happened with Zoya in Buffalo that GG secured for Julien weeks ago. She decided not to use it at the time, but now she's had a change of heart. Julien DMs the video to Monet and tells her to get it ready for the party. What Julien doesn't know is that Monet contacts the original videographer, and secures what she calls "the director's cut." Still, even though Julien doesn't know the full contents of what she's about to show to hundreds of people, it doesn't really change the fact that she gives a truly unhinged speech onstage about how her mother was brave and brilliant, but she was also reckless and irresponsible, traits that she, fortunately, didn't inherit, but her sister Zoya most definitely did. And then she rolls a video of a younger-looking Zoya running around her old school with a few other girls, spray painting "F--- SCHOOL" on the wall…

And then those other girls lock Zoya in a classroom and start chanting, "mother killer, mother killer," as Zoya begins to panic and scream for them to let her out.

It's pretty awful to watch, and very awful to see Zoya quietly weeping in the audience, and no one going to comfort her, including her boyfriend and father who are in attendance. Julien didn't know about the part of the video where Zoya got locked in the room and taunted, and she starts begging Monet and Luna to cut the video when she sees Zoya crying. She finally has to run offstage and turn the phone off herself, and then, I kid you not, she walks right back on stage to deliver a full moral-180 with yet another perfectly curated speech. I guess these are the instincts that made her a teenage influencer in the first place.

Julien tells the crowd that she didn't know about the part of the video where Zoya was being bullied: "But I guess when you're a bully yourself, you don't see that." If you can believe this, Julien goes on to declare that never again will she bully. She tells everyone to pull out their phones and record her saying, "I'm a bully. I bully my sister, I bully my friends, my fans — and I'm never gonna do it again, so long as I live."

Oh, Julien. You must not have known this show got picked up for a second season already.

As previously stated, we have very little historical reason to believe Julien's big declaration will hold water for more than a few hours — but this episode does end on an uncharacteristically upbeat note. Audrey and Aki agree to keep loving each other even if the future looks a little less familiar; the dads straight-up share an Uber home together and are officially besties now, and Zoya somehow immediately forgives Julien for screening her trauma to the whole school, and they re-bond over the fact that they're alive and together because their mom wanted them to be.

And happiest of all, Miss Keller finishes her story to submit to the Paris Review.

Just kidding, who cares about that. But she does compare herself to another Iowa Writers Workshop dropout, Hannah Horvath, and for that perfect parallel, I really must thank her. It's been hard to put my finger on Miss Keller's specific brand of needy narcissism, but yes, Hannah would sanctimoniously cyberbully teens and then find a way to complain about it while also celebrating her great achievement as the Insta-voice of a generation (not her own generation, unfortunately). It is my greatest hope that the spawn of Georgina might team up with the likes of Luna and Monet (they do owe him for the time he gave Lily-Rose Depp E. coli, after all), and finally save us from this monster.

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