SPOTTED: Sad13 Watching Gossip Girl, #5

Episode 5

Nelini Stamp and Carmen Perry (Remember Sports) 

Something wicked this way posts in this week’s All Hallows-themed Gossip Girl, and with plenty of skeletons strewn in and out of closets, our heroes are fit for a good fright. After a Princess Nokia-soundtracked birthday bash with escalating back-stabby stakes, feuding sisters Zoya and Julien finally find solid footing. Max, floating down from his weeklong bender, lands in the lecherous arms of Rafa, one of his many icky teachers. The rest of Constance-Billard’s sickening staff wrestled for control of Gossip Girl’s Insta, while spearheader Kate fussed about submitting to the Paris Review. Audrey and Aki moved past the former’s left-field biphobia, resuming their thrones as school sweethearts. Will these hasty amends hold tight through another episode—especially one on the spookiest eve of the year?

In this week’s all-Philadelphian recap, two of our city’s biggest GG fans help translate the pandemonium. Nelini Stamp is a co-founder and member of the Resistance Revival Chorus, and is also Director of Strategy and Partnerships for the Working Families Party. She’s been slammed with finishing touches on WFP’s massive Can’t Wait Live festival, happening this week at the Mann Center and featuring Saweetie, Ne-Yo and Mavis Staples. Thankfully, she took a planning break to chat out one of her all-time fave franchises: “I’m a born and raised New Yorker, and went to Laguardia, and it’s about the city I lived in,” she recollects. Her favorite original character was Rufus, and this time? She’s loving the dads once more. Carmen Perry, front person of Philly pop rippers Remember Sports, grew up just over the river in New Jersey, taking in all the drama via the books and the TV show, and she even got in trouble at school for being part of a Facebook-based Gossip Girl account! “It was a dark moment, but I’ve grown from it,” she laughs. Living in such close proximity to Manhattan, she says a lot of her peers had a “New York complex.” So her favorite characters were the Humphreys. “I related to bitter underdog plotlines,” she confesses.

This is a Halloween episode, and they put a gun into the play right in the first act!

Nelini Stamp: I try to have fun with these shows, but that was a shock just to shock. Where did this gun come from? What school was this? Who are these kids? No explanation. I don‘t think everything needs a trigger warning, but It was poor form around guns and schools. It’s weird for me that they try to be Real World serious. Gossip Girl needs to be more daytime soapy with its drama. 

Carmen Perry: Gossip Girl getting blamed for that didn’t make sense. I get that the parents are concerned, but… all the kids were like, “I saw the gun on the floor and my life flashed before my eyes!”

“All sixteen years of it,” according to new antagonists Bianca and Pippa. A common critique of this reboot is that it’s “woke.” I took their social-climbing instincts in the wake of a gun scare to be a comment on the kids’ performativity.

Carmen: Woke Gossip Girl is not what we wanna see. Now that Zoya’s examining Obie’s performative motivations, it’s a better direction. Bianca and Pippa were boring, I thought!

Nelini: I didn’t get them. If you’re supposed to be a Georgina, you come with your A-game. Georgina Sparks’ son Milo was a better guest star than these new characters. They’re not exciting and I don’t know why Monet would work with them. They’re just basic white girls?

That they’re basic white girls is the point, I think. Joshua Safran gave an interview saying those characters were written to emphasize you couldn’t center TV around Serenas and Blairs anymore, because those characters “don’t have the mic.” But I wouldn’t have gathered that if I hadn’t read the interview. 

Nelini: No, I wouldn’t have guessed that either.

Carmen: There are a lot of Easter eggs for original show viewers that need a lot of context to land. But the point that you couldn’t make a show about Blair and Serena wasn’t driven home for me. 

Zoya, meanwhile, makes a new friend on the bus, Simon Rivera: a mysterious scholarship student with a flip phone. 

Carmen: That was so annoying. But can I vent about Obie for a second? He’s a junior in high school, dating a freshman he met two seconds ago. Why does he expect her to not want to be included in parties, the things her sister and her friends do? He’s like, “I thought you were deeper than that,” and she can be, but she’s also fifteen!

Nelini: I was super annoyed at Zoya and Obie this episode; they’re both performative. Zoya is always attracted to someone different from her own scene. But it’s always a surface difference, and she’s on a surface level. I want her to have more edge. “Ooh, a flip phone!” It was so suss. Simon’s like, “What’s a Gossip Girl?” Bad liar! Bad liar!

In that scene, she’s reading a Lorraine Hansberry biography, but looking at her phone behind it. So she’s as much of a faker as these other kids. Which Obie is suspicious of—once he sees Zoya and Simon on Gossip Girl, he immediately gets on the phone in “Helena and Otto Bergmann’s son” mode, really on his research game. I feel that the teachers can’t stay Gossip Girl forever, and in this episode, they established motives and skills for some kids to potentially take Kate’s place.

Carmen: Ooh, that’s an interesting theory. The teachers are so bad, and I don’t get Kate’s motivation. She’s been back and forth this whole time, up on her moral high horse when she feels like it, then going back to being Gossip Girl without fanfare.

Nelini: The teachers as Gossip Girl is interesting to me as a commentary on this world. These teachers are at a very privileged school, but the majority of teachers are paid like shit, treated like shit. Parents and students don’t care, and neither do we as the public. Some days, I’m like, “Go get ‘em, teachers!” The kids are disgustingly rich and the site is changing the teachers’ lives. But they do awful, weird shit. So I do like the idea of them opening the account up to different people.

Carmen: You just can’t photograph teens with their shirts off from behind the window. Sometimes I want to be behind them, but I can’t get behind that.

After Kate torches the Gossip Girl account mid-episode, Jordan comes onto her. In her rejection, she says, “You’re one of the best people I know.” Is she kidding? Jordan was the first to photograph semi-nude kids. He’s really one of the best? But I did like Jordan’s memes of Obie: Lobie—Lonely Obie?—with Bernie mittens.

Carmen: The reveal of Jordan as an out-of-touch millennial man was great. I don’t think teens would find his Lonely Obie memes funny or worthwhile. It highlighted how much Kate gets the voice, and why she’s the one driving it.

I’ve been waiting for Rafa to turn to full-on evil, and we see it minutes into this episode as he hooks up with Max next to an open door and a million other students traipsing by.

Carmen: Rafa’s so reckless, having sex with a student at school and going out to parties with him. I’m so tired of the student-teacher romance trope in teen shows. It romanticizes a relationship that really isn’t okay. We saw Aki gathering background on Rafa and trying to blackmail him and scheme on him. They should go to the FBI!

Nelini: Yeah, I’m tired of that trope; people learn power dynamics from it and romanticize it as cool. I called Rafa’s shit from the very beginning. These are super rich kids—have Max date a Tik Tok star! There are a bunch of things they can do that involve an age difference, but don’t have to be the student-teacher relationship.

But I was glad Aki had the opportunity to put on his proverbial detective hat, following Rafa to Julius’ bar—also skills a future Gossip Girl might need. His character has been presented as debilitatingly neutral, but he goes after what is right in support of Max.

Carmen: Aki’s become my favorite character. I don’t think his motivations behind helping Max are sexual or romantic. There’s been a lot of speculation around his sexuality, and he’s not giving a straight answer, because he doesn’t have one himself. A lot of shows would wanna take a definitive path.

Nelini: Most modern television hasn’t shown us someone discovering, and not made it black-and-white, and it’s refreshing. A ton of people don’t know if they’re gay or bi, and some people are just queer, and it’s cool they opened that door up and he doesn’t have to be labeled and he’s fine with it, because he has people who support him. 

I’ve enjoyed seeing his thoughtfulness as essential to his friends, including Audrey of course, and Kiki! This week, she wants to move with Audrey to her family home in Cornwall, CT. Cornwall is where Serena’s boarding school from the original series is located, where Serena had a not-affair with the teacher who went to jail. Is that going to play into this season?

Carmen: Wow, I didn’t even remember! I definitely think Cornwall’s significant, because they’ve teased a lot of tie-ins from the old show, and it’s gotten more blatant. That may make an impact.

Nelini: The parents, this time around, are way more interesting to me. There were times in the last Gossip Girl when they’d talk about mental health casually. They’re being real about it this time. Julien’s dad is a recovering drug and alcohol addict, which plays into why Julien’s mom left for Nick. It’s real that Kiki, as an alcoholic, cannot function at events, and will drink an exorbitant amount in front of Audrey. I appreciate that there’s depth to the parents and their struggles. 

Audrey self-servingly plans an extravagant surprise dinner party for her mom, but Kiki, bombarded, describes it as “three hours of waterboarding.” It leads to Audrey saying hateful things—”I’d rather be alone than live with you any day.” The moment she said it, I had a feeling she’d rue those words.

Carmen: That scene was tough. On one hand, Audrey’s being a brat about not getting to stay in her fancy school and live in Manhattan. On the other hand, her mom has issues, and Audrey’s been dealing with them alone for the most part. It was cool to see her express that anger. For sure, she’s gonna regret it. 

On the topic of parents, why is Nick pursuing Kate? And why does he feel Zoya needs tutoring? Are her grades slipping, or is he just annoyed she has a social life? 

Carmen: He sees Kate in a good light, but knowing what we know about her, it’s sinister. There must be more going on with him, though. Zoya has said so many times, “He’ll never see Gossip Girl.” But he’s clearly looking. He knows more than he’s letting on. Maybe he’s onto Kate.

There’s a moment when he’s holding her phone, and narrowly misses seeing 1,000,000 notifications on a Gossip Girl post.

Carmen: How could he not see? I’m suspicious of him. Really bold of Kate to post to Gossip Girl from inside his bathroom.

Nelini: Are Nick and Kate gonna be a thing? I’m so confused as to her new path forward.

Carmen: I think she’ll date Nick in pursuit of getting more dirt on Zoya.

Nick’s a lawyer, she better be careful! He’s encouraging about her Paris Review story, which, no surprise, was rejected. And so she decides to reboot the Gossip Girl account once more.

Carmen: She keeps making deals with herself that she breaks. She stops posting, changes things, but how different could it possibly be? She’s lying to herself about how deeply in it she is.

I thought it was drastically inappropriate, during their tutoring session, that she’s divulging her crises of conscience and career to a kid she’s on the clock teaching.

Carmen: She’s clearly having a huge existential crisis. The teachers are so reckless, posting at school and talking about it at school. We already know Rafa knows it’s them. Who else has heard them talking? Who else has seen them posting? Especially after the parents hired an investigator, why aren’t they more careful?

Should we talk about Hulaween? The event this week is Bette Midler’s annual Halloween party.

Nelini: It’s a real thing! Every year, I waited for the photos to come out the next day to see who’d have the best costumes. And it really is a benefit for New York Restoration Project!

Zoya and Julien debut “Beyoncé and Solange in the elevator” costumes, but have been copied by several other girls thanks to Monet’s intel leak. Which leaves room for Bianca and Pippa to steal the show dressed as Serena and Blair at Cotillion, gaining approval from “the Twitter gays.” Kind of a weird reference for the other kids to recognize S + B—I thought none of them heard of Gossip Girl before the teachers re-started it?

Carmen: I thought it strange that so many people went for the Solange and Beyoncé costumes, because I wouldn’t have recognized them if I hadn’t known. Nobody’s costumes were apparent to me.

Nelini: I was like—”I only remember Solange wore orange. What did Beyoncé wear?” It was the one moment where nobody cared about what Beyoncé was wearing, because she was not the one who was kicking someone! It was the Solange elevator. One of them should have dressed as the elevator itself. 

It was floated that Obie should’ve been the elevator, but he went as Frank Sinatra. And when the girls cannibalized his costume to change into Chuck Bass and Dan Humphrey—which, similarly, I would not have recognized—he started saying, “I’m one of the Sopranos.”

Nelini: He’s so weird. The Sopranos didn’t wear fedoras. The Sopranos was in the 2000s. 

Was that just to show that Obie is culturally illiterate, other than knowing about deforestation lectures happening at Columbia? 

Carmen: Obie was being a spoilsport the whole party. I had no idea what Luna and Monet’s costumes were, but I’m gonna miss Monet in their friend group.

Nelini: Since the first episode, they’ve been setting up that this series will be more than Constance-Billard. I think Monet will be the bridge to the world of the other schools. I appreciated Luna in this episode—for her, it’s more about friendship and loyalty than career. But who was she? Kesha?

When all the drama goes down, Luna’s like, “I already have a contract with LGA,” a beauty management company. She’s over the pettiness.

Nelini: I’m hoping for another character to spice things up. We need another Luna who can call people out on their shit and keep it 100.

Was Nick supposed to be Jimi Hendrix?

Carmen: Yes, but wearing a Jimi Hendrix t-shirt. I love that. It’s like Disney Princess costumes that have a picture of the Disney Princess on them. 

Max had his lips sewn shut, like the famous David Wojnarowicz photo. And Rafa was in the Sleep No More mask, a throwback to when Chuck and Blair attended that show during one of their million break ups. I’m really praying we’re done with Rafa.

Carmen: Me too, but it’s significant that he knows the teachers are Gossip Girl.

Nelini: I don’t think we’re through with him. He’s gonna double down on some evil shit. I’m not looking forward to it, but they need a real evil that is ruthless, and nobody’s filling that just yet.

Carmen: Yeah, he’s the only unequivocally evil one. The other teachers are doing evil shit, but it’s nuanced. He’s a villain.

Our other unmasked villain of the week was Simon, who turns out to be not a student, but a New York Magazine researcher working under editor Nelly Yuki! She and Eva Chen went to the costume party dressed as each other. God, that was a highlight of the series for me.

Carmen I screamed when she appeared on screen. That’s the kind of throwback I’m watching for. I didn’t really get the connection between her and the researcher. What story was he researching? She was pissed!

Maybe Simon was planning to pitch her? He definitely was not following orders. Her reprimand was assigning him “a couple months transcribing podcasts for SB Nation.”

Nelini: He’s trying to be a Dan Humphrey, and make moves as an intern. It was ridiculous that Dan got published in the New Yorker at whatever age he was, and this was a throwback to that: a young up-and-comer trying to make his big break. 

I don’t understand how Nelly Yuki knew that Zoya’s costume was Chuck Bass. Just because she was in a suit and eyeliner?

Carmen: And she was still wearing her Solange wig!

Maybe that doubled as emo hair phase Chuck? I searched “Nelly Yuki” on Twitter after watching this episode, and was distraught to find a lot of complaints about this cameo. 

Nelini: I was very into her. Nelly’s the kind of special guest star I want to see from the original cast. But it was weird that yet another adult is scheming in a Never Been Kissed moment. 

Carmen: Simon was the perfect person for Zoya to fall for. Her issues with Obie right now are that he’s shallow. She meets a kid on the bus with a flip phone, so obviously he cares about the issues.

Nelini: I think Obie will end up back with Julien. Zoya’s not interested in him, she’s interested in the idea of him. I know Julien is supposed to show to the world that she and Zoya are okay, but I thought she wasn’t interested in social media anymore? Does she really need to rehabilitate her image? But at least Julien is honest about herself. More so than Zoya or Obie.

In our finale, we find out Kiki has been rushed to New York Presbyterian. Classic Gossip Girl frequently gathered the gang at an ER because of various car crashes or overdoses, and we get that here. We don’t know what happened, but part of me wondered: did Audrey somehow orchestrate her mom’s hospitalization? When the doctor says, “It’s going to be a long, hard road to recovery,” Audrey half-smiles, “I’m not going anywhere.” Am I going too dark?

Nelini: Whoa. It could be orchestrated. She could have known a fight that big would have her mom do something. I guessed she overdosed? I liked when Max exited the elevator, and Audrey motioned to him to come to her. That was tender. I want the throuple to happen between Audrey, Aki and Max. It’s what I’ve been most excited about all season and I hope they don’t leave us to dry. It could be super healthy!

Carmen: I’m into Audrey. She’s got a mean, bratty streak that I like.

And I like Kiki. I want her to stick around and drive some drama.

Nelini: More parents! I want intertwining drama, besides Nick and Davis. There’s a lot of talk about Obie’s parents’ power. And I know Aki’s dad is gonna be played by Malcolm McDowell, which is going to be incredible.

Carmen: Yes, I want more for the parents’ plotlines, more than romances. I was so bored by Lily and Rufus. I want to know about Julien’s dad’s jobs!

I loved Gideon in this episode, answering the phone dramatically in a robe by the fire while drinking a white wine. But I miss Serena’s dad’s ridiculous lying and schemes, and her mom’s many past lives. So yeah, more parental drama.

Carmen: Yes. Thoughtful parental drama is what I want most. 

Or unhinged. They can go off the rails.

Carmen: Totally. As long as there’s a purpose to it. 

Sadie Dupuis is the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter of rock band Speedy Ortiz. She’s also the producer & multi-instrumentalist behind pop project Sad13. Sadie heads the record label Wax Nine, has written for outlets including Spin, Nylon, and Playboy, and holds an MFA in poetry from UMass Amherst. Mouthguard, her first book, was published in 2018.

(Photo Credit: Jordan Edwards)