SPOTTED: Sad13 Watching Gossip Girl, #6

Sadie Dupuis, Audrey Zee Whitesides, and Dylan Baldi dissect the scandalous lives of HBO Max’s rebooted elite.

Episode 6

Dylan Baldi (Cloud Nothings) and Audrey Zee Whitesides

After five whiplash-inducing episodes of break ups, make ups, conniving, cancelling, and canoodling, Gossip Girl’s finally sputtered to its mid-season finale, not to reconvene until November (with a full cast Thanksgiving episode to rival the original’s holiday debacles of yore). Episode six introduces plenty of shiny new cliffs from which to leave us hanging, but also had to walk back from episode five’s shaky pinnacles. Max finally wised up to the lechy-ness of his teacher Rafa, promptly dumping him. Aki, grappling with defining his sexuality, eventually got needed support from his girlfriend Audrey—whose mother Kiki, after threatening to move to Connecticut, was rushed to the ER. Zoya fell for a flip phone-toting scholarship student from a neighboring school…until Obie unmasked him as the New Yorker’s undercover fact checker, chasing a lead on Gossip Girl. Our teachers kept flip flopping on running their creepy IG, but after Kate’s rejection from the Paris Review, it was all systems go on gossip. And, weary of Julien’s dabbles with #realness, Monet jumped ship for some competing teen influencers, leaving Luna to pick up the brand’s pieces. 

In homage to the overconnected world of privilege and opportunism I’m recapping, this week’s installment is nepotism all the way. Our first guest is Dylan Baldi of the band Cloud Nothings and free jazz group Baldi/Gerycz Duo. He’s also my boyfriend, and so for many years he’s been subjected to whatever high school mystery I’m rewatching in our living room. “I only watched the first series because of you making me, after we saw Penn Badgley walking around in Hudson,” he reminds me. “I remember it being on when I was in high school. I was snobby and didn’t like it and liked Criterion stuff and didn’t like anybody,” he laughs. He’s since seen the error of his ways, as has our second guest, Audrey Zee Whitesides, who says she was the same as a kid. Audrey’s shredded in many projects, including Mal Blum and my own band, Speedy Ortiz, but she’d only shredded through one episode of the original Gossip Girl: “Chuck Bass was investigating the illuminati, and Dan was sleeping with a teacher.” But she’s a devoted fan of Riverdale’s ludicrous plot twists—her socials profiles all refer to her as “girl Jughead”—so I sold her on watching the new GG, which shares twisted teen DNA (and director Pamela Romanowsky, who helmed GG episode 6) with Archie & co.

This episode is called “Parentsite”—class war à la Parasite, but make it fashion! It opens on #Zobie drama: Zoya and Obie painfully typing “good morning” to one another, then deleting it. How sick are you of this relationship?

Audrey: So sick. There’s no chemistry. They don’t have anything to talk about and it’s miserable seeing them try.

Dylan: I don’t understand Obie. What’s his drive? He stands for nothing. Did we know his name was Otto?

We knew he was Otto Bergman IV, but I just got that “Obie” is “O.B.”

Audrey: His Instagram bio is OBIV. Ah, initials! They had an opportunity to make him more interesting in this episode, but kind of fucked it up.

Obie’s described as a golden boy, but fears sharing his politics with his mom. Is his flimsy personality the point of the character?

Dylan: I was thinking that about a lot of characters. The writers apply personality traits by having characters say, “You’re like this!” And then the character will be that way. Zoya’s sister says, “You’re the most confrontational person I know!” And suddenly, Zoya is confrontational.

Julien, Zoya, and Obie take up a lot of real estate this episode. Julien’s scrolling Obie’s Instagram in her first scene, before chasing down sponcon after bombing the PSATs. Davis really wants her to go to college and points out that her Instagram is not a business because she has never made money off it. No wonder Monet quit!

Audrey: Did you notice the reference to Caroline Calloway? Davis referred to a person with flower crowns, and Julien was like, “She’s going to be a billionaire!” So Julien is a Caroline Calloway fan, unless there’s another influencer who is very infamous for flower crown shenanigans.

Why is Davis so worried about Julien’s career? Is he out of money?

Dylan: Doesn’t Davis have a young and secret girlfriend? That makes me feel like he’s the kind of guy who did something bad a while ago, and it will come back and get him. Maybe he wants to make sure Julien can survive on her own.

Audrey: The lady he’s dating is a songwriter who doesn’t seem to be especially successful. I wonder if he just wants to make sure Julien is doing things that make her happy.

As usual, Luna delivered my favorite lines during a motivational speech. With regard to Julien’s brand, she said, “A great Rihanna banger is of its moment. Fenty is forever.”

Audrey: She’s my favorite character. I loved “We need to remove you from the context of time.” I would love to be removed from the context of time.

Dylan: She’s also my favorite. It’s a low bar, but she’s entertaining and over-the-top. Rafa, too, in a different way, but they’re the most fun on-screen.

Obie had a major hard-on for Julien saying, “I want to invest in my future,” even though her brand, plans, and everything about her are ill-defined. The most virtuous-presenting kids are vacuous. It makes sense Obie would flop back to Julien.

Audrey: Julien says, one time, “I want to make a difference.” Why would he buy it? But they do have more chemistry than Obie and Zoya, and seem to be able to have conversations with emotions beyond frustration. There’s a spark.

Dylan: They would text each other good morning without thinking about it too hard. It doesn’t look good for Obie. He’ll believe anything about anyone. Poor guy. 

Revlon, Ulta, and Sephora all court Julien, as Luna works to secure a brand collab. They’ve all got very strange pitches and stipulations for their influencers.

Dylan: Was that all fake? Luna set it up, then gave a knowing wink to Julien. What if Luna and Monet are plotting to bring down Julien behind the scenes? All of those brands wouldn’t meet a high school kid. It’s an unrealistic show 100% of the way, but even in their bubble, that seems impossible. 

There is precedent for Luna lying about something like that—she invented a Vogue fashion spread to test Julien.

Audrey: Sephora must be real, because they offered her a contract. But I’ll headcanon that the others were bad actors giving awful pitches on purpose. Maybe Luna has a deal with Sephora and hired a bunch of people who suck so Sephora would look good. Julien would say what she wanted, and they’d be like, “Okay, if you go with us, we’ll give you the exact opposite!”

Dylan: Even after Julien said, “I want a brand that represents women of color,” one of the white reps interrupted the only Black rep in the room…interesting. 

Audrey’s haggard this episode. Luna calls her a “Chanel show crasher” when she gets too close to Julien’s photo shoot. She’s been nursing her mom back to health by harassing every single worker in the hospital, and her Type A thing comes to a volcanic head when she literally roars at Zoya.

Audrey: It was very fun when she had a meltdown at dinner. But being mean to nurses? Don’t do that. These people just had the worst year of their lives. Please don’t yell at them because flowers are the wrong color. She’s my enemy—the fact that her name is Audrey makes it personal.

Dylan: Being cruel to working class people feels like accurate rich person behavior, and there’s not enough of it on the show. I really have no desire to see any of the characters grow or change in positive ways. I just want them to act completely over the top and campy.

Should we talk about Helena? Otto’s extremely German mother lands in New York, and Zoya’s insecure. She ambushes Helena, who doesn’t know Zoya exists, then gets herself invited to a private dinner.

Audrey: To prove she was dating Obie, Zoya went on her phone and showed Helena a #Zobie stan post. But there was no kiss. It just looked like stills from a miserable conversation where they had a fight with each other, which they probably did.

Dylan: The pictures were all of them just sitting sort of close. You couldn’t prove anything with it. Julien is still the one. If I were Helena, I would treat Zoya like fake news. Zoya acts out a lot this episode.

At dinner, we meet Aki’s dad Roger—Malcolm McDowell as a Rupert Murdoch analogue. He buys out the entire restaurant, staffing it with his own waiters because, as Zoya repeatedly chides, he’s afraid of being poisoned or wiretapped for running NetCorp, “a right-wing propaganda machine.”

Dylan: I would love it if Malcolm McDowell’s character dies from a poisoning incident. Zoya’s the true Chanel show crasher at the table; she starts mouthing off to everyone’s parents, Roger especially. They’re all being pretty nice to her but she goes hard at them for being who they are. You’re already fighting with Obie. Why make this dinner about you?

Audrey: It felt more like a continuation of the fight with Obie. Zoya’s principles fluctuate wildly. Some part of her secretly desires to be in the world of the rich and the famous. Whenever Obie responds negatively, it eggs her on more.

The parents weren’t really being nice. Whenever Zoya tried to engage, or when she mentioned Black Lives Matter, Roger immediately changed the subject.

Dylan: I’m not defending the parents, they’re clearly evil scum, but an unexpected person showed up just to insult them. Zoya definitely got talked over but she’s also fourteen, and wasn’t saying anything that would be interesting to the super wealthy AARP crowd.

Audrey: Roger sucked, I agree, and no one wanted Zoya there. Aki’s mom loved the drama. She was laughing, like, “You tell him!”

Dylan: They’re not together, right?

No, and looks like they’re setting Jodi up to be the “good” parent. At dinner, Audrey accidentally outs Aki, after Roger complains about an anti-LGBT discrimination lawsuit he’s fighting. Later, Roger uses Aki for PR cover, claiming on camera that he and his company couldn’t be homophobic because Aki is gay. Which…he isn’t.

Dylan: That was a star turn for Malcolm McDowell. Even if the lines aren’t great, he delivers them with serious panache.

Audrey: He’s also a much better actor and commands all the scenes he’s in.

Anyway, I bet Zoya would have behaved that way to Roger regardless of her situation with Obie. She just doesn’t care about him. After their fight, Obie runs to Julien’s house to yell at her for meddling, and Julien implies she still loves him.

Dylan: Did you think she didn’t? She stares longingly at him all the time, every episode. Of course she still has feelings!

Audrey: It’s less surprising that she has the feelings, and more surprising that she’s bringing it up, since it will presumably bring conflict with her sister. Up to this point, I hoped they’d make Obie a villain. He was clearly an asshole at that dinner.

Dylan: They walked it back almost immediately. I didn’t need to see him at a protest. He’s better at being an asshole than he is at pretending he cares about literally any issue.

Those heel turns happen really quick on this show, and undo just as fast. We see Obie on Instagram, chanting at a protest, “Housing is a human right!” Why were both Zoya and Julien shocked? For five episodes, it’s been reinforced that Obie regularly protests.

Audrey: Literally the first thing about him in this show was that he brought donuts to a protest at the exact same Navy Yard site. When Zoya goes to the protest, then leaves because she sees Julien there, that undermines her for me. The show treats her convictions as a way to advance the plot.

I was confused by Zoya’s righteous anger. Zoya’s like, “Julien’s only friends with me to get close to Obie!” Zoya, do you remember how you met Obie?

Audrey: And the last time Julien and Zoya were on screen together, they had a nice conversation in which Julien was very supportive.

Dylan: Is it bad writing? Or is it realistic 14-year-old behavior? I can’t really tell. I’m glad they introduced some new parents who brought drama. It kept it from feeling stale. That was a huge part of the old Gossip Girl—the parents had more drama than the kids! 

After Helena calls the cops on the protesters, Julien and Obie make out under romantic mace smoke, bisexually lit via police flashers.

Dylan: The show is fairly artless in its presentation but the lighting people definitely had a good time with this scene in particular. The only time it’s okay to act like a cop is when blue and red lights and smoke bombs elevate the view in a fictional scene.

Audrey: I have qualms about the way police violence around protesting is co-opted as a backdrop for romance in this show. After last summer, to use it as set dressing for a not particularly compelling love story frustrated me.

Dylan: It underscored the fact that they’re both rich morons who don’t really believe in the things they’re doing.

There’s nothing at stake for either of them, and they’ll be protected because of their wealth.

Audrey: Obie should have been dragged away and used that to draw attention to an issue. Nothing bad would have happened to him.

Speaking of bad things happening: Rafa was a supervillain this episode! After Max leaves him on read, he tracks him down at school and delivers a bizarre compliment: “You’re not a conquest, you’re a fellow conquistador!”

Audrey: It was very fucking strange that Max’s response was, “Consider me colonized!” The optics of it were weird and not ideal.

Dylan: At least Rafa is exciting. Apparently a lot of his other roles are as a charming, leading man on Broadway? But he’s great at inviting chaos into these characters’ lives.

Audrey: I’m curious if Kate will get a redemption arc. Her conversation with Rafa showed me that she’s so far gone. The way he butters her up was like, “I’m on the inside with all these kids.” That is an insane thing for a teacher to say. That she hears it as a plus is a big red flag!

Her lowest low was posting a tip that Max, a student, has an STI—unsubstantiated, but even if it was true!

Audrey: The caption was like, “Max is at the hospital to visit Audrey, his friend, but also, he has an STI.” If you get an STI, you should go to the hospital and get it checked out! If you’re also there to support your friend, seems cool?

Dylan: Kate’s a failed writer and this is her last grasp at fame, running an Instagram that insults children. It’s not a strong enough backstory to justify some of the things she’s done. She’s a pathetic character. I’ll enjoy her eventual downfall.

On her date with Nick, she introduces the concept of “her Meryl.” There was another student at her MFA who was received more glowingly because of her It factor, and that’s why Kate quit writing.

Audrey: It sounded pretty gay! It’s a bad trope, but if Kate’s evil because of weird sublimated homosexual longing that she was unable to put into words or name, then she’d be a problematic fave for me. Even in her own story, she’s unable to construct herself as morally upstanding. She only ever cared about being a writer because she thought she could parlay it into fame and attention.

Dylan: Is she still writing in any way? Or is it just Gossip Girl? She said she only writes to make herself happy, and I guess Gossip Girl makes her happy, which is sad.

We see “the gossip shoe on the other girl’s foot,” as Jordan eloquently puts it, after he snaps a photo of Kate with Nick then posts it. She dumps Nick because “it’s the right thing to do”—I’d think the right thing to do would be to not run Gossip Girl?

Dylan: She chose Gossip Girl over the only stable character on the show. Their love story could have made things interesting, but it’s squashed already. Nick had a good NPR shirt on. Great Bad Brains shirt a few episodes ago, too. 

Audrey: I’m confused about the teachers’ motivations. Jordan says, “You lost all objectivity.” His critique is that she’s not upholding the rigors of journalism, but it wasn’t about objectivity at the start. Explicitly, they felt they could gain power through Gossip Girl putting fear of God into the students.

Dylan: The teachers are fast and loose talking about being Gossip Girl, at school, outside, anywhere! Kate must want someone to figure out it’s her so she can be famous.

They were passing out color-coded folders of their posting schedules just across from the school! Ethics are a false justification for them to seek power. Jordan knows Kate is sensitive to being perceived as unethical, so now he has control.

Dylan: The first thing he did was take a picture of a young kid changing clothes. Is he the ultimate bad guy who will take Gossip Girl to new heights?

Audrey: I hope so. Jordan being really petty is probably my favorite thing. I want him to be the supervillain.

Our main supervillain Rafa, sitting alone in the dark, scrolls the apps for Max’s dad Roy. Max tries to resolve things with Roy and keep him away from Rafa. Will it work?

Dylan: Absolutely not. That dad’s the bad dad, and he’ll continue being that way. Rafa is capable of subterfuge and lying. He can keep Roy around whether Max wants it or not.

I was shocked Roy had no reaction to a teacher sleeping with his son.

Audrey: He didn’t seem to buy Rafa as a big threat. He was like, “Dang, that’s too bad!”

Dylan: Most dads would be upset by that. But Max has probably done a lot of bad stuff in his life? His dad’s maybe not fazed.

Max, meanwhile, sends GG a sex video between him and Rafa. The teachers all watch it, and instead of being like, “Oh my god, our colleague fucked a student!” They’re just like, “Oh no, he has access to the account and knows we saw it!”

Audrey: Even before that, they were like, “Oh no, he could be fired!” Their first concern was that Rafa could be fired.

Dylan: What’s Rafa’s game now? Does he have some power over them now by having seen this video and deleting it before they can post it? Or is he scrambling? Max obviously has this video and they could get it back from him.

Audrey: Maybe this is the way Gossip Girl is unraveled. Max will think, “It’s so weird they never reported on this. Oh shit, is Rafa part of Gossip Girl?” The students will figure it out if substantiated proof of a dramatic thing gets no response from Gossip Girl.

In a brief win for Max, he finally hooks up with his two friends at once, but only after Aki is forced to come out, and after Audrey cooks some kind of weird “thank you for bringing me coffee and sweaters at the hospital” roast.

Audrey: I knew they’d all hook up together, but it felt so weirdly placed. Aki’s whole conflict has been not knowing how to deal with his sexuality. I assumed he and Audrey would fight about her outing him, but he doesn’t care at all!

Dylan: He wasn’t even sure how he identified, but was suddenly all in after his dad outed him on TV. Aki is another character who is so close to being interesting, but the acting is just not selling the story. He seems like he was trying out for FBoy Island and got lost on the way to casting.

Audrey: I want Aki to wrestle with his dad’s shit in the way Obie wrestles with his mom’s shit. Aki has a lot more at stake and personally will suffer because of what his dad’s doing, unlike Obie. So it’s weird that Aki is such an apolitical character.

While the throuple’s underway, Roger calls Aki from his private plane and mysteriously asks him to stay away from Julien. What could that be about?

Dylan: Maybe it has something to do with her dad? Do all the parents have a history we don’t know about?

Definitely between Aki’s dad and Obie’s mom. They kept alluding to how long and how closely they’d known each other.

Audrey: It’s weird that the friends have been cordoned off into the political people storyline, and the queer people storyline, and there’s no crossover. Julien has been so wrapped up in Obie and Zoya. What Julien and Aki drama can there be? Those characters have not said a word to each other. 

Could it be that NetCorp is going to swoop in as Julien’s sponsor?

Audrey: Here’s my wild conspiracy theory. Julien is plotting with one of Roger’s other children to assassinate him, and he’s caught wind of it. She’s gonna kill him and take over NetCorp along with Aki’s secret sibling that Julien’s been in a relationship with this whole time.

Dylan: Alright, yeah. I’ll take it. Good idea.

This show isn’t as murder-y as the original, but it could be that Luna’s gone over Julien’s head to connect her to a scheming heir of NetCorp.

Dylan: Do we know how Julien’s mom died?

I don’t think she’s dead!

Audrey: I thought she died in childbirth.

But did she?

Dylan: Maybe she didn’t die in childbirth, but died at NetCorp?

Audrey: I would love something wild!

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)