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‘Gossip Girl’ season 1 recap – episode 5: ‘Hope Sinks’

(Courtesy of Karolina Wojtasik/HBO Max)

"Hope Sinks"

Directed by Pamela Romanowsky

HBO Max

Aug. 5

By Ashley Kim

Aug. 5, 2021 4:15 p.m.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

On the Upper East Side, trickery is the motto.

The fifth installment of “Gossip Girl” marks a Halloween celebration that brings together most of Constance Billard’s elite, albeit missing one prominent member. As the seasons change from summer to fall, the show’s themes grow increasingly darker with the episode’s commentary on gun violence and predatory relationships.

For the first time – to Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Luna’s (Zíon Moreno) delight and Monet’s (Savannah Lee Smith) indifference – Zoya (Whitney Peak) appears to be in complete harmony with the preppy friend group. They discuss an upcoming exclusive “Hulaween” party as normal high school students might discuss homecoming, planning out couple outfits and dreaming of topping the costume contest that would land the winners a photo in Vogue. Luna delights in the newfound bond between the girls but notes Monet’s displeasure at Julien and Zoya’s closeness.

Meanwhile, Max (Thomas Doherty) and Rafa (Jason Gotay) engage in promiscuous behavior on school grounds, separated from the public by merely a wall. Given Max’s frantic state in the previous episode, Doherty’s vulnerable performance and the obviously unbalanced power dynamic between the teacher and student, the series clearly condemns Rafa’s encouragement of this relationship.

[Related: ‘Gossip Girl’ season 1 recap – episode 4: ‘Fire Walks with Z’]

Across the city, Gossip Girl latches onto news of a student carrying a gun at another school and spreads it like wildfire. When the group at Constance Billard hears of this threat, the responses range from compassion for the affected students to a complaint about how rival influencers would inevitably spin the incident to their advantage. It is surprising that a show mostly concerned with unrealistic depictions of high school social dynamics would discuss an issue as heavy as gun violence, and this inexperience shows through in the flat and quickly overlooked depiction of the sensitive topic.

In the aftermath of the firearm scare, Kate (Tavi Gevinson) expresses remorse for how the Gossip Girl platform has been used to torment unsuspecting individuals and give a platform to malicious bullies. Her two colleagues are unapologetic, instead proclaiming themselves anti-heroes and Kate the unrelenting dictator. In response, Kate deactivates the Gossip Girl account in an attempt to quell the rising bloodlust of her fellow teachers. The adults’ immaturity is grating, a fault of both the over-the-top dialogue and stilted performances, detracting from the comparatively gripping student drama.

Aki (Evan Mock) stages an intervention when he tries to warn Max and Rafa of the inappropriate nature of their relationship, failing to get through to Max and instead being threatened with suspension by Rafa. Aki’s desperation is – for the first time – conveyed well by Mock, whose acting improves with every episode and whose character is finally given a backbone.

On the night of the “Hulaween” party, tensions boil over as Zoya and Julien arrive dressed as Beyoncé and Solange to flaunt their renewed bond after their legendary rivalry, only to see their costume idea was leaked to everyone at the party. After a brief investigation, Luna uncovers Monet as the culprit and confronts her, after which the once inseparable duo is torn apart. This tragic fissure in Monet and Luna’s established friendship may lead to deeper looks into their characters, of which little is known as of now.

[Related: ‘Gossip Girl’ season 1 recap – episode 3: ‘Lies Wide Shut’]

Later, when Max is confronted with the truth that Rafa is a serial predator with a history of preying on vulnerable high school students, he breaks free of Rafa’s manipulation and returns to the friends he had pushed away. The teacher-student trope has appeared over and over again in teen dramas, and although far from perfect, it is refreshing to see shows like “Gossip Girl” start to acknowledge how dangerous and problematic such relationships are.

When Max reunites with his friends at the hospital where Audrey’s (Emily Alyn Lind) mom has been admitted, he shares a deep group hug with everyone. This is the first time the group has shown pure affection toward each other and hints at the possibility of a more harmonious dynamic in future episodes.

But while the students break down the boundaries that kept them apart, Kate decides to put another one up, reactivating the Gossip Girl account and limiting comments to assert Gossip Girl as a dominant presence. The moral dilemmas Kate has with Gossip Girl are shallow and her thought process is incessantly cyclical, a result of uninspired writing that must be addressed to give the show more depth. Moving forward, repetitive plots should be replaced by steady buildup across episodes to lend greater weight to the eventual climax.

With Gossip Girl back in business, everyone needs to stay on their toes.

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Ashley Kim
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