Warning: This recap mentions mature themes, including drug use.
Gossip Girl adores John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles. It’s an inevitable fact conceived through the overly grandeur, candle-lit birthday spectaculars. Party favored with the type of breakout performers one would suspect could be on a YouTuber’s guest list, and sour-y-turned-sweet truths once the girl of the hour surpasses midnight (take point: that post-butterfly, swooning chair scene in “Seventeen Candles”). So, if it’s a golden shoelace bowed, charitable, reverse present to its dear, avid watchers, then this around 56-minute episode love letter undeniably sits at the top of their wishlists. Just who is trading places with Blair Waldorf for season 1’s name day? 15-year-old Zoya.
On the other hand, her sister is going on an “effortlessly me” diet, consisting of a strict no-makeup policy, much to the dismay of her PR team, Monet and Luna. She’s also taken the sleep-dusted morning to backspace on a birthday text unsent to Zoya and sit through her father’s girlfriend’s sunny dismay over wondering how she’d be able to become as famous. On the table sits an unnecessary, flaming, Sadelle bagel sparked with a solitary candle. It’s not something Zoya exactly cares to celebrate, having written out her immunocompromised mother’s tombstone by birthing her, even if not the case by any means. A bright yellow envelope slides underneath their apartment’s door; pinned as a bad omen, it may be exactly that, judging by Zoya’s father’s nonchalant attitude.
Otto’s wafting the smell of baked goods into Constance Billard and St. Jude’s through an assortment of colorful trucks, planting a “Happy birthday, Zoya!” sign onto its sidewalk. Hence, students know it’s not another money-hungry event. Aki slides up to him. His stomach is howling with guilt over the Max kiss, which Otto still believes is some girl. Audrey’s left wondering what sexual category he falls into. Is it gay or bisexual? All this time using her as a pin-up curls blonde beard. Julien’s alarmingly re-enacting a Gwen Stefani “Cool” music video as she notices the trucks, desiring a crepe more than the fake Vogue shoot Luna is fangirling about. She’s too far gone!
Zoya realizes the sweetness behind Otto’s gesture, which is probably why she feels a touch of remorse as he signals for the drivers to move on as he recognizes their inappropriateness. Before congratulatory words slip out of Julien’s mouth, Zoya stops her. She seems to think Julien’s told Gossip Girl. However, it’s dumbfounding. How are our teachers? Kate’s chalked up the spotting hours to be a full-time job, minimizing the time she has to spend on a really cool possible freelance gig for the Paris Review. Cross and hope to viral post; she passes the main Gossip Girl rights onto the others. Luna stops Zoya in the hallway, saying Julien wants her out of Constance for real this time. Unspeakable evidence has been found.
Aki and Audrey are avoiding each other, a recipe that, of course, means they’re going to run into each other at all times; the first time is when both are calling a missing Max. Rafa is wondering the same thing, asking the teachers if there have been any tips about him. There hasn’t, ghosting from their radius. Otto still sweetly wants to celebrate Zoya, dialing it down to a three-star rating dinner as he cooks for both her and her father. Apparently, though, there’s been an anonymous hint that they’re illegally staying at their grandmother’s house without her being there. Simultaneously, Gossip Girl drops the intel, assuring Kate’s blocked. Making his way out of a white and blue speckled buggy, Max kisses all of its passengers before moseying up the school’s steps with a bag of pills in both hands. It sits on the list of terrible choices alongside Julien participating in the “Imagine” video, storming the bathroom over the unwarranted spiteful zest Zoya supposedly has through thinking Julien had anything to do with trying to get her evicted. It’ll be silenced over her party.
Or not, a pretty angry Zoya marks war as she switches up her perspective, telling Otto that she indeed wants to throw the bash of the century. Who’s attending theirs? Aki, for one. Audrey’s feeling testy over it, demanding he choose a side. The sound of clapping drifts through their conversation — not theirs, but from the group of gangly girls who just booked Princess Nokia. The “Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)” TikTok sensation shifting platforming gears for a YouTube deliverance, having an already one hit visitor through Aki. Zoya seems to believe Otto has the power to make Rihanna come out of her music-less hermit shell for a comeback performance. He’ll see her later with his lunch baggie. That’s okay, though, as a mysteriously toned young boy who has a ghostly white complexion and a nostalgic last name sits beside her. He’s shaking his tea as if he’s some Mad Hatter.
Rafa is naked in the boys’ locker, cleaning off the chlorine from his swim. Max makes his presence known through inexplicit, flirtatious jokes and unbuttoning his shirt. Rafa pushes him against the wall, shouting at him to stop. It’s all hand-ball-fisted tension and forlorn attempts at attention when Max threatens him he’ll tell Gossip Girl they had sex no matter if they do or don’t do the act, simmering down upon not having his phone with him. Zoya’s glued to hers, a tad confused as Kate wishes her happy birthday. Either somebody told her or teachers creepily scroll Gossip Girl’s feed; that, and we know why she knows even if Zoya clearly is yet to know. Kate gives a pep talk, how helpful it’ll be if she stands up for the 99%. It’s then when Kate discovers she’s been blocked. To rectify the situation, she must hand-deliver her article.
When imagining Georgina Sparks’ study, one would definitely suspect the fancy show-off of A-listers she’s spent her time gallivanting around; what is a touch surprising is her headband-wearing, feisty enemy who had the same grade level in scheming. Milo is sitting behind a computer screen, tabs that are most likely some calculative thoughts opened in his mind spilled out, declaring a bid to get Julien canceled. Julien and Audrey are spending their time going through the former’s wardrobe, looking for a spotlight-stealing outfit for that night’s affairs. Her phone blows up, chock-a-block with guests backing out. #CallowayCancelParty is trending, its playlist so deafening that Princess Nokia has written up her own statement, declaring she, too, is no longer attending. She’s not going out this way, handing Audrey a tiny black book and turning on her ring light. The party was a tribute to their mom. Otto wonders if this was her thought process behind the night all along.
About to go into her apartment building, Zoya sees her father open the door, meeting up with Julien and her father. Piling into the living room, work chatter refreshes the showdown escalating between the girls; they’ll be throwing a joint party. Julien sends out a missile text to her group chat; it’s the grey canvased video recording during Zoya’s time at her old school. Webster Hall lights up in a fluorescent red like a time travel to the golden ages of Hollywood, fresh-eyed elites waiting outside to walk into the booze-polluted zone where live music times with their grinding bodies. Cupcakes garnished with cherries and mocktails accessorizing with circular frames slotted with Julien’s face poking through straws deck the tables. Perhaps it’s a hazing technique to have a GoFundMe page set up for Zoya instead of presents.
Otto feels as if Zoya’s stepped into a cloning lab, swapping places with a clap backing, clout chasing, mean girl packaged with tight braids. Audrey’s linked arms with a British accent, his strong grip colliding with Aki’s as they shake hands. Monet and Luna took a visit into the photographer’s emails, messaging her for the directorial cut. Julien’s chowing down on the buffet. All the while, Max jovially sweeps into the club line, pointing his finger matter of factly at some random spot on the invitation list. In a surprising twist, he’s not on it, Rafa escorting him away from the bodyguards and out onto the dusky sidewalk to rattle the pills he’s carrying out like a jangling drug haze. Nick and Davis are at the bar, neither of them are drinking; the former refuses the latter’s help regarding the living situation, so they quickly change subjects to their girls. They both know it’s not going to be a quiet truce.
Meanwhile, Georgina’s spawn, Milo, has been spiking some of the food, turning a sober Julien into even more of a fiery truth-teller. Colliding into Otto, he warns her Zoya’s apartment will hit the market if she doesn’t stop it, which she has no plans to. Then, of course, the teachers are here. Kate walks up to the other two. She’s hit an anxiety curveball concerning her article. Where she knows she’s great at writing up bratty, insider posts, there are questions surrounding the Paris Review’s opinion. Audrey’s date may be more on the gay side, lusting after Aki. The question finally airs. Aki’s not quite sure how to take it; in fact, it feels more like a punch to the gut than anything else. He tells Audrey that he doesn’t know.
Monet and Luna let Milo in on what’s about to happen, passing it on to Zoya. It’s too late, however, Julien standing in front of the draped red curtains seemingly matching the theatrical vibe of the contents of the video’s first few minutes until it takes a dark turn. Zoya tagging her old school’s lockers in blue graffiti bleeds into who she deemed as friends pushing her into a laboratory, locking the door, the only thinkable escape being lighting it up, which she attempts. To any outsider watching the video, it’s painstakingly clear it was the side effect of a panic attack. Julien’s fraught at what she’s done, voicing into a microphone that she’s the bully. Princess Nokia enters the stage in a meshed bra-shirt combo, breaking out into a performance allowing some of the flammable dust to settle.
Aki’s both literally and figuratively cornered against a brick wall, the club’s red strobe echoing against it. He springs the question of whether Audrey’s been cheating this entire time or Max was just a kleenex (Waldorf speak for “Use once and throw away”). She admits it was only ever him. It’s Aki’s turn now, freezing slightly, before acknowledging he’s into both. He deeply loves Audrey, though, resting his head on the crook of her shoulder. Out in the misty streets, Rafa walks with Max up to Roy’s apartment. See, Rafa has some daddy issues of his own, which is why he wants Max to understand both Roy and Gideon want the best for him despite the mistakes muddled between. As their conversation drizzles off, there’s a dissipation of the legal boundary lines, Rafa’s hand grazing Max’s knee.
The disco ball cuts its silhouette against the club’s walls as Julien and Zoya hang out on the top deck, telling tales about the group of girls who bullied the latter at her old school. It’s quite sad, really, the amount of pain attached to Zoya believing she had any part in her mother’s death. Julien reminds her she had lupus and that starting now, this day will be spent celebrating Zoya. Otto’s already on it, booking a suite at the Greenwich Hotel. Rafa and Max are kissing, stripping themselves of all clothes. Aki’s hand is held in Audrey’s grip, pledging they’ll deal with life’s occurrences together. Davis and Nick are carpooling. Blowing out the candle on this episode are Julien and Zoya dressed in matching bathrobes.
Gossip Girl airs on HBO Max on Thursdays, with episodes coming out weekly.