(Warning: This post contains spoilers through Episode 9 of “Gossip Girl” Season 1.)
At the end of Episode 8 of “Gossip Girl” Season 1, Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak) managed to overcome the damage that was done to their sisterhood by Julien sleeping with Obie (Eli Brown). But the pain they put aside isn’t replaced with joy, but rather horror, as Zoya comes to Julien’s aid when Julien discovers evidence that her music mogul father Davis Calloway (Luke Kirby) committed sexual acts with multiple heavily intoxicated women over the years, taking advantage of them in ways they couldn’t remember the next day.
The choice to take the show in this “very sensitive” direction — that becomes even more complicated in Episode 9, when Julien decides to try to find her father’s victims and help them encourage them to speak out — was made by the HBO Max series’ creator, who worked on the original “Gossip Girl.”
“On the first show, I’ve always said, every season, the ultimate big bad wasn’t Gossip Girl, but one of the parents,” Safran said, referring to The CW series that ran for six seasons from 2007-2012. “Whether it was Lily doing something on behalf of Serena by getting a character thrown in jail. Or it was Bart Bass, in the numerous things that he had done wrong. Like, Rufus and Lily lying about having a child, there was always the sins of the parents coming down upon the kids. And that was actually worse than Gossip Girl. So I knew I wanted to bring that DNA into the new series.”
Safran continued: “And I have always very interested in looking at the fact that when people do terrible things and we are very quick to, understandably, be like, that is a terrible thing, we often don’t take into account what it’s like for their family members who have to live with that as deeply as anybody. So really wanting to take a look at what it’s like when you know a person to be one way, who is so close to you, and you actually realize is another way, and it calls into question everything about who you are and what you believe and how you put your trust and faith into people. And even if you were not responsible in any way, you are still a part of it forever.”
It was important to Safran and HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” team that the story — which Safran pitched to the WarnerMedia-owned streaming service before the reboot show was even picked up — be handled delicately and truthfully and that Kirby and Alexander know the specifics well in advance.
“That story is a very sensitive thing, but it’s very much in the world,” Safran said. “The writers, we talked a lot about our lives and came across issues where someone very close to us turned out to be a different way than we thought and how we wrestled with it… We talked a lot about abuses of power amongst your own family members.”
While Safran says he’s not trying to pat himself, his writers, cast and crew on the back for what they are doing, he says he’s proud that HBO Max’s “Gossip Girl” is focused on not using this story “for shock value” and that “it reverberates forever” throughout the season — and even the series.
At the end of Episode 9, Julien’s mistakenly outed as trying to silence Riley — a singer who is prepared to come forward with accusations against Davis — due to Kate (Tavi Gevinson) recording her on Gossip Girl’s Instagram Live at the wrong point in a conversation that Kate actually thought would help Julien’s image by showing her taking Riley’s side. Julien was trying to ask Riley just to hold off while they sort out the legal implications of Riley’s manager initially lying on her behalf, due to the guidance given to Julien by Zoya’s lawyer father, Nick — but it definitely didn’t look that way on social media and now Julien is being canceled.
“Obviously, that reverberates through the second half of the second season in two ways,” Safran said. “One, it makes Kate wonder whether this entire experiment of doing Gossip Girl was the wrong thing to do because she started it in an attempt to try to sort of control an outcome in a positive way. And she’s very quickly learned that you can’t control anything. So the question is, if you can’t control anything, what exactly do you do? So Kate comes to a big sort of inflection point at the end of Episode 11, where she makes an incredibly big choice that I think will surprise viewers, as regards to the future of Gossip Girl.”
Safran added: “The, on the other side, Julien, she really is learning that — which I think is a story that we all learn about social media, especially influencers — how you also cannot control your narrative. You cannot control how you appear. You think you can. But it just takes one person to burst that bubble that you so carefully curated your entire life. So not only is her personal bubble burst by her father, but also now her public-persona bubble has been burst by Gossip Girl. And so once the world assumes you’re somebody, even if you’re not that person, you can’t actually convince them otherwise. So the question for Julian is, can she live in a world that sees her the wrong way? Will she let herself live in the world that way? Or will she do something to change it? And that’s where we take it for the rest of the episodes.”
You can find our interview with Safran about Episode 7’s “maximum drama” Thanksgiving dinner scene here.
“Gossip Girl” Season 1 concludes its first season next Thursday with the launch of Episodes 10-12.