Gossip Girl has never shied away from a good feud. From the ole days of the original Serena vs. Blair showdowns to the new and improved battle royale between half-sisters Julien (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya (Whitney Peak). In season one episode four of the HBO Max reboot, titled “Fire Walks with Z,” the dueling pair go head to head on Zoya’s birthday.
Zoya’s birthday is a complicated day for the sisters since their mother, who had a long battle with lupus, died while giving birth to Zoya. Zoya refuses to celebrate her birthday on this day because she carries around a lot of guilt about the passing of her mother. She would rather save the pomp and circumstance for another time, but this year is different. Julien’s two conniving best friends Luna (Zión Moreno) and Monet (Savannah Lee Smith) have been scheming on how to put Julien back on top of the social food chain. They decide the best way to do it is to drive a wedge between the sisters by convincing Julien to throw a huge party that upstages Zoya’s special day. Zoya and Julien’s fathers are not having it and convince the two of them to have a combined party.
What could possibly go wrong?
To protect herself from any social destruction Julien might cause, Zoya recruits new-comer Milo (Azhy Robertson), a 10-year-old expert hacker who deploys Russian bots to cancel Julien on Twitter for a fat-shaming tweet from years ago. However, Queen of Mean Julien still manages to win the war by pulling the worse stunt of all: projecting a video of Zoya getting bullied at her former high school to the entire party. Julien immediately regrets it after realizing how upsetting the full video gets at the end and asks everyone at the party to take out their phones and film her making a vow that she will never bully again. It’s both sincere and performative, on par for Julien.
Meanwhile, the cast’s strongest actor, Thomas Doherty (The Lodge), who portrays Max Wolfe, is mentally spiraling since he feels responsible for his father’s failing marriage. His drug addiction and anxiety is so convincing that it’s hard now to watch without getting choked up with him. But things take a steamy turn when he shows up at his teacher Mr. Rafa’s (Jason Gotay) house and they sleep together.
After a very stagnant few episodes, this made for some of the old-fashioned Gossip Girl drama viewers were waiting for. Lavish parties gone wrong. Doubling down on drama. Elicit affairs. The works. However, this episode did follow the same exact formula every other episode has mirrored which is having Julien do something to hurt Zoya, and them always finding a way to make amends at the end. It’s certainly not grounds for an iconic feud and is getting predictable.
This episode had few open-ended questions left to be answered, but one thing that lingers is the student-teacher affair. If Gossip Girl gets a hold of this information, then things will really get interesting.