Each week Joe and Terry discuss the most recent episodes of HBO Max’s Genera+ion, alternating between our respective sites.
Spoilers follow for Season 1, Episodes 12-13, “The High Priestess” and “There’s Something About Hamburger Mary’s”
Hmm, where to begin with this pair of episodes, Terry? I’m a little flummoxed because we were so concerned about Riley (Chase Sui Wonders) for the last three episodes, so naturally Genera+ion completely sidelines her.
“The High Priestess” is an episode wholly dedicated to arguably the show’s least likeable character – Arianna (Nathanya Alexander) – and it proves to be not only a great showcase for the actress, but also a solid piece of character resuscitation. We talked before the break that the show appeared to be making deliberate efforts to soften Arianna, and this is another step in that direction. Surprisingly enough, when you dedicate a whole episode to a character, the audience gets to know them better!
Episode 12 is an episode that doesn’t stretch the show’s narrative boundaries – this is a pretty straightforward “day in the life of” episode that doesn’t feature temporal or perspective jumps. It’s just Arianna, struggling to connect with everyone – from her gay dads, Joe (J. August Richards) and Patrick (John Ross Bowie), to her besties, Delilah (Lukita Maxwell) and Naomi (Chloe East).
What I like is how the episode opens with the usual Arianna abrasiveness as she rails against her dads’ “abusive” behaviour (for buying light tampons, for ruining her bras in the wash, for not listening to her). She’s being ridiculous…until the next scene at Winter Formal committee when her concerns about not being heard are rendered true by a pair of twerpy boys who talk over her and dismiss her ideas at every turn. Suddenly it’s clear why Arianna is feeling powerless and lashing out.
“The High Priestess” doesn’t do much more than make it clear that Arianna feels invisible and overlooked. The bits about being a witch and forming a coven are amusing, if only because it reminds me of a far less serious update on The Craft, replete with an enterprising social media witch who educates them on casting spells before peddling her voice and movement classes.
Clearly the callbacks to the cold opens from the first half of the season involving Delilah giving birth in a Panda Express bathroom are laying the groundwork for a big reveal down the line (rumours are already swirling!). It’s been interesting to see how the show kinda hasn’t addressed the fall-out from “The Last Shall Be First” when everyone rallied around Delilah to drop off her baby at a fire station, so I’m curious to see if there’s more to this story line moving forward. Or maybe it’ll be left behind in the bra aisle?
Ultimately, it’s episode 13 that is filled with far more interesting character beats. This episode finds Genera+ion returning to its “1 day, 3 perspectives” narrative structure with a focus on the impact of Nathan (Uly Schlesinger)’s “fake boyfriend” scheme on both his mom, Megan (Martha Plimpton), as well as Chester (Justice Smith) and Bo (Marwan Salama)’s now-official relationship. It also marks the end of Greta (Haley Sanchez) and Lucia (Marisela Zumbado)’s relationship.
Terry, I’ll kick it back to you. What are your thoughts on Arianna’s “big” episode? How bad an idea is Delilah and Naomi’s weird/progressive choice to engage in a teen throuple with Cooper (Diego Josef)? And how did we not know that Aunt Ana (Nava Mau) is trans?!?!
Genera+ion is really stepping up and putting in the work in this back half, Joe, and this sort of re-introduction to Arianna perfectly encapsulates how good the show can be. You already mentioned the one-two punch of her dealing with her dads and their lack of tampon understanding followed up to the Winter Formal planning committee where she can’t get a single word in. What I loved about this sequence is the way the camera lingers in a close-up of her face and we get to see Nathanya’s fantastic physical acting. The frustration of trying not to be frustrated and trying to be polite and not get angry.
The show doesn’t say this, but through her subtle actions, you can tell Arianna is trying not to fall into the “angry black woman” stereotype. That she is actively holding herself back and it becomes a subtle and frustrating experience because we want her to cut these boys down. Genera+ion has excelled at putting us in the perspectives of the characters when it does an episode like this, and it’s fantastically infuriating.
It also provides a dichotomy because we see her holding back the entire episode only to unleash her fury by the end when the boy, who spent the episode interrupting her, culturally appropriates the French (complete with a baguette) and wants her to go to the formal with him. “Every boy on this fucking planet is a fucking parasite and every girl who puts a boy in front of her friends is diseased,” she shouts. Mic drop; gas + match explosion.
It’s equally frustrating, though, to watch this “coven” start out with proclamations of girls before boys and wanting to protect each other and be there for each other, only for it to crumble when it becomes inconvenient. The progression from girls rule, boys drool to establishing a throuple that will cut out one of their members is casually cruel. And like Chester, Bo and Nathan’s fake relationship situation, this isn’t going to end well for Naomi and Delilah. Their proclamations of “sister wives for life” will tear them apart because I don’t think either of them have the emotional maturity (right now) to successfully navigate this relationship.
Transitioning to “There’s Something About Hamburger Mary’s”, we see the results of the Chester/Nathan fake relationship. Chester trying to explain the situation to Bo shows just how fucked up the idea actually is. The fact he keeps trying to tell Bo but isn’t able to get it out should have been the warning sign that maybe this wasn’t a great idea after all. It’s a whole lot for Bo to take in, too. What I like about Bo is that he presents a different perspective to gay culture. We’ve talked before about how he’s into roleplaying games and assigns character alignments as if they’re astrological signs. He’s more traditional and introverted than Chester. On their date, he shows up in a suit jacket for Rocky Horror Picture Show because he didn’t have any appropriate clothes while Chester showed up sporting his best Frank-N-Furter corset.
Here we get further info into how different the two characters are, as Chester doesn’t see anything wrong with this fake relationship while Bo wants monogamy. Regardless of the veracity of Chester and Nathan’s fauxlationship, Bo sees this as a betrayal. Worse, though, is that Bo might see Chester’s cruelty in agreeing to do this for Nathan. It’s, again, a subtle moment (that will probably blow up eventually) that is reflected in two bits of dialogue.
First, the fact that Chester went from his bad date with Bo to a fake date with Nathan (involving a kiss to boot) while Bo went home and cried. Then Bo follows this statement up with the thing we’re all thinking: “you know he’s sort of in love with you but you’re just pretending to be in love with him?” Without saying “cruel,” Bo is totally saying it’s cruel. By this point, though, Bo has completely given up and tells Chester he can put his arm on Nathan “or whatever.”
The only saving grace is the fact that Chester says he loves Bo…which…considering Bo just called him his boyfriend for the first time (in a hilarious little conversation with a drag queen outside Hamburger Mary’s) seems like quite the escalation.
You mentioned Ana as a transwoman (and drag queen) and I was gagged when she came on the stage. How transcendent of a reveal was that? Obviously, fans of the actress Nava Mau probably know she is trans, but I (like you) had no idea. For twelve episodes, she’s just been Greta’s hilarious and accepting aunt, who’s been looking out for her while Greta’s mom was deported.
And the way the show introduces her queerness this episode felt revelatory because it didn’t make a big deal about it; it wasn’t the focus of a “very special” episode. It normalized her experience in such a fantastic way. All we get is a scene of her getting ready and having all of these rituals in place for good luck (oh I said it, I need to go spin in circle three times and spit) and a statement that at least Sela (Patricia De Leon), Ana’s sister and Greta’s mom, is at least using her pronouns correctly now.
Genera+ion continues its assured direction in these two episodes and the storytelling is really a step up from the first half of the season. So, Joe. We’ve talked about Arianna’s big episode and how the show is showing empathy for her character and her attitude. I’m curious if you find similar sympathy for Nathan’s mom, Megan? This is the second show we’ve watched in the last month where a religious mom struggles with her son’s sexuality and I’m wondering if you find her struggles equally interesting? And, speaking subtly of Love, Victor…we get another brief shot of Anthony Keyvan’s Pablo (who also plays Rahim in Love, Victor) as Riley leaves the restaurant with him! What do you think of this whole quartet of Greta, Lucia, Riley and, now, Pablo?
I’m glad you put the work into “The High Priestess”, Terry, because in reviewing this, I definitely didn’t give it its flowers. Yes, it’s a pretty standard “day in the life of” episode, but all of the gendered interactions throughout, particularly the way that teen girls are willing to sacrifice their homosocial relationships at the drop of a hat when a hot boy cruises by, is heartbreaking. The shift in excitement from the protection spell in the bathroom to the cardboard throuple revelation in the bra section is whiplash and the Delilah and Naomi’s lack of recognition how much Arianna needs them to be there for her is disappointing and even a little bit cruel.
Now, with all of that said, there’s something quietly powerful about the episode’s final scene when Joe and Patrick, after being told by a clearly upset Arianna that she doesn’t want to talk, return to her room quietly with bowls of ice cream that they all eat in silence. As gay men, they may not understand all of her teen girl issues, but their unabashed love for their sixteen year old daughter shines through.
The unabashed love for a troubled minor is less evident in all of Megan’s scenes in Hamburger Mary’s. The struggle is real with this one, Terry!
We knew there was drama afoot in “The High Priestess” when Megan tries to leverage Arianna, Delilah and Naomi’s support for her hard-line parenting technique against Joe and Patrick. Megan’s levels of compartmentalization seemingly know no bounds considering how often she insults her gay friends in her dismissal of their validity and worth. Not unlike Love, Victor’s Isabel, Megan can’t simply turn off her conservative religious background just because she’s raising of a queer teen, but Megan also isn’t really trying very hard.
That mother/son date night turns into a combative push and pull over attending a queer teen suicide prevention fundraiser is the perfect synthesis. As a member of the PTA, even Megan should be able to see the value of an event like this, but her defense mechanisms are on high from the moment Nathan brings it up (in an admittedly confrontational way). Kudos, as always, to Martha Plimpton for making Megan so egregiously unlikeable without losing the character’s humanity. The karaoke bit that closes the episode, in which Megan sings “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree in a halting, off-key voice while crying, could signal that moment when Megan’s perspective begins to change. Genera+ion has never really taken the easy way out for its character development, so we shall see if Megan continues to “be the boat” in the future.
There’s plenty of other great stuff at Hamburger Mary’s (the regular objectification of Sam Trammell’s DILF-y Mark is great, as is the suggestion that Megan looks like famed drag queen Pandora). As for Greta and Lucia, I’m pretty happy with this resolution. It’s been clear from the start that Greta hasn’t been fully invested in a relationship with Lucia, who has been really patient with her hot & cold behaviour. Here Greta’s divided attitude – due in part to Riley’s nearby proximity, but also her discomfort showing affection in public – winds up being the straw that broke the lesbian teen romance and Lucia finally opts to walk away. There are no fire works; no accusations of infidelity. Just a quietly heartbreaking moment when the skater girl asks Greta if she’s even gay (which, fair, because a lot of Greta’s reactions are reminiscent of a closeted person).
Naturally, in a conventional love-oriented narrative, the end of Lucia and Greta should open the door for Riley to swoop in, but when Greta tells her the news that she’s single, Pablo is already creeping in behind. Good, subtle face acting from Sui Wonders as Riley realizes Greta’s available juuuuust as Pablo slings his arm over her shoulders. Don’t worry, ladies, your day will come (just not today)!
Maybe next week, Terry? We’ll just have to wait and see when we jump back to your site, Gayly Dreadful for episodes 14 & 15.
Genera+ion airs Thursdays on HBO Max