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, Episode 16, “V-Day”.
Love is in the air, Terry, because it’s the day of the big Winter Formal! And wouldn’t you know it: everything goes swimmingly and no one has any issues and everyone lives happily ever after!
Because this is Genera+ion (and because we’ve reached the finale of S1), everything basically goes to shit, just as we’ve been anticipating for the last few episodes. This finale really does have everything: break-ups! Propositions! Secrets exposed!
Let’s begin with that last category. As predicted, nearly* all of the secrets and lies come out, including that Riley (Chase Sui Wonders) is responsible for Megan (Martha Plimpton) learning that Nathan (Uly Schlesigner) and Chester (Justice Smith)’s relationship was fake. Also: Delilah (Lukita Maxwell) learns that Naomi (Chloe East) told Cooper (Diego Josef) that she is Panda Express Girl, which she proudly owns up to at the party.
*The exception is that Greta (Haley Sanchez) still doesn’t know that Riley slept with Lucia (Marisela Zumbado) on the aborted San Francisco trip. Riley is juuuust about to tell her, but she’s interrupted by Nathan.
On the break-up front, insecure Bo (Marwan Salama) dumps Chester for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to the latter boy. And, unsurprisingly, Mark (Sam Trammell) announces to Megan that they should take a break after she torpedoes their Valentine’s dinner.
Finally, on the proposition front: Lucia tells Riley that she likes her, while Greta announces that she loves Riley, but that’s she aromantic (she doesn’t use the term, but her confession that she doesn’t like to kiss or want to have sex are clear indicators). And, finally, Nathan rejects Chester’s drunken advance after the smitten boy rescues the water polo player from a near drowning.
It’s a lot, Terry, which explains why the finale is nearly double the length of all of the other S1 episodes. But the finale never feels drawn out or padded: there’s a lot of paying off to be done and “V-Day” expertly navigates the interpersonal drama as seamlessly as director Daniel Barnz and director of photography Laura M Gonçalves move the camera around the party.
“V-Day”also isn’t as structurally daring as a lot of the other Genera+ion episodes we’ve discussed of late, but Barnz and Gonçalves’ filming style gives it a zippy energy that’s not unlike being at a real party. We’re constantly catching snippets of conversations, veering in and out of rooms, then ducking back out. It’s a fluid, dynamic way to keep track of the vast number of subplots that Genera+ion has been juggling (Credit also to Daniel Barnz and his daughter Zelda for maintaining the balancing act at the script level).
So Terry, there’s a lot to unpack here, but I’m curious about which elements of the episode stood out to you? Have we circled back to being worried about Chester, who finds himself up on the roof where he started in the pilot. Were you surprised that Nathan resisted Chester’s advances? Who will Riley choose? And do we really care about Delilah and Cooper as a couple now that the throuple experiment is seemingly dead?
What a finale, Joe! While I completely agree that structurally the episode isn’t as adventurous as some of the earlier episodes, but it may still be my favorite because of the way it feels like one long continuous take. It’s not, of course (the camera cuts to different angles throughout), but from the very beginning of the episode to the end, there’s a frenetic feel that made me incredibly anxious. Like the characters, we’re only getting part of the stories and the way the narrative whips in and out of them like clockwork was both kind of hilarious, but also horrifying in a weird way.
Towards the beginning of the episode, Nathan and Riley are talking in what amounts to “I have to tell you something…” but “V-Day” smartly interrupts the conversation, much like it constantly interrupts the characters’ and their intentions. One of my favorite comedic moments is when Sydney Mae Diaz’s J (a character I would like to see more of in season two, please) announces that the party has “some serious Red Wedding vibes” because you just know bad things are coming. We get Arianna boldly declaring, “I recommend not fucking with a witch” and we have Megan FaceTiming Nathan to catch him in a lie and we get Delilah asking Riley if it’s okay if they bury the placenta in her yard. Things that have been building up all season come to light and explode in a ferocious way.
My favorite moment is the dangerously flirtatious moment between Chester and Nathan. After Nathan saves him from drowning, the two of them sit on the bed. It’s the way the camera focuses on the intimate moments between them: the touch of a hand, the brief whisper of nudity, the implicit invitation for Nathan to join Chester in the bathroom. It’s full of tension because we understand Nathan’s absolute desire. Here’s a boy he’s lusted after and loved for an entire season, begging him to make the move. But, of course, Chester declared earlier that he wanted to get black-out wasted, so he’s not himself, prompting Nathan to do the right thing. So he doesn’t press any romantic overtures, but this scene is still brimming with real honest and raw emotion.
On the flip side, no I don’t particularly care about Cooper/Delilah/Naomi’s throuple/monogamous situation. Naomi has proven to be a very funny character throughout this season, but she’s stuck with two rather bland characters. Cooper is a good boy in the puppiest definition and Delilah’s struggle with her surprise pregnancy is an interesting character beat but she’s been stuck to it for eight episodes. Neither of them seem to have the comedic chops that Chloe East’s Naomi does and so none of their interactions really work for me.
As for Riley, I have to think that she will want to go with Greta…I’m just not sure how Greta will feel when she realizes the two girls she’s been interested in have had this secret shared between them for half a season.
Which brings me to Chester. In a madcap episode filled with tension, the choice to end with Chester back on the giant rooftop lettering and calling back Sam (and the first half of the season) is troubling. A moment towards the end of his phone call had me worried we’d see him slide off the lettering and immediately brought back the worry that began the season: Chester hides his emotions (either internally or via chemicals) in order to avoid dealing with heartache. It’s obviously destructive, but the giant smile that brightens his face when he realizes that someone is there shows that maybe he can find peace. I hope he can.
I’m going to turn it back to you with a final question, but before I do, I have to say how much I ended up loving Genera+ion. Taking that break in the middle of the season was smart because it both re-centered the storyline and took some more assured choices in its structure, but it also made me realize how much I loved these weirdos. I’m incredibly invested in their lives and struggles! The second half of the season did a surprise trick of taking young adult tropes and twisting them in inventive ways that elevated the season and these last few episodes cemented Genera+ion as a Must-Watch teen dramedy. I have to give the first season a strong A.
What about you, Joe: What are your final thoughts of the season as a whole? And who do you think brought such a giant grin to Chester’s face?
That truly is the $64K question, isn’t it, Terry? Who could bring such a smile to such a despondent boy when they’re at their most troubled?
Part of me thinks that it could be Riley, if only because the co-dependent relationship between the pair of them has really shone through in the back half of the season. But considering that it was Sam who began this journey with him, and it’s Sam who he calls to shepherd him through the night, I have to think that it’s the guidance counsellor, making an ill-advised “after hours” health check on a student he cares deeply (but not romantically!) for.
Upon reflection, it really has been Chester anchoring everything hasn’t it? I’m thinking back to the start of the season, when we didn’t know what the show would be, and the three primary characters were very firmly Chester, Nathan and Greta. The latter two have ebbed and flowed in terms of their screen time, but Chester – and Justice Smith’s performance – has always remained front and center. It’s been a pleasant surprise, however, to get to know Riley, and Ana, and Megan (that last one in all of the wrong ways). Genera+ion has truly expanded and built out its roster of great characters over the course of these sixteen episodes in a way that wasn’t clear when the show began.
And that’s where I sit as we wrap up our coverage of S1, Terry.
This is a show that I have come to adore; that I have been happy to sit down in the mornings and watch with coffee or stay up late with a glass of wine. I have so much emotional investment in this myriad crew, which includes characters (like Arianna, and Lucia, and even Bo) that I didn’t even have an interest in when they were first introduced. I will honestly be gutted if HBO Max doesn’t renew Genera+ion because it’s not only vital YA and it’s not only expertly crafted, but it’s probably the show with the most empathetic cast of characters from any TV show I’ve watched in the last year.
For all of those reasons, I agree wholeheartedly with you: Genera+ion’s first season is a solid A.
And I need more of it ASAP.
Genera+ion has finished airing its first season on HBO Max