R29 Binge Club: Z: The Beginning Of Everything Episodes 1-10 Recap

Welcome to Zelda Fitzgerald: The Lifetime Original Movie. Okay, so Z: The Beginning of Everything is actually an Amazon Studios production, and not Lifetime, but there's a very melodramatic Nicholas Sparks vibe happening here. Long story short: You won't feel left out if you only skimmed the CliffsNotes version of The Great Gatsby, though, if that's the case, you should feel ashamed).

Anyway, here we have 36-year-old Christina Ricci playing the 18-year-old Zelda Sayre, an Alabama belle-cum-hellion who catches the eye of one F. Scott Fitzgerald. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl become Jazz Age superstars. Boy and girl get messy and meet tragic ends. That old song and dance.

If you're a sucker for complicated love stories and legendary bad girls, join us as we dive into the real legend of Zelda. Better pour yourself a stiff drink and wrap a feather boa around your neck first.
Photo: Richard Foreman/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Christina Ricci as ballet enthusiast Zelda Sayre
Episode 1

"It was always about me," a blonde-ringleted Christina Ricci purrs in her faux Southern drawl, and we're inclined to believe her. Girl's got attitude, nothing but contempt for her Daddy's rules, and every man eating out of her delicate little hand.

That will soon include F. Scott Fitzgerald (David Hoflin), but Zelda Sayre has yet to meet him at this point. While he's in the army playing Cyrano for his fellow soldiers who write letters to their sweethearts back home, Zelda is doing her best to both charm and shock Montgomery, Alabama society. She skinny-dips, she doesn't wear corsets or stockings, and she sasses snotty shopkeepers Pretty Woman-style.

Her own father (David Straithairn), a man so tightly wound that even his wife calls him "Judge," can't resist calling her a hussy. If this were 2017 and not 1918, she might be a YouTube star or contestant on The Bachelor. Her rebellious streak and man-eater behavior — "I don't wait for anyone," she dismisses a smitten soldier who's about to go to war — is hammered into our heads, but only a shot of her reading Sister Carrie hints at hidden depths.

Finally, we get a plot: Zelda is asked to perform ballet at a local war benefit. Everyone is enchanted, especially a certain blond soldier who looks like he went to barber shop, pointed to a picture of an owl, and nodded.

"Who is that saint?" the soldier, future novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, asks the tuxedo-clad man next to him.

"That's Zelda Sayre," the man smirks. "And she's no saint, Goldilocks."

Zelda, true to her pro flirt status, notices the attention and uses the other man to make Fitzgerald jealous. She kisses, she dances — but he's undeterred. Fitzgerald asks to cut in. Zelda responds by sizing him up and taking it all in.

En fin.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Zelda (Ricci) and Scott (David Hoflin) meet cute.
Episode 2

Back in 1918, single people didn’t have the benefit of using Tinder or Bumble to break the ice with a prospective suitor. They also had shorter lifespans, so romantic matters had to be expedited. Basically, Zelda and Scott have to cut to the chase and blurt out every important detail about themselves before they’ve barely had a chance to take a turn on the dance floor.

Zelda shoots back straight whiskey and talks about free love. She would save herself a lot of time if she just wore a big badge reading, “I’m the girl your mama warned you about.”

Scott, meanwhile, announces that he’ll be a famous writer.

At this point in time, that remains to be seen. He is, however, getting a reputation for being a famous creeper. After the dance, he calls and calls and calls until he finally wrangles an invite to dinner at the Sayre house. Not surprisingly, Judge Sayre is rather dubious about having his daughter be courted by a Yankee. Also, any guy who smirks, “I’m going to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald” when asked about his (still unpublished) writing is just begging to get an eyeroll. Scott, you may have indeed turned out to be a literary giant, but you, sir, are no Lloyd Dobler.

Anyway, Zelda must have a weakness for extreme self-confidence because she’s soon smooching Scott and sneaking out of the house so they can take romantic strolls through the local cemetery. A zombie doesn’t reach out and grab their ankles, sadly.

Back at home, Judge is resigned to having Scott in his life. “Zelda’s gonna do what she’s gonna do.”

And what’s Zelda gonna do? Why, she’s going to lie right down on the cemetery grass and make sweet, sweet love to her man. If this were a teen horror movie, they’d be brutally dispatched by a serial killer. Instead, they emerge suspiciously grass-stain-free and dance in the street.

Something this picture-perfect is bound to crack. Writer Boy gets a rejection letter from the publisher he’d sent his short story to, and reacts by (foreshadowing!) drinking away his sorrows and being ejected from the bar. Judge Sayre happens to see it all. Despite Zelda’s efforts to defend her man, her daddy has written off Scott as an “Irish Yankee hell-raiser” who is “too fond of his liquor.” Sounds about right.

Right now the hell-raiser is oversleeping. A soldier wakes him to inform him that the regiment is moving out. Even though he’s supposedly running ridiculously late and his train (which will take him to camp up north before he's shipped off to Europe) is about to leave the station, Scott finds the time to dash off to Zelda’s house and propose.

“The only I know, darling girl, is, without you, nothing is possible,” he whimpers.

Zelda’s not feeling it. It’s too rushed, and, coming off his writing rejection, it feels wrong.

And if the war had lasted longer, that might have been that. As it happens, peace was brokered about a month later, in November 1918. Scott didn’t even leave his training camp.

Papa Sayre comes rushing into Zelda’s bedroom to tell her the good news. She eyes a stack of letters, no doubt from Goldilocks, and contemplates her next move.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: A white dress, freshly cut grass, and sex: What could possibly go wrong?
Episode 3

It's a year later, and a tux-clad Scott is channeling his own inner Gatsby (or is it Scott Disick?) up in New York City. His new favorite pastimes include mucking it up with his rah-rah pals, violating Prohibition laws, and being that guy at the party who pretends he's going to jump off the ledge because he's so deep and nihilistic.

Zelda is also popping bottles, but it's back home in Montgomery with boring ol' John Sellers by her side. They kiss, and Zelda proves she excellent at both memorizing state capitals and uncorking champagne. She also busies herself with suffragette rallies and fielding shade from Judge Sayre, who makes quips about the "insufferable-gettes." Ah, a man after Trump's own heart.

Despite the presence of Sellers, she and Scott continue to exchange letters. She's told him she won't marry him or move to New York City until he's successfully rewritten his novel. After taking a stab at the Don Draper life and deciding writing copy about cigarettes isn't for him, Scott draws inspiration from his long-distance love's lyrical letters. Before long, he's got a draft for This Side of Paradise, which he manages to sell to Prez from The Wire.

He celebrates by buying Zelda a glittering art deco watch and proposing marriage once again. The timing's a bit awkward: She's just accepted John Sellers' pin. Her mother says she can "put her mind to" settling down with any man. But after talking with her best friends (while they're shaming men visiting a local brothel) about how life is less "fun" after the war, she accepts her true feelings.

"I love him," she tells her parents when she returns home. "Him" is Scott, and it's off to New York she goes. John shows up to wave goodbye, but Ma and Pa Sayre decline to see their daughter off.

Adventure awaits.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Welcome to New York.
Episode 4

Zelda and her sister Tootsie embark on their long train journey to New York City. The trip is uneventful save for the moment Big Sis decides to break the news to non-virgin Zelda about her "conjugal duties." She advises making the room "the darker the better" and to "lie back and think of the magnolias in our garden." Solid advice.

Speaking of trains pulling into the station, the women finally arrive in the Big Apple. Zelda barely has time to smooch Scott before they're whisked off for a rushed, no-frills wedding ceremony in the rectory of St. Patrick's Cathedral, attended only by Tootsie, best man Ludlow, and Scott's agent and his wife. Wham, bam, thank you, ma'am, they're man and wife.

Zelda is next whisked off to her new home, the opulent honeymoon suite at the swanky Biltmore Hotlel. Scott has sold 3,000 copies of This Side of Paradise, and is feeling flush. Before he and his new wife can properly celebrate their union (wink, wink), they've got to host a wild party for his Princeton pals, Zelda's unimpressed sisters, and her childhood friend, actress Talulah Bankhead. Things soon get boozy and boisterous.

"I hope you're ready, because you two are off to the races," the best man warns Zelda.

Her pregnant sister Tilde, meanwhile, can't get off her high horse. She storms out, scolding Zelda for having the wedding without waiting for her to arrive, and for skipping out on traditional details like a photographer. This is why people elope.

Zelda lets her go, but the criticism must sting. She soon calls home to talk to her mother, exaggerating how wonderful everything is. Then she returns to the suite, tries to end the party, and gets ignored.

Her solution: emerging from the bedroom fully naked (and rocking a merkin, in case you were wondering).

"If y'all don't mind, I'd like to have my husband to myself now," she coos. Everyone splits and they sex it up.

Zelda emerges from her post-coital bliss to actually stop and read her husband's book. Hmm. Doesn't it all sound a bit... familiar? Scott lifted her words from the letters she sent him. Instead of hitting hubs with a plagiarism complaint, she takes it as a compliment.

"You made me a part of your wonderful book for the whole world to read?" she asks, ready to swoon from the flattery.

Girl, we need to talk.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: The toast of the town.
Episode 5

The honeymoon’s over but F. Scott Fitzgerald is still the toast of the town. A party at the Algonquin is held to celebrate the fact that his book has sold 20,000 copies in just two weeks. While Scott’s getting drunk and having his ego massaged like a goose about to be turned into foie gras, Zelda’s feeling out of her element. The Bankhead sisters and their poet pal Edna St. Vincent Millay were evidently the Heathers and The Plastics of the Jazz Age. They sneer at Zelda’s wide-eyed attempts to fit in and mock her wardrobe of ruffly pastel frocks. “Girls reeks of Antebellum,” her old pal Talulah quips.

Apparently, Scott has taken notice. He enlists his literary agent’s wife, Anne Ober (Talia Balsam), to take Zelda shopping for a wardrobe of darker, more Manhattan-appropriate ensembles. Anne pressures Zelda, who just wants to wear frilly pink things, to buy a rather severe Jean Patou suit. Over a lunch of Waldorf salad (New Yorker) and tomato finger sandwiches (Southern belle), Anne reveals that Scott had suggested the makeover. Zelda is horrified to learn that she’s married Jimmy Stewart’s character from Vertigo.

It’s bad timing for Scott, whose agent and editor have strong-armed him into doing his first book reading. He needs Zelda’s support, but she instead reads him the riot act for being an “insecure little boy” who is too worried about what other people think. Atta girl.

The argument and Zelda’s absence rattles Scott, and he stumbles through his reading. Afterwards, he comforts himself with booze and attacks the critic Heywood Broun. It’s reminiscent of the scene between Jon Favreau and Oliver Platt in Chef, with the creator (here, Scott) lashing out at the critic (Broun) for not contributing anything. Brown fires back with a sick literary burn about Scott using too many cliches.

Zelda has a heart-to-heart with Luddy (which is what we’re now calling Scott’s best man, Ludlow) and admits to feeling adrift. Once so confident, she’s now lost and unsure of herself in this big city of snobby intellectuals who look down on her Southern charm. A trip to the Ritz in her fancy new suit doesn’t help matters. The Bankheads and Vincent only want to gossip about other women. Having recently been on the receiving end of this, Zelda shuts them down and retreats to the bathroom. She takes in the identical, black-suited ladies flanking her, then grabs a pair of scissors from the attendant’s stash and chops off her hair.

We don’t get a full makeover montage, but Zelda has got a startling new look when she returns to the Biltmore. Her hair has been bobbed and curled, and she’s splashed out on the sparkly pink drop-waist dress she wanted to buy. She looks fantastic.

“I just can’t be like everybody else,” she explains to a stunned but delighted Scott.

He kisses her, and the press close in. People can’t get enough of Zelda 2.0: Flapper Girl.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Zelda's new look.
Episode 6

Thanks to Zelda's restored confidence and flapper girl mystique, the Fitzgeralds are enjoying Kimye-level fame. Scott's pal Townsend wants to up the ante and turn them into Hollywood stars. He's brokering a deal that would have the happy couple star in a big-screen adaptation of This Side of Paradise.

Over martinis in their shared bubble bath (jealous), Zelda admits she's into it. They arrange for a screen test and she consults Talula for acting tips. The actress' catty observation that a career might actually give Zelda some purpose beyond being an "it" girl seems to spur her on even more.

Unfortunately, publisher Max Perkins doesn't like it. He thinks working in Hollywood will "undermine" Scott's career. What he really needs to do is buckle down and write a new book, lest he let upstarts like Sinclair Lewis steal his thunder.

Zelda's crushed when Scott breaks the bad news that he won't do the screen test. He volunteers that she can still go, and that's just what she does. She's stiff at first, but under Townsend's direction, she ultimately gets her confidence back and wins over everyone. United Artists wants her.

All this talk about Sinclair Lewis and his friends' teasing about the lack of writing he's done lately has gotten under Scott's skin. When Zelda and Townsend share the news that a Hollywood career is in the cards for her, he becomes prickly and petty.

"What am I supposed to do, chase you around the country, live off your money?" he retorts. Then he takes his drunken ass onstage, makes a fool out himself, and picks a fight with Townsend. He ends up collapsing on the floor of the cloakroom.

Outside, Zelda is fuming. Luddy breaks it down: Scott is lost without her, and her pursuing other opportunities frightens him. When she balks that that's not fair, he hits her with this: "Isn't that what you signed up for?"

It must be, because the episode ends with Zelda returning to her husband, still in a pickled pile in the cloakroom. Womp.
Photo: Giovanni Rufino/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Zelda makes herself at home at the Biltmore.
Episode 7

Things are not so hot right now. Still in their co-dependent fog, the Fitzgeralds have become increasingly boozy and irresponsible. They're also broke, judging by the way the Biltmore's hotel manager shouts at them to settle their bill every time he spies them in the lobby. Scott knows his book sales have leveled off and fears he doesn't have the talent to produce a second book. Zelda finds herself exhausted by the effort of constantly having to prop him up.

An invitation from an old professor to speak at Princeton perks Scott up. He and Zelda head to his alma mater with pals Bunny and Ludlow and new friend Harvey Firestone Jr. along for the ride. Upon arrival, it becomes clear that Scott didn't actually graduate. He and Zelda soon start acting up; she pretends to be his mistress and they almost have a Gone Girl moment in the library. They're interrupted by a young fan, Lawrence, and instantly adopt him as a protégé, mostly so they can have more validation.

Annoyed that the campus bookstore isn't even selling his book, Scott takes the liberty of signing every other book in the place. He's then outraged to discover that his speech is sparsely attended by a dozen or so old professors. There's a baseball game on, his host explains.

Per usual, he has a few drinks under his belt. Instead of delivering the speech he'd prepared, a contemptuous Scott heaps insults on his audience, calling them fools, eunuchs, and, ah yes, frauds. Even Lawrence wants nothing to do with him. To top it all off, Harvey punches his lights out and the Fitzgeralds lose their ride. On the train home, he chews his lit cigarette whole. Someone needs a Rescue Remedy, STAT.

It gets worse. They reach the Biltmore and find their luggage stacked up in the lobby. The manager is kicking them out and demanding they pay the bill. Scott's reaction is to argue. Zelda's reaction is to zone out and spin 'round and 'round through revolving doors, singing deliriously. An alarmed Scott loses it and stops her.

"We can't keep doing this," he says, crouching opposite her. "I love you but we are out of money."

Turns out he's so stressed because Zelda has spent all of his money. He needs to write more stories, and he needs his wife to stop ordering Victrolas and champagne. Yeah, yeah, it's all her fault.

This barely seems to register with Zelda, but she acknowledges his tantrum.

"Let's go somewhere where you can write," she agrees, still looking very much like a broken doll.

Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Everyone wants Zelda's journal.
Episode 8

So it's out of the Biltmore and into a gleaming-white beach house in Westport. Zelda and Scott are settling down like "real marrieds," even if their only furniture is a hammock. They're convinced life outside of the city will allow Scott to write a second novel while bringing them closer together. They've got it all figured out.

"Nobody's got a right to live but us," Zelda smirks from her hammock.

Scott throws himself into writing while Zelda aspires to be the perfect homemakers. She cleans, she swims, she sets grease fires when she tries to cook (more foreshadowing!). Before long, she's desperately bored and frustrated that Scott won't come out of his study to play.

His solution is to hire Tana, a flute-playing, totally Zen housekeeper from the "Japanese Reliable Employment Agency." Really. While it's nice to be able to hand off her chores, Zelda soon bristles at Tana's utter perfection and efforts to shield her from Scott while he's writing.

Not that he's actually doing much writing. Late one night Zelda discovers that Scott has only managed a few pages of random thoughts. He's also getting material from her own journal, but still has the gall to mansplain how her "automatic writing" is so much easier. It doesn't go unnoticed that his study is filled with empty gin bottles.

In an effort to cheer his wife up, Scott invites friends over for a party. (Poor Tana, whose flute is swiftly manhandled.) The guests include his editor Maxwell Perkins. In a scene that feels eerily like that Trump press conference with all those (probably empty) file folders, Scott tries to convince the unimpressed Perkins that he's got more material than it seems. Quality over quantity, right? He then proceeds to invite Perkins to read Zelda's journal. WTF.

The party is heaving, but Zelda's had enough with this crowd, half of whom are naked and having sex. The other half is doing blow on her piano. The final straw is hearing Scott try to explain to Vincent what she "does."

"She loves me," he shrugs. "She's Zelda. She doesn't have to do anything."

But she does do something: she writes. Come morning, Perkins comes in to rave about her (private) journal entries. A flicker of annoyance flashes across Zelda's face before she realizes that she might have her own shot at being published. Diary of a Popular Girl? Who wouldn't want that distinguished title in their bibliography?

Per usual, Scott has to shit all over it. He needs Zelda's journal for his own writing. If she publishes it and gets credit for her own work, he won't have anyone to copy. Doesn't that just make you want to scream into a pillow?

Scott's just finished his big "our sum total is greater than our parts" speech when someone knocks on the door. A peeved Zelda goes to answer, and finds Ma and Pa Sayre standing there. They look pretty chirpy considering they must have had to step over half a dozen naked, booze-soaked bodies to get to the front door.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: The not-so-happy host.
Episode 9

The Sayres are here, and Zelda does her best to pretend that she doesn't always have barfing, semi-dressed people lounging around her home. She tries to shoo everyone out and clean up the cocktail glasses, but her main problem is Scott. He's not making an effort to be a welcoming host, and he makes it clear that he since her parents hate him anyway, he doesn't feel obliged to help them out. He does however, introduce Judge to Vincent, though she quickly scares the poor man off with her appraisal that he has a "poetic soul."

Tana, meanwhile, takes Mrs. Sayre upstairs, where she almost passes out upon two half-clothed men snoozing in her bed. Don't worry about her: She'll soon be happily sipping Between the Sheets cocktails with the Bankheads and contemplating lesbianism.

Zelda tries to explain the situation to her father out on the beach, and this seems to pacify him. Before long, he's playing darts in the study with Scott. The conversation, however, predictably devolves into a pissing contest, with Judge remaking how his judicial work is surely more vital than Scott's "scribbling." Then he announces that he hasn't even read Scott's book. Picture Salt Bae hovering over Scott's open wound.

Surprise, surprise, this information inspires Scott to show up drunk to the quiet family dinner Zelda's planned. He bristles at Judge's comments and calls him out for not reading his book. Then he demands Tana fetch him more gin. Zelda protests, and soon they're wrestling over a bottle while her parents watch in horror. A plate comes crashing down near Zelda's head, ending the scuffle. She sits back down at the table and delivers one last wallop.

"Need me to write this up in my diary for ya, or you think you got this covered on your own?"

Scott stalks off.

Later, Mama Sayre bursts into tears. "They're gonna use each other up," she wisely diagnoses between sobs. When Zelda wakes, her parents are gone.

Scott, who has already resumed drinking straight from the bottle even though it's still morning, seems unfazed. Zelda storms out to the beach. She ignores her husband's calls, but takes a moment to let the lovely Townsend comfort her. We all know how Scott will react to that.

When Zelda comes back to the house she spies Eugenia Bankhead giving Scott a blow job. Rather than storm in and attack them with that damn ukulele, she rushes to her room and packs her bags. She's just putting them into the car when Scott twigs that she's leaving him.

"I feel like I'm losing everything," she cries. "I need to go home."

They just stand there, contemplating. Tana, we assume, is in his room, playing his flute and praying the JREA gets him another placement.
Photo: Nicole Rivelli/Amazon Prime Video.
Pictured: Ready for her close-up.
Episode 10

Pro tip: If you're going to leave your husband and go home to your husband, don't bring him along.

Zelda and Scott's road trip to Montgomery is basically a Jazz Age version of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, minus the shower rings. They bicker about songs. They bicker about getting lost. They commit to sobriety by flinging a bottle of gin out of the care. They get stuck in Virginia when a wheel comes flying off their Ford.

For a hot second Scott pretends he's going to fix the wheel himself in his pristine white suit. Instead, it's the Black man whose yard they've skidded into who gets the honors. Zelda bonds with his young daughter, whose big dream is to make it to Richmond. Zelda gifts her a map, but warns her to not be in such a rush to chase the world.

The wheel is repaired and Zelda gives the man a $5 tip. He responds by questioning Scott's decision to "let" her drive.

"Of course," Scott says. "She is my queen."

Unfortunately, said queen has just coughed up the dregs of their income. Scott now informs her that they're out of money. To save a few bucks, she impetuously drives through a toll barrier, then hits a deer.

The deer is still alive and suffering, and Zelda is heartsick. Scott refuses to do anything and insists they keep driving. That triggers an argument that starts with cruelty to animals, veers into sexism, and lands at that blow job from Eugenia Bankhead.

"I was drunk," Scott protests.

This argument shouldn't fly anyway, but especially not when a person is wasted 24/7. Zelda challenges him, he points out her chat with Townsend, and they haggle over what kind of marriage they want to have.

"I wish you hadn't thrown out that gin," she muses, wistfully. No kidding.

But there's nothing like an encounter with a backwards redneck to bring a couple closer together. The Fitzgeralds stop at a hotel for the night. The proprietor, a beefy specimen wearing overalls and rocking the Noo-York-Citaaa accent from the old Pace Picante commercials, takes one look at Zelda's knickerbockers and denies them a room. He'll not be having a "Yankee bed bunny" in trousers staying at his place.

What's a girl to do? Zelda strips off her pants, prompting ol' Floyd to waddle off and call the sheriff. They grab their clothes and Floyd's bulldog statue and hightail it outta there.

A tow truck ride later, they finally arrive at the Sayre home in Montgomery. One problem: Nobody's home, presumably because they're still up north with Tilde.

Scott tries to assuage Zelda's panic by promising her the world. They can go to Paris, or Cairo, or wherever. For some reason, she buys it.

"I only want to be with you anyway," she tells him.

They seek refuge in the local country club, where Zelda runs into her old pals Eleanor and John. They fill her in on the latest gossip, and she gets that epiphany that most people gets when they return home: I'm so over this joint. Then she goes to the powder room and pukes, for the second time this episode.

Bad clams? Nope. She's pregnant.

And that's a wrap on season 1. Will there be a season 2? There's still so much of the story left to tell. Hell, the word "Gatsby" hasn't even been uttered yet.

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