You wouldn’t expect The Circle to get emotional. The Netflix reality show is about a bunch of strangers trying to rise in popularity amongst a gaggle of people they can’t even see. And they’re using an all-knowing app to accomplish that very 21st century task while trapped in a living situation that looks a lot like brightly colored house arrest. The Circle should be the highest form of isolation in the digital age.
But that isn't the case, and it hasn't been from the very beginning. The second batch of The Circle season 1 episodes continue that warm-and-fuzzy trend by setting the stage for one of the series’ most emotional conversations yet. Somehow, this revelation comes down to a cliffhanger and a catfish.
Towards the close of “The Player I’m Saving Is…” newer player Sean — a plus-size woman who is playing with her real name and the photos of her straight-size friend Colleen — is overwhelmed by the pressure of living life as a catfish. Following a painting challenge, the 25-year-old realizes she no longer wants to “feel like a liar.” First, she reaches out to Chris, the king of positivity in The Circle. She tells Chris, “I have to be honest. I have a secret.” Chris is receptive to this suspicious message and promises to support Sean. So she adds her other two allies, Sammie and “Rebecca,” who is actually a catfish created by a man named Seaburn, into the chat.
“I believe that honesty is the best policy, but there’s one thing that I’ve been keeping from you all,” Sean writes in the group chat. “The truth is that the photos I’m using are not mine.”
With just seconds left in the episode, Sean has admitted to the cardinal sin of The Circle: being a catfish.
As we’ve seen from the first episodes of The Circle, there is no higher crime in this game than being a catfish. Even “joking” about someone being a catfish is the most painful insult (take Miranda and Sammie’s first message encounter as proof) Antonio, who was initially an all-powerful Circle “influencer,” was booted after Joey was convinced his rival was a fraud. When Antonio left The Circle, he dropped a hint that someone else was a catfish, and pushed the entire crew into chaos. That turmoil eventually led to the elimination of Karyn, who was in fact a catfish.
However, the players in Sean’s chat react differently. They’re not enraged that Sean has apparently been lying about her identity — they’re somewhere between intrigued and compassionate. “Why is she deciding to tell us this? What the hell are you thinking?” a shocked Seaburn says from his apartment. Chris, on the other hand, immediately assumes something much bigger than a simple failed catfishing scheme is afoot.
“I don’t think this is a catfish,” he announces to himself. “I think there’s a little more to this.”
Chris is correct. When we first meet social media manager Sean, who works at a plus-size fashion company, in “Picking Teams,” she fully explains her decision to use “all-American bombshell” Colleen’s photos. “Fat girls always have to outshine everyone else in order to be even noticed. If I looked a different way, then someone would be like: Oh my God, she’s hilarious and she’s so talented,” Sean laments. “But the fact of the matter is, people treat fat people like crap.”
Since Colleen didn't want to be treated terribly by a group of strangers, she decided to “show up as thin,” as she admits.
Now that Colleen knows The Circle isn’t populated by monsters, she is willing to share her full self with the people she trusts. That is why she tearfully tells Chris, Sammie, and Rebecca in the final moment of “Player,” “Here is the photo of the real me... Send.” Then it's cut to black.
The premiere of next week’s ninth installment, “Instant Block,” will reveal if Colleen’s crew can keep (and forgive) a secret. Hopefully that title is talking about somebody else.