Warning: This article contains descriptions of sexual assault.
In Grand Army’s pilot, there’s a bomb — that is, a literal one. An explosion from a few blocks over sends the students of Grand Army High School into lockdown, and if you think the show might get a little less intense from there on out, you’re going to be in for a shock. Netflix’s newest teen drama, Grand Army, is unflinching in its depiction of harsh, often unjust, and occasionally hopeful realities of contemporary high schoolers. But although there’s pain, there’s also hope, community, and an unforgettable lineup of students unafraid to fight back against the bullshit.
Like its genre predecessors Degrassi and Skins, Grand Army follows an ensemble cast of teenagers each dealing with their own trauma, issues, and fears. The characters are all students at the same competitive public high school in Brooklyn, but that’s about the only thing they have in common. There’s Sid (Amir Bageria), a star student-athlete with Harvard aspirations and a secret that could upend his reputation at school. Then there’s Dominique (Odley Jean), a focused and hardworking basketball star with dreams of becoming a psychologist and troubles at home. Rounding out the main cast is insecure freshman Leila (Amalia Yoo), talented musician Jayson (Maliq Johnson), and feminist provocateur Joey (Odessa A’zion).
Although there are a ton of characters, stories, and themes packed into just nine episodes, many of them start to overlap, especially as the show progresses — which is why this recap, tracing every turn, twist, and introduction, might come in handy. Ready to head back to high school? Let’s go.
Episode 1: "Brooklyn, 2020"
Grand Army’s first few images immediately set the mood for the show. A rusty trash can; a balled-up nest of hair. Vandalism on the locker room wall asks, “Ladies, what’s better: a good fuck or a good shit? VOTE!” (A good shit is winning.) Evident cool girl Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion) walks into a stall, gives her teary-eyed friend Gracie (Keara Graves) a quick pep talk, and proceeds to dislodge a condom from inside her vagina. The entire time, she’s completely unphased, as if this is just another weekday. Already, we can tell this is a no-holds-barred teen drama in the vein of Euphoria — but maybe without the glitter and the Southern California glamour.
As Joey and Grace do their thing, we’re introduced to three more members of Grand Army’s ensemble cast: Dominique, aka Dom (Odley Jean), and her friends Tamika (Brittany Adebumola) and Sonia (Naiya Ortiz). We learn several facts in succession: Dom’s friends pay her to do their hair, Dom has a crush who barely knows she exists, and, from the trio’s station outside the stall, it really sounds like Joey and Gracie are hooking up. Joey retrieves the condom, proudly flails it around the locker room, and tosses it… where it lands right by Leila Kwan Zimmer’s (Amalia Yoo) Doc Martens. Leila scuttles away, Joey threatens anyone who might want to “talk shit” about her friend, and Dom asks Gracie, who understandably begins to panic, if she took a Plan B.
As Dom and Joey walk into the gym side by side, it’s clear that they’re not at all friends but they do respect each other, somewhat. Joey also catches Dom eyeing John Ellis (Alphonso Romero Jones II) and suggests she approach him. This is the kind of thing Joey — and maybe Dom’s friends — would be bold enough to do, but Dom seems comfortable pining away. For now.
If I’ve learned anything from my favorite grittier teen dramas, it’s that I should downright fear the moment Grand Army pivots to its alpha male leads. My intuition is correct: instead of meeting Dom’s crush, we’re thrown into a squad of obnoxious swim team guys. They unapologetically walk right into Leila, causing her to drop her phone, and then leer at her as she walks away. As if to cement the fact that this is a Nate Jacobs kind of friend group, they then immediately turn on Sid Pakam (Amir Bageria) and start harassing him about whether he’s slept with his girlfriend yet.
After the boys, we move to Leila, who’s mid-presentation about Judaism in China. Some nearby Chinese students snicker; one calls her a “whore” in Mandarin. As she did after Joey tossed a condom in her direction, Leila copes by sending her friend some generic “I’m miserable here, wish we were watching The Walking Dead right now” texts. This moment, more than anything we’ve seen so far, reminds me of my own high school experience.
Still following? Good — because we have even more new characters. Friends Jayson (Maliq Johnson) and Owen (Jaden Jordan) are already a much nicer alternative to Sid’s circle of friends. They’re riding the high of a successful music audition, and after they grab some lunch from a nearby halal guy, they thank him by name. Maybe I’m making snap judgements, but I just know the swim team boys would never.
Cut to Jayson and Owen, now back at Grand Army. When a bomb goes off a few blocks away, the stories of all the students we’ve just met — from Jayson and Owen to Joey to Leila — begin to converge. A teacher snaps at Jayson and Owen for goofing around, and meanwhile, the swim team guys are hard at work on an Instagram account devoted to Grand Army girls with “bomb pussy.” (Did I mention I hate them?) They start pestering Sid, asking for him to fork over a name for the account, but he shakes them off, busy texting his sister and girlfriend and making sure they’re both okay. In response, they threaten to put his younger sister on the list.
Sid ditches his friends to go find his sister, but instead, he runs into Leila, who begins lamenting about how miserable both her day and overall freshman year have been. The main takeaway here is that Leila’s adopted, and although she loves her parents, she feels isolated and confused. The other takeaway is that Sid is a great listener and needs to be saved from the bastion of toxic masculinity that is his friend group. Unfortunately, just minutes later, swim team ringleader George (Anthony Ippolito) texts him again and demands a name. With a sigh, Sid sends Leila’s.
Back in the other room, Dom and her friends are chatting about whether or not to head to a massive party (for John-related purposes) later that night. Jayson interrupts to ask Sonia for money, and when she explains she already gave her cash to Dom earlier in the locker room, he swipes Dom’s bag. Owen, snickering next to Jayson, grabs the wallet, and Dom is pissed. Joey, who’s sitting nearby and fielding texts from her emotionally estranged dad, tries to step in, and Jayson and Owen toss the bag back and forth until Ms. Wilder — the same teacher from before — reprimands them, then chastises Joey for wearing gym shorts.
In the moments that follow, both Joey and Leila learn that they made it onto the Instagram account. Leila, for her part, is thrilled just to be noticed, but Joey finds out from her soft-spoken, clearly smitten friend Tim (Thelonius Serrell-Freed) and her bravado fades for a moment of genuine discomfort. Dom is upset for a completely different reason: Jayson dropped her wallet down the stairwell, and by the time she finds it, $200 is missing.
After all the drama and trauma of the day, almost all the students head to a party. Joey’s there with her posse: Tim, Tim’s wholesome sister Anna (Sydney Meyer), and swim team jerks Luke (Brian Altemus) and George. Leila’s mom drops her off out front. Sid’s making out with his girlfriend, Flora (Marcela Avelina), but he clearly has other things on his mind. The only student who’s nowhere to be found? Dom, who has to stay home and look after her siblings.
In a move that’s predictable but still upsetting to watch, Leila and George get together. But there’s a kicker. Remember Gracie, Joey’s friend from the show’s opening scene? Turns out, that condom mishap was the result of a hookup with George, and she’s not too happy to see him kiss Leila in front of hordes of people. Gracie promptly throws a drink at her, which sends her staggering backwards, knocking Luke down the stairs. It’s a fun, frothy sequence amid all the heavier issues and teases we’ve already seen in episode 1.
Speaking of heavy: “I’m going to teach you things you’ll never forget,” someone types. We can’t tell who it is, or what this means. But before that, a stunning closing shot shows Tim and Joey escaping the party and jumping on the back of a subway car. When Joey screams, Tim screams, too. And then, whether it’s because of her dad, her altercation with Ms. Wilder, the bomb, or just the day’s emotional ramifications, she cries.
Episode 2: See Me
Episode 2 starts right where episode 1 left off: with an ominous message that may or may not set the mood for the next 45 minutes. “This isn’t a cry for attention,” someone writes. Then, we cut to Jayson and Owen, busking at a subway stop in the hopes of raising the money Dom needs. We see Joey, getting dressed and texting Tim about her plans to get revenge on Mrs. Wilder while either a voiceover from either a podcast or news reporter discusses racial profiling. Joey’s dad warns her not to get into trouble; Joey retorts that he’s not in a place to police her actions. Then, we’re off to school.
Grand Army is about teenagers taking a stand, and it looks like the school’s sexist dress code is Joey’s first battle. “My body is not the problem,” she writes on Instagram. “My politics are not the problem… your thoughts are. Braless. Boundless. Blow up the patriarchy.” Using language like “blowing up” might too much after a bomb explosion, but I can get behind Joey’s overall message.
Joey’s message immediately reaches at least one person: Meera (Ashley Ganger), Sid’s younger sister, who’s oscillating between texting her friends about the no-bra protest, defending Sid from their overbearing parents at the breakfast table, and talking a mile a minute about her upcoming feminist art show. This opening vignette might not be as relevant, plot-wise, as Joey’s or Jayson and Owen’s, but Meera is already a stand-out character for more reasons than one. Plus, it’s interesting to see Sid’s parents’ concerns juxtaposed with Joey’s dad’s fears: while Joey was told to take an Uber and stay out of trouble, the Pakams warn their kids not to “talk back” if they’re stopped on the street.
At school, Joey’s protest is already making a splash. She even hands out custom-made “Free the Nipple” shirts to George, Luke, Tim, and Anna. “I love you guys! My woke boys,” she tells Tim, George, and Luke after they start discussing and debating the meaning of the protest. After that Instagram account, I’m not sure “woke” is the word I’d use to describe these dudes — especially apparent ringleader George — but Grand Army is definitely making a point with this one. We see this a few minutes later when Leila, after dubbing Joey’s protest pointless, is confronted by George, who asks her to hang out that night and pushes her to take her bra off in solidarity. At this point, I’m beginning to wonder how feminist can this protest really be if Joey’s creepy friends are roaming the halls to make sure the girls of Grand Army are all following suit.
Next, Grand Army teases two potential romances. First, there’s Joey and Tim in the bathroom, and although Tim’s choice in friends has me doubting his dateability, he seems to really have feelings for her. She pulls away before they kiss, though, citing her friendship with his sister. Meanwhile, Dom and John — the pairing I’m already loudly rooting for — are in calc. John volunteers to do a problem, and when he messes up, Dom raises her hand to correct him. “She’s Einstein,” he says, smiling. “Let her take over.” But before the Dom and John cuteness can commence, Jayson gestures for Dom to leave class. He and Owen want her to know that they’ve raised the full $200 she lost, and in exchange, they’re hoping she’ll go to the school’s office, let them know the entire debacle was just a prank, and explain she got her money back. Dom, still angry about the prank in the first place, makes no promises.
From here, we get a peek back into Sid’s story. He was deferred from Harvard, the school of his (and his parents’) dreams, and according to his college counselor, his personal statement isn’t exactly personal enough. He’s told to text Victor (August Blanco Rosenstein), a fellow student who apparently has a knack for college essays. And if there’s anything technical Grand Army excels at, it’s subtle transitions. As Victor’s phone buzzes, we see Joey behind him, taking off her sweatshirt and donning a “Free the Nipple” tee.
Joey’s shirt itself doesn’t elicit a reaction, so she begins drinking from a bottle and “accidentally” dousing herself in water. Mrs. Wilder, predictably, stops the class and suggests she head to the office. When Joey pushes back, her teacher adds, “This is a classroom, and you’re dressed like a hooker. You’re basically prostituting yourself for attention… I wish you had some self-respect.” As she did with the Instagram account, Joey looks horrified and, for a few moments, genuinely hurt.
But she has a plan. In the office, a disciplinary rep says that wearing a sheer white shirt without anything under it is a distraction, and right on cue, George, Luke, and Tim walk in, donning their matching “Free the Nipple” tees. “Mr. B., how can you regulate my body and not theirs?” Joey asks. She then points out that at least 100 other girls joined her protest, and if Mr. B. wants to punish her, he’ll have to kick all of them out of class, too. After a few breaths, he concedes that she’s right and lets her return to class. Ms. Wilder is even called in to apologize. Afterwards, Joey and Tim share a moment alone (and a kiss) and Tim calls Joey an inspiration.
With Joey’s protest out of the way, it’s time to meet Victor, now grabbing a coffee with Sid and offering some college essay insight. Sid wonders whether he should write about the bomber from Friday, and “how it feels when someone who looks like me blows himself and four other people apart just feet from my fucking school.” Victor praises the idea and tells him it will be okay, and Sid notably looks at Victor’s lips as he sips his cappuccino. Interesting.
Now, we’re back to Leila, now getting hot and heavy with George. Their hookup is, simply put, painful to watch, and essentially consists of George getting himself off while kissing Leila’s neck and half-heartedly petting her. Then, while Leila wipes off her shirt, George watches a video of Joey’s protest on Instagram and basically pretends Leila isn’t in the room. When he finally turns back to her, he calls her “Geisha girl” and comments on the color of her nipples. I’m still parsing through which part of this scene is most upsetting, but that probably takes the prize.
From here, Leila daydreams of an animated version of herself sitting next to an animated version of George, scrolling through an animated little version of Joey’s Instagram. Cartoon Leila breaks the phone, Cartoon Joey comes to life and eggs her on, and Cartoon George goes down on Leila. It’s hard to tell whether the sex act is really happening in tandem with the hyperbolic animated version or it’s just a fantasy, especially since we immediately pivot back to Joey, who’s getting a nipple piercing in celebration of her big win.
Away from all of this, Dom is at Target with her mom and siblings when she gets a phone call about Jayson’s and Owen’s potential disciplinary action. She’s asked to come to school the next morning to discuss what happened, but her mind is elsewhere: her mom and siblings keep loading items into their cart, despite her persistent arguments that they won’t be able to afford everything. When they get to the checkout, Dom learn that their total is over $200 — aka, much more than they have on their Target gift card and more than Dom has in cash.
At this point, John, dressed in a bright Target red, drops by and offers to hook her up with his employee discount. He also introduces himself to Dom’s mom and tells her all about how her daughter schooled him in calc. I’m not sure if I’m heartbroken on Dom’s behalf or swooning over the impending romance — and Dom seems to be in the same situation, smiling at John one second before looking away, slightly embarrassed over the whole ordeal.
Before we head back to Joey, Sid gets an important, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene. With a chair propped up in front of his door, he switches from a news website to Pornhub… and, though it’s unclear exactly what he searches, he’s clearly looking for guys, and he’s somewhat anxious about it. He’s interrupted by a call from his dad, asking how work is going, but this plot point will inevitably be revisited soon.
Joey meets up with George, fresh out of his hookup with Leila. In a devastating back-to-back, we see Leila tell her friend Rachel (Lola Blackman) that the night went well and that she had a lot of fun; meanwhile, George laughs to Joey that Leila couldn’t make him come. It’s horrible.
There’s something interesting about watching Joey in her small, private moments away from her chauvinistic male friends and outside of school. In her bedroom, she’s flipping through Instagram comments, many of which are praising her; however, a few notable ones call out her “white tears” and white feminism. Instead of ruminating on the latter, she takes a photo of her brand-new nipple piercing and sends it to her group text. Tim instantaneously texts her one-on-one (a quick “I’m dyin’ here and you’re responsible”), and Joey’s smile is notably more earnest than the confident, seductive one she wears so often at Grand Army.
Back at school, though, it’s starting to look like the white feminism accusations were a form of foreshadowing instead of just a self-aware sidenote. Joey and Dom, as the two witnesses to the bomb day prank, are exiting a meeting with Grand Army’s principal, but their demeanors couldn’t be more different. While Joey says she thinks people should be held responsible for their actions, Dom seems worried. “What’s going to happen?” she asks. “’Cause they paid me back, and I know I said that in there, but…”
With Joey out of the frame, Dom stares in through a window. Jayson and Owen apologize profusely, but Grand Army’s principal gives Jayson a seven-day suspension. Owen, who went into Dominique’s bag to retrieve her wallet, is even worse off: he’s granted a superintendent’s suspension, meaning he’ll face a hearing that will decide when he can return to school. “This is fucking crazy,” Joey says once they’re out the door. “I feel really bad.”
Dom looks her up and down. “Do you?” she asks.
Episode 3: Relationship Goals
Joey’s conversation with Dom seems heavy on her mind at the start of “Relationship Goals.” We’re in the Grand Army gym, where Dom’s about to play a basketball game and Joey’s on the sidelines with the rest of the dance team. As a student sings the national anthem, Dom and her friends take a knee; Joey follows suit. The subsequent montage of Joey dancing, Dom on the court, and Sid competing in a swim meet seems to hint that these are the three students we’ll be focusing on this episode.
After the basketball game, Joey’s in her room with Anna. They’re pushing each other around on the bed, talking about their dreams for next year. Anna will be at Syracuse, hopefully, and Joey will be at Cornell. They’ll study abroad together, maybe in Spain? Joey also asks Anna to skip babysitting and go to the movies with the rest of the group, and she says she’ll meet up with them afterwards. Then, Joey finally brings up the Tim issue: she likes him, but doesn’t want to mess up her relationship with Anna. Anna tells her that hooking up with Tim would probably threaten their friendship, points out that Joey and Tim are both flirts who would hurt each other, and makes her promise not to sleep with him. I applaud both girls for their honesty here, but I’m not convinced Grand Army won’t continue to drag this out.
Now, we’re at a Bat Mitzvah with Leila — it’s her friend Rachel’s sister’s ceremony. Leila is on edge because George hasn’t yet responded to a risqué photo she sent, but naturally, he’s commenting left and right on Joey’s Instagrams. Rachel, and also everyone watching, tells Leila to stop texting him. Leila trips walking back to her seat, a group of middle schoolers snicker, and she snaps at them to “go choke on each other’s cocks.” Again, this is happening at a Bat Mitzvah. It’s a lot.
Dom’s at the mall with Tamika, Sonia, and final friend group member Tor (Crystal Sha’re Nelson). Dom and Tamika are roleplaying a scenario in which Dom runs into John at the mall, and like every other scene centered around this squad, it is joyous. The mood is dampened somewhat when Jayson shows to pick up his homework from Sonia and approaches Dom to ask what she plans on saying at the hearing. “Dude, it’s fucking Saturday,” she says. “I’m not trying to be a dick, but I’m here with my girls.” Fair, but my heart breaks for Jayson. He looks exhausted.
Sonia, who may or may not have a thing with Jayson, challenges Dom as soon as he leaves. “You took a knee today,” she points out. “Are you really trying to act like you don’t see any similarities between what happened to Jay and Owen and the bullshit policing we’ve been protesting at games?”
Dom lets the question linger, and we cut to Joey, now at a movie theater with Tim, George, and Luke. Anna’s babysitting and meeting up with the crew later on, and her absence feels palpable. Tim’s in a mood because Joey opts to sit between the other guys and cuddle up with George. He jumps up to get popcorn, and Joey lasts about two minutes alone with George and Luke’s macho-bro banter before deciding to meet him outside. Tim’s chatting up the cashier, a girl around their age, and Joey hangs onto him for a moment before kissing him. It seems largely fueled by envy, but it’s also a reassurance of sorts.
Once they’re back in the theater, Joey communicates one of her concerns: she wants their friend group to stay normal. “You don’t have to be, like, throwing yourself at my friends to send me a message,” he says. Joey understandably does not react well to this, but what throws me here is Tim’s pronoun choice: “my friends.” On paper, George and Luke are Joey’s friends, too, but given how little George seems to respect women in general, Tim has a point. Half the time, these guys treat Joey more like a mascot than a friend. Exhibit A: that Instagram account.
Now at the Bat Mitzvah party, Leila is flagrantly ignoring Rachel’s advice and double-messaging George — who, as she sees on Instagram, is cuddling up with Joey. Leila tries to vent to Rachel, but Rachel’s dad is in the middle of toasting her sister. Rachel, the hero of this show, is appropriately annoyed by this and tells Leila to go home if she’s just going to make her sister’s big day all about “some douchebag guy.”
Sid’s at a diner working on his Harvard essay, which is starting to seem like maybe, possibly a coming out essay, too. He’s interrupted by Flora, who shortly soon after starts venting about how porn (specifically, lesbian porn) is made for the male gaze. I know this is just supposed to parallel Sid’s struggle with his sexuality, but it also makes me adore Flora and please, Grand Army, can she and Sid stay friends? Of course, just moments later, Sid abruptly breaks up with Flora and she leaves the booth, huffing and crying.
Back at the mall, Dom finally makes her move on John, but he hilariously has headphones in and walks right by her, forcing her to improvise (and sending her friends into a fit of laughter). They chat about work, Dom’s game, and their plans for the rest of the day, and a beat after they part ways, John calls out, asking about Dom’s plans for the rest of the day. She climbs up a down-moving escalator to meet him, and they make plans to hang out.
Dom’s night is looking up, but Joey’s is taking a turn. George and Luke give Tim whatever the opposite of a pep talk is while Joey approaches a random man carrying a suspicious suitcase. George points out that, yeah, Joey and Tim have kissed. But Joey also “pays attention” to him, and to Random Suitcase Man, et cetera. “That girl is down for whatever, man,” he says, snickering, and I wish Rachel would leave her sister’s Bat Mitzvah right about now and put this guy in his place. Joey hops back over, laughing. Apparently, Suitcase Man’s bag was full of sex toys, and he gave her a pink dildo. Luke and George find this hilarious, but Tim’s still brooding as they hail a taxi.
Tim lets Joey in first, and she snaps, accusing him of “acting all nice now.” She tells Luke, who’s still on crutches from his fall in episode 1, to take the front, and he makes an offensive jab about the driver. “That’s fucking so racist, for real, Luke,” Joey says. She’s drunk from the liquor she snuck into the theater, and it’s hard to tell if she’s genuinely calling Luke out or just surprised he went there. In any case, they all squeeze into the backseat, with Joey trying to move towards Tim and George and Luke pulling her back, laughing.
Things are not headed in a good direction. Joey’s messing around with the vibrator, throwing it in George’s face, and then, she climbs over him to get to Tim. She tries to talk to him, and he snaps. “You wanna give me a lap dance or some shit? You need more fucking attention, Jo?” he asks, and Joey, hurt, recoils. Then yells. She ends up on Luke’s lap, George calls Tim a homo, and Joey leans out the window, trying to get some air.
Outside the taxi, Sid writes about being gay and downloads Grindr. Leila bonds with the kind rabbi at the Bat Mitzvah, and apologizes to Rachel. Dom opens up to John: she wants to be the first person in her family to go to college, and she wants to study psych. She also talks to him about Jayson’s suspension, and says that she doesn’t feel guilty for her role in it — but thinks Joey should. John says he’s having a great night, and for a minute, he and Dom hold hands and smile at each other, and I never want to leave this perfect scene.
But back to Joey. She accuses Tim of a double standard: he can hook up with as many girls as he wants, but she flirts with guys, and she’s just seeking attention. Tim is checked out, staring straight ahead, clearly not ready to have this conversation until Joey sobers up. “You guys get to do whatever you want,” Joey says. “So can I.” With her eyes on Tim, Joey kisses Luke. George films it. She yells that she’s allowed to do whatever she wants, and somehow, she ends up kissing George. Luke grabs her, and she yelps. I’m not going to go into more detail from here, even though the show does: Luke and George assault Joey. The guys are out of the taxi as soon as it arrives, but Joey stays put, crying and traumatized.
Once inside, Joey goes to the bathroom. She wraps her underwear in toilet paper. She gets a text from Tim: “You okay?” She throws up.
Episode 4: Safety On
“Safety On” opens with a text from Anna. “It just feels fucked up cause we had that whole conversation,” she writes to Joey. “How’s Tim not gonna feel shitty?” From there, we get a flashback to Anna finding Joey in the bathroom the night before. She’d seen the videos of Joey kissing George and Luke, but was more confused than anything else.
Back in real time, Joey answers Tim’s text with a joke about being hungover. Then, we pivot to Dom, who’s eating breakfast with her family at a church event. Her mom and sister are upset she no-showed the night before; apparently, she missed babysitting for her date with John. Her pastor lets her know about Sisters Thrive, a local internship program that trains young Black women who hope to one day work as psychologists — basically, the perfect program for Dom, and she’s psyched.
After this, we go through the school week in snapshots. At school on Monday, Joey feels like everyone’s watching her: from her perspective, everything looks gloomy and daunting, and she almost jumps when the guys approach her with a lemon poppyseed bagel. They crowd her locker, talking all at once. Tim won’t shut up about The Great Gatsby; Luke says he wants to ask her about something “really important,” and it’s just his haircut.
On Tuesday, everyone at school seems to be discussing a rumored version of what happened. Joey, Anna, and the guys are in a classroom playing “Never Have I Ever,” and Anna casually says, “Never have I ever had an orgy with my friends.” Joey concedes, then looks away. A flashback from Saturday night brings Tuesday to Wednesday, when Joey, looking exhausted and disheveled, is woken up during dance practice. Grace, still territorial over George, makes a snide comment towards Joey.
At the same time, Dom, while goofing around with her friends, accidentally pelts Joey with a basketball. She apologizes, but Joey doesn’t buy it — and with the amount of slut-shaming she’s been dealing with, she probably thinks the hit was intentional. Joey and Dom are about to really get into it when a kindly basketball coach separates them, but the moment the coach is out of earshot, Dom bursts into the locker room, ready to call Joey out. But when she kicks a bathroom stall open, she finds Joey half-catatonic on top of the toilet. Her leg is covered in bruises. “What’s going on?” Dom asks. Joey tells her to get out.
Now, we turn to Jayson, preparing to head back to school. His parents and grandfather are at odds: while his dad thinks he deserved consequences for goofing off, his grandfather is adamant that the family should have hired a lawyer. Jayson tries to call Owen, who he hasn’t heard from since his suspension, and learns his number was disconnected. We move from Wednesday to Thursday with Jayson, who heads to the band room first thing… and as soon as he arrives, he learns Owen’s spot in the school band has already been given away to alternate.
In English class, Tim is analyzing The Great Gatsby while Joey’s breaking down. She’s panicking, pulling out her hair, and moving between the classroom and memories of Saturday night, but no one seems to notice. “I completely disagree with you,” she tells Tim before launching into a tirade about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s racism, sexism, and mansplaining. She starts to cry. Tim, several seats behind Joey, notices a bald patch on the back of her head, and his eyes narrow. Joey excuses herself to run to the bathroom, where she meets up with Luke to procure some sleeping pills.
Sid meets up with his college counselor to submit his new essay for Harvard. She suggests he see a therapist — as I usually note when watching teen dramas, all of these characters should do this — and he says he’s fine. Cut to Sid hooking up with a random guy from Grindr in a dressing room.
Back at school, Leila is reading a monologue from The Vagina Monologues, the upcoming school play directed by Sid’s sister, Meera. George and Joey peer in as she’s rehearsing, and George starts making leery, mocking faces, and as much as I loathe his character and his scenes with every piece of my soul, I can also acknowledge that this moment feels all too real and I’m cringing on Leila’s behalf. Meera, like a badass, kicks him out, but the damage is done: Leila’s chances at getting into the play are basically shot. That is, until theater kid and co-director Omar (Zac Kara) shyly approaches her and tells her he’ll put in a good word.
Up next, we get a peek into Dom’s home life. She’s trying to do homework in the bathroom — the rest of the apartment appears to have little privacy — but she’s interrupted by her young niece, who needs to use the toilet. Then, she gets an incoming FaceTime call from John. Just seconds into their conversation, her niece runs to her for help: she accidentally clogged the toilet, which started to overflow. Not only does John hear all of this, but Dom realizes the dirty water got all over her homework. She ditches him to clean up.
Finally, we’ve made it to Friday. Poor Sid, who still doesn’t know the name of his hookup, is in the bathroom Googling STDs you can get from oral sex. Afterwards, he almost immediately runs into Victor (who has to be his inevitable love interest, right?). Victor says he’s surprised Sid never reached out about his essay, and unfortunately, George (with Luke by his side) chooses this moment to appear and mock Victor with a high-pitched voice. The entire exchange moves very quickly, though, because Sid is distracted by the sight of his sister getting touchy with a swim team guy, Bo (David Iacono).
The next scene is interesting. During an assembly with the NYPD, Jayson begins passing around a petition to allow Owen back to school. Someone yells out, “I can’t breathe.” From another corner of the room, Luke tries to pull Joey closer, and she flinches away right as one of the cops talks about how perpetrators don't necessarily look like “the sketchy dude on the subway,” but like people in your inner circle. “Are you okay?” Tim asks. Joey, popping another pill, nods. She clearly isn’t. The cop continues, now speaking on terrorists, and George jokes, “Do I look like a terrorist to you?” It’s possible that I have never despised a character so much.
A lot is going on right now, and all of it’s important. While Joey’s unraveling, the same student yells the same message: “I can’t breathe.” Dom gets a text from her nephew and learns that her sister hurt her back. John turns around and asks Dom to hang out, and even though she likely won’t hear the end of this from her family, she says yes. John smiles, then yells a third time, “I can’t breathe.” This time, other students join in.
Joey runs out of the assembly, followed by Anna. Anna apologizes, probably for the “Never Have I Ever” joke, and tells Joey she loves her, but she clearly still doesn’t know the truth about Joey’s assault. It looks like no one does. Dom, who is entirely too good for this show and has enough of her own issues to deal with, comes in to check on Joey, but Anna tells her she’s handling it.
After school, Jayson is desperate to get to the bottom of what’s going on with his friend. He shows at Owen’s house, but his parents won’t let him in — it’s hard to say who they’re punishing here, Owen or Jayson. Meanwhile, Dom’s at John’s house for dinner, and his mom has officially made it into the show’s top ten characters. She’s amused as John tells her about the chant, and then, she praises Dom for being the first college-bound member of her family. “I told her,” John says, grinning. Once she’s gone, they kiss for the first time over the kitchen table. It’s incredibly sweet, and I could not be more terrified that this show is going to hurt them.
Unfortunately, when Dom gets back home, her night starts to go downhill: not only did her sister sustain a serious injury, but she lost her job because of it. This is heartbreaking in its own right, but also doesn’t bode for Dom, who’s already working several side-hustles to help out her family.
In the episode’s final moments, Joey’s in bed, staring at unopened messages from Grace, Anna, George, and others. Her younger sister walks in and searches through Joey’s dresser drawers for a sports bra, and Joey falters when she finds her underwear from the night of her assault. A flashback cuts in and out, and then, Joey’s still crying, but this time, in her mom’s lap. “They raped me, Mom,” she says. In the background, the movie she was watching — Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special Nanette, which addresses sexual assault and #MeToo — continues to play.
Episode 5: Valentine’s Day
As we head into the thick of Dominique's story, it feels relevant to note that Grand Army's announcement was immediately followed by controversy: Ming Peiffer, who wrote for the show, announced on Twitter that she and two other writers of color quit the writers' room "due to racist exploitation." When someone responded to the trailer by pointing out that Dom's story looked “depressing,” Peiffer responded, "The show runner wouldn’t listen to the 3 writers of color, of which I am one, including the Black writer who kept asking to not make her storyline poverty porn." Up until now, we've mostly seen Dom's cute romance with John, her basketball prowess, and glimpses into her home life, but at the start of "Valentine's Day," her mom proposes that Dom marry a young man looking for citizenship in exchange for $10,000. It's a delicate situation that has me worried about how this will unfold.
Leila notices a bag left on her subway car. Worried it could be a bomb, she calls out several times before kicking it off the train, and a few men clap. "It's not okay for bags to be left unattended like that," she says. She's relishing in, for once, being the hero — not just in her graphic cartoon fantasy sequences, but in real life. Once she's off the train, she sees Joey, planked by her parents, on the other platform. We know this is a big deal, if only because Joey's parents are separated and she's much closer with her mom than her dad, but Leila, high off of her casual superhero moment, snaps a video and shares it to Instagram. "Ur so 'empowered' u hookup w 3 guys at once... but u still need mommy and daddy to escort u on the train," she writes.
We switch to Joey's perspective. Her parents are asking if she's sure, and she reiterates that she is. When we next see her, Joey's in the doctor's office. Grand Army clearly puts thought into depicting a positive and accurate experience here: the doctor collects her underwear, asks for consent before conducting tests and taking swabs and photos, and explains each and every step of the sexual assault kit.
At school, Anna, Gracie, and the guys receive candygrams from a teacher. Anna calls out to Leila, stationed nearby, and tells her not to post shit about Joey. She then asks where she saw her. Everyone in this group, especially Anna and Tim, is concerned. But Leila's phone is blowing up: people are laughing along with her video, and she even receives a text from George asking to meet up. Theater kid Omar finds her to let her know she was cast as the understudy in Meera's play, and then, a teacher passes Leila an anonymous candygram. It's almost definitely from Omar, but Leila, thrilled, immediately texts George and asks him to meet her in the drama room. With newfound confidence, she goes down on him.
Sid gets a romantic text from Flora, but right as he's about to respond, Victor sits down next to him. "Is Meera okay?" he asks. Apparently, his sister sent Bo a nude, and it got leaked. Sid sends Meera an angry text and Victor sits down next to him, solidifying their status as lab partners.
Today is also the day of Owen's disciplinary hearing. Jayson, hurt that he still hasn't spoken with Owen, is sitting with his parents, and Dom is alone. Jay tries to crack a joke, but Dom rebuffs him. Still, the camera focuses on her wistful reaction as Jayson starts laughing with his parents.
George and Luke are called out of class. Next we see them is through Leila's eyes: she's in the middle of another animated fantasy, and she runs out of the classroom with several students when she sees the NYPD arresting the guys. Someone is even more distraught than Leila is, though. "You can't just take them out of class," Anna tells the principal. "You have to tell them what they did. What did they even do? Did you notify their parents? They are minors."
At Owen's hearing, Dom says that the prank was just "messing around that got out of hand." She's asked if Owen took the wallet out of her bag, and all she says is that he wasn't the one to steal her $200.
Then, Jayson is called to answer questions. "Did you see Mr. Williams touch and enter Ms. Pierre's bag? Did you watch Mr. Williams take her wallet from her bag?" Anxious, Jayson asks the superintendent if she read his petition. Under pressure, he says that Owen took Dom's wallet, but it was a prank. "We're set," the superintendent says. Dom shakes her head. Owen looks destroyed. He receives a 60-day suspension.
Joey gets a text from Anna. "What the fuck did you do? Are you fucking serious with this????" she asks. "You're psychotic!!" Joey's mom takes her phone, and Joey heads into a meeting with a therapist. "They were acting like nothing happened," she says. "And the whole week I was questioning what I was remembering... I'm just so fucking angry." She tells her therapist that she feels like she's fucking over her friends, and fears everyone at school will hate her. The worst part, she says? She doesn't regret going forward with the charges, but she almost feels like she's betraying them.
In the boys' locker room, Sid calls out Bo for sharing his sister's nude. In the girls' room, though, students are talking about George and Luke, going back and forth between whether they really think they might be rapists or whether they're just pervy guys who "do weird shit."
Leila, trailed by Rachel, runs to go throw up. She explains that, just earlier that day, she gave George a blowjob, and begs Rachel to persuade her she didn't hook up with a rapist. When she stays vague, Leila lashes out, calling Joey a "fucking slut" and accusing Rachel of defending her. This is Rachel's breaking point: she tells Leila she barely recognizes her anymore, and points out that if she wants to get involved in feminist theater, she really shouldn't be using the kind of language she is. Rachel leaves Leila, stunned and crying, in the bathroom.
Jayson gets back to school and heads to a Black Student Union meeting, led by John. He shares the news of Owen's punishment, and the students, especially John, are sympathetic. Dom, also in attendance, steps outside, and John follows. She asks if he thinks the entire situation is her fault, and he assures her it isn't. Then, he continues to reign as Grand Army’s resident heartthrob and gives her a Valentine's Day present, a mug labeled "Dr. Dominique Pierre."
At the Pakams' family restaurant, Meera is introducing her feminist art show (not to be confused with the feminist play she's putting on with Leila and Omar; this is a gallery installation of sorts, all about Indian women's rights to agency and sexual desire). Flora is there to show support, and in the heat of the moment, Sid says he misses her. They fool around in the bathroom, and even though Flora pulls out a condom, the scene cuts out before we can tell if they go through with sex.
Meanwhile, Dom tells her mom she doesn't want to proceed with the proposal. But she's Dom, so she has a plan. She's going to continue doing hair to fill in her family's income gaps, and she even did the math to make sure it would add up — she just has to book hair appointments four to five times a week until her sister heals.
Valentine's Day concludes with a look back at Joey. She's reunited with her phone, and on Instagram, it looks like everyone has something to say. Her parents do, too: in the other room, they're speaking in low, concerned voices. Instead of eavesdropping, Joey opts to watch Dirty Dancing with her two younger sisters. "Are you gonna be okay?" asks Frankie (Deanna Interbartolo), the younger one.
"I think so," Joey says. Her sisters cuddle up to her, half-asleep, and Joey stares ahead, like she's asking herself the same question, before reaching for her phone and staring at the angry DMs and concerned texts. She hesitates briefly, then deactivates her Instagram.
Episode 6: Superman This S**t
This episode’s opening scene (after, of course, another eerie Word document snippet) shows Dom at basketball practice. “Dominique, it’s time to break these bad habits,” her coach says, exasperated. The bad habit is that she won’t pass the ball to her teammates. It’s some heavy-handed symbolism — Dom, once again, is trying to care of everything herself — and we see this again a moment later, when Dom tries to sell her homemade hair cream in the locker room.
Leila, while smoking with Omar, opens up about her backstory. Because she’s adopted, she doesn’t know exactly where she fits in or who she is. She suddenly pivots, asking Omar if he believes Joey was really raped, and he says he does. “You don’t know that,” Leila says, and he promptly responds, “I know, but she said they did… they have more reason to lie.” Then, he quotes The Vagina Monologues. Leila’s clearly going through it, but I’m glad everyone in her life continues to call her out on her constant slut-shaming.
Sid and Victor, meanwhile, are working on their science project. The gist is to see how long it takes a subject to respond to a stimulus, and in a classic teen drama moment that gives me severe secondhand embarrassment, Sid gets a boner. To his credit, Victor handles the situation with class, even offering to note that an “uncontrolled variable” in the experiment might be that Sid is more comfortable in his bedroom. Then, he offers to take over as test subject and casually segues into telling Sid what happened when he came out as bi. For half a second, I worry Sid might get defensive — after all, he’s back with Flora, so he’s either in denial or at least still closeted — but he listens thoughtfully.
Back to Dom, who’s trying to do a client’s hair and study for a test at the same time. Luckily, she has some help: her adorable niece is acting as her assistant, and Tamika and John show up shortly after. Dom knew her friend was coming, but she’s less thrilled about letting her boyfriend into her home life. As soon as he’s busy entertaining her nephews, she asks Tam why she’d invite him over. “He doesn’t care,” Tamika says. “I fucking care,” Dom retorts. Her client is probably eating up all this high school drama.
Because Dom and John have excellent communication skills, making them one of Netflix’s rare, incredibly healthy teen relationships, he follows her into the kitchen and offers to leave, worried he’s distracting Dom from her work. She says she just feels bad that her place is a mess; he says it looks good and, more importantly, she looks good. She smiles, and they kiss. Once he turns, she responds to an Instagram DM, offering to take the next day off of school to work with three new clients.
Almost halfway through the episode, we see Joey for the first time. Her mom is trying to get her to go to a dance class, but she refuses. Presumably, she’s off her school’s team now, too, and it’s unclear if she’s even going to school anymore. But back at Grand Army, Jayson gets some bittersweet news: he was named as an alternate for All-State, the competition he and Owen auditioned for in the show’s pilot. Owen got the spot, but thanks to his suspension, he won’t be able to perform — thus, the music teacher wants Jayson to step in. He isn’t so sure.
In order to make it to her three-person hair appointment, Dom tells her coach that she has to miss that night’s game. Her coach tells her to choose: she makes this game, or she’s out. With that in mind, she heads to Kaila’s (Tameka Griffiths) house. Kaila and her friends, who heard about Dom’s services through word of mouth, attend a nearby private school. Notably, Kaila mentions that she and all of her friends are in therapy, and Dom explains that she’d like to be a therapist one day. They’re surprised to hear she’s never been herself.
Jayson meets up with Owen for the first time since his hearing. He isn’t doing well; just days in at his new suspension center, he’s already been jumped for no discernible reason, and the news that he made All-State doesn’t do much to cheer him up. Pretty quickly, what’s gone unsaid bubbles to the surface: Owen is frustrated that Jayson’s testimony, and accidental admission, sealed his fate. He tells Jay to leave him alone, and Jayson doesn’t get the chance to explain that he’s taking Owen’s seat. Which, frankly, would not have gone over well.
Joey goes for a run, but panics when she spies George with his parents. She heads back home and jumps into her mom’s arms, begging to move or stay somewhere else or just disappear. Sid, meanwhile, has a big swim match. He’s nervous about swimming with Bo instead of George and Luke, his typical teammates, and especially nervous because Harvard’s scout will be there. Here is when I admit that I don’t know much about how swim meets work, but the bottom line is, Grand Army loses — and it’s Bo’s fault, not Sid’s. An argument ensues in the locker room.
At Kaila’s house, Dom’s new friends are convincing her to call Sisters Thrive and reiterate her interest. After a shaky start, she hits her stride on the call, and the program rep asks if she can make it the next morning. Dom says she can, and her new friends cheer. For all the obstacles thrown in Dom’s direction, I’m glad she has friends, peers, family, and authority figures seemingly rooting for her at every turn.
Speaking of therapists, Leila is one character who desperately needs one. Instead, she’s leaning on Rabbi Schultz (Lynn Weintraub), who she met at Rachel’s sister’s Bat Mitzvah. She envisions her cartoon alter ego facing off with a cartoon version of George, but real-life Leila just explains how guilty she feels for posting the video of Joey. Most likely, she also feels guilty for all the slut-shaming, but she continues to vent about her hookup with George and fight with Rachel. Rabbi Schultz suggests repentance and atonement, specifically towards Joey and Rachel.
At home, Jayson tells his dad he got into All-State. He doesn’t say anything about Owen, though — either Owen’s role in the All-State situation, or their explosive fight. Sid is walking home when he’s intercepted by Meera, who looks heartbroken. “You haven’t seen it?” she asks after he explains his phone died. Apparently, because these kids cannot catch a break, someone accessed and leaked Sid’s Harvard essay, in which he comes out. His first concern is his parents, but Meera talks him down, explaining that there’s no way they’ll find it. Then, she says, “You know I love you no matter what, right?” Despite the traumatic and, in my opinion, unnecessary choice to have Sid get outed to the entire school, Meera’s instant concern for and support of Sid is one of Grand Army’s most touching moments so far. It’s basically everything I wanted and didn’t get from Love, Victor’s season finale.
The episode ends on Dom, exhausted, opening a text from John. “My Superwoman,” he writes. “Seein you dominate like this lately has been mad sexy.” She’s conflicted, and so are we: it’s wonderful that she has such a supportive, all-star boyfriend, but does he even realize how far she’s pushing herself? Also, this girl has a major interview tomorrow. She needs to sleep.
Episode 7: Making Moves
As “Making Moves” opens, Sid is already trying to do some damage control, fielding texts from Flora and wondering whether he should deny everything. Meera, as the world’s best sister, continually tells him that it’s okay, he has nothing to be ashamed of, and she’ll fight anyone who says anything. At first, Sid seems worried about the swim team’s reaction — not sure if he’s just temporarily forgetting that two swimmers were recently arrested for rape, and the team probably has some bigger issues right now — but really, he’s nervous about his parents. Meera assures him that they are technologically inept and won’t find out.
At school, Grand Army is having a random bag check day. Jayson catches up with Sonia, Owen’s maybe-girlfriend, and fills her in on his friend. When he expresses guilt over taking Owen’s spot, Sonia is sympathetic and reminds him it isn’t his fault. Sid, in line with Meera, breaks free to find Victor. Because Victor has had access to his computer, he accuses Victor of outing him on Instagram. Victor, hurt, snaps that he would never do that, leaving Sid looking guilty… and probably wondering who really did sell him out.
Leila, also at the bag check, approaches Rachel and proceeds to give television’s worst apology. There’s a lot of “You haven’t been there for me” and zero atoning, so I think Rabbi Schultz’s message went over Leila’s head. Rachel does not react well to this, but doesn’t seem to have it in her to argue with Leila. Leila marks Rachel’s name in her notebook, considering this conversation a win.
Let’s switch to Dom. Unfortunately, exhausted and sleep-deprived, she slept through her big interview with Sisters Thrive. She has to wait another hour, but the organization agrees to let her make up the interview. What follows is the speech that made it into Grand Army’s trailer — but it’s even more emotional in context. “I think most people, even people who want to help, they don’t always understand what some people are up against,” she says. She tells the truth about her tardiness, her habit of staying up working until 5 a.m. “If I’m telling the truth, it makes me angry. But see, that’s the one thing I can’t allow myself to be, because then I’m just what they expect me to be, right?”
As she continues, she drops in a statistic: 95% of mental health care workers in New York are white. “It matters who you talk to,” she goes on. “It matters who you’re comfortable with. It matters who hears you, who says, ‘I understand.’” The interviewers are impressed, but with every win comes a setback. When Dom returns to school, she learns she’s missed a test, and her teacher refuses to let her retake it. Her friends convince her to take a break and spend the night out at John’s BSU fundraiser, and even though she has an APUSH test the next day, she reluctantly agrees.
At the Vagina Monologues rehearsal, Leila is drafting out an apology text to Joey. While one of her castmates gives a monologue in the background, she writes, “Just wanted to say I hope you’re okay. Really sorry if I was hurtful to you.” Then, she writes a follow-up message, asking Joey to let her know when she receives the text.
Leila doesn’t really care how Joey’s doing — she cares about her own conscience more than repentance. But Joey is on the precipice of a big change; she’s about to temporarily move in with her dad and switch schools. She asks her mom if she’s just running away, and her mom responds that she’s just protecting herself.
Jayson heads to a record store after school, where he shares a meaningful conversation with the shop owner. He plays a Coltrane song, and tells Jay that the song was recorded months after the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. “It’s about the moment sadness turns to anger,” he explains. “It’s a memorial, but it’s a protest.”
Jay keeps this in mind as he heads to the BSU fundraiser. John, heading the event, is trying to raise money to take a busload of Grand Army students to Pennsylvania for a voting registration drive. Jayson tells Sonia he has an idea: he can’t stop thinking about the dismal conditions about Owen’s suspension center, and the fact that all the students were Black, and he wants to plan a sit-in to support Owen.
Sid’s day hasn’t gotten much easier since he confronted Victor. He briefly turned on his guidance counselor, and now, at the BSU fundraiser, he’s still wondering who outed him. When Bo approaches and gives him a sly once-over, it all seems to click into place. He meets him outside and tries to slap him, but just ends up punched in the nose, landing him in the hospital.
Once there, Sid’s dad asks Sid and Meera if Sid was the victim of a hate crime. Sid, terrified that his dad might contact authorities, admits that he threw the first hit. Meera interjects, about to cover for him, but Sid opens up about Bo leaking his college essay. In doing this, he tells his dad the truth: that he’s gay, and the essay was about his sexuality. His dad responds with disbelief. “Dad,” Meera says, her voice soft.
Joey is happier than we’ve seen her since the assault. Her mom and sisters are over at her dad’s for dinner, and despite her contentious relationship with her father, this is what she clearly wanted — her family, altogether, joking about the old days when her parents were in love. Joey’s mom and sister, Frankie, are dancing, and Frankie asks Joey to step in. Joey turns her down. It’s a throwaway line, but one that shows how much Joey has changed in the past several episodes. When we first met her, Joey was always dancing.
Dinner is interrupted by a phone call. Joey’s mom learns that the DA’s office has decided not to move forward with her charges against George and Luke, based on a lack of evidence. Joey screams, asking to talk to them. Her dad says there must be something they can do. Her mom just cries.
Dom and John walk home from the fundraiser. John teases Dom for her drunkenness, but she half-jokes about how almost no one could do what she’s doing — support and feed a family of eight while keeping her grades up and pursuing her dreams of college. She also opens about her fears of eviction. She’s drunk, but it’s also the first time she’s really letting John in, and he tells her he had no idea how much responsibility she was taking on at home. They kiss, and Dom invites him inside.
Her home isn’t empty, though. Far from it. Her family is all there, but someone else is, too: Ronald (Caleb Grandoit), the family friend set to marry Dom for $10,000. Sensing that it’s not a good time, John quietly leaves, and Dom tries to collect herself.
“You aren’t listening,” someone writes. “So I’m going to make you listen.” At this point, any of these characters could be writing this.
Episode 8: Spirit Day
“Walking on Sunshine” plays from the loudspeakers, but we already know this episode will be hard to swallow when George and Luke, triumphant, start high-fiving students and cheering, celebrating their return. Anna and Tim look exhausted, but Anna’s trying to pretend everything is fine. Tim seems less sure.
Joey learns from a prosecutor that the results of her rape kit were inconclusive, and because all the boys had a consistent story, the case is her word against George’s, Luke’s, and Tim’s. When she argues back, the prosecutor gently tells her that the defense will create a narrative against both her and that night, using the videos of her kissing Luke and flailing the dildo around. As Joey’s eyes glaze over, we see George, Luke, and Tim speaking with a prosecutor. They mention the photo of her nipple piercing. They mention the no-bra protest. “I was there the whole night,” Tim says. “It was just Joey being Joey.”
Sid, at home, gets a hopeful voice message from a Harvard scout. He switches to Instagram and flips through the comments, some of which are supportive but many of which are just shocked. Jayson, practicing the sax, gets some advice from his music teacher: “Whatever’s going on in your head is blocking you from connecting somewhere deep.” And at lunch, Dom suddenly remembers her upcoming APUSH test. She jumps from her seat and runs off to go cram.
John follows her down the hall, though. He says that, before last night, he didn’t realize how hard Dom was hustling to support her family. Then, he tries to give her $300. John is one of this show’s most angelic characters and the gesture is thoughtful, but Grand Army wants to remind us he is still very much a clueless teen boy — and from a markedly different social class than Dom. Dom tells John that she doesn’t need the money and resents his attempt to “save” her, and he snaps that, in that case, she shouldn’t worry about fitting him into her busy schedule.
Dom heads to APUSH and gets a text from Ronald, who says he enjoyed meeting her last night. She slips her phone away and panics, completely lost as she tries to take the test. She reaches for her phone and subtly scans Wikipedia for help. Her teacher snatches the test and, meeting her outside, says she’s at risk of expulsion. “You know me,” she pleads, promising that she’s never cheated before in her life. At that, she’s apologetically told it’s either expulsion or a failing grade. This is shaping to be a really, really heartbreaking episode for Dom stans.
It’s been a second since we’ve seen Leila. The same Chinese students from episode 1 are snickering, asking how she feels now that George is back in school. Then, she gets a check-minus on her paper about the Kaifeng Jews — her teacher asks why she chose the subject, she explains that she’s Jewish and Chinese, so she found the topic relatable. Her teacher accuses her of not putting her own story into the paper, which seems a little harsh, but just reminds us again that Leila doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere. She has no known family in China she can contact for help; her Jewish parents also probably know nothing about the Kaifeng Jews.
Leila heads to play practice, but isn’t connecting with the material. At least, that’s what Meera says. Within earshot of Leila, Meera tells Omar they have to replace her, and Leila storms out, furious. She rips down a poster in the hallway; she gives the drama room the finger.
In therapy, Joey opens up about both the assault and her home life. When her dad came over after she was raped, she explains, it was the first time he was in her apartment since he moved out. For ages, she was angry that he cheated on her mom, but now, she’s remembering how close they once were, and she feels guilty that her case has hurt her family. Still, she says, “I’ve lost so much in all of this, and they’ve lost nothing.”
Flora shows up to Sid’s place. He’s been avoiding her texts since he was outed, and she wants to know if their entire relationship was fake — if all of his talk about traveling from Harvard to Brown every weekend was a lie. Flora has, I think, a pretty reasonable reaction: she says that she knows none of this is Sid’s fault and she wants to be there for him, but she’s hurt that he used her for so long. She also confirms that they had sex on Valentine’s Day, and she’s pissed about that, too.
Leila goes back to Rabbi Schultz, and laments that she’s apologized to everyone but nothing has improved. The rabbi suggests she bring her family to a weekend service; the sense of community could help. She also gently tells Leila that there’s a difference between a spiritual advisor and a therapist, and that if she wants more help, she’d be happy to introduce her to someone. She then leaves the room to take a call and Leila, fired up, pockets the rabbi’s scarf and runs out.
Dom goes to a beauty wholesale store to pick up supplies. As the cashier rings her up, she asks whether there’s any kind of frequent shopper discount. There isn’t. In a huff, angry about how much money she has to spend just to make more money, and also everything happening with John and school and her family, Dom storms out, fighting back tears.
Her friends chase her outside. “I can’t keep doing this,” Dom says, sinking to the ground. “There’s never a break. I can’t fucking catch up.” She tells Sonia, Tor, and Tamika about Ronald, and her mom’s proposition. They start to rally, telling her she shouldn’t have to go through with it, but Dom only gets more upset. She doesn’t want to see the Ronald situation as a big deal. Mostly, she doesn’t want her friends judging her family.
Meanwhile, Jayson is at a jazz club with his dad. He points out that Jay’s music is going to inspire a ton of people — and Jay takes a breath before responding that he’s doing something else that might make a difference, too. He’s planning Owen’s sit-in for the day before All-State. Jayson thinks his dad might be proud, but instead, he warns him to focus on his music. “You’ll create more change in the world if you make it to Juilliard than if you paint a target on your back,” he says.
As the dialogue heats up, Jayson confesses that the All-State seat was initially Owen’s. His dad agrees that Owen’s punishment was messed up, but that Jayson shouldn’t risk his future to fight back. “This shot is yours,” he says. “What matters now is what you do with it.” The best way to honor Owen, he adds, is to kick ass at All-State.
Jayson isn’t the only Grand Army student having a tough talk with a parent. Even though Sid’s parents told him to stay home, he decides to show up to the family restaurant and help out. Their anger is twofold: they’re probably upset about the revelation of his sexuality, but also, his face is still healing from Bo’s punches. “I’m gay. And that’s not going away,” says Sid. “We can talk about this, actually talk, or I can do the dishes. But I’m not going.” It’s a tragedy Meera isn’t here to see her brother — she’d be prouder than anything.
Joey is in her dad’s bathroom with her sister, Nina (Ava Preston). Nina notices a bald patch behind Joey’s ponytail. She asks about her hair-pulling, and Joey says nothing. Then, she mentions that a jerk from school asked if she “likes it rough” like her sister. When Joey starts to respond, she interrupts. “I just feel like you’re letting them win,” Nina tells her. “Say, ‘Fuck you. You don’t get to push me out of my life.’” She shows Joey a photo of George, Tim, and Luke, and implores her to go back to school. “I wish you’d stop letting them destroy you,” she says, finally.
Leila, walking down the street with her mom, starts to snap when her mother accidentally bumps into an East Asian woman on the street and chuckles. She says she’s never met a Chinese girl named Leila before, and asks why her parents gave her such an American name. “Everyone’s like, ‘Be the real you,’” she says. “So, can you tell me who that is?” She starts to cry. As much as Leila’s messed up this season, she really needs some help. Fingers crossed she gets it in the finale.
In the penultimate episode’s last moment, Dom agrees to go through with the Ronald plot. On one condition: some of the $10,000 goes towards her college fund.
Episode 9: Freedom
Well, Grand Army viewers, we’ve made it to the end, and a lot is about to go down. First, we find out what that creepy document is: a bomb threat email, sent to every Grand Army student and teacher. Then, we find out who’s sending it: Leila. It’s not completely surprising, given her graphic drawings, but it’s jarring to see Leila’s story take such a dark turn.
It’s Dom’s birthday, and to celebrate, she’s signing a contract ahead of her wedding to Ronald. She’s trying to focus on the positives. With Ronald, she’ll get her own room and space to study. Naturally, though, she’s still upset.
It’s also Joey’s first day at her new Catholic school. She’d hoped for a new beginning, but it seems like all her classmates somehow know about her past — or maybe she’s just paranoid. One girl stares at her while in mass, then follows her to the bathroom and gives her a side-eye. Joey tells her to get lost. Then, riding a sudden wave of confidence, she opens a long-abandoned group text with Anna, Luke, Tim, and George. “Can we meet later? I wanna talk,” she writes.
Cut to George and Luke opening the message and trying to decide what to do. They’re worried they could get in trouble, but Luke says he wants to meet up and see what Joey has to say for herself, convinced she’ll apologize to them. (Yuck.) Then, they run into Sid in the hallway and greet him with a high five. I’d almost forgotten that, before the events of Grand Army’s first few episodes, these guys were all in the same friend group.
Once again, the show wants to highlight how George and Luke don’t instantly jump out as cardboard cut-out villains: they ask Sid how he’s doing, and tell him that Bo’s actions were messed up. The bar is on the floor. They say they don’t care if he’s gay, but then, Luke cracks a joke about how he’s going to stay away from Sid in the showers. In one of the most casually jaw-dropping moments of the show so far, Sid walks away, tense and annoyed, before suddenly turning around. “Oh, yeah. I almost forgot,” he retorts. “Remind me to never get in a cab with you fuckers again. Who knows what the fuck you’d do?” It’s satisfying to watch someone put these assholes in their place, and I hope Joey gets to have a similar moment on her own terms later, too.
In class, the sit-in begins. Students start flooding into the hallway in droves. Leila is hiding out with Omar, but she keeps checking her phone, waiting for the scheduled bomb threat to arrive in her inbox. Sid runs into Victor, and begs for just five minutes of his time. “I know I texted you and messaged you, but I wanted to tell you to your face that I sincerely apologize,” he says once they’re in the bathroom. “What I accused you of was fucked, and I know that. I was in a bad place.” Victor, one of the show’s purest characters, immediately accepts the apology and tells Sid he wants to be “the easy part” of the entire outing ordeal. They hug. It lasts just a second too long, and then Victor tells Sid his essay was genius. There’s an hour left for Sid to get into Harvard and tell Victor he’s into him. Let’s go, Grand Army.
Back at the sit-in, John is speaking up about aggressions and microaggressions Black students face at Grand Army. “We will sit in solidarity. Open minds and hearts,” he says. “But with our anger on our sleeves.” His eyes lock with the principal and disciplinary officials, who look furious. John points out that a sixty-day suspension isn’t a life lesson; it’s a life-changer, and it’s why so many students, especially Black boys, end up dropping out at alarming rates. “This isn’t a TV show. This is happening right here at Grand Army,” he says. (You know the writers were really pleased with that line.) Leila keeps checking her phone.
Jayson is about to take the stand when the school goes into lockdown. There are a lot of reasons to be mad at Leila right now, and one of them is that she completely derailed such an important protest. But Leila’s having a great day: Rachel, petrified, finds her, and says she doesn’t want to fight with her anymore. Then, Leila goes home to hook up with Omar.
Tim, Anna, George, and Luke all meet up with Joey, and the image is arresting: all four on one side, with Joey on the other. Luke complains about the arrest, but Joey stands her ground. “What you guys did to me was fucked up, and I think you know that,” she snarls, fighting back tears. “How can you stand there and act like it was nothing? Can you just tell me? Can you just say that you were wrong? It’s all I’m asking for, alright?” She goes on to tell them that she isn’t trying to yell at them, or trick them, or make amends. She just wants a confession — a small piece of closure. But they maintain that they were all just drunk, and Joey just got embarrassed the next day.
Anna tries to speak up, and Tim silences her. Then, Joey turns on him. “Tim, you sat there,” she says. “Tim, you watched. I know you fucking saw me crying. You sat there while they pinned me down.” Anna, defensive of her brother, gets in Joey’s face. The confrontation begins to parallel the rape itself: Joey is fighting, crying, while George and Luke take turns telling her she was just out of control. She calls out for Tim, who just stands there, silent. Defeated, Joey walks away.
George, Luke, and Anna are grumbling as they walk in the other direction, but Tim stands still. Then, in a quiet but firm voice, he says, “It’s true, though.” When the other three turn around — George and Luke horrified, and Anna stunned — he begins to unravel. “It’s fucking true what she’s saying, and I’m done pretending,” he yells. “I watched you motherfuckers do what you did, so don’t even fucking try.” They shove each other, and Luke pulls George away as Tim continues to yell.
Dom, sitting by herself in the moonlit park, receives two messages in succession: one, a birthday message from Ronald. And the other, news that she got the Sisters Thrive internship. As she’s deciding how to respond to the first, Joey walks by, and she calls out for her. For a few minutes, they just sit together, both hesitant to go home.
Dom arrives home to a surprise birthday party. Her friends, family, and even John (plus a bouquet of roses) are all in attendance. Dom’s friends apologize for the tiff outside the beauty store, but she’s already forgotten about the entire argument. She tells her friends, then her mom, that she got the internship, and everyone cheers. Finally, things are looking up for Dom. I just need her to work things out with John, for real this time.
A quick side note: Grand Army takes place in the spring of 2020 — we know this because Leila’s bomb threat has a timestamp — so, as Joey walks into school, we hear her listening to a news podcast about COVID-19. I know this show is going for realism, but it’s such an awkward one-off mention. And now, I’m just reminded that these kids, living in the epicenter of the pandemic, are about to head into the worst April of their lives, as if this semester hasn’t already been difficult enough.
But anyway, back to Grand Army High School. John has an elaborate, pizza-themed promposal planned, but Dom runs the other way into the bathroom before he can pop the question. Her friends follow her in, and she explains that she’s still going through with the marriage to Ronald. She’s worried prom might be a red flag. Her friends say that they’ll stall the promposal, but that she has to talk to him, stat.
Following the sit-in, Jayson, John, and Sonia are sitting down with the principal to discuss the zero-tolerance policy. Jay also points out that racism runs rampant at Grand Army: slurs are thrown around, and Black girls are called out for dress code violations more frequently than white girls. This is an interesting parallel to the start of the show: if Joey, George, Luke, and Tim weren’t white, is there any way she would’ve gotten away with her “Free the Nipple” stunt? Black students are invisible to the administration, Jay continues. Like Owen.
The principal tells the students that he hears them, but that they should write a letter to the Department of Education. All three students are frustrated, but his final comment strikes an interesting chord — he tells Jayson that he’ll be at All-State later that night, and that performing well and “doing stand-up things” is one way to ensure he’s not invisible. It’s frustrating and, of course, racist. The sit-in, the fundraiser, and all of John’s work as the BSU President couldn’t be more “stand-up.”
A few things happen quickly: Joey, in class at her new school, receives a message from the girl she saw at mass, explaining that she wasn’t trying to laugh at her. Leila presents her new paper, and her teacher praises it as a major improvement. Sid, in his college counselor’s office, receives news that he got into Harvard. This last moment is the sweetest, especially since Meera’s there to give him a hug.
Dom gets an F on her APUSH test. The silver lining, I guess, is that she isn’t expelled. She leaves the classroom and runs into John, very intentionally trying to give her some space, and asks if they can meet up to talk that night. Meanwhile, Sid runs to find Victor and share the news of his Harvard acceptance. The pure joy Victor feels for Sid is palpable, and they finally kiss. The moment is broken by a text from Sid’s dad — a “congratulations” message. He says he’s proud of him. Sid couldn’t be happier.
Omar and Leila are hooking up, and Leila asks if she can show him her drawings. They’re lighter versions of her fantasy sequences; as she says, they’re “the real me.” George texts, asking if she’s around this weekend, and when Leila gets up to answer, Omar starts flipping through her notebook. He finds darker images this time… frightening ones.
Jayson finds Owen at the suspension center, and tells him that he’s filling in for him at All-State. He says he hopes to make him proud, but Owen’s upset. He accuses Jay of always putting himself first, and then says he should give up the spot. Instead, Jayson throws himself into the music, almost tearing up at his next rehearsal.
Joey meets up with her classmate, a girl named Sylvie (Mirabella Raschke-Robinson). They’re in the chapel, and Sylvie has evidently heard about Joey’s charges. She starts asking how Joey was able to go through with the allegations, and Joey starts arguing until Sylvie interrupts and explains that she was raped, too, one night when she visited her brother at college. She didn’t file any charges, but reading about Joey’s case struck her. “I think it’s brave what you did,” she says. “I think I regret not saying anything.” And then, most poignant of all, Sylvie tells Joey she believes her.
Dom arrives home, ready to talk to her mom about the Ronald situation, but her mom sits her down first. She tells Dom she won’t let her go through with the wedding because she can tell, deep down, that she really doesn’t want to. Her mom is going to start working extra hours, and her sister is going to find a job she can work from home. Her mom tells her to take the internship, get into college, and go fix her relationship with John. They share a hug.
The emotions aren’t over, though. Joey is running somewhere. Not just somewhere — a community dance class. She watches the other dancers, whispers to herself, “I’m not leaving,” and texts her mom. Ten minutes, she writes. She’s going to try to stick it out for ten minutes.
“Let your body take control,” the teacher says, and as the opening notes of George Michael’s “Freedom” begin, Joey dances. She’s in the back, by herself, still in an oversized hoodie, but she’s dancing. Her phone, on the corner bench, buzzes with a message from Tim. “Can we talk?” it reads. We get a flash image of Tim, snorting cocaine and looking distraught with guilt. He’s typing more, but Joey’s coming back to herself. She sheds the hoodie. She keeps moving.
Then, we move back to Dom, flanked by her friends. She’s outside John’s apartment, holding a rose, and when he steps outside, Tor and Tamika throw confetti. “PROM?” is written on his doorstep in petals. “So you didn’t want me to beat you to it, I guess?” John asks, flashing the biggest smile he’s shown us yet. As Dom asks him to prom and they kiss, Tamika continues showering them in glitter.
There’s one final story Grand Army needs to wrap up: Jayson’s. He’s at All-State, about to perform Coltrane’s “Alabama,” the same song he once discussed with the shopkeeper at the record store. Jayson begins to play, and you can practically see the moments flashing in his mind: his dad telling him about changing the world. Owen, with a bruised lip, outside the suspension center. The principal’s gross comment about “proving” he “isn’t invisible.” Jayson stops performing and covers his mouth in two pieces of black tape. As the crowd goes silent, he raises a fist.
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).