There’s a world where Netflix’s Grand Army series premiere, “Brooklyn, 2020,” wraps with Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’Zion) and Tom Deleney (Thelonius Serrell-Freed) screaming all their teen angst away on the back of a speeding train. But, that’s not this world. Because once that scene wraps, a mysterious shot of a blank screen pops up. “I’m going to teach you things you’ll never forget.” is typed on the screen. It’s a line that could be from a poem. Or maybe it's the beginning of some English project for Grand Army’s titular fictional high school.
The text keeps appearing throughout the series’ remaining eight episodes, opening each chapter and closing every one out. By series finale “Freedom,” you realize this isn’t any sort of creative writing — it’s an email containing a bomb threat. Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo) is the person writing the unhinged, slur-filled threat.
The first time we really get to hear Leila speak in the premiere, she is rattling off lines from Coming of Age, the Vagina Monologues-esque play written and directed by schoolmate Meera Pakam (Ashley Ganger). Leila explains that the play is the “only thing” she’s been looking forward to for some time. Leila is gleeful over the fact that she ended up in lockdown with Meera. It’s uncomfortable to see Leila’s bald, gleeful ambition over her accidental meeting with Meera when you remember why they’re stuck together: Someone committed a terrorist attack nearby, killing a number of people and sending Grand Army into a school-wide lockdown. Everyone but Leila seems to notice.
Leila becomes increasingly fixated on the play and her chance to receive mass attention through it over Grand Army’s first season. The problem is, Leila is too obsessed with drama outside of the theater department to succeed in Coming of Age. Early in the season, Leila’s audition is thrown off by the rude behavior of George Wright (Anthony Ippolito), her older — genuinely villainous — crush. In seventh episode “Making Moves,” Leila spends most of rehearsals drafting a text to Joey in an attempt to make the older girl like her. When Meera has questions about the intentions of the play, Leila has to rely on whispered answers from assistant director Omar Biller (Zac Kara) to prove she understands the material.
All of these issues come bubbling to the surface in penultimate episode “Spirit Day.” After getting saddled with an understudy gig, Leila is handed a leading role when another actress is diagnosed with mononucleosis. But when Leila is given the stage, she flounders. She doesn’t have conviction in her lines and lacks proficiency in the ASL accompaniment. Although Meera says Leila isn’t “strong,” it’s obvious Leila simply isn’t ready for a spotlight of this intensity. She barely knows herself or own desires — she can’t be expected to monologue about sex sounds confidently.
Meera cuts Leila from the play anyway.
At this point in Grand Army, Leila is alienated from her best friend Rachel Finer (Lola Blackman) and coming to terms with the fact that her first hookup, George, is an accused rapist. Now, she has lost the “only thing” she has truly been excited about: the play. So Leila decides to ruin it like she believes so many things have been ruined for her. The bomb threat is her path to that excessively dark goal. In the background of all of Grand Army’s many tumultuous happenings, the school has become exponentially more serious about security following the premiere’s terrorist attack. Leila, it seems, has taken note.
The night before the show, Leila drafts the email we have seen throughout the season. That means each line was not written during its corresponding episode. Instead, every look at the email prior to the finale was a flash-forward to this "Freedom" scene. In the letter, Leila claims a “bloodbath” that will “slaughter” various groups of students of color is coming to Grand Army “TODAY.” Prior lines of the bomb threat — which were revealed earlier in the season — allege that there is a pressure cooker bomb hidden somewhere in the walls of Grand Army, and the ensuing carnage can be blamed on students' “lack of respect.” It’s a disturbing and deranged false promise that seems to hold pieces of Leila’s real frustrations (see: the complaint about people having “love in their lives”).
As Leila hopes, the play is cancelled once Grand Army’s administration receives the email. Although, again, in reality there is no bomb. The school is evacuated, and Leila is left with free time to hook up with poor Omar, who had no idea his dream girl ruined all of his hard work.
“Freedom” allows Leila to wrap the season the happiest she has ever been. She actually experiences sexual pleasure through oral sex with Omar. Rachel has forgiven her. Her history paper is lauded by her teacher. Yet, the finale still drops a few breadcrumbs that Leila’s troubles are only beginning after she manufactured a bomb threat. Unbeknownst to Leila, Omar finds her secret notebook, which is filled with violent imagery, including multiple references to bombs and deadly explosions. Before Leila is forced to answer for her drawings, she distracts Omar with a kiss.
But a makeout session won’t keep Omar from asking questions forever. And as a random Grand Army student mutters in the finale about a bomb threat, “It's a fuckin’ felony? This fucking loser who wanted attention could get, like, five years [in prison]?” If Netflix does order a second season of Grand Army, Leila could be in for so much more attention than she ever wanted.