HBO Max's reboot of beloved teen series Gossip Girl is upon us, exploring the hallowed halls of Constance Billard St. Jude and the streets of the Upper East Side from the perspective of a new generation of bougie (and kinda bitchy) teens. The verdict is still out on whether the remake holds a candle to the original Gossip Girl — the premature reveal of Gossip Girl's identity certainly isn't helping — but one aspect of the newest Josh Safran project is rubbing many viewers the wrong way: where is Monet de Haan's (Savannah Smith) storyline?
So far, the 2021 take on Gossip Girl has focused heavily on the complicated dynamic between half-sisters Julien Calloway (Jordan Alexander) and Zoya Lott (Whitney Peak). Though the pair had good intentions for their secret family reunion, Julien and Zoya's plans have since become fodder for the revived gossip blog (now Instagram account), leading to a firestorm of issues that actually hindered their relationship. Making things even more complicated is the fact that Julien's clique isn't particularly fond of their newest member; in addition to Zoya being a freshman, she's not the daughter of someone rich and/or famous.
Over the past few episodes, we've seen several of the elites of Constance Billard grow slightly fonder of Zoya, some even taking her under their wing. However, Monet's hard stance towards the new girl is unwaveringly cold, to a point that's concerning. If we really think about it, though, that might just be the character — Monet is mean to everyone. But why?
Since the debut of Gossip Girl, Monet has been positioned as the mean girl of the group. The foil to Julien's friendly but unapproachable persona, the public relations maven-in-the-making is known for being unfriendly, even to her own crew at times. All Monet seems to care about is making sure that Julien, her VIP client, is working towards success at all times and at all costs. From her social media presence to the details of her love life, Julien has to run everything by Monet to make sure that it suits her brand as the It-girl of the Upper East Side, even if it means stepping on the toes of the people that she loves.
While every good story needs a villain who's bad to the bone, the one dimensional nature of the character feels like a big misstep, especially considering Hollywood's history of casting Black women in stereotypical roles. Like the original, HBO Max's Gossip Girl doesn't exactly touch on race in a substantial way, but the oversight does matter. Whether they meant to or not, Monet's current vibe does play somewhat into the unfortunate trope of the sapphire: a brash, mean-spirited, and overbearing Black woman who only cares about herself. Making things even more uncomfortable is the fact that Monet has the darkest skin color of all of her friends. What message is being sent when the darkest person in the friendship circle only exists to be a bully?
Other than the fact that she's mean as hell and obsessed with maintaining the status quo, there's little else that we know about Monet as a person. While the plot is exploring the major changes that her friends are facing in their personal lives, Monet sole role is as the gatekeeper of the group. There have been some breadcrumbs here and there — we know that she's queer and that she's the heir to a billion dollar pharmaceutical empire — but beyond that, she feels underdeveloped.
It isn't until the penultimate episode of the season that received a glimpse into what might be driving the character. When Julien and Zoya attempts to win the high profile Hulaween costume contest are foiled, we learn that Monet has secretly been sabotaging them behind the scenes. Her reasoning? Julien's heart just isn't in the game anymore, and that puts Monet's big plans for her life in jeopardy.
"I thought you were my friend," Monet says during a heated exchange with Julien and Luna La (Zión Moreno), whose lack of a storyline is just as criminal. "Which is why I put in all of these hours to make sure that you are the best. But when you abandoned all of that to waste your power and your time with that Buffa-local without even thinking about how it would affect other people, I was done."
"After years of doing your dirty work, you can't just decide that you're clean," she continued. "This is my future."
Despite only being a junior in high school, it's clear that Monet takes her role as Julien's PR consultant and advisor very seriously, but what isn't clear exactly why, and the Gossip Girl writer's room doesn't take the time to build on that potential backstory in the finale. Monet doesn't even appear in the finale — it's the Julien and Zoya show with a splash of Obie (Eli Brown), Audrey (Emily Alyn Lind), Aki (Evan Mock), and Max (Thomas Doherty) drama. Knowing that fans might be perturbed by the trajectory of Monet's place in the plot, however, Gossip Girl creator Josh Safran is promising that she will get her time in the sun before we know it.
"Anyone thinking that Monet and Luna are just hanger-ons of Julien, that's an odd read to me," Safran told Refinery29 in a recent interview. "I feel like they have very specific goals and dreams and pursuits. I really love writing them because to me, they're incredibly active characters. They are really out for their future in a way that most of the other kids in the show are not."
Safran’s explanation for spacing out Monet's character development across parts is intentional, he says, a means of making sure that this story isn't too busy. Just like the first iteration of Gossip Girl, this is a narrative about a group of friends, and because Monet is a key part of this clique, she'll get to have her moment in time.
"In 12 episodes, instead of 22 [episodes], you have to be strategic and think about not overcrowding," Safran explained. "I really love those characters because they know what they want and they're going after it at all costs...Monet's whole thing is 'I will not go into Big Pharma like my family.' And you're going to learn more about that and about her family."
With the sixth episode marking the beginning of the show's hiatus until November 2021, it'll be some time before we get the full picture of who Monet really is. Maybe it's just me, but knowing that her main character moment is coming makes all of her bullying and scheming a little less cringe — at least we know there's a reason for it now.
The first six episodes of Gossip Girl are now available for streaming on HBO Max.