Everybody needs a break from the drama of their own lives sometimes and, this week, East Highland’s teens get that relief – sort of. After showing hints of Lexi’s (Maude Apatow) play preparation – auditions, her anxiety that it will send sister Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) over the edge – we finally get to witness the final production in full.
Its premise is this: a retelling of Lexi and her circle’s recent years through the budding playwright’s eyes, using her observations made as the outsider of the group. It opens on a scene at Rue’s dad’s wake where Lexi finds her friend hidden away in her room, crushing up and snorting her dad’s pills. The scenes cut between reality and the play, blurring the lines of what’s actually happening and Lexi’s impressions of it.
It’s not until later when the play’s characters are introduced in a scene where school photos are being taken that the key members of the audience – Maddy (Alexa Demie), Kat (Barbie Ferreira), Cassie – realise this play is not a piece of fiction but, instead, about them. Their alter egos look similar and recreate their actions, even if they have different names – Marta, Luna, Hallie. Slowly, the real women’s faces drop as they realise.
They needn’t be too worried. Lexi’s script is mostly harmless, positioning her as some oh-so-unique deep thinker compared to her selfie-taking classmates, and encapsulating the desperate desire to be cool and popular that often takes hold when you’re entering high school. But it also highlights the best bits of these girls’ friendship, like reminding the feuding Cassie and Maddy of when Maddy’s parents were fighting all the time and she sought refuge at the Howard house. Instead of making her sleep on a sofa bed alone, Cassie invited her into her bed where she could feel safe and loved.
One scene, though, could undo all that good. Eventually, Lexi turns her gaze towards the school’s jocks, including Nate (Jacob Elordi), getting a group of guys to recreate a gym session but lacing it with homoeroticism and not-so-subtle phallic references. Its choreographed routine is set to Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and the crowd laps it up hungrily, except for Nate who, feeling the rest of the audience’s constant glances at him, becomes less and less impressed as it dances on, and leaves the theatre once the scene is over. Cassie follows him and he tells her it’s homophobic, before blaming her for her sister’s actions and storming out of the school.
In between the play scenes, we’re given updates to other plotlines at East Highland. Lexi and Fez’s (Angus Cloud) relationship is getting stronger and stronger, with them talking on the phone every day. Lexi saves Fez a ticket for the play and he’s excitedly getting ready to come watch it when Custer turns up at his house. “My whole life, I’ve had this feeling something horrible is about to happen,” Lexi narrates, as the atmosphere in the house turns tense. Sensing this, Fez pauses before he leaves and, from his no-show at the play, we know something must go down.
Elsewhere, Rue (Zendaya) is back at home and gets an earful from her mum. Her little sister Gia (Storm Reid) has started to get into trouble at school and her grades are slipping. In no uncertain terms, her mum tells Rue that if she can’t save both of them, she’ll focus on saving Gia instead. It’s brutal, but not entirely unreasonable.
Jules (Hunter Schafer) takes a hammer to the disc that Nate gave her last week, containing the footage of her having sex with his dad. Nate’s relationship with Cassie, meanwhile, enters unhealthy new ground – her telling him that he can control everything about her, from what she wears to what she eats and who she speaks to. When he leaves her in the school hallway midway through the play, he doesn’t tell her to seek revenge on Lexi but, judging by her terrifying glare through the glass of the theatre door moments later, that’s exactly what she’s planning to do. “To be continued…” appears on the screen next to her, suggesting we’re in for one hell of a finale next week.
On the soundtrack
- Tweet’s stonking 2002 collab with Missy Elliott, ‘Oops (Oh My)’, rings around the theatre as the representations of Maddy and Cassie perform a cheerleading routine on stage.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bC1cWi8T_8g
- ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ by Captain & Tenille optimistically soundtracks the school photos scene.
- The most iconic scene in Lexi’s play taking on the school’s jocks is set raucously to Bonnie Tyler’s ’80s classic ‘Holding Out For A Hero’.