ZOE PLOT SUMMARY: The episode opens up with Zoë doing her hair and makeup at Degrassi, then she accidentally burns her wrist with her curling iron. Zoë auditions to host Degrassi’s 60th anniversary show with Winston, but loses the role to Esme because she wasn’t magnetic on stage and couldn’t sell the sexual tension bit in the script. She asks Esme to show her how she auditioned, and as they practice the sexual tension bit Zoë finds herself kissing Esme a little too passionately for her liking. Tristan is convinced Zoë is a lesbian, but she keeps denying it because that’s not who she wants to be. When he tells her she’s better off being honest with herself, she offends him by saying she’d rather “be normal” instead of being out like him. Later, Miles tells Zoë that she shouldn’t care what other people that the only people that matter should be those who like you for who you are. He also tells her that Winston likes her. Despite the fact Zoë has no romantic interest in Winston, she kisses him and the two start dating, allowing her to avoid dealing with the fact she’s struggling with her sexuality.
Zoë Rivas is Degrassi’s poster child for how dynamic a character can be, constantly challenging the predictable mindset that characters (or real-life people for that matter) are either completely good or completely bad. While her bad moments have been extreme levels of vindictive behavior, a constant with Zoë has always been her desire to fit in and be wanted.
“No one likes me for me,” she tells Miles. Zoë is clearly in a closet, closing herself off from even entertaining the idea of exploring her sexuality because of how much it hurt when she allowed herself to be open and vulnerable, only to be rejected by Grace. There’s also the point she made about not imagining her life “like that,” aka being anything on the LGBTQ spectrum.
Both Zoë and Tristan have reputations for not being the most upstanding Degrassi characters, but for me they have the most underrated friendship on Next Class in terms of the humanity we see them bring out of each other at times. Instead of a gushy, “We’re BFFs <3 4ever” type depiction of friendship, Zoë and Tristan love roasting each other, and they give each other the most brutally honest of opinions, right or wrong. Tristan oversteps his bounds though, with his insistence that Zoë is definitely a lesbian. Even dating back to Season 1 of Next Class, he has a consistent history of biphobic comments and assuming other characters’ sexuality based on nothing. Another factor in Tristan’s mindset in this episode is that he’s been out and proud for forever and he assumes that coming out can be an easy transition for other people, just like people think it’s easy for those suffering from anxiety to just “get over it.”
This storyline is heartbreaking because we can see and feel Zoë’s discomfort in regards to the gap between her idealistic view of who she wants to be versus who she really is. “It just seems so hard,” she says about being gay, a decision that leads her to hide from the truth by jumping into a relationship with Winston.
In the Degrassi: TNG episode Take On Me, Sean Cameron directly asked Ellie Nash why she was a cutter. “It was the only pain I could control,” she told him, a line that resonates throughout a Degrassi episode over a decade later as Zoë flicks the burn on her wrist. It’s a haunting reminder of the inner turmoil teens are still facing as they figure out who they are in a world that would rather them be something else.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: These didn’t really fit in the direction I took with the review, but they’re worth mentioning:
*So apparently Winston rejecting girls while in a position of power because he likes them is a thing. It’s pure nonsense on his part, but just like Tristan always commenting on other people’s sexuality, at least he’s consistent?!? #continuity
*Zoë and Esme’s scenes are fantastic in this episode. Together they could form a toxic implosion of nuclear proportions, but on the flip side they have next-level chemistry. Ana Golja has always delivered her lines as Zoë effortlessly, and Chelsea Clark has shown she can do the same thing in her short time as Esme.
GRACE PLOT SUMMARY: While Grace is minding her own business, Baaz walks up to her and insults her appearance, saying that she looks like she’s damaged and actively trying to avoid attracting men. While even Maya and Jonah think Grace’s style means she doesn’t care about trying to dress to attract guys, it causes her to become self conscious that Zig might not like her because of how she looks. She ends up wearing a pink dress to school, and gets upset when Zig and Tiny casually joke about her drastic change in style. Zig apologizes, and Grace reveals she’s afraid her look pushes might scare people from wanting to be close to her. However, Zig tells her he liked the old Grace and that she should only change for herself. Later, while scaring Baaz for his previous comments, Grace and Maya learn he was only saying those things because was reading tips from a dating advice book. Her plot ends with an awkward moment as Zig walks up, Maya avoids looking Zig in the eyes and Grace has to continue hiding her feelings for him.
An initial viewing of this story gives off the “Oh no, are we really having Grace off all people change herself for a boy?!?” vibe, but what I love about this plot is that it’s full of assumptions coming from every angle. I mean that’s what we do as humans, right? We assume pretty much everything until we’re proven wrong. Baaz makes disparaging comments about Grace’s looks because a book told him the way to win a girl’s heart is to treat her like crap (not true). Maya makes a seemingly innocent remark about Grace not caring about looking attractive to guys (not true). And as viewers, we’ve made the assumption that while Grace is a badass, it means by default that she never lacks confidence in herself, never cares about what anyone thinks about her and doesn’t let anything get to her…again, not true. Our perception of reality doesn’t always align with actual reality, and there’s nothing easier for the human mind than for it to talk you into doubting yourself.
“I’ve just worked so hard not to let other people get to me about this stuff,” she tells Zig. As for Mr. Novak, he acts like he’s lost his damn mind when it comes to his relationship with Maya, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of being a good, supportive friend outside of that. “If this is the new you that’s cool, but the old you was awesome too,” he says before telling her that she should only change who she is because she wants to do it for herself.
Her lapse in confidence because of her feelings for Zig isn’t that bad by itself. I’m also in the camp that, based on their conversation in this episode alone, believes there’s nothing unrealistic about Grace falling for a guy she’s actually known since before we first saw them co-exist in the rubber room some 60+ episodes ago. However, it becomes scary if you think about it in the context of her being dragged into a what could be a messy Zaya love triangle. As for this episode, I can appreciate the depth they’re continuing to provide to one of my favorite Degrassi characters in Grace Cardinal.
*If you exclude his behavior, which is 10000000% unacceptable, I love the fact that Baaz has a crush on Grace. I also love that Degrassi foreshadowed his misguided idea of how to pick up women in their Degrassi TV web series.
LOLA PLOT SUMMARY: When Tiny finds out Lola uses the “Teendr” dating app to flirt with other guys solely for pizza, he demands that she stop. Goldi and Shay agree that a girl should never delete an app because her boyfriend wants her to, until Lola says it’s Teendr. Those two as well as Frankie say that you shouldn’t need a dating app when you’re in a relationship, and Lola admits she keeps it because she’s afraid Tiny will eventually break up with her. With Tiny still mad and Lola afraid to become too attached to anyone, she decides to break up with Tiny. After browsing Teendr and meeting a Tiny lookalike named Anton who’s crude, she immediately regrets her decision. She tells Tiny she’s been afraid to form close relationships with people ever since her mom abandoned her, but that she doesn’t want to miss out on something great with him. The two get back together, but Anton shows up at the school with a pizza. Anton sucker punches Tiny, and because of Degrassi’s zero-tolerance policy Tiny gets suspended for fighting. As Tiny’s escorted off of school property, Lola vows to fight his unfair suspension.
Remember when Clare Edwards lost her mind in Season 11? She went on an angry, self-centered tear for a while there, acting out because her parents’ divorce devastated her emotionally. She was annoying as hell during that period while watching the actual episodes, but it wasn’t until looking back at the big picture after the fact that I was able to have an appreciation for what Degrassi was doing.
While Lola’s “voice” remains consistent from season to season, her usage has been kind of confusing in Next Class Season 2 leading into this episode. She’s basically a background character with one-liners in Frankie’s racism plot, but her commentary on Zig’s relationship in #TurntUp is as alarming as her relationship behavior throughout #BuyMePizza.
When it comes to relationships on Degrassi, the most popular fan trend over the years has been to choose a side, dig in and form arguments that are strongly motivated toward “sticking it” to fans of the other side, instead of analyzing the underlying mechanics of the couple in question, both good and problematic. In reality, the dynamic of a character allowing past negative experiences to dictate how they treat people currently is probably one of the most widely relatable concepts this show’s dealt with since Mirror In The Bathroom.
Amidst the entertainment of mic drops and having “another dude’s pizza in your mouth,” Lola’s abandonment issues present an opportunity for introspection when it comes to one’s own behavior. It’s overwhelming to genuinely think about how your behavior has affected the people you’ve met in your life, for better or for worse. And as we’ve seen in all of the plots in #BuyMePizza, people can be far more motivated by fear when it comes to romance, often leading to self-sabotage and self-fulfilling prophecies of failure. We want love and acceptance, but so many of us aren’t willing to risk fully putting ourselves out there to get it.
Lola’s personality type paints her as more immature than her peers, but it’s a step in the right direction to see her become aware enough to realize why she’s so hesitant to form a connection.
*Tiny has become my favorite male character on Degrassi.
*Lola’s been problematic in Season 2, but man has her comedic timing been sharp. Amanda Arcuri’s delivery is consistently on point.
*This isn’t true, but I choose to believe that #BuyMePizza is actually the unreleased Degrassi episode “Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell” from years ago.
This is a pretty solid example of an episode running from a theme. Zoe, Grace, and Lola are all working from a place of fear. Zoe’s fear of not belonging, Grace’s fear of missing out, Lola’s fear of being hurt. However Grace’s is the only one that’s a new development… sorta.
We’ve seen Grace has issues connecting, because she’s kept a huge part of herself secret from everyone. But this is the first time she’s shown any doubts about her choice of ‘missing out.’ Or, maybe more accurately, this is the first time she’s viewed it as a choice, because in Season 1 she simply took it as a statement of fact she wasn’t meant to have that life.
Another interesting bit of continuity on Lola’s abandonment issues, Lola and Tiny is one of the rare examples of a pair of characters liking each other, going out on a date, and then ‘talking’ (instead of jumping directly to the label of ‘dating’) for some period of time. Which would make sense if Lola’s afraid of being on the spot and ‘letting someone in so they hurt her.’ She tests the waters before even getting into a relationship… even if she doesn’t exactly have the standard definition for what constitutes cheating.
The fascinating part about Zoe and Tristan’s friendship is that they are both similar in a lot of ways as they are both gay characters, they’re both these kind of “bitchy” characters. But they have completely different perspectives when it comes to sexuality.
Tristan is one of these gay people who has just always known that he is gay for his entire life. Everything that he does, says, wears, etc. is defined by his sexuality. He was “born this way” so to speak. This is also the predominant narrative in the mainstream media over the past 20 years or so; that gay people were just born gay the way that people are born with a particular race or ethnic background. Convincing people that sexuality isn’t a choice but rather something that you were born with has been essential to advancing the gay rights movement and elevating it to the same status as other major movements like civil rights, womens rights, etc. It has put being gay into a similar bucket i.e. that you shouldn’t discriminate against someone for something they were born with and can’t change. This is how Tristan sees sexual identity.
Zoe, on the other hand, has had a very different experience. She didn’t grow up always knowing that she was gay. She has had relationships with boys. She didn’t start questioning her sexuality until she started getting closer to Grace. She doesn’t fit into this “I’ve known since I was 5” narrative. Zoe is also a girl, which makes a difference too. It’s sad to say, but often girls are taught from a young age that sex with men is supposed to be unpleasant. That it’s supposed to hurt or that guys only care about themselves, etc. I can easily see Zoe having sex with Drew, Miles and thinking – well I don’t really like this, but I guess this is just what sex is supposed to be like??? (This was my experience as a teenage girl. I always thought that one day I would meet a guy and then I would finally understand how other girls felt. The idea of actually being gay was terrifying and not something I was ready to confront until years later).
So for Tristan, he doesn’t understand how Zoe can be unsure of her sexuality. When he sees that Zoe is scared to come out or explore relationships with girls, he thinks it’s because she’s ashamed of herself and by extension ashamed of him as being gay is such a huge part of Tristan’s personality. The reality is that it’s more complicated than that, but you can see how Tristan would be easily upset/offended by Zoe essentially saying that she doesn’t want to be like him. Throughout the entire run of the show, Tristan has always been a character that is overly sensitive and very easily offended. I think if we look at what has happened to him in the past, it’s easy to see why.
Being a Tristan fan right now is difficult to say the least. He is by far the most polarizing character on the show. Some of the comments online that people say about Tristan fans are downright cruel IMO.
Tristan has done and said a lot of really awful things, but so have Miles and Zoe for that matter. I think the difference with Tristan is that he’s not a very likable character. He covers up his insecurities with attitude/sass, but we very rarely see him break down and show his vulnerability. He also doesn’t get nearly as many A plots as Miles and Zoe, despite the fact that he’s had to deal with a lot of really awful situations (being manipulated by a sexual predator, body image issues, heartbreak, being the only out kid in school, growing up with HIS HOMOPHOBIC AND VIOLENT BROTHER OWEN MILLIGAN etc).
Personally I find him to be a fascinating character. I don’t think he’s right by any means. But I hope that he’ll be okay in the end.
I’ve brought up on tumblr my issue with Tristan, and it isn’t Tristan, it’s the narrative around him. Because, and this is where things fall apart, is that Tristan learned nothing from any of the really awful situations you listed.
– Being Manipulated by a Sexual Predator: Tristan firmly blames Maya for ruining his perfect storybook romance with Yates AFTER finding out Yates was groping other students.
– Body Image Issues: Tristan had a heart attack, Owen helped him keep the weight off in healthy ways so he never had to love himself when he was fat. He just… got to be skinny.
– Heartbreak: He broke up with Miles because Miles still had feelings for Maya, then acted like Miles was the villain leading him on while he was still into girls. Completely disregarding Miles own heart on matters, Miles had to prove himself to Tristan when Tris broke them up.
– Being the only Out kid in school: He had one, but either they lost the actor or just wanted to keep Tristan alone going into Season 13 because he broke up with Fab because ‘Fab thought fashion week was shallow.’ Similarly he dropped Vijay for altogether honest reasons, ran his presidency like his name was Clinton, and… slutshamed his boyfriend Miles after this?
– Owen Milligan: So this is a weird one, cause in 10-11A Owen was ragingly homophobic and completely unkind to anyone not a dudebro. But as soon as Tristan is a main character Owen was walked back to ‘walking meathead’ and mostly bothered that his little brother is annoying. Owen continued to not be a terrible older brother when they interacted except that he wouldn’t stand up for Tristan to the hockey bros until Tristan was kidnapped by Dallas and Luke. Whatever issues happened with superbigot Owen Milligan were never in the context of his relationship with Tristan.
A whole bunch of great ‘Tristan can learn something’ plots completely undermined by the writers refusing to have Tristan learn anything.
And that’s only Tristan’s narrative as it comes to himself, not the little chipping damage he does to his friends by just… not caring about them. Probably my least favorite random stupid unnecessary ‘Tristan is a diva more than he loves his friends’ line was in Unbelievable. When the basketball team is in the locker room preparing for the game, Tristan is the one to say “I’d be more psyched if we got a pep rally.” That line would have been fine from ANYONE ELSE IN THE ROOM. But Tristan being the one to say “God, it sucks my best friend got sexually assaulted by someone, but only because I wanted a pep rally” is horrible. Maya and Miles, both of whom are not actually Zoe’s friends, care more about Zoe’s well being this episode than Tristan.
Tristan is a fairly well written character, I just wish that his one piece of continuity was something other than ‘terrible friend.’
I really enjoyed your analysis on Grace. So few people seem to get her or her plots; or rather, they purposely refuse to understand her because they would rather scream about bad writing in her rejection of Zoë, rather than respect her as her own character with thoughts and feelings. Your analysis of Lola was great as well as she has a hidden depth, but most don’t want to see past the ditsy cotton candy. Her character has some amazing set up to explore relationships and trust, and how they are informed by parents, and perhaps, self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tristan and Zoë have my favourite friendship in the history of Degrassi. They don’t have to pretend to be what they’re not even though it does cause some friction. The anti-Tristan fandom destroyed him in Season 2. Even though his methods weren’t ideal, he truly believed that Zoë would be happier if she faced the truth. And he was right… but she had to get to that realization herself.
About WInston being in a position of power, my friend once commented that he has a habit of casting his love interests in shows that he’s involved with.
I can totally understand why Grace would have feelings for Zig even though the Gracevas and Zaya camps refuse to acknowledge it. For as long as she could remember, Zig was hopelessly in love with Maya and now that they’ve fizzled, Grace’s dormant feelings are starting to stir. It makes sense even though on paper it seemed like it came from left field.