Created by Katie Cappiello, ‘Netflix’s teen drama series ‘Grand Army’ is partially based on her critically acclaimed work ‘Slut: The Play’. The show is predominantly set in and around the fictional Grand Army High School, named after the historic Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York. Although it has a myriad of characters, ‘Grand Army’ focuses on five individuals who hail from diverse financial and cultural backgrounds and have vastly different personalities. The show makes a home in the same space of social consciousness as ‘Degrassi: The Next Generation’, exploring it through the developing perspective of adolescence.
Joey Del Marco (Odessa A’zion) is a free-spirited and outspoken young feminist from Stuyvesant Town. Dominique Pierre (Odley Jean) aspires to be a therapist and hails from an impoverished Haitian immigrant family living in East New York. Siddhartha Pakam (Amir Bageria) is a second-generation Hindu Indian from Jackson Heights. Both an accomplished athlete and a brilliant student, he is trying to enroll at Harvard University. Jayson Jackson (Maliq Johnson) is a prodigious saxophone player from Spanish Harlem. Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo) is the adopted racially Chinese daughter of a white Jewish couple residing in the Upper West Side. SPOILERS AHEAD!
Grand Army Recap
The series starts with a terrorist attack at the Plaza. Black smoke is seen rising from the windows of the Grand Army. The teachers hoard the students in classrooms and on the stairs as they wait for the threat to pass. With such a solemn opening, ‘Grand Army’ basically underscores its dramatic aspirations. The five main characters serve as different focal points of the show. Each of them has their own story, which is populated by a separate set of characters. Often time, these stories interact, maintaining a symbiotic existence.
Zoey treads a thin line between the disobedience stemming from her feminism and immature reactionary antics. Like the other four main characters, her brilliance and uniqueness set her apart in the crowd of students at the Grand Army. She fiercely defends her sexual agency when a boy she likes, Tim Delaney, questions her closeness with two of their mutual friends. She is clearly the leader of their clique, also including Tim’s sister Anna, Luke Friedman, and George Wright. She is robbed of that very sense of agency and fearlessness when Luke and George rape her in a cab with Tim also present there. Broken and betrayed, she feels truly defeated when the three boys are set free because of a lack of evidence.
Dom is also the leader of her own group. Dom is a high-achieving daughter of a Haitian single mother. She has been forced to grow up pretty quickly due to her family’s financial situation. Balancing her budding hair product business with school, basketball practice, and familial responsibilities, she finds herself quickly overwhelmed. There is a new romance in her life, in the shape of young activist John Ellis, but before it gets any serious, her mother asks her to marry one of her acquaintances so he can stay in the US. In exchange, the family will receive $10,000. Reluctantly, Dom agrees to do it.
Sid endures casual racism and sexism aimed toward him and his sister Meera (Ashley Ganger) from fellow students who are supposed to be his friends. He more or less shrugs off all the insults, believing reaction will only encourage them. He is desperately trying to hide the fact that he is gay not only from his traditional Indian parents but also from his peers. When the secret finally gets out. Sid lashes out at everyone, including the teacher, who is helping him with the Harvard application. After he finally finds out who leaked the information, it leads to a violent altercation, which leaves his nose broken.
Jayson and his friend and saxophone competitor Owen (Jaden Jordan) get into serious trouble after trying to prank Dom during the bomb threat, resulting in the loss of about $200 from her purse. Although they manage to raise the money by performing in the subway and give it back to her, it is apparently not enough. They are both temporarily suspended from Grand Army, with Owen receiving a much harsher punishment than Jayson. Afterward, Jayson is asked to fill the slot in a performance that was meant for Owen. Guilt-ridden and ashamed, Jayson becomes involved in the student movement at the school.
Leila’s character trajectory is vastly different from those of the rest of the main characters. Being adopted by Jewish American parents, she has little to no connection to her native land. She often gets bullied by other Chinese girls at her school for not knowing Mandarin. Leila’s sole outlet seems to be the violent and graphic comic-book style drawing that she does.
Grand Army Ending
One running subplot in the series is the contention between her and Zoey, although it changes to mutual appreciation and understanding by the end of the season. Grand Army seems to have a unique distinction of being a school that is both public and prestigious. Many teachers seem to genuinely care for their students, although they are not above their individual prejudices. All of the five protagonists undergo radical changes throughout the season and emerge as more confident and prouder versions of themselves.
After Joey enrolls in a Catholic school, she meets Sylvie, also a rape survivor. Sylvie admits that she has never spoken to anyone before about her rape, and when Joey took her rapists to court, she thought it was incredibly admirable. This encounter gives Joey enough courage to meet the three boys and Anna. George and Luke still claim that it was consensual. However, after Joey leaves, Tim confronts them with his recollection of the evening. To regain a sense of control, Joey goes back to the dance class. Through rhythmic and purposeful movements, she begins her process of healing.
During her interview for a high-school internship, Dom passionately articulates the need for black mental health workers in black communities and lands the job. Her mother realizes what a folly it was to place the entire family’s responsibility on her young shoulders and calls off the marriage of convenience. With the help of friends, Dom asks John to the prom.
While the outing took the choice away from him, it ultimately proves to be a good thing for Sid. At the end of the season, he has been accepted into Harvard and has begun a relationship with Victor (August Blanco Rosenstein). His father sends him a congratulatory message for his admission, indicating that his conservation Hindu family is at least willing to talk to him. The first step is always the most important.
Despite all their attempts, the student movement doesn’t achieve much, and Owen is still suspended from Grand Army. On the day of the performance, Jayson uses the biggest stage allocated to him to make a statement. In the presence of his family and hundreds of others, he puts his saxophone down and places a pair of black tapes over his mouth, symbolically protesting against the school administration and society at large for the oppressive and derogatory treatment of the students of color.
At the start of each episode, an email is shown to be composed that has distinctive white ultra-right-wing undertones. It declares that there will be an attack on the school. In Episode 9, titled ‘Freedom,’ Leila is revealed to be its writer. She sets it to be delivered to the principal when the student demonstration at the school is in full swing. She gleefully laughs as the security tries to escort the students to safety, reveling in the pandemonium she has caused. As with the other four principal characters, Leila breaks the proverbial shackles and finds her own path to freedom and agency, even if it’s darker and more sinister than others.
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