Last night's NYC Prep touched on a perennial question: Is charity still noble when it's entirely self-serving? In the season finale, Sebastian and Jessie both threw elaborate events to advance primary and secondary causes (Jessie, Operation Smile and to assert her social supremacy; Sebastian, potable drinking water in Africa and "to show my sensitive side to girls"). The grand results and megalomaniacal scheming behind said events, however, might have caused the African populations they were supporting to suffer post-traumatic flashbacks to the reigns of Idi Amin and Joseph Désiré Mobutu. Meanwhile, the rest of the cast's attempts to be charitable on a more grassroots level are equally vainglorious: Camille aims to depose Jessie at Operation Smile with strategic shit talk, would-be pop star Kelli agrees to perform at Sebastian's awareness-raising event, which happens to be aired on television, and PC attempts to give Taylor new opportunities, only to be rebuffed. The natives, he learns, are not always grateful to be civilized.
No one on the show, really, knows what to make of Taylor, the philosophy-reading, gold-digging, vegan gymnast. In this episode, Camille attempts to define her: "Taylor's the most unique person I've ever met," she says. "She just does whatever she wants whenever she wants it, and is totally nonchalant." Except, of course, when she's trying too hard. "Today I like went to like an anti-war protest, then I had to like go back to school," she said to Camille with that smile of hers, the one that looks like she's just been sprayed in the face with something surprising. "This year I've been hanging out with a lot of prep-school kids and their confidence has really rubbed off on me." It's true that Taylor has grown, and she appears more confident. Unfortunately, this confidence expresses itself on air through things like unremorsefully and unartfully lying to PC's face about where she's been.
We've stood by Jessie, maintaining that beneath her jangly jewelry and territorial taskmastering lurked a sensitive soul, but this week, she finally broke us. It's her big event — the fashion show she orchestrated for Operation Smile — and everything about her attitude is wrong. "I haven't slept in a week, I'm suh busy," she explains to the camera. Really? Like making phone calls and soliciting donations? Oh, no: Among Jessie's charitable duties actually include getting hair extensions and posing with a shirtless male model for a postcard that is going in the gift bags that are being handed out at the event. Later, she acts too busy and important to deal with Camille and then blows up at her for not joining a Facebook group — a Facebook group? — to prove her dedication to the cause, and brushed off Camille when she made the very reasonable point that "It's charity — charity always needs more help." The event, the dinner that she set up so she could later storm out, and her histrionics regarding PC, were unbearable ("I never know where you are, everyone always asks me and it's a lot of responsibility for me," she whines to PC). There may be a soul under there — as indicated by the fact that she laughed off her humiliating fall at the charity event — but in this episode, at least, it was smothered to death by Spanx.
Hair-tossing lothario Sebastian has struck out in three of the last four episodes, and now he and his phlegmatic friend Gabe have cooked up a scheme to get his mojo back: a $20-a-head charity event to raise awareness for polluted wells in Africa, to which he will invite pretty much all women. This provides him an opportunity to use the term "potable" many times in rapid succession, which, we'll admit, is not a word we thought we'd ever hear him say not attached to a sentence like, "Trust me, girl, my spunk is ... " He tells the camera, "It's a good cause, and it shows my sensitive side to girls." He tries this out on Kelli, his spurned lover: "I'm just interested in, like, helping," he explains. "Also, it will look good to colleges," she adds helpfully. Yeah, that too. In the end, however, Sebastian's charitable endeavor is not entirely soulless. It causes him to reflect on his life and make important changes. "This year's been all about quantity," he mulls to the camera. "Next year's going to be about quality. A smaller number of girls, but, like, really, really hot ones."
Camille decided this episode to come out fully as the bitch she knows she has the power to be. Since it worked so well for Jessie, why shouldn't it work for her? She called Jessie a "bitch" and "Cruella de Vil," spreading as much bile as possible at Jessie's own event. After years of watching reality television, we think we can almost understand the language of "producer," and this episode, we think, was pretty clearly trying to get across the idea that Camille could be the star of next season. If that's the case, she'll need to watch a lot more episodes of Gossip Girl to get her whole shtick down pat. Blair Waldorf would have never forgotten to wear bottoms to a meeting about a charity event.
PC started off poorly in this episode, which eventually humbled him. "For future references, this is the kind of thing that ruins relationships," he lectures Taylor over skipping his party. "When you say you're going to be somewhere and when you're going to do certain things when someone does something for you, you kind of have to give something back. You realize you will fuck yourself over with your friends if you do stuff like that." He would have had a leg to stand on had his constant ditching of Jessie not been one of the main plotlines of the entire reality series. (Later he even does a great imitation of her: "Oh, my God, I'm like suh mad at you!") We suppose we're meant to believe that this is why he has a cathartic confrontation with his blonde BFF later in the show. We're not sure we buy that, but this conversation, held on a blistery afternoon by the river (why are people always meeting by the river? Who does that other than women in Woody Allen movies?), seemed all too teenage-real to us:
PC: "The reason we fight so much is because we care about each other too much."
Jessie: "I don't think it's bad to care about someone. Like I can't not care about you, that just won't stop. I don't know what you want me to tell you."
PC: "I don't know. This is going to be — everything's ending. This is not, I'm not going to see you. It's going to be really different."
Jessie: "I don't know how to make it work."
PC: "Well, we'll figure it out, all right?" [They hug, and the cold wind keeps tugging at their warm, protective coats.]
Now, that's drama. This followed up on a relatively endearing speech by PC about wanting to be himself. (Or, in producer language, him wanting to be bisexual.) In the end, we loved PC in his Dolce tux at the Operation Smile dinner, where everyone else was dressed like it was a Sadie Hawkins semiformal. And we were weirdly happy when he got into Occidental, even though he's soon going to find out it's in an L.A. dead zone and not nearly as proximate to West Hollywood as he thinks it is.
Look, Kelli's a sweet kid and she has a surprisingly good voice and all, but when she showed up at Sebastian's event with big hair and a black suit with shoulder pads and launched into a soulful song about how her man done left her (complete with Star Search hand motions), we couldn't help but think, If this guy did Toni Braxton, this is what it would look like. In the end, you have to remember that Kelli is a (relatively) levelheaded girl with a decent social and moral compass, who was thrown into a pen with a bunch of scat-throwing macaques. Out of loyalty to Camille, she tries to keep the girl's defensive nastiness in check, and she tackled the Sisyphean task of trying to keeping Sebastian and PC honest. Everyone on the show is a little bit less of a jerk because of her, and as a result, the producers largely relegate her to the sidelines. For that, and the fact that she's the only character on the show for whom the exposure might actually be a career boon, she gets the win for the finale.
Capitale, Katz's Delicatessen, the Gild Hall hotel.
Gabriel's: It's named after Gabe! That's sweet.
That Girl Sebastian Went on a Date With That One Time: Man, she is a glutton for punishment.
Carmen Marc Valvo: For joining in that storied parade of adult men who check out PC as he walks away.
That Stylist Who Appeared to Do Nothing But Yank at Jessie's Hair: Because that seems like a fun way to spend an afternoon.
Lauren, the Jewelry Designer: For only having to make that one face that they replayed the whole episode.
Zach: Taylor's 13-year-old brother seems normal.