‘Grand Army’ recap: Episode 1, ‘Brooklyn, 2020’

Netflix’s latest series follows a group of five teenagers through high school in Brooklyn. Grand Army Episode 1 introduces the cast of characters and a devastating bombing.

From the opening shots of Grand Army Episode 1, it’s immediate this show will embrace the ugly side of public school and what it means to come-of-age, especially for the newest generation, which has been forced to contend with the darkness of the world faster than any preceding group of teenagers.

The first visual we see is a crude poll written on the side of the locker room wall at Grand Army High School in Brooklyn, New York. Which is better? A good f–k or a good s–t? Shots of crumped paper towels and knots of hair balled up on the grungey locker room floor and a trash can with paper towels overspilling alongside some mysteriously nasty stains set the scene.

Then we’re immediately introduced to a regular day at school. Several girls recite the lyrics to Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” while pounding the lockers in tune to the beat. Joey del Marco (Odessa A’zion) is busy proving herself to be a world-champion best friend as she uses her own hand to salvage a condom from her friend Grace’s (Keara Graves) vagina.

As relieved as Grace is to have it out, her relief is short-lived when their classmate Dominique “Dom” Pierre (Odley Jean) casually mentions she could get pregnant from having that thing inside of her for so long. She’s not wrong. Grace should probably look into buying some Plan B.

After that rather brazen introduction, Grand Army Episode 1 slowly introduces each main character of the series and a suicide bomber that puts the school on lockdown and builds pressure so immense it could only be siphoned through a giant teen rager.

Grand Army is based on Slut: The Play by Katie Cappiello. Cappiello returns as an executive producer and writer for the series. But before we dive fully into the recap, I think it is important to mention that Cappiello and the series were at the center of racist allegations that resulted in three writers of color quitting. Several of them pleaded with her to not make Dom’s story (which we’ll get into more soon) “poverty porn.” It’s vital to keep that in mind while viewing the show, if you decide to watch it, at all.

Grand Army Episode 1

GRAND ARMY (L to R) AMALIA YOO as LEILA ZIMMER in GRAND ARMY Episode 1. Cr. JASPER SAVAGE/NETFLIX © 2020

Grand Army Episode 1 recap: Meet the cast and characters.

Grand Army is anchored by Joey de Marco and a stirring performance from A’zion. It’s not a spoiler to say she will be assaulted by three of her friends in the series — it’s a big part of the synopsis and the play on which it’s based. It doesn’t happen in the opening hour, but the seeds are planted.

As mentioned above, Joey has a close, almost motherly bond with her friend Grace. She’s also close friends with Tim Delaney (Thelonius Serrell-Freed), best friends with his sister Anna (Sydney Meyer), and two boys from the swim team, Luke (Brian Altemus) and George (Anthony Ippolito). At school, Joey is vibrant, popular, outgoing and the captain of the dance team. Her parents are divorced and she has a complicated relationship with her father, often refusing to communicate with him or visit him because she hates his new girlfriend.

Then there’s Dom, a young woman saddled with the responsibility of taking care of her older sister and her kids. Not only is she too young to be the one keeping her family financially afloat, but Dom has her own dreams and finds it difficult to balance the two. We learn she has feelings for a popular senior named John Ellis (Alphonso Romero Jones II) who seems to be on the fast-track to greatness.

Siddhartha “Sid” Pakam (Amir Bageria) is another member of the swim team. He’s a studious, seemingly Harvard-bound jock with a younger sister at the same school named Meera. Sid’s journey is one of struggling with his sexuality and his identity. He’s especially troubled to learn the suicide bomber was a Muslim and regularly deals with microaggressions and racist remarks from his white teammates.

Leila (Amalia Yoo) is a freshman at Grand Army and a Jewish Chinese girl who struggles to find where she fits in. The other Chinese girls at school regularly mock her for looking “white” and not speaking Mandarin. Adopted from China when she was young, Leila has no idea who she’s supposed to be and from the first episode, it becomes apparent she’s having an identity crisis.

Leila takes refuge in shows like The Walking Dead and often has lurid, graphic novel-esque, animated fantasy sequences of her life as a superhero taking on zombies and other monstrosities. I agree with AV Club‘s take that Leila’s fantasies are something of an oddity on the show that is otherwise immensely grounded.

We also meet Jayson “Jay” Jackson (Maliq Johnson), a sophomore with aspirational music dreams who can sometimes be a little rowdy, but appears to be a genuinely good kid.

Grand Army Episode 1

GRAND ARMY (L to R) AMIR BAGERIA as SID PAKAM, ANTHONY IPPOLITO as GEORGE WRIGHT in GRAND ARMY Episode 1 Cr. JASPER SAVAGE/NETFLIX © 2020

Grand Army Episode 1 recap: The lockdown.

The meat of the episode begins after a quick introductory period introduces us to the various dynamics around the school. We get the initial opening scene with Grace, some moments of Dom and her friends Tamika Jones’ (Brittany Adebumola)  and Sonia (Naiya Ortiz) hanging out together, the swim team jocks messing around with each other, and Jay and his friend Owen (Jaden Jordan) getting lunch outside of school. It’s when Jay and Owen return to the school that the bomb goes off in Grand Army Plaza, sending the entire school into lockdown.

During the lockdown, the swim team jocks decide to put together the “ultimate p—y list” ranking the hottest girls at Grand Army High School. That list includes girls like Joey and Leila, although Leila only winds up on the list as a last-minute addition by Sid, who just doesn’t want his sister on there.

Sid meets Leila for the first time when he tries to find Meera (Ashley Ganger) and keep her company during the lockdown. On the way to her classroom, Sid runs into Leila, who is crying in the hallway. Leila is struggling to adapt to ninth grade, feeling like she was better off in eighth grade. She tells Sid how she was adopted at a young age after being born in China and envisions finding her birth parents someday. But that makes her feel guilty because she loves her adopted parents. He tries to comfort her and invites her to join him in Meera’s classroom.

Meanwhile, Joey hangs out with Tim and plays a game of chess while Gracie watches. She vents to him about her dad and then tries to assist Dom (against Dom’s wishes) when Owen and Jay steal her bag and start playing with her wallet. Ultimately, Dom’s wallet tumbles to the ground floor, by the time she retrieves it, all her cash is gone. She was using it specifically to help her siblings get onto the fencing team so they could get scholarship money and is rightfully upset with Owen and Jay for messing around.

Surprisingly, when Ms. Wilder, the teacher, shows up, her attention immediately goes to Joey in her gym outfit. She’s scandalized that Joey would “look for any excuse” to show her body despite her being called out of the gym in the middle of a lockdown.

On the lower floors, Meera tells Leila she made the list as “Jewish Asian Princess P—y,” and Leila seems kind of excited about being ranked at all.

The other big news to come out of lockdown is John Ellis’s disappearance. No one has seen him since the bomb went off. Jay and Owen briefly encountered him while getting lunch near the plaza. Everyone starts to worry he got hurt in the explosion.

Grand Army Episode 1

GRAND ARMY (L to R) AMIR BAGERIA as SID PAKAM, ANTHONY IPPOLITO as GEORGE WRIGHT, SYDNEY MEYER as ANNA DELANEY, KEARA GRAVES as GRACE, JADEN JORDAN as OWEN WILLIAMS in GRAND ARMY Episode 1 Cr. JASPER SAVAGE/NETFLIX © 2020

Grand Army Episode 1 recap: The party.

No bombing can keep the Grand Army kids from going to a good party. Everyone whose anyone shows up to the gathering at Connor’s house that evening, including John Ellis. The students are ecstatic to see he’s doing well. The only person who isn’t in attendance is Dom.

She can’t make it since she’s stuck looking after her siblings, but her friends make sure to send her a video showing John’s arrival. Jay and Owen also apologize to Dom over FaceTime and promise to pay her back by Monday. Jay even took some of his grandfather’s old collector’s vinyl records to a local music store to get some money.

Joey, Tim, Luke, Anna, George and Grace show up to the party together after Joey blows off her dad. George immediately sets his sights on Leila, having put her on their gross list. Tim and Joey stay together most of the evening,  much to the chagrin of Luke, who clearly has feelings for her.  To distract himself, Luke gets up on the stairwell at the party to toast and get everyone even more hyped.

Grace happens to see George with his arm around Leila (George is the one Grace had sex with before, resulting in the condom debacle) and freaks out. She pours a drink on Leila and then goes to shove her, resulting in Luke falling off the stairs and crashing to the ground below. Luckily, he’s not seriously injured or this would probably turn into a I Know What You Did Last Summer mess.

Also at the party is Sid, who Leila immediately interrupts while he’s getting hot and heavy with his girlfriend. He slams the door in her face. Sid can’t bring himself to have sex with her for some reason. Initially, he makes it seem like he’s upset about the bombing, but I”m guessing there’s a little more to the story than that.

Before that happens, Joey decides she needs to find a way to blow off some steam, so Tim takes her to the subway station. Together, they hitch a ride on the back of a subway car and let it carry them through the tunnels while they scream into the abyss.

The final moments of the episode show an unknown person typing an ominous message on the screen.

“I’m going to teach you things you’ll never forget.”

Next: Haunting of Bly Manor: What worked and what didn't

Let us know all of your thoughts and opinions on Grandy Army Episode 1 in the comments below!

All nine episodes of Grand Army Season 1 are now streaming on Netflix.