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How Gossip Girl 2.0 Subverted One of the Most Problematic Teen Drama Tropes

Rafa Caparros on Gossip Girl is a predatory teacher

The midseason finale of Gossip Girl set up a lot of things, including a host of conflicts between our leads. The storyline that has taken the darkest turn is the student-teacher relationship between Rafa Caparros and Max Wolfe.

***Spoilers for Gossip Girl mid-season finale***

When Gossip Girl introduced the flirtation between pan/bisexual Max Wolfe and his high school classics teacher Rafa Caparros I groaned with exhaustion at this trope happening in 2021. I had hoped that after Riverdale we’d be done with any version of this storyline because any relationship between a teacher and a current student, especially in high school, is a gross violation of trust, ethics, and power dynamics. And that remains the case even if the student is legally “of age,” as Max put it.

I thought that Rafa’s adamant insistence that he didn’t sleep with his students coupled with Max’s aggressive flirting was going to frame it as being okay because Max was of age. In the episodes leading up to when they finally sleep together, Max is in a vulnerable state due to his fathers splitting up. Rafa shows concern over his drug use and is treated as a supportive figure the first time they kiss “consensually.”

Then the episode “Hope Sinks” changes everything when Max finds out that Rafa, despite his previous protests to the contrary, makes a habit of sleeping with seniors. This puts into perspective for Max that this isn’t a legit consensual relationship, but rather Rafa continuing his predatory behavior. When Rafa attempts to make excuses for his actions it quickly becomes clear this was part of his plan all along.

All the protesting was just a way of putting himself in a position of deniability. So that, if called out, he could paint himself the victim of the more privileged Max. It is twisted.

Especially since Max ending the relationship leads to Rafa using his access to Gossip Girl to spread a rumor that Max has an STI. When Rafa fails to get the results that he wants, Rafa matches with one of Max’s dad’s on a grinder-like app and attempts to blackmail him that way. None of this is okay.

Max then retaliates by sending a sex tape of Rafa bottoming for him to Gossip Girl. The video is seen, but Rafa, still having his access, deletes the video without Max knowing it happened. This sets up just further trouble that will only continue in the second half of the season.

As someone who grew up in the era of Pretty Little Liars making the relationship between Aria (a student) and Ezra (her English teacher) a canon, endgame worthy couple, I’m glad that Gossip Girl has taken the time to truly illustrate how predatory this kind of relationship is. Rewatching the earlier episodes with this in mind only reinforces Rafa’s intent: he makes his sexual information easy to access, goes to the same hangouts as his students, and as soon as Max showed up at the bathhouse he should have quietly left.

Instead, he uses the opportunity to show off his naked body and tempt Max further in order to still say that he never “initiated” anything.

It is a perfect example of manipulative red flags and I hope that Max will make it out of this unscathed. He may be eighteen, but in this situation, he is the vulnerable one and Rafa crossed a line.

(image: HBO Max)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.