Warning: HEAVY SPOILER ALERT
On June 14th, Netflix released a new series called Trinkets, which follows the lives of three girls: Moe, Tabitha and Elodie, as they navigate high school dynamics, relationships and newfound perceptions of self. Elodie, a recent transplant from Albuquerque, initially struggles to fit in at a new high school in Portland, Oregon after the death of her mother compels her remarried father to seek out a fresh start. Tabitha, a rich, popular girl who is struggling to fit the ideals everyone imposes on her, finds companionship in unlikely places, and starts questioning her sense of belonging. Moe is a tough, no-nonsense girl who is a secret STEM wiz. While the girls run in very different, staunchly defined social circles (yay, high school flashbacks), they have one common thread: Shoplifters Anonymous.
As a former shoplifter, some of the tricks seemed…outdated. Whenever the girls are shoplifting, we see zoomed in, slowed down scenes of them shoving sunglasses up their sleeves, ripping sensors of clothing in the changing rooms, and even sneaking behind counters to lift jewelry from upscale boutiques. Amateurs.
The focus I suppose is not the technique, but that shoplifting functions as a coping mechanism for Moe, Tabitha and Elodie to maintain some sense of control in a chaotic world.
At some point during an SA meeting, Elodie says something along the lines of, “The world takes away things without meaning, maybe it should give us some things for free,” and it’s hard to argue with how Elodie makes sense of the uncontrollable.
Trinkets accomplishes a lot in one season: the characters are styled really well (I spent forty minutes online attempting to find the same emerald green cropped jacket Tabitha wore in episode five, never found it, still mad about it), and the soundtrack features musicians like Princess Nokia, St. Vincent and up-and-coming musician Kat Cunning (originally from Portland!), who plays songstress Sabine in the show. The show tackles topics such as intimate partner violence, sexual liberation, gender fluidity and the importance of consent/open communication. Elodie’s sexuality as a young lesbian is not the main point of the narrative, or a point of contrition or shame or sadness. But as more shows emerge that are being catered to Gen Z, there are still arenas where these progressive shows fall short. While I enjoyed Trinkets for the most part, there were three glaring themes that need some serious addressing
1. Age of consent and the “mature” high schooler
Of course, there is the problem of age. I mean, who hasn’t at least tried to sneak into a club when they were underaged, and what high schooler hasn’t followed some twenty-year old “cool” person around like a lovesick puppy? But many shows that focus on high schoolers go without critiquing the appropriateness of these ventures, and that’s a huge disservice to the narrative. It normalizes these romantic relationships- and while minors may look up to those in their early twenties as possible mentors or sources of inspiration, underaged students are granted a level of maturity they are nowhere near ready to handle. It also calls into question why someone in their early/mid-twenties is at all interested in hanging out with someone so much younger than themselves. For example, Tabitha, Elodie and Moe are all invited to a show by Luka, an older member of SA. Elodie and Luka bond over shared music tastes, which is harmless enough. But soon enough, Tabitha and Luka start seeing each other. While the show never explicitly says how old Luka is, we can assume he’s at least eighteen, and probably older since he’s been on his own for a number of years (also, the house that he lives in? What eighteen-year-old can afford that in Portland?). The show never makes note of this outright, but the age of consent in fourteen years old in the state of Oregon. Relying on the age of consent to justify huge age gaps in relationships is lazy at best; having the show set in Portland just seems like a way for the directors/writers to cover their asses. Sabine is also around Luka’s age, and probably older. She is Elodie’s love interest, but just because this is a queer romance does not mean there isn’t an inherent power dynamic based on age. Again, what business does someone in their early twenties have dating a sixteen-year-old?
At a party and Luka and Sabine’s house, Moe hooks up with someone who truly looks like a grown ass man. While they initially have a conversation about consent, when she wants to leave he completely understands and doesn’t pressure her to go any further. This attempts to take sex positivity to an inclusive place, but doesn’t recognize the disparities in consent re age. While legally an underaged person can consent to sex with someone over the age of eighteen, it still doesn’t remove the overall skeeviness of the situation. Let’s give Make Out Guy the benefit of the doubt here and assume that, because he’s at an adult party, he automatically assumes that Moe is an adult. There seems to be this insidious notion permeating the show of high schoolers attempting to transcend their youth and appear more mature, creating this fantastical reality in which minors can participate in adult situations without any sort of consequence or responsibility. The reality: underaged students must grapple with their youth, lack of perspective and shortcomings while under the pressure of an older romantic interest. It’s sexy when it’s a cute guy like Luka or Make Out Guy, but it overshadows the realities that many real-life teen girls face when they end up dating older guys.
2. The perpetual use of the bisexual woman as a temptress
Sabine is probably one of the greatest characters in Trinkets. She is beautiful, confident, statuesque and a songwriter/singer–what’s not to love? She is introduced as a potential love interest for Elodie, but it is later revealed that she dated Luka when he first arrived to Portland. Yay! I’m excited–FINALLY, a canonically bisexual/pansexual character whose sexuality is normalized. And while it is normalized, there is an underlying sense of distrust when it comes to Sabine. When Tabitha finds out that Luka and Sabine used to date and are still living together, she becomes suspicious of Luka’s motives. When they clear the air, Luka later says that what Sabine wants is not a relationship, but an audience. We see Sabine encouraging Elodie’s shoplifting, often to her own benefit. When they first meet, Sabine tells Elodie, jokingly of course, that if Elodie wants her, she has to be her “groupie.” Sabine unravels as this airy, enchantress, and the viewer becomes suspicious of Sabine’s motives with naive, young Elodie.
For a show that seeks to celebrate queer characters, this is a lazy move on the writers’ end. It relies too heavily on the stereotype of bisexual women as flaky, natural cheaters who can’t make up their minds. Sabine is the temptress, looking to corrupt the sweet, innocent lesbian. She also “corrupted” Luka. Would Sabine be perceived as any different if she were a lesbian, or if she were straight? I believe so. The show almost reinforces the notion that bisexual women cannot be trusted as reliable partners. But of course, this is only season one. We’ve got so much more narrative to get through.
3. The obsession with a post-racial utopia
I’ve really been interested in these Netflix shows (e.g. Grace and Frankie, Big Mouth, Lady Dynamite, etc.), because they all seem to follow a similar trend when it comes to Black characters: the Black male main characters are dark-skinned (who often end up with white women), and the Black women, if they get a recurring role at all, are mixed race or light-skinned (but this has been happening forever). However, these white-produced shows seem to exist in an alternate reality where the impacts of race don’t play out in the everyday lives of the characters of color. They pick cities or locations that are just liberal enough to get away with a post-racial plotline: Portland, San Diego, etc. Trinkets almost reads as a white-informed, post-racial utopia: Tabitha’s mom is a dark-skinned Black woman married to a successful white banker, Tabitha is dating a white guy, Moe’s mom is a white nurse and her father is coded as Black, maybe Afro-Latino. While maybe this is an attempt at normalizing interracial relationships and maybe be a nod to what the “future” of America will look like, it does a poor job in tackling the realities and the hardships of these interracial romances. Tabitha’s dad cheats on her mom with a white woman, and there is no conversation about the racial edge of this infidelity, just an acknowledgement that it happened. The only time where the show seems to allude to racial profiling is when Moe is stopped once at a sex toy and lingerie store (where Tabitha and Elodie have lifted things) because the white cashier seems to have caught her shoplifting, only to check Moe’s bag and see that there is nothing in there. But there’s no conversation about how Elodie is able to maneuver these situations without ever being suspected: supposedly, it’s because Elodie is canonized as the mousy, quiet girl. But she is white, nonetheless, and is able to go into stores without ever being suspected of shoplifting. Creating a show about shoplifting without any acknowledgement of racial profiling seems elementary: especially when Black people can be shot simply for being suspected of shoplifting, and a cop can threaten to “bust a cap” in a pregnant Black mother while she is holding her baby.
I don’t want to rag on Trinkets too hard: I’ve got to admit that at its root, the show is endearing, beautifully shot and the characters are gorgeous (God bless Portland). It is, above all else, a tale of friendship in the face of emotional turmoil, and how young girls should be supporting each other rather than competing with one another. The way the show approaches the issue of partner violence is nuanced, reflective and mature–something severely lacking in past and contemporary media. Overall, Trinkets is a step in the right direction. Let’s see what they do with season two.
is a queer Black storyteller from Denver, CO, Queen City of the Plains. Her work confronts Black environmental imaginaries, exploring the legacies of trauma and resistance within the diaspora. She has been published in Them, Sage Magazine, and the Hopper Literary Magazine, among others. She released her first chapbook, We Bleed Like Mango, in October 2017.