The Idol Episode 3 Recap: “Daybreak” — Seeking a Substantive Thesis on Artistic Authenticity Beneath the Pulp

Abel Tesfaye plays Tedros and Lily-Rose Depp plays Jocelyn in The Idol. In this shot from the opening of "Daybreak," they ride together in the backseat of plush, red-seated convertible.
Courtesy of HBO

The following recap contains spoilers for The Idol Episode 3, “Daybreak”

“Daybreak,” the third episode of HBO’s polarizing The Idol, zooms ahead with Jocelyn (Lily-Rose Depp) and Tedros (Abel Tesfaye) getting down and dirty in the backseat of a convertible. Leia (Rachel Sennott), Jocelyn’s increasingly distraught assistant, is driving—relegated to a proverbially disgruntled third wheel. Soon enough, Tedros goes down on Jocelyn, and the camera zooms into her expressive faux-orgasmic reactions during this very public act of cunnilingus.

Leia hears her friend moaning and rolls her eyes; Jocelyn’s own eyes roll into the back of her head albeit for a very different reason. The camera slowly tilts back and up, mirroring Leia and Jocelyn’s ocular angles, until it is squarely aimed at a row of perfectly symmetrical palm trees lining a Bel Air boulevard on their way to Rodeo Drive. Everything we’ve come to know about The Idol is instantly in motion—ecstatic transience, repulsed voyeurism, starlet gaudiness, indecent exposure.

Already, Tedros is exerting his power as well—demeaning Leia in backhanded ways, such as scolding her for “messing with the vibe” and making the ride bumpy by repeatedly “hitting the brakes.” Jocelyn giggles at his complaint with a mixture of sheepishness and mischief. It’s the first of many signs that submissiveness is starting to seep into her psyche. And if there was any ambivalence or ambiguity surrounding Tedros’ villainy after “Double Fantasy,” it’s quickly blown to smithereens in “Daybreak” as he slaps assistants, barks orders, and wipes his post-masturbatory j*zz on a very expensive red Valentino dress.

Let’s quickly recap the laundry list of injuries and insults Tedros inflicts. When Leia simply explains she’ll have to check with Jocelyn’s schedule before booking a time for Mike Dean (who is Kanye’s producer, fittingly enough, given Tedros increasing likeness to the notoriously unhinged artist), Tedros throws a fit. Upset by Leia’s insistence on first coordinating plans, he firmly reiterates his self-appointed ascendancy and authority over anything involving Jocelyn, chiding: “What did I just say? I’m running the show now.”

We also witness Tedros slap Carlos (Jocelyn’s private chef) across the face after Carlos closely inspects and touches her abs. The moment is a patently patriarchal display of ownership and power—an antic befitting Tedros’ pimp-esque undertones. But the screenwriting somewhat dilutes Tedros’ egregious overreaction by making Carlos’ “gastrointestinal” inspection way too over-the-top. It’s one thing to discuss probiotics and clinically examine a client’s abs. It’s another to erotically grope their midriff while lasciviously and sultrily declaring: “Your body is just so tight. You look amazing.”

As hypersexualized as Carlos’ navel examination may have been, Tedros’ physical abuse was petty, pathetic, and showing. However, when Carlos tries to justify his actions by noting he has family members who specialize in gastrointestinal health, Tedros’ sassy quip is precisely the campy and melodramatic one-liner a subsection of viewers tunes into The Idol to see: “My friend is a gynecologist. You don’t see me sticking my finger in everybody do you?” It’s so-bad-its-good writing—and it works on that level. But as “Daybreak” gradually enters nuanced narrative territory, the Janus-faced dissymmetry grows absurd—sadly, the sophisticated existential musings that arrive in the second act are a hard sell after a first act of juicy, bottom-of-the-barrel trash.

What’s also bothering about the one-dimensional depiction of Tedros in the front half of “Daybreak” is his cardboard rascality feels like a narrative and thematic cop-out. While much of his iniquitous theatrics are enticing to watch, they also strip the show of its grey space and complexity. When shock art like The Idol truly succeeds, it does so by blurring the boundaries of archetypes and morality—forcing one to get outside of their ethical comfort zone. When these boundaries become too lurid and overtly delineated, the viewer becomes more passive, more coddled, and more entitled to simply sink into recycled, formulaic tropes. When characterizations become lazy, one is left with nothing else to do but retreat into a state of ogling in mockery.

Abel Tesfaye plays Tedros in The Idol. In this shot, he tells Leia he's running the show.

Suffice it to say, Tedros’ constant haranguing and slapping much too starkly and unequivocally reveals he is indeed brainwashing the house. The Idol’s failure here is a lack of finesse—Tedros’ takeover should play out in an incremental, cryptic, disquieting manner. We (the audience) should be stuck in the same pickle Leia finds herself in, struggling to articulate her misgivings and fears during an exasperated phone call with Chaim. This conversation shows off Sennott’s uncanny ability to play characters suffering from analytic astuteness. Leia may be observant and intuitive, but she lacks the eloquence to articulate the warning signs in believable, mature-sounding terms. As Chaim’s partner Destiny (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) bluntly puts it, “This b*tch is braindead.”

Unfortunately, Leia’s inability to give concrete examples of Tedros’ domineering offenses simply points to her unformed verbal skills. She mutters and mumbles and equivocates her way around revealing incriminating, direct evidence of Tedros’ physical and psychological abuse we’ve already witnessed her witnessing/enduring. Yet, instead of recounting the incriminating misdeeds of his conniving and authoritative overreach, she tosses out vague and ineffective complaints (“He’s, like, um, forcing us to shop!”), which make her sound more like a spoiled adolescent whining about trifles. Sadly, The Idol seems to fear our comprehension skills are as limited as Leia’s at times, which is why it seemingly feels compelled to spoon-feed us vignettes portraying Tedros as a prototypical baddie.

Leia’s frantic conversation with Chaim (who’s panic-stricken at Jocelyn’s mansion with Davine and a gun in hand—thinking they’d been called to deal with a dire, dangerous imbroglio) takes place as Jocelyn and Tedros shop in Valentino. After arriving at the store with hordes of rabid fans screaming and shouting on the sidewalk (according to Leia, Tedros had preemptively notified the paparazzi to purposefully cause a scene), the two are immediately whisked to a private room for Jocelyn to try on outfits, and, as expected, sexualized hijinks and feisty banter ensue.

Almost immediately, Tedros is castigating a male Valentino employee for looking at Jocelyn: “Let me catch you looking at her again, and I’ll f*cking curb-stomp you!” Fiercely whispering, he repeats this expletive-laced, ultraviolent threat (recalling the infamous scene in American History X) three times in the Valentino staffer’s ear, visibly high off his unassailable dominion over the corporate lackey. The trip to Valentino also serves as a place for Tedros to dig into Jocelyn’s insecurities, only this time in the realm of fashion:

“You just need some taste, that’s it.”

“I have taste.”

“Hmmm, not really.”

Here, Jocelyn shows the first signs of being able to bite back—first defending her style and then going on the attack:

“I think you’re gay.”

“I ain’t gay.”

“Even the way you said that sounded really gay.”

This playfully immature standoff of testy flirtation abruptly devolves into a loud, raunchy, NSFW sex scene in the Valentino dressing room, which ends with yet another power move as Jocelyn pulls away before Tedros can c*m, forcing him to whack off, which he proceeds to do very noisily, reasserting, through loud spitting and guttural moans, his independence/dominance. And now having marked their territory with juvenile shenanigans, they brusquely abscond the high-end retail store—equally chagrined and titillated by their debauchery.

Jocelyn tells Tedros she thinks he's gay in a flirtatious standoff in The Idol.

When Jocelyn and Tedros return to the mansion, they are met by Chaim and Destiny, who quickly jump into good cop/bad cop mode, interrogating Tedros under the guise of amicability. Chaim is thrilled that Mike Dean will be collaborating (“His vibe is what is needed!”), but apprehensively curious about Tedros’ intentions and shadowy autodidactic origins, just as he was in “Double Fantasy.”

“What do we owe this good fortune? How did you get here?”

“I’m from here.”

“But nobody’s f*cking from LA.”

“No, I grew up here, in Hollywood.”

At this point, Destiny takes over the informal debriefing (“You grew up in Hollywood? Me too!”), poking around and sniffing for details to expose the presumed fib at the core of Tedros’ purported backstory. Tedros is quick-witted, however, and cleverly deflects their questions. For example, when grilled about what high school he went to, he’s quick to retort he “dropped out.” Then when Destiny continues to pry, Jocelyn butts in defensively, calling out her manager for being rude and intrusive. Here, Destiny recovers swiftly, apologizing for coming off as nosy or insensitive by saying she also dropped out of high school for “beatin’ fake ass bitches asses.”

This tense back-and-forth is a noirish dance of snooping and prevarication. Everyone is vying for control over Jocelyn’s career and estate, masking their real intentions while vying for the reigns. Chaim, at least, seems to be respectably transparent and direct at times. He’s excellent at saying what everyone is thinking and worrying about and doing so matter-of-factly. Instead of patronizing Jocelyn or overstepping his mentor role by infringing or imposing upon her life choices, he recognizes her affair for the youthful escapade it is (“I know you’re having a good time right now”) without losing sight of the bigger picture (“But can you f*cking focus with this guy?”).

Chaim is not afraid to acknowledge the urgency of the moment either: “Join the freak-out club!” he states coldly, “because it’s do or die.” It’s an unvarnished and unenjoyable pep talk, no doubt, but when Chaim tells Jocelyn to use the panic “as motivation,” one gets the sense that it’s a necessary one as well. He also gives Tedros and Jocelyn a substantive goal: “Three massive hits. Can you do that? I need three massive hits.” For what it’s worth, Jocelyn and Tedros seem aroused by the challenge—perkily and confidently reassuring Chaim and Destiny this task can be accomplished as they leave.

What makes much less sense about this sequence is the fact that Chaim and Destiny pretend, on their way out, to have fallen for Tedros. “I f*cking love that guy […] He’s amazing!”, they gloat to Leia, who receives the news with dismay on the couch. I’m curious about their reasoning for this façade. Seconds later, we see Chaim and Destiny visibly concerned in their car—“Never trust a dude with a rat tail,” Destiny forebodingly wisecracks. The dissonance leaves the audience wondering what their endgame is, and why Leia is looked at as an outsider when she’s their primary ally, insider, and informant.

Abel Tesfaye plays Tedros and Lily-Rose Depp plays Jocelyn in The Idol. In this shot, they lounge together on an outdoor couch at Jocelyn's mansion.
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Meanwhile, if there’s a glaring absence in “Daybreak,” it’s the presence of Dyanne and Nikki. Their parallel story arc is picked up very briefly in a montage sequence showing Dyanne filming the “World Class Sinner” music video on the same set Jocelyn unraveled upon in “Double Fantasy.” With this quick interlude, “Daybreak” updates their entire subplot: the switching of Jocelyn and Dyanne’s roles is really happening. Whether this reversal of roles evolves into Persona-level complexity is yet to be seen, but given the basicness of their relationship, I wouldn’t count on it.

After the brief update on Dyanne, the episode segues into a series of heady conversations between Jocelyn and Tedros’ primary two underlings—Chloe (Suzanna Son) and Izaak (Moses Sumney). Chloe attempts to wrest out Jocelyn’s reluctance to write about personal matters, like her recently deceased mother. Jocelyn pinpoints fear as her primary barrier: “I just don’t think it’s something [my fans] want to hear.” This is the first glimpse into Jocelyn’s primary moral/artistic predicament dissected throughout “Daybreak”—on the one hand, she yearns for authenticity, and yet on the other, she is resistant to opening herself up to public scrutiny (“The more you let people in the more, the more reasons they have not to want you anymore.”).

While Chloe coaxes and lures Jocelyn’s vulnerable side out of her to satisfy Tedros and to reinforce the cult’s emphasis on unadulterated/unapologetic artistry, Izaak’s interaction with Jocelyn taps into some core principles of their makeshift cult. Before we dig into Izaak’s scenes, I want to quickly note my personal disappointment with the disheartening lack of buzz around Moses Sumney thus far. For readers unfamiliar with his artistic output, Moses Sumney is a generational talent—boasting goosebump-inducing falsettos and haunting melodies that tap into the soulful depths of Prince and Jeff Buckley.

Ironically, his debut album Aromanticism—a “drifty, slo-mo songcraft and ambient production,” according to Pitchfork’s rave 8.6/10 review—oozes a level of artistic craftsmanship and complexity unknown to mainstream pop/R&B acts (i.e., The Weeknd). In a culture that celebrated authenticity and creative dynamism, Sumney would be a pop sensation, eclipsing other artists he’s left playing second fiddle to. On this note, there’s a strong argument to be made that Izaak, as played by Sumney, would serve as a much more credible and layered cult leader. Many of the tonal issues and excesses threatening The Idol might have been salvaged by replacing Tedros with Izaak.

To back my hypothesis, simply consider the alluring rhetorical and emotional control Sumney displays as Izaak in “Daybreak.” In his primary scene, Sumney shows off his incredible vocal range and inhabits Izaak’s magnetically fey persona, telling Jocelyn she’s not allowed to say “no” to his proposal to record a track together. Izaak embodies the otherworldly mystique and poise necessary for a cult leader to truly feel seductive and threatening. Whereas Tedros is a sleazy, played-out, old-fashioned pimp prototype, Izaak is something more esoteric and undefinable—something rarer and more unnerving. It’s no wonder that after halting a song midway through the recording (“Can we stop it? I’m not feeling it I’m sorry.”), everyone is shocked it didn’t meet standards, given how beautiful it sounded.

Jocelyn herself doesn’t hold back her praise: “I think I just fell in love with you.” One can’t blame her. And one can’t blame her trepidations about joining Izaak for a duet either, knowing how expansive and singular his singing style is.

Unfortunately, Izaak isn’t having it:

“You’re not allowed to say no.”

“I’m not allowed to say no?”

“By saying no you’re denying yourself an experience.”

“But not all experiences are good.”


It appears as if Izaak has adopted one of Tedros’ philosophies toward affirmation and negation. In a very cultish manner, he seems to believe that refusing to participate in anything, for whatever reason, is heresy, and that chalking up experiences as ever being “bad” is a “really simple way of looking at things.” Chloe sides with Izaak here, further substantiating their stance as a shared ideology among the group. Chloe’s philosophical pretense, however, is flimsy and sophomoric; supposedly, the death of Robert Plant’s son was not a negative event insofar as it inspired the artist to write “All My Love.”

Jocelyn isn’t buying this theory:

“I bet he’d choose his son [over the song] if he had a say in it.”

Unfazed, Chloe sticks by her loosely utilitarian attitude, refusing to yield:

“That’d be a loss for the world. How many people come up to you and say your music saved their lives? By losing his son, he was able to write something that saved a lot of people’s lives.”

Jocelyn’s rightfully calls out Izaak and Chloe’s false equivalencies. Their absolutist take on noble acquiescence is farcically distorted. Their recontextualization of the emotional stakes and value humans ascribe to people and songs is misguided. Jocelyn shows inchoate signs of fortitude in rejecting the myopic, blinkered credence that living in mandatory slavishness, deference, and biddability to every proposition is a virtuous one.

Sure, there are some poetic variations on this notion of cosmic complaisance (See: Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”), but Izaak and Chloe’s version is devoid of complexity or sublimity; their daring and provocative position is half-baked, pseudo-pragmatic, dorm-room pontificating, and they come across as relativistic sheep. They sound like amateurs espousing unformed ideas as maverick truths (insert stock stoner voice: “Feelings can shift. What you make and put out in the world. That’s the stuff that lasts forever.”)

Despite being philosophically feeble, I didn’t find their edgy postulations to be proof of bad screenwriting per se; for me, they may be “adolescent-minded,” but they’re also honest approximations of the angsty drivel young minds and artists recite when seeking to forge an unorthodox and eccentric identity. Their cocksure essentialism may suffer from logical and phenomenological flaws, but their eagerness to believe in a contrarian doctrine reflects the naïve cliquishness of a fledgling mind experimenting with transgression.

Moses Sumney plays Izaak in The Idol. In this shot, he stands beside an infinity pool in trunks and sandals.
Photograph by Eddy Chen/HBO

Elsewhere in the mansion, a heated conversation concurrently transpires between Tedros and Xander (Jocelyn’s close friend and creative director, played by Troye Sivan):

“I’m here to tell you the creative vision f*cking sucks,” Tedros reproaches.

“I agree.”

“How do you put out something you hate?”

“I’m f*cking forced to.”

“I can have the greatest idea in the world but at the end of the day it’s what the label and Jocelyn want that wins.”

Very visibly, Tedros is impressed by Alexander’s self-deprecatory insolence and scathing rebuke of the hierarchal/superfluous structure of the pop industry, which hires pros to implement visions that never come to fruition anyway. Piqued, he asks Alexander what he’d do if he was given carte blanche over the creative vision. Alexander’s response—“I’d take that photo with c*m on her face and I’d make it her album cover”—instantly wins over Tedros (“That’s a good idea. You’re f*cking smart.”), inciting a dinner-table debate that encompasses the entire final act.

The outdoor dinner kicks off innocently enough as Jocelyn thanks her new coterie for teaching her “how to have fun again.” It’s a simple thruway line but also quite a critical glimpse into what she finds so appealing about Tedros and his posse. As opposed to her older and business-first management team (Chaim, Nikki, Fink, Destiny, etc.), Tedros’ crew (Izaak, Chloe, a regular rando with tats & a shaven head, etc.) is young and hip. They provide Jocelyn with the vivacity and ebullience she craves—giving her the natural libidinal/endorphin boost of being around a like-minded and inspiring artistic community.

Echoing this youthful attitude, Tedros and his crew enthusiastically support Xander’s “brilliant” creative vision: “That’s the bar!” They find the “truly nasty nasty bad pop girl” archetype to be an exciting emblem of liberation, subversion, and provocation—everything they stand for. They agree that real deviancy has been missing in the industry—replaced by the cheaply manufactured bad girl prototype Jocelyn’s packaged as. They believe Xander’s c*mshot album cover idea is exactly the statement Jocelyn needs to make.

Fittingly, Leia, who’s both the youngest member of Jocelyn’s preexisting team and the oldest in spirit, throws a fit: “You’re kidding? Absolutely not!” My initial reaction to Leia here was to reduce her to a square. But she’s also savvy as a conservative businesswoman. Like most of us these days, she’s way too Online and way too influenced by the prevalent narratives she reads. But her fear of upsetting the keyboard militia by embracing the scandalous photo is not impractical: “The Internet is on your side. Literally every outlet. They all wrote beautiful pieces defending you and your right to have a sex life.”

For Leia, the group mentality is the right mentality. Whether this is because she’s craven or capitalistic or morally preoccupied or simple-minded is unknown, but she’s got a point insofar as conformist, family-friendly pop stars tend to fare better than iconoclastic ones. Sure, she’s a coward when it comes to disturbing the status quo—but in terms of Jocelyn’s posterity and mental stability, her cowardice makes perfect sense.

Jocelyn, meanwhile, is torn by Xander’s idea. She’s tempted to embrace her sexuality and her dark side publicly, but also understandably gun-shy due to the stamina it requires to endure constant ridicule and humiliation: “I don’t know if I want to start the whole j*zz-rag Jocelyn thing again […] that had its moment.” Tedros, of course, doesn’t see eye to eye, rebutting, “Who gives a f*ck?” He wants Jocelyn to transcend caring about what others think, but he’s also not the celebrity figure subjected to scrutiny, embarrassment, and degradation.

Troye Sivan plays Xander, a creative director, in a scene from "Daybreak," episode 3 of The Idol.
Courtesy of HBO

Insistent and smarmy, Tedros turns the dinner table disagreement about the hypothetical album cover into an artistic intervention—putting Jocelyn’s authenticity on trial before everyone. And while it can be productive to question the spineless impulses behind an artist’s desire to avoid backlash and criticism, Tedros’s persistent cross-examination (“Why?” “But why?”) and his refusal to let the dispute dissipate becomes grossly impertinent. His doggedness is also emblematic of who he is: a power-starved psychopath hoping to exhume Jocelyn’s psyche to invade it and mark his territory.

At the same time, the quarrel shows why Tedros is so attractive to Jocelyn. Like her late mother who relentlessly bullied her, Tedros is willing to push Jocelyn’s buttons to extract her artistic exigency. Jocelyn seems to surreptitiously enjoy the friction and welcome the animosity—she likes Tedros precisely because he calls her out, insults her, and grooms her to not give a f*ck. It is apparent he firmly believes this methodology is the surefire way to light her creative fire, and so he becomes a cliché disrupter hellbent on unfettering Jocelyn’s closeted, shell-shocked, and timorous consciousness.

Tedros may be obnoxious, juvenile, tawdry, and oft overdramatic, but he’s also the devilish alter-ego Jocelyn is seeking at this stage in her life to break free. And despite the constant grumbling about Abel Tesfaye’s acting, the fact that he seems to be getting under viewers’ skin is oddly indicative of his success, whether many would like to admit it or not. Tedros is meant to be stilted; he’s meant to be so full of himself you hate him; he’s meant to be abrasive and gaudy and tacky; subsequently, there’s a strong argument to be made that Tesfaye nails the role so well that he’s ironically lambasted for flailing.

One of the primary figures Tedros resembles, particularly in “Daybreak,” is Kanye. Not only is he visibly unhinged, but he’s got the same cocktail of arrogance, vanity, and ill-advised impetuosity as the increasingly infamous business mogul/rap icon. The similarities between the two never appeared clearer than in the ensuing dinner table argument about the semantics and politics of taking artistic risks:

“There’s no such thing as the right risk at the right time.”

“If it’s the right risk, you basically know how it’s going to play out.”

“No, that’s the exact opposite of a risk. That’s playing it safe. That’s what everyone else does.”

Tedros’ stance in this argument is quite novel, insofar as he succinctly outlines the problem with most aesthetic gambits: Far from uncertain, they are calculated maneuvers designed for maximum appeal. They thus appear dead on arrival—reeking of premeditative plasticity. But it is also possible to erroneously conflate risk-tasking as necessarily authentic. Taking an aesthetic risk for the sole sake of the thrill (or to look cool) is as inauthentic as avoiding risk for the sole sake of damage control. The ultimate objective should be to allow instinct and emotion to guide one’s artistic endeavors, and to silence the noise and strategizing altogether.

A dinner time argument breaks out in "Daybreak," episode 3 of The Idol.
Courtesy of HBO

Jocelyn’s primary professional issue—beyond her psychological fragility—is her current creative stasis. She’s in a rut—“Daybreak” is her last good song, written over a year and a half ago. Tedros believes this paralysis is due to her sensitivities about how she’ll be perceived. Trying to determine the perfect risk, she ends up risking everything by failing to write anything at all. Consequently, Tedros’ diagnoses her interest in authenticity as a delusional distraction. He calls her a hypocrite for fretting about “making superficial music all the time,” when all she truly “cares about is what people are going to say.” For Tedros, Jocelyn’s inability to accept the fact she’ll never be impervious to critique or universally celebrated is her main impediment.

Angered by this personal attack, Jocelyn vehemently stands up for herself. She points out that Tedros is a novice and has no clue what the industry is really like. She asserts there’s nothing “superficial [about making] music that connects with people.” These are fair points, and more importantly, Jocelyn is finally finding the inner courage to speak her mind. While the first half of the episode exhibited Jocelyn becoming Tedros’ compliant puppet (i.e., obligingly firing Carlos (“I wish you, like, all the best”) after he’d suffered an undeserved indignity of being slapped), the second half brings out her ability to bite back.

Her fiery ripostes, however, leave her susceptible to further inquiry. Like any seasoned cult leader, Tedros knows the best way to control and manipulate someone is to scour the depths of their psyche. He leans into this tactic, turning every revelation into another probing. Pertinacious, he next asks why Jocelyn thinks she can’t connect with others. Jocelyn self-loathingly reflects, “Nothing about me is relatable.” Tedros follows this up by prodding into her dark, hidden, traumatic past, but Jocelyn notes, “I think the dark shit is pretty unique too.”

Alexander backs her up—“Her mom is like a rare breed”—as Jocelyn recoils, clearly wanting to end the conversation. Tedros, indefatigable and unflagging, won’t shy away. Steadfastly determined to usurp and colonize Jocelyn’s psyche, he pounces on her for wanting to escape his questionings:

“I don’t keep secrets from anyone,” he snarls.

“That’s your prerogative.”

“I don’t think there’s anything you’re going to say here that’s going to make me love you any less.”

Unable to flip the script or successfully expose Tedros’ meddling for what it is, Jocelyn ultimately capitulates, detailing the harrowing physical abuse she received from her mother, who treated her like a dog by beating her incessantly with a hairbrush (recalling the horror-style shot of Jocelyn violently brushing her hair in “Double Fantasy”).

Tedros’ reactions here are quite uncharacteristic, inconsistent, and bewildering. First, he shows compassion and moral disgust, using his sympathy as ammo to reprimand/belittle both Xander and Leia for being passive by not fighting back or saying anything (even as he demands the same from his sycophantic clique). He then goes on to question the motives behind their complacency—“Did you not say anything because you were getting paid?” Confronted point blank, Xander is visibly flustered and upset by the question. Luckily, Jocelyn comes to his rescue, rationalizing their collective inaction: “It was just such a horrible f*cked up situation where nobody knew what to do.”

From one perspective, Tedros’ indignation makes sense—nothing enrages a megalomaniac more than hearing others submit to someone else. He’s also using pity to dig a little deeper, knowing Jocelyn’s relationship with her mom is the crux of her current artistic crisis: “Do you think the reason your stuck is because your mother is no longer around?” he asks, calm and curious. Jocelyn doesn’t disabuse the suggestion, entertaining the possibility that getting hit motivated her and acknowledging the absence of maternal abuse is likely why she’s creatively inert.

Here, a lightbulb goes off in Tedros’ head: “If you loved the music you were making would it have felt like it was worth it?” he eagerly asks. “Yeah,” Jocelyn replies, and that seals the deal: Tedros decides to repeat the abusive ritual for the sake of catharsis through simulation. Despite having just eviscerated Leia and Xander for their previous deference to Jocelyn’s manipulative and harmful mother, Tedros perpetuates Jocelyn’s trauma as they hypocritically stand on the periphery as repeat bystanders:

“All that trauma… you’re going to turn it into inspiration. You’re going to tap into it. You’re going to feel it. You’re going to face it. And you’re going to let it wash all over.”

Disturbingly, Tedros’ solution is not to throw the hairbrush into the fireplace (which Levinson teases might happen) but to instead perpetuate the trauma in a twisted spectacle—a metaphorical changing of the guards. Equally ironic and problematic, Tedros reenacts the abuse to ostensibly reignite Jocelyn’s artistic fervor and heal her wounds. Jocelyn has now replaced her mother’s sadistic love with Tedros’—replacing a maternal dominatrix with a patriarchal dom.

Being the caring flogger that he is, Tedros prefaces his flagellations with intimate words of endearment: “This is really going to hurt but if you push through the pain, it will be beautiful.” And being the grateful recipient, Jocelyn resorts to submissive ingratiation: “Thank you for taking care of me.” The scene also serves as a cross-marketing vehicle for The Weeknd in a weirdly meta manner. As The Weekend sings about being “Manipulated a hundred times, but none of them felt so soft and kind” in “Take Me Back,” Tedros smacks and lashes Jocelyn, causing tears to stream down her face. It’s a twisted bit of self-mythologizing: A pop star performing the role of a perpetrator in a scene featuring a nondiegetic song wherein they intone the lyrical perspective of the victim.

All the while, we, the audience, are left to the detached role of mildly stunned skeptics: Did this BDSM-adjacent rite of passage narratively cohere? Should we appreciate the symbolically apropos underpinnings of “Take Me Back” or reject the needle drop as vulgarly self-promotional? And perhaps most importantly: Is abuse ever justified—even if it transubstantiates into great art? Jocelyn seems to think so, but if there’s anything we learned from “Daybreak” it’s that an aesthetic position is not de jure a barometer of truth. Representation does not equal endorsement because it rarely knows what it’s even trying to say.

Written by Paul Keelan

Paul Keelan currently resides in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and cat. He has toured the continental US multiple times as a bassist playing rock jams, lived / traveled / taught abroad for over five years (primarily in Asia), and watched an unhealthy amount of movies.

When not writing about cinema for 25YL and Letterboxd, or working on his travel novels / novellas, he spends free time reenacting imaginary montage sequences as he records, edits, and cohosts the spectacular sports movie podcast Cinematic Underdogs.

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