Clueless parents, useless educators, and vapid classmates abound in “Trinkets,” Netflix’s new teen drama. Three girls, the gorgeous, popular rich girl Tabitha (Quintessa Swindell), Moe (Kiana Madeira), the outcast who used to be her grade-school best friend, and the new girl, Elodie (Brianna Hildebrand), who just lost her mom, are thrown together in a 12-step program for kleptomaniacs.
Each has her reasons and methods for why she shoplifts, but what it really comes down to is that they feel a need to express some control over their lives. They feel unseen, that their lives are not their own. They take advantage of that invisibility to steal small objects, trinkets, as a means of giving themselves weight in the world.
Teen drama is one of the all-time best American genres. Nothing can be more miserable than being thoroughly misunderstood with your whole life ahead of you. Drama runs high, emotions shoot off in crazy directions, plots spin out like defective fireworks, and parents are mysteriously never around.
Based on the novel by Kirsten Smith, “Trinkets” does not skimp on the spiraling plot that gets ever crazier, or the strength of teen girl friendship. The three girls are so afraid of pretty much everything that they can’t even admit to being friends for half the series. They keep their friendship secret, like an illicit love affair, not revealing it to each other, their friends, or their families. But once they commit to each other, they go all in.
These three unlikely friends, brought together by their inability to live within the lines, are not part of the same scenes at school, and with school cliques being what they are, they’re each a little afraid of being associated with the others. True feelings are expressed here, and the inability to own yourself at this age. It’s part of why the push to identify is so strong and virulent at this age, because the simple act of expressing any kind of preference that diverges from what’s expected feels revolutionary.
The girls each cross the lines with their families, thinking they can’t reveal their true selves and still be accepted in their families. When Elodie misses legal appointments to hang with a new girlfriend, her father, played by Larry Sullivan, lashes out with a “What is wrong with you?” Tabitha’s mom (Joy Bryant) barely recognizes her daughter after she breaks up with her perfect-seeming but secretly abusive boyfriend Brady (Brandon Butler). Moe can’t talk to her mom (October Moore) about her academic ambitions for fear of hurting her mom’s feelings by wanting to leave home.
Some think there’s a point in a girl’s life where she changes and isn’t the little girl she used to be anymore. She is someone else, and as much as she needs to change, as kids do during these fraught, tumultuous years, she doesn’t want her parents to stop reflecting that little girl back their eyes. She wants to be grown, and treated as such, with all the rights and privileges, but she wants to have the comfort of her parents’ love for their little girl.
In an interview with Oprah, speaking about the death of her parents, Condoleeza Rice said one of the hardest parts was that she wasn’t anyone’s little girl anymore. Perhaps even the most successful, intelligent, and accomplished of women still want the comfort of their parents looking at them like the little girl they once were. This is a transition, and it’s a necessary one, but as painful as it is to parents it is painful to daughters as well.
The clash between parents and teenagers has so much to do with expectations. Children emerge from childhood laden with their parents’ hopes and wants for them, maybe for the first time realizing that those parental designs may not fit. Kids’ desire to please their parents, and their feeling that to be true to themselves means they cannot please them, creates a clash that leads to secrets, deception, and frustration.
When Elodie’s mom (Lynn Adrianna) dies in a horrific car accident, Elodie has to move from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in with her dad and his new family in Portland, Oregon. The expectations are drastically different. She and mom were a team, which is evident even from the small flashbacks, but with her dad, she’s an extra.
None of these girls live up to what her parents want her to be, although they feel like they should. They internalize the expectations even as they can’t meet them, don’t want to meet them, and realize they won’t.
So much of late teen life is about establishing one’s own expectations and wants for life. Parents’ wants can guide their daughters, but what they provide—like academic demands, college, how to dress, how to present yourself to the world—makes up the basics, the importance of doing the right thing even if it doesn’t always work out, trying to be the best version of yourself.
This is where kids misconstrue, too. As kids, the girls in “Trinkets” feel it’s the trappings that matter, the externals, the smiles and behaviors. Parents can get caught up in this too. But it’s all the other stuff that matters: kindness, caring, compassion, honesty. Moe, Elodie and Tabitha learn most of that, but definitely not all.
Teen shows rarely cast teen actors, and “Trinkets” is no exception. If we saw actual teens involved in these scenarios, still in their awkward weird phases, would that change our perception of real-life teens? As portrayed on TV and in film, teenagers look like 20-somethings, because the actors that play them are often that age (if not older).
While this is certainly better for entertainment value, because one glimpse at a high school-based news event shows us that the last thing we want is to see teens on TV, it does skew our collective concept of just how young they really are. In “Trinkets,” Tabitha ends up romantically involved with a guy in his mid-twenties. Tabitha is 17, so this is clearly a statutory situation (even for Portland), but because the actors are both adults, the make-out session doesn’t look weird. The same is true for Elodie, who finds herself into an older woman, also in her twenties, although the character is 16 or 17.
This first season of “Trinkets” covers a lot of ground, taking the stories of the three heroines from girls who feel invisible to their finding some of their power and agency. But they find they are able to run from their problems and embark on new ones without having dealt with the issues that plagued them in the first place.
Tabitha ditches one problematic boyfriend for another. Elodie runs from her father’s expectations into the arms of a woman with much higher expectations for Elodie’s loyalty. Moe’s anger gets the better of her, and though she’s learned not to hold it back, the last notes of the season sing a song of doom for her prospects.
The season does not end with hope. Each of them still carries the poison of her compulsions. Only now they don’t have each other, or their 12-step program, to help them through it.