“Desperately Seeking Serena”
April 28th, 2008
It’s SAT time on Gossip Girl, as our heroes and heroines are obsessing over their futures. Of course, how can one study for the future when your past is haunting you before you can even get there? Georgina Sparks is a dangerous catalyst of the old Serena, a Monday night synergy moment where it appears that Serena has a case of associative regression: when she’s around, something clicks inside of her.
Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy) arrives on the scene just as Serena’s life seems too idyllic for this drama-filled universe – we are to believe based on the hype that even being stepsiblings with Chuck Bass is a cakewalk compared to weathering the arrival of this character. Here she is, with her entire academic future on the line, and now she has to try to avoid waking up an angry ghost from her, still, mysterious past.
Smartly, the rest of the episode avoided the uber-drama in favour of romantic entanglements of the adorable and/or intriguing variety, along with Blair’s usual scheming and Dan’s usual neuroses. It’s a sign of a show finding its balance, a show capable of taking its storylines and making them into something that affects the entire cast. Much as the pregnancy storyline before the break didn’t break down into something dominating, so too goes Georgie’s arrival on the scene.
Georgie’s arrival has the expected consequences: Serena ends up drunk and putting on a fake hick accent within only 12 hours, and bad Serena starts to come out. This, of course, has her concerned over Dan’s reaction to her return to the dark side, which creates drama in their relationship that to this point has been a bit too safe. It also, more surprisingly, gives us a solid amount of Chuck Bass in a ridiculous bright red overcoat dosing out a prescription for common sense to someone who, obviously, won’t get it.
The biggest problem with the storyline is its predictability: after realizing that Serena has somewhat changed, she fakes understanding and then drugs her to try to pull her back into her world. Trachtenberg is certainly playing the role of bitch well (Certainly better than Mischa Barton could have done), but is there anything here we haven’t seen in every other show of this nature? I think that Dan’s side of the drama was a bit underwhelming, too exasperated and not nuanced enough – until episode’s end.
There, Serena finds her backbone and decides to confront Georgina despite whatever dirt that she has on her. We discover that something happened last year, as Serena walked in on something that could take them both down. It’s that huge, monumental piece of drama that creates a nice sense of mystery, and can hopefully sustain a potentially one-dimensional storyline into something more.
The rest of the show’s storylines are smart, ignoring any of this sense of drama in favour of a more light-hearted atmosphere. First and foremost, we have bitchy Blair returning to a less monumental attack: organizing the various lackeys to take down the smartest girl in school. It’s a frothy affair, with Blair’s usual false tact in place. She is, in the end, successful – well, as successful as we can call ruining someone’s future. In the end, of course, she didn’t study enough herself, so all she did was ruin everyone’s chances equally rather than elevate herself.
On the other side of the coin, Jenny finally disconnects herself from the traditional drama of her feud with Blair and strikes out on her own to find a King for her future Queenship – mainly, a cute dogwalker who flirts with her. Of course, she’s grounded after last week’s drama, so this is the traditional teenage struggle: you want everything, but your past mistakes keep you from really moving in. It’s a bit of a cliche, but I do like Jenny getting storylines that are younger than those of the show’s older characters – I’d rather have her younger perspective than the adult storylines any day. Asher, the fresh-faced youth with the hot dogs, shows up at the door, and we can go on from there.
And then we get to the strangest storyline, Nate and Vanessa hooking up. It’s a smart move for a lot of reasons, mainly that it marginalizes the show’s worst characters in their own corner of the series. And, also amazingly, they are genuinely charming together: this is perhaps the most natural Chace Crawford has been, and even if they rushed it just a little (Shouldn’t he have been even a bit angry that she read one of his practice essays?) it seems like a natural way to use these characters while avoiding the various love triangles the show has already played with this season. Nate seemed genuinely concerned with Vanessa, and forcing her to take the SATs was a charming note to the episode.
Of course, at episode’s end, everything comes to a head in a way that exasperates the drama for next week: Dan and Blair are affected by Nate and Vanessa’s budding romance, Serena continues to lie to Dan about Georgie’s existence, and Georgie moves in on Dan to heat things up further. A good episode of a show like this is able to simultaneously build on and create a new series.
- Next week, someone comes out of the closet…who could it be? It could be one of the show’s main characters, or one of the offshoots: whether it’s one of Blair’s entourage, orr perhaps Serena’s brother Erik, I would expect it to fall into the latter category.
- As someone who has not taken the SATs (Go Canada), it is clear that the test creates a variety of reactions: was there much truth to the episode’s opening montage of seizure-inducing studying?