Gossip Girl – “Woman on the Verge”

“Woman on the Verge”

May 12th, 2008

Last week, Serena van der Woodsen revealed something that had the potential to cripple the entire series. “I killed someone” isn’t something that a show can just ignore, or gloss over – or, at least, not quite so quickly that this episode should approach anything close to normalcy. For her to interact with any characters in this situation would drag everything down. Luckily, at this point in the story, only Blair knows the truth, so everyone else can presume that it is only a downward spiral in her usual vein.

It’s a certain tragic note that fits the series well enough, although on occasion Serena’s complicity in continuing the lie of why she fell off the rails, and destroying her relationship with Dan, feels too melodramatic by half. I’m never a fan of characters who, after admitting what happened to one person, ignores the logical course of setting things straight and instead chooses to hide things – it’s a teen soap cliche that just doesn’t work for me.

There’s a lot of chiches at play here, almost too many – whether its Lily’s past with Rufus giving her cold feet, or Dan falling right into Georgina’s arms after the breakup, things are at such a low difficulty level that the execution needs to be excellent for the episode to really click. Even after the truth of the incident comes out, and it is expectedly exonerative of Serena to the point of contrivance, it just feels like the show isn’t willing to pull punches when it counts.

Yes, it is officially the most innocent “I killed someone” of all time, which just makes Serena hiding it that much more ridiculous. As far as I can tell, she (during an admittedly difficult time in her life, just after sleeping with Nate and in her bad girl best) starts making out with a guy, gets cold feet, has him take a line of cocaine, and then he starts seizing. She waits what appears to be about two minutes before calling 911, never at any point listening or acting on Georgina’s suggestion to not call anyone that delays her in the first place, and then runs from the scene without giving her name to 911 and waits around long enough to see whether or not she dies. So, to put it plainly, someone died when she was there and she abandoned him…after calling 911.

I just don’t understand how this is a problem, exactly: she ran, yes, but there is no way that anyone in a million years she would be held fully accountable. That she breaks up with Dan over him not knowing such a ludicrously timid story is mindblowing, and no one would ever hold her responsible legally or logically. It was the epitome of a storyline that is unwilling to tarnish a character’s reputation for it to unfold logically, and yet willing to sensationalize it to the point of melodrama.

I do have to note that Michelle Trachtenberg is doing more great work in the storyline, particularly as she explains her need for a name change with Dan. She has this sincerity about her, but with this subtle undertone of absolute evil, that works perfectly for this character. It’s one of those moments where we as the audience know a lot more than our protagonist, but it really does depend on her ability to display the acting chops we need to see it through. The character has more life in her yet, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that Trachtenberg has kept her believable even as she descends further and further.

My biggest problem with the episode’s other storyline is that I don’t believe it, and find it more contrived now than it was before. I think that Matthew Settle and Kelly Rutherford have good chemistry, and Dan splitting from Serena does open the door to avoid the whole “Our parents are dating/having an affair” side of things, but does that make it any easier for the show to so clearly indulge in the exact same storyline that the show has introduced numerous times over? They keep playing this card whenever they have a chance, and it’s getting more than a little old at this point: they either need to add more adults to the cast, so as to diversify their storylines, or they need to stick them together and let them start some sort of new storyline outside of this unrequited love.

Outside of that, though, there were some charming moments here: whether it was the ways in which our characters described their reasoning for having no judgment in Serena’s secret (Nate: I slept with you while with Blair; Blair: I slept with Chuck in the back of a limo; Chuck: I’m Chuck Bass), or Lisa Loeb’s little cameo (Paling in comparison to her old guest stint on Cupid, but still enjoyable), I think there was overall some good execution at play here. Nate’s character in particular has been leagues improved since he and Vanessa started seeing each other, so I can only hope that this continues into the future. I actually thought that the Blair/Nate/Chuck pairing did a lot of good for all of their characters, whereas the less supportive players were certainly less helped by the melodrama.

In the end, rather than a woman, this was really a storyline on the verge: on the verge of needless drama, and on the verge of losing my patience. Ultimately, the ancillary parts are enough to keep me watching, and the execution is still definitely above the pre-strike levels, but I do hope that the second season might be able to tone down the hysterics in favour of something that doesn’t try to bleed the “I killed someone” stone dry.

Cultural Observations

  • I was convinced that Lily was going to rekindle her love with Rufus by taking a picture on her cell phone, but clearly I was misled by my own cliche-riddled mind.
  • I actually found all of the hoopla over Rufus’ show to be a bit over-the-top, particularly the Rolling Stone interview with Lily. I get that they want to showcase Rufus, and that there might be interest, but would Lily’s status as his roadie really be such common knowledge (And, if it was, why didn’t Dan put two and two together when he saw the photo, so iconic that everyone knows it, likely credited to her? Although, I guess three marriages wreaks havoc on one’s named credits, eh?)
  • Say what you will about the show pushing the limits of TV for the wrong reasons, but I thought the realistic use of drugs and depictions of pre-coitus were evocative if (as I’ve said too many times in this review) melodramatic, and without them Serena’s story (intercut nicely with her mother watching the video) would have seemed even more ridiculous.

2 Comments

Filed under Gossip Girl

2 responses to “Gossip Girl – “Woman on the Verge”

  1. Pingback: Gossip Girl - Season Finale - “The Thin Line Between Chuck and Nate” « Cultural Learnings

  2. Pingback: In defense of trashy primetime soaps « bitch happy

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