September 22nd, 2008
My, what a difference an episode or three can make: at the beginning of the month, I spent an entire blog post drawing comparisons between Gossip Girl and The O.C. as they each handled their seasons easons, but here I am saying that Josh Schwartz finally has two leading ladies capable of dramatic range and, thus, has a far more compelling turn of events to offer viewers.
What “The Ex-Files” does is successfully turn the entire show on its ear: without losing a step, we see the re-emergence of Queen Serena, the return to a damaged Blair Waldorf, and the ever-present evil that is Chuck Bass pulling every string imaginable. Combine with a healthy dose of harsh reality for the Humphrey siblings, and inoffensive plot machinations for Nate and Vanessa, and you have an episode that feels like what Gossip Girl is supposed to be: a decidedly fanged investigation of complex social behaviours within a high school setting.
Or, if you prefer, one big season-long bitch fight.
Blake Lively can do what Mischa Barton never could: actually play this kind of evil, socially manipulative person. We saw hints of it during the first season, but “reformed” Serena was never that interesting. Schwartz and Savage are smart, here, to actually let her become someone we might not root for, at least not in the sense of good or morality – considering that she is a woman scorned, any other reaction would likely feel quite false, and that inner demon the show has kept trying to tell us is there has never quite emerged this quickly.
Sure, it really only takes a smoldering look and they could get away with evil Serena, but the scene as Serena suddenly becomes Blair, all false comforting and helpful, is a great little piece of acting from Blake Lively. Sure, Serena has been an uneven character thus far, but this has a lot of good potential for seeing how the show handles such a total upheaval of its presumed order. Nice is not an adjective that you want to stick with you on Gossip Girl, and the show’s willingness to toss it aside for even the show’s “romantic lead” is incredibly important to its long term creative stability.
And, let’s face it: at this point, fans care more about Blair and Chuck than they do about the gossip about Dan and Serena. The two are the show’s two most distinct characters, but also probably the most socially interesting. You have the former Queen who now finds herself without her Lord boyfriend, and the jilted former lover who is manipulating the rest of the school in his attempt to embarass, and yet eventually bed, his infatuation. The two of them are just plain fun to watch, something that television doesn’t do enough these days. I have high hopes for where these two take their storyline, and I feel like the show is really letting them either be themselves (Chuck) or get some new roles (Blair).
As for Nate and Vanessa, it’s the usual: Vanessa makes a mistake, Nate holds a grudge, and now they can go back to not knowing one another at all. It’s good to get the whole Catherine thing behind us, even with Nate’s financial issues persisting, but I’m curious as to where they take these characters at this point. Nate is our biggest “Regular” not entangled in the central drama, so how they plan on giving him something to do is going to be quite interesting.
And I’m hoping the show finds it, because Dan and Jenny aren’t likely to bring any of it: I like the realism of them both being shunned in the wake of the breakup, primarily because it brings them back to where they really belong socially speaking. Jenny’s little “I’m going to quit school and clean up work tables” act is a bit precious, and I do think that Dan is going to have some issues adjusting to no longer being the center of attention, but with the right care they can make their boring-ness work for, as opposed to against, the show as a whole.
Overall: fun episode, intriguing episode, and one that was all about manipulation and jockeying for position. So, really, considering the show’s purpose, one can’t complain.
- Lily’s return from her honeymoon brings, hopefully, her last time going after Rufus even though it’s not much less awkward in terms of their kids. I like Kelly Rutherford, and she played her scene of “I just need a friend, my life is lonely” very well, but it’s a tired note and I don’t ever want to see it again.
- I loved the reveal that it was Chuck who set up the entire Amanda debacle, and from the very inception – I also loved that Amanda was so cold and mean that she was only mildly bemused at her hair behind burnt off as opposed to, you know, angry. I don’t know where he found her, but Chuck played that one well.