Gossip Girl – “Bonfire of the Vanity”

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“Bonfire of the Vanity”

November 10th, 2009

Gossip Girl is not one for subtlety, nor one for taking their time to get into storylines. Last week, Serena was just discovering that Aaron could be a potential mate of sorts: this week, he’s leading her on romantic trips around the city and making her his muse. Just at the beginning of the season, Jenny Humphrey was a naive young girl looking for her big break, and now she’s an angst-ridden, eyeshadow wearing and hoodie sporting punk.

It feels like these two characters, in particular, are jumping around from story point to story point: Serena has gone from post-Dan sadness to new Dan closeness to post-Dan sadness to anti-Blair bitchiness to suddenly friendly towards Blair to now hunting after Aaron. Jenny, meanwhile, went from unhappy intern to unhappy student to home-schooled young assistant to unappreciated designer to unappreciative rebel to guerilla runaway fashionista to homeless, dressless child (And in between she made out with Nate – Ew.)

And we’re not too far into this the show’s second season, and there’s a long way to go: right now, what Gossip Girl is doing right is those storylines that feel natural, and don’t count those two girls amongst them. In fact, only really Chuck and Blair have maintained something approximating consistency, and the result is the episode’s only positive development. And while I’m glad the show is finding its footing in the ratings, there are points where the guilty pleasure needs to show a bit more pleasure.

Okay, so first and foremost: I’m going to be discussing some spoilers in a few minutes, one that is not so much confirmed as it is highly choreographable (In fact, it might be so obvious that it won’t happen in this way). So, if you’re wary of such things, just be on the lookout. In fact, I’ll get it out of the way right now by talking about the good stuff first.

Chuck and Blair are this show’s saving grace right now, mainly because they seem to be capable of handling both their external personas (which are the show’s most interesting) and their internal pain and concern. Chuck’s lack of appreciation from his father, and his issues regarding his mother’s death, do humanize the character, but I find that it doesn’t damage their external persona. There has been a consistency to Chuck: he’s always been a jerk, he’s always schemed to get his way, but yet I totally believe him when he tries to help Vanessa’s beloved coffee house or when he gives his father season tickets to the New York Rangers. There is just something very genuine about Chuck: not honest, not trustworthy, but a sense that he believes what he does and feels something, if little, when he is lying or manipulating people who he cares about.

We can say the same for Blair: despite her efforts to push Cyrus (an unlikely Wallace Shawn) out of her mother’s life, there is a definite sense that she was doing it for something approaching the right reasons. She was concerned for her mother, concerned about it all happening again, and by transferring her own fears onto her mother she was doing what anyone in that situation would do. She’s young (even when she’s turning 18), and so she would be protective of her mother and that situation. That she got played in the process, Cyrus manipulating her as she had manipulated him, was the kind of scene that plays well to the character: manipulation works better when it’s consistent and, more importantly, it’s entertaining.

These are all qualities, however, that don’t match up with the rest of our characters. Let’s start with Dan, who at least we kind of understand: he’s a struggling writer, who isn’t actually very good, so we see him flitting between this and that, unable to decide on a direction. It’s perfectly in character with Dean, in many ways, but Dan’s heart is never in it. While he often manipulates people in order to get his way, as he does here with Bart and Chuck to an extent, he’s forced into it: challenged about having the cajones to go through with it, and eventually backing down so he can see all righteous and good. I don’t dislike Dan as much as some might, but I feel as if the show never does him any favours: if you want me to like Dan, have him make a real life mistake and own up to it.

The most frustrating thing about Dan’s storyline is that it also felt like it was setting up something much too obvious – to go into spoilers for a second, we know that a character is set to die on the series and it is too obviously going to be Bart Bass. The character is the most expendable: he hasn’t been around much this season, he hasn’t been much of an influence on any of our characters, and Dan giving him the short story led him to tearfully confess to his son about his wife’s death – the signs are pointing to him being “Caleb’d” in due time. Of course, the uncanny similarities to Josh Schwartz killing off Caleb on The O.C. are almost too obvious: perhaps it’s an example of misdirection, but considering that we got another look at a potential Lily/Rufus pairing a few episodes back I think it’s much too convenient.

And as for Serena, Aaron is just extremely lame – while I don’t think he’s charmless, his “complications” for Serena rang false too many times over. His bohemian “I like to date multiple people!” was beyond a cliche, and didn’t ring true to what we’d learned about the character to that point…which was, really, just a cliche in itself. The character exists only to make us feel bad to Serena, who is the most romantically conventional character and therefore the least interesting. When Gossip Girl referred to them as “S & A,” I was shocked: there’s no way that I can buy him showing up two weeks ago and being someone who is so popular – especially when he’s being such a bohemian douchebag.

And the same goes for Jenny, who is spiralling at a dangerous rate, although we got a sign this week of someone who is still like the naive innocent we once knew. There was a moment where she was pitching her own brand of innocence, that she was like the kids she went to school with but that she had a different perspective. She wasn’t in that moment a rebel, but a normal girl who observed, desired, and attempted to take part in their rituals without much success. That’s a reality that is below the surface here: while she’s being all rebellious, there was a point in season one where not being entirely vapid was rebellious enough.

I think that there is potential in showing a character go too far, from a dramatic perspective: at the same time, though, this hasn’t been fun to watch. Willa Holland’s Agnes went a few steps too far in this episode, with the burning of the clothes, and she turned into a (humorous) drunk rebel stereotype a bit too quickly. Schwartz has often had issues with guest characters being too one-dimensional and short term (I’m thinking Oliver, not that this is anywhere even close to this), and this feels like they’re really manipulating Jenny into a storyline that hasn’t been entertaining and, more importantly, feels like too much of a departure from what we knew of her character heading into the season. I know that Jenny is the closest thing we have to a comparative for the show’s target audience, but showing her fall so hard feels false, simple as that.

Cultural Observations

  • So, how unhappy did Cyndi Lauper look to be there? I dare say that she did not, in fact, have fun.
  • I wasn’t aware that anyone who isn’t Canadian actually cares about hockey, especially not rich people. I guess it was the only sport that would be in season when the episode was airing.
  • Anybody else having serious difficulties believing that Dan is capable of writing down his thoughts so much better than he’s capable of expressing them? Plus, I swear I saw a typo in the first line of that story.

2 Comments

Filed under Gossip Girl

2 responses to “Gossip Girl – “Bonfire of the Vanity”

  1. TamIAm

    Isn’t Jenny’s friend’s name Agnes, not Olive?

  2. Yes, yes it is – I had forgotten her proper name. I knew it has an e, in it, though…*whistles while editing.*

    Thanks, TamIAm.

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