Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 5, Episode 20 of The CW's "Gossip Girl," entitled "Salon of the Dead."
Oh, "Gossip Girl," why must you tease me so? Just when I think we're making progress, with last week's episode demonstrating some nostalgically sharp writing and logical character progression, along comes an episode like "Salon of the Dead," which was so by the numbers it could've been painted by an eight-year-old with a DIY kit and tiny paintbrush.
The separate pieces were all promising: Lola on the verge of discovering Serena's secret; the truth about Chuck's mother finally coming to light; Dan and Blair hosting a fabulous soiree at which every conceivable catastrophe occurs; an actual storyline for Rufus and Lily. And yet the sum of its parts failed to add up to an entertaining whole. The writing felt flat, the scathing wit was nowhere to be found, and every character's actions were painfully predictable.
The episode could've provided some insightful examination of why Serena's so insecure and so intent on sabotaging every potentially good friendship she's ever had, but instead, her bust-up with Lola had her cousin fleeing the UES like every other disposable character the show has introduced over the past five years, and Serena falling further down the rabbit hole of self-absorption and petty jealousy. Is it too much to ask for women in primetime to celebrate each other's successes instead of bitching and backstabbing and focusing so intently on their men or their money or their perceived importance that they lose all sense of self? This is "Gossip Girl," so of course it is.
This week, I'm dispensing with our usual list of OMG moments, if only because everything felt so telegraphed, there were no truly shocking revelations. Yes, as we all predicted, Diana is indeed Chuck's birth mother. Apparently, she and Bart had an affair while Bart was still with the elusive Elizabeth, and the affair ended once she became pregnant. Then, when Elizabeth discovered that she couldn't naturally conceive, she agreed to raise Chuck as her own. Apparently, Diana had come to the city to watch over Chuck from afar, but somehow decided that screwing his best friend was a better course of action instead. Hmm.
While the majority of Chuck and Diana's heart-to-heart was fairly reasonable, to me, there's no justifying a mother knowingly entering into a sexual relationship with her son's BFF, and the "if you never found out the truth, what's the harm?" excuse doesn't hold much water, even by "Gossip Girl" standards. It's icky no matter which way you slice it, and it just plays like the writers wanted to introduce Elizabeth Hurley's character in a salacious way to distract us from the possibility of her being Chuck's mom early on, but were too lazy to think up a justifiable explanation for her sleeping with Nate when the time came for the big reveal. Lazy storytelling. The only question remaining is what Diana's other big secret could be, and how it could possibly be a bigger bombshell than being Chuck Bass' long-lost mother.
I was expecting a little more razzle-dazzle from both the Diana revelation and Lola discovering that Serena was Gossip Girl, because the show is entirely capable of producing those "OMG" moments when it puts some effort into it. Sadly, both Lola and Serena were being so obvious this week, it was clear that the show had no intention of providing us with a juicy twist. Of course Lola would be suspicious if Gossip Girl put up a post that repeated Lola's unflattering comments about a director verbatim, just a few minutes after she'd had a private conversation with Serena about it. It wasn't at all realistic for Serena to be so blatant about using a private conversation for a very specific blast, and while I know that realism doesn't enter into many of the show's narrative choices, Serena knows how to cover her tracks far better than that -- she's always been the queen of manipulating the paparazzi and using her influence to get her way, so for her to be so careless in dealing with Lola (forget about ever leaving her phone unattended in a public place) is wholly uncharacteristic.
The writers have been a little more consistent about building Dan and Blair's romance (even if it's apparently to the detriment of all other character development on the show), and their moment in bed, arguing about art, was a sweet and realistic touch, given their personalities. Sadly, the rest of their storyline was fairly bland, with yet another rehash of the Upper East Side vs. Brooklyn debate that Dan and Serena had in the first couple of seasons. We get that they don't fit into each other's worlds, and it's a somewhat tired storyline at this point -- although it was a relief to see them reaching a sensible compromise over their culture clash, unlike Rufus and Lily. I'm also consistently amused that no matter how many "celebrity" cameos the show scores, whether it's Tim Gunn, Vera Wang, April Bloomfield or Julian Tepper and Jenna Gribbon, apparently no normal human beings can "act" like themselves. I'm not sure whether that's a criticism of the writing or whether non-actors just fail at scripted cameos in general, but it's always painful to watch.
Speaking of Rufus and Lily, I admire the show's attempt to give them something to do, but at this point I have to wonder whether the majority of "Gossip Girl's" audience actually cares about their marital issues or just glazes over when they're on-screen. For my part, I hope Rufus goes scorched earth on Lily cancelling his debit card as well as declining his credit card -- seriously low blow. And where did Daddy van der Woodsen disappear to? I guess they'll dust him and Lola back off for the finale, just in time for everyone to be super shocked that Serena and Lola aren't just cousins, but also half-sisters. Drama!
Did you enjoy "Salon of the Dead"? What do you think Diana's other secret is, and how did Gossip Girl discover it? Did you hope Lola might reveal Serena's secret identity to everyone on her way out? Weigh in below.
"Gossip Girl" airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.