Gossip Girl, you know I love you but we have to talk. I've been a longtime fan of yours but the current fifth season really isn't your gossipy best. I say this with all my XOXO but it's hard to change without talking about the problems.
So let's talk about the issues plaguing the fifth season of this scandalous CW favorite. I want to put in my disclaimer here and note that I actually have loved and continue to love Gossip Girl a great deal. I went into the show in the first season entirely because my roommates were excited to watch it. By the end of that season I was the one obsessed with the show, buying headbands and referring to my friends only by their first initials. Needless to say, they really regretted getting me hooked on Gossip Girl.
Gossip Girl, about a bunch of rich Upper East Siders and their insanely ridiculous lives, has never been a perfect show. Even when the plot holes were big enough to drive one of Chuck Bass' limos through the show's lovably psychotic characters and absurdist sense of humor remained intact.
This season, however, Gossip Girl feels like it has seriously lost its way. With more than half the season already past I worry that the show might not get back to what viewers loved best: the scheming characters, the juicy scandals and the tumultuous friendship between a blonde bombshell and a Queen B(ee).
I've narrowed my essential issues with this season of Gossip Girl down to four:
1. What is Gossip Girl without those three little letters: BFF?
Gossip Girl started not with a bang, but with a feud. The catty catfight in question was between recent boarding-school returnee Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) and current high school drama queen Blair Waldorf (Leighton Meester). Throughout the course of the show the girls have pushed each other into fountains and cakes, but they've also been there for each other when the chips were down. Their friendship has often been written with all the obstacles of any good love story. The relationship between Serena and Blair with all its ups, downs and field hockey fights is the central relationship of Gossip Girl.
This season Gossip Girl has almost wholly sidelined the dynamic between Serena and Blair and it's hurt the show. Giving no narrative space to this core relationship is a mistake. At the end of the day, after all the schemes have been hatched, this is a show about two girls who could not be more similar or more different. This season, the girls have had scant screen time with each other and no narrative emphasis put on their relationship.
Both girls have been almost wholly wrapped up in their own separate storylines, barely touching base with each other. In previous seasons, Blair and Serena would turn to each other when times got tough. Now an episode might include a single scene of the girls having a post-game conversation after all the drama is over. While once a driving force for the show, this season Serena and Blair's friendship has taken a backseat to the merry-go-round of love triangles and guest stars. While the girls' current feud over Dan (Penn Badgley) is sure to put some attention back on their core dynamic, ignoring the central friendship of the series for nearly the entire season has made the show less enjoyable to watch.
2. The Magically Disappearing S
The series began with Serena's return from boarding school and throughout Gossip Girl's run the blonde and brunette society girls have traded off the narrative lead. While things were more equitable in the first season, there have been times when either Blair or Serena has stolen the plot limelight. I can't remember any time, however, when Serena's story has been so thin.
This year, Serena's character has consistently been used as a prop to lend importance to the show's guest star storyline of the moment. Besides stalking her fake cousin Charlie/Ivy (Kaylee DeFer) she's done scant else of importance. She briefly worked in the film industry, although mostly this turn of events worked to forward Dan's book storyline. After that Serena briefly dated Ivy's ex-boyfriend, a chef/psychopath with a tendency towards blackmail. Making Serena once again an accessory to the ongoing Ivy plot. Then Serena decided to take down Gossip Girl with Nate's (Chace Crawford) help, which lasted about the thirty seconds it took Serena to utter that declaration of war. Shortly after Serena began working at Nate's gossip site, once again playing a minor role in Nate's storyline while having no momentum of her own. In terms of her love life, which is one of the central devices of the series, Serena has spent most of the season pining for the emotionally unavailable Dan. This mostly just positions her as an obstacle to the burgeoning Blair and Dan romance.
Serena has been present to service everyone else's storylines this season without having any kind of character arc herself. "What is Serena up to this week?" You might ask yourself before watching an episode. The answer is that she's usually acting as a plot device in whatever storyline the writers need moved forward. As one of arguably the two main characters of the show (see above) Serena should have her own character arc. Her character shouldn't be used to prop up guest stars or make already crowded love triangles more dramatic. It's time to give Serena a real storyline that starts and ends with her.
3. The Deconstruction of Blair Waldorf
Serena's not the only Gossip Girl suffering from narrative whiplash. The writing for Blair has been possibly even more troubling than the lack of any kind of story for Serena. Unlike Serena, Blair has received a lion's share of the plot this season. Unfortunately, this narrative prominence has done her character no favors. Throughout the run of the show, Blair has been an underdog, a striver and above all a schemer. "I'm the crazy bitch around here," she once told Georgina after a particularly satisfying take-down.
Not anymore. This season, Blair has put away her Queen B crown in favor of a pretty princess tiara. In her quest to become the princess of Monaco, she has barely schemed once all season. When Prince Louis' (Hugo Becker) sister Beatrice was obviously gunning for her, she didn't even notice. Even Serena, one of the more trusting and naive people on the show currently being convinced a complete stranger is her cousin, could see Beatrice was bad news. Did Blair find out her plan or scheme to take her down? Nope, she just sat passively by and did nothing.
In fact, sitting passively by and doing nothing appears to be Blair's lot in life now. The issues with Blair's characterization might be the most troubling of the season. Blair has gone from an active character, constantly engaged in a fight with the world around her, to a passive victim. When things used to go wrong for Blair Waldorf she would wipe her tears and plot revenge. This season, when times get tough Blair literally runs away from her problems. Whether that's to cry on Dan's shoulder in Brooklyn or run away to the Dominican Republic, Blair has become a classic damsel-in-distress.
It's hard to imagine Blair reacting to threats with anything other than a good take-down, but this season she has barely schemed at all. She doesn't fight for herself. She used to routinely try to destroy people for sometimes no apparent reason at all. This season she has become the perpetual victim of other people's plots. I miss the strong, tough Blair Waldorf who always had a backup plan, even if they often (or always) went awry. I find this new iteration of Blair much less interesting to watch.
I found myself sighing with relief when Georgina Sparks (the great Michelle Trachtenberg) reappeared because it meant that finally someone would be actively moving the plot forward. Blair used to be an active character that fought for her place in the world, now she's a reactive character always ten steps behind everyone else.
4. Holy Plot Twist!
I'd venture to say Gossip Girl isn't well known for its exceedingly realistic plotlines. The show operates in a heightened reality where 20-year-olds own hotels and the travel time between Brooklyn and Manhattan is the blink of an eye. Blair and Chuck (Ed Westwick) could be getting breakfast in one scene and going to a fancy dinner party in the next scene with no explanation. Time and space apparently just move differently on the Upper East Side.
In the pantheon of crazy Gossip Girl storylines, however, the ones from this season are so absurd they still manage to stick out. The worst offender? Blair, a formerly non-religious character, making a pact with God to save Chuck's life. Gossip Girl loves its film homages; you'd only need to take a gander at the hilarious episode titles to see that. There is, however, a line between homage and just ripping a storyline out of a movie and plopping it wholesale into your show. You cannot just take the plot of the movie End of the Affair and use it for your modern day show about rich New York socialites. It just doesn't work. Besides a few instances of Blair using God like her personal Pez dispenser of favors, she's never shown an avid interest in religion. Why would she suddenly feel like if she didn't hold up her end of the bargain to marry Louis God would Final Destination Chuck? Why does God care whether or not she marries a boring French dude?
I wish I could say that the God pact was the worst offender from this season, but the whole business with Blair's dowry is equally as bad. And yes, the word I just typed was dowry and no, they haven't jumped into any DeLoreans and gone back in time. Why would Blair have signed a pre-nuptial agreement with Louis that included a dowry clause that would bankrupt her family if she left the marriage? Why is it better for Blair to stay married to Louis for a year and then divorce him? Doesn't that look equally as bad? A year is not that long. When Louis threatens her at the wedding why doesn't she just immediately go to one of her two lawyer fathers for legal advice instead of trying to jet off to the Dominican Republic? None of these are questions the show is interested in answering. And that's not even touching the half-season long pregnancy storyline that ended in convenient miscarriage and went nowhere. Stop looking at the plot holes, the show says, just enjoy the ride.
It would be much easier to do that if any of these storylines were fun enough to turn your brain off while watching. None of them, however, are a particularly good time to watch. This isn't like the time that Serena declared she'd killed a guy or when she was nearly killed by wolves in a car crash. Both of those were hilarious. I can overlook plot holes if there are wolves involved. In fact if wolves had come and eaten everyone at Blair's royal wedding I would give the whole thing a huge pass.
Gossip Girl has sported some pretty unrealistic stories but because they have had high entertainment value it's never bothered me before. Remember that one time Jenny (Taylor Momsen) decided to become a teenage drug mule because she was bored? I do too and it was amazing. Gossip Girl often stumbles when it's unrealistic plot twists don't match their inherent entertainment value. Georgina running from the Russian mob and convincing Dan he's the father of her baby? Love it. Blair making a pact with God and refusing to believe in the existence of modern medicine? Not a fan.
With all this ranting aside, Gossip Girl is still a highly enjoyable show. It's got a good set of talent both behind and in front of the cameras. All of the problems listed can be fixed. And the fifth season has sported some fun stories like Chuck's new leaf (complete with lovable canine companion) and Dan's book. I wouldn't be writing unless I really did love the show and all its characters. With most of the cast's contracts up at the end of next year, the show's sixth season, my guess is that the show is winding down. I want to see Gossip Girl go out with a bang, in a way that respects the essence of all the characters.
It's not too late to fix the problems with Gossip Girl; none are insurmountable. Whenever Blair and Serena ride off into the sunset, I'd like to look back at the flaws of season five as a blip in the road on an otherwise enjoyable journey. I hope I can.