Watching television is a really weird experience sometimes. For example, there is really no tangible reason why I should still be watching Gossip Girl, and there's especially no reason that I should be enjoying myself for a few minutes every week while doing so. And that’s of course because Gossip Girl is a legitimately terrible show that seems determined to limp toward oblivion. I’m going to keep tuning in until the end because I still sort of like a few of its characters—though this final stretch is doing its damndest to ruin them—but I’m mostly still interested because GG is so explicitly bad that I can’t look away. Let’s run through the “high points” of “Monstrous Ball.”
1. Serena and Dan, a.k.a. Your Favorite Couple Ever, is alive yet again
There have been some truly terrible relationships on teen soaps before, some of them on other Josh Schwartz/Stephanie Savage shows—'sup, Marissa and well, anyone on The O.C.—but Serena and Dan might take the cake. While they were the centerpiece of Gossip Girl’s world in the first few seasons, the writers have spent the last four systematically poisoning the relationship. And that would be fine, particularly because Serena sucks and Dan tends to reach personal nadirs when he’s around her, if the show weren’t also dedicated to constantly suggesting they might get back together.
"Monstrous Ball" kicked off what will likely be some sort of final reconciliation for two characters that practically no one wants to see together. Somehow, Gossip Girl managed to turn a public reveal of their sex tape—a sex tape that Serena secretly filmed as a way to ruin Blair’s life and prove her ultimate dominance over her “friend”—into a catalyzing moment that brought S and Lonely Boy back into one another’s orbit. And if that weren’t dumb enough, both characters spent the first 35 minutes of this episode tightly holding onto their love for two other people, before more or less deciding that they were better off slummin’ it with the one person who brings out the worst in them.
This is unbelievably stupid. Yet in that final scene, Blake Lively and Penn Badgley displayed more genuine chemistry than they have in like half a decade, and I’m at least somewhat ashamed to admit that I liked it—even though I know it’s going to result in at least four episodes' worth of horror.
2. Best Friends Redefined
As if this episode weren’t retro-feeling enough for you with Serena and Dan sharing all the pie in the world (I swear, that’s not an euphuism, unless they filmed it), “Monstrous Ball” also delivered some high-quality Blair and Serena posturing, scheming, and fake-friending. Blair decided to make Serena think her upcoming engagement was destroyed by plotting with the habitually annoying Sage, solely in hopes of making sure that Sage wears a Waldorf dress at cotillion. This was a silly, fully immature plan in its own right, but Blair made things better by admitting the truth to Serena and reinforcing that she knew Serena would never really get hurt anyway. She just made S feel terrible for a moment, you see!
By the time the sex tape was released, Blair had done what she does best: Climb that high horse. Sure, Serena’s plan to ruin her best friend’s life by recording herself sleeping with a man they both desired was shameful—and probably the result of some truly troubling psychological damage—but I just love how Blair couldn’t believe Serena would do such a thing. You know, because it’s not as if the two of them have spent a half-dozen episodes not talking to each other and constantly throwing around their hatred. Serena’s actions were extreme, but they were also pretty much in line with how these two ladies have treated one another for years. This is something Blair knows because she referenced it in the episode, right after she said she was disappointed that she and Serena couldn’t be friends, despite hating one another.
3. We put the ‘narrow’ in narrowcasting
Although this is an unproven theory, I can’t help but notice that Gossip Girl is pandering pretty hard to the diehard, dare I say “shipper,” audience in this final season. I’ve already detailed my frustrations with the Chuck and Blair pairing—a relationship that is recalibrating how we think of delayed gratification on television, I think—but the show has failed Serena and Dan in a similar fashion. And yet, here we are with only five episodes to go, and it seems like the show is building its entire conclusion around these two, basically original pairings getting together for good. If there’s not at least one wedding and one baby, I’ll be shocked.
Gossip Girl has always been defined by its romantic coupling (like so many shows of this ilk) and has always had quite a narrow, small audience. But in this last season, the story is playing out like the producers started by choosing the “end-games” the fans wanted to see and have been struggling to build the story backwards from those problematic conclusions. All they know is that Serena and Dan and Blair and Chuck are 4eva; it doesn’t actually matter how they get there, right?
It's lazy to pander to such a small but vocal fan base, but it's even lazier to pander without much of a believable plan.
4. Rufus, more irrelevant than ever
There have been some really dumb and irrelevant plot threads in Gossip Girl’s six-year history. However, is there one dumber and more irrelevant than whatever it is Rufus is doing with Ivy? We know she’s playing him, at least somewhat, and he seems to gather just as much—yet he doesn’t seem to care. Clearly, Rufus isn’t the focal point of the show, particularly when it needs to service the poorly formed couples that the audience actually might care about. Nevertheless, I presumed that Rufus and Lily would end up together again by the time all was said and done, if that’s going to happen, that reconciliation will be even more rushed than whatever is going on with Serena and Dan.
Oh, and can I just say that Ivy’s been a big disappointment thus far? She promised to create all sorts of havoc, yet the best that she can do is team up with Chuck temporarily in between anonymously buying art from Rufus’s gallery? Pathetic.
5. Way to put Frank Ocean to use, guys
Last week, I saw a few press releases going around about Frank Ocean’s music playing a prominent role in this week’s episode and while I didn’t expect much, I have to say that I expected more than whatever it was Gossip Girl did here. Channel Orange is a great record that you should listen to right now and the show picked some of its standout tracks, but none of them were used particularly well. Ocean’s work doesn’t easily graft onto this world, and there was little effort made to actually make it do so.