I’ve never been one of those people who can watch videos of car crashes, people falling down hard, or whatever else is on the internet in video form that does not feature kittens. I just can’t do it. But I’m beginning to realize that I get my healthy dose of schadenfreude from really bad television. And perhaps no other show currently delivers as many unintentional pleasures as Gossip Girl, which has, in its final season, gone completely and utterly off the rails. If this week's episode is any indication, we are in for some truly miserable hours before 2012 and Gossip Girl ends. I can’t wait! Let’s break down "Where the Vile Things Are," shall we?
1. Blair, forever in high school
Even in this show's down seasons—so, most of its run—Blair Waldorf has been entertaining, compelling, and Gossip Girl's biggest asset as far as a likable, worthy protagonist is concerned. But in this final season, the writers have systematically destroyed most of the redeemable parts of Blair as a character. She's spent five episodes ruining her mother’s company—in a position that she never deserved to begin with—and making one stupid, childish, regressive decision after another. That was bad enough.
Then came “Where the Vile Things Are” with a story that legitimately tried to make this season's dull storytelling and high school references purposeful and part of some larger “arc.” Eleanor asked Blair to make good with Nelly Yuki in hopes of obtaining some good press for the designs, and the younger Waldorf refused because she is shockingly and stupidly petulant, like a toddler who put cheese in the DVD player and keeps blaming it on someone else. Blair blamed all of her problems on Dan and his article about her, got chewed out, and then apologized to her mother and resigned, only to ultimately decide that while she can’t be at the head of a major fashion design outfit (because, duh), she can make a damn good line inspired by her high school uniform.
Okay. I’m willing to give the show a modicum of credit for making all the references to Blair’s reign of power/terror in high school resonant and meaningful, in only the way that Gossip Girl can. However, it is still very troubling that Blair didn’t learn a single thing. Not from Nelly. Not from her mother. And probably not even from Dan. Instead of admitting that she was immature and misguided, she just decided to embrace the time period when she could be immature and misguided with no consequences. The show copped out in the guise of some sort of character development. So if you’re keeping track at home, Gossip Girl gave Blair a super-powerful position solely so she could ruin the company, act like a fool for weeks, and realize that she couldn’t lead anyway and would be better off being inspired by a younger version of herself.
Well, I guess that makes sense, considering Season 1 Blair was smarter, stronger and more admirable than this version.
2. Serena, forever mentally troubled
I know that we’ve seen Serena deal with various bouts of substance abuse throughout the show’s six seasons on the air, but her actions suggest much deeper and more terrifying psychological scarring. After morphing into the World’s Worst Person last season, Serena overdosed and ran away for the summer, only to trick herself into thinking that she was happy with Steven, a.k.a. the guy who had sex with her mom and also a.k.a. the guy who she forgot to share any real information with. Recall that just last week, Serena was gushing over the proposition of getting engaged to Steven, running social events, and generally taking her rightful throne atop Manhattan’s social scene. After one released sex tape (a sex tape that she filmed and refused to delete, again, because she’s mentally broken), one dinner, and one non-intimate sleepover, Serena is ready to fall back into the arms of Dan, the man who she's spent years trying to get over. Or get back. Maybe both at the same time. This show is a little sloppy.
And then, right after she talks about how great she feels to be back in Dan’s orbit, she lets one single, empty conversation with jaded and disenchanted Nate immediately turn her against Dan, releasing a spew of vitriol only reserved for true hatred. But that’s okay, because they talked it out in the elevator and Serena made the “poignant” point that it’s the ones you know the most about who you can hurt the most. Now she’s ready to XOXO with Lonely Boy like it’s 2007 all over again.
Shipper allegiances aside—because it’s clear that Dan and Serena are going to end up together in some form and there’s no reason to pretend like it’s not happening—this is still staggeringly stupid. Serena is, without a doubt, one of the most poorly written lead characters in recent television history. Gossip Girl is never willing to take her off the stupid pedestal it's had her on for too long, resulting in constant waffling, stupid decisions, a lack of self-awareness and a lot of generally unadmirable scenes. If this show ends with Serena anywhere but a mental health facility, it’s a failure. But we already knew that.
3. Dan, forever impotent
Oh, but Serena’s not the only one to throw shade at in this newly rekindled romance. In that horribly contrived elevator scene where the writers decided to obliterate a few seasons' worth of half-assed character development, Dan went ahead and admitted that part of the reason he explored a relationship with Blair was that he was just afraid of what would happen if he acknowledged and/or explored his feelings for Serena again. Not to pull a Blair from last week and let hyperbole get the best of me, but Dan, that’s literally the worst thing you’ve ever said.
I can take—and even enjoy—sanctimonious and pretentious Dan. I can take egomaniacal “I just published in Vanity Fair so I’m going to DM every waify blonde I see at this salon” Dan. What I can’t take is unbelievably stupid, full-of-bullshit Dan.
Oh, and another thing: I like how Dan’s Vanity Fair pieces have resulted in a whole lot of nothing. The show spent one episode discussing the consequences of how the stories could affect certain characters (like Serena), but when his piece about Blair came out, meh, it was just a plot device to get Blair to pout a little more. Could this show have lesser consequences?
4. Everyone else, forever zzzzzz
Seriously. Chuck Bass Revenge Tour 2012 is a drab affair. Nate loves the new Windows Phone. Rufus, Lily, and Ivy make for the worst love triangle not involving Jenny or Vanessa ever. What. Ever.
5. This show, forever stuck
When TV series return to themes and places from their starting points, it’s usually to show how far characters have come since their earlier days. This is an especially powerful strategy for high school shows, when the audience already expects a certain number of GROWN UP stories and is therefore ready and willing to be proud of characters for being adults.
Gossip Girl doesn’t care about those familiar tropes. Gossip Girl is a renegade. Gossip Girl thinks that repeatedly referring to high school, reverting to relationships from high school, and performing secret summertime lobotomies that make all the characters act like they’re wet-behind-the-ears freshman is how TV series recall those old themes and places. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Serena, Blair, and Dan all become teachers at their respective high schools, or if turns out that they were all in some traumatic event during junior year and now they’re stuck in this horrible purgatory where they have to act out high school drama until the end of time.
I know that we watch these kinds of shows for things like the relationship drama or the fashion, but just because Gossip Girl started as a show set in high school doesn’t mean it has to keep its characters trapped in that mindset.