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'Gossip Girl' recap: Where in the world is Chuck Bass?

September 14, 2010 |  6:25 am

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Back in April, as if to make up for a conspicuously flat Season 3, "Gossip Girl" treated us to a finale that contained within its 43 minutes an entire, multi-episode "Days of Our Lives" arc: Dorota's baby! Georgina's pregnancy! Jenny's deflowering at the hands of Chuck! Chuck's shooting! The only way to follow up those fireworks is with a complete reboot -- and that, we are given to understand, is why the newly single Serena and Blair have ditched Manhattan for a summer in Paris.

The first few shots of Season 4 certainly promise a juicy season to come, with Serena and Blair flouncing about the City of Light, sporting more frothy pastels than a pair of fussy French pastries. Yet despite our hunger for the salacious details of their summer abroad, we only learn that Serena has been playing the field while Blair mopes and eats (but doesn't gain weight) and stares at paintings -- no surprising developments there. 

In fact, S and B spend most of the episode treading old territory: Serena's been accepted to Columbia but is afraid to tell Blair because she's sure her friend will resent her for encroaching on Waldorf turf. Then, when Blair meets the charming Louis in front of Édouard Manet's sexy masterpiece, "Le déjeuner sur l'herbe," she overhears his phone conversation and assumes he's Monaco royalty.

Unfortunately, when he shows up for a double date with Blair and Serena, he tells them his companion -- Serena's date -- is the prince and he's only the chauffeur. By the time a jealous Blair throws Serena in a fountain and we learn that the guy Blair blew it with really is the royal after all, I can't help but wonder whether we have yet another season of Blair's inferiority complex ahead of us.

At least we can count on Georgina and Chuck to bring the depravity that makes "Gossip Girl" tick.

We find the former keeping house with Dan in Brooklyn, having already given birth to Milo -- a far more adorable child than she deserves. Vanessa, who seems to get over her anger at Dan for swapping spit with Serena mighty quickly, isn't willing to take the notorious schemer's word for it that Dan is the father of Georgina's baby -- and neither is Rufus, who finds out about the newborn in high dramatic style, midway through the society benefit he and Lily are hosting.

And, as though we need any reason to believe Georgina is up to no good, she makes a comically suspicious, bilingual call to a Slavic contact. The only person who isn't worried that she's bluffing is Dan, who, for some reason, takes her newfound interest in child rearing as a sign that she's fully reformed. Yes, readers, this is the guy who was supposed to be a New Yorker-level writer before he was legal, with all the great insight into human nature that suggested.

Chuck, meanwhile, keeps us in suspense until the end of the episode. Lily's quest to track him down, when she learns that no one's heard from him for months, turns up some details that don't look good: There are some worryingly déclassé charges on his phone bill (second-class train tickets, prepaid phone cards), and a body bearing Chuck's identification is found in Paris. But come on -- he's Chuck Bass! Does anyone really believe "Gossip Girl" would kill off its best character, its living meme? When we get our first glimpses of the injured Chuck, he's struggling to wakefulness, through a painful flashback of all his recent misadventures. His eyes open, and he's in bed, a young, pretty, blond, apparently Czech woman keeping a vigil at his bedside. 

This is when we learn that it just might be Chuck Bass who reboots in Season 4: He rechristens himself Henry, slips off his family ring and boards a train with his new lady to Paris. I'm still worried that we'll somehow come back around to the worn-out Chuck-and-Blair push-pull of "Gossip Girl's" first three seasons, but I'm cautiously optimistic about this direction. A new adventure -- and a new identity, and perhaps even a new wardrobe! -- in Paris may be just what Chuck needs. Here's hoping the writers don't bring him back from Europe too soon.

Other scattered thoughts:

-- Nate may be "Gossip Girl's" most perennially boring, predictable character, and his halfhearted summer of love is no deviation from that norm. But we're certainly curious about Juliet, his new love interest, who comes off like she's above all this society nonsense. (Why else would she be reading favorite "Gossip Girl" referent "The House of Mirth"?) Late in the episode, we see her bulletin board full of Nate and Serena info, and it's intriguing. Is she some kind of operative, sent to steal Serena's man and bring her down? Or is she just a creepy stalker? Either way, I've got my eye on Juliet. Something tells me she's going to give Georgina a run for her money in the race for the season's most dastardly villain.

-- It will be great not having Jenny around for the first several episodes of this season. She was starting to become so mopey and devious that I didn't even feel bad for her after her cringe-worthy encounter with Chuck. I think we all need some time apart from Little J so that we can learn to love her (or at least stop despising her) again.

-- But a break from Jenny should not mean a break from Eric! Although he was abroad for the season premiere, I'm hoping to see him back in action soon, as more than just his stepsister's confidant and punching bag.

-- Best line of the episode: "Any normal summer, he's drunk on some island where polygamy's legal." – Serena, referring to Chuck

Monday's "Gossip Girl" fashion top five:

1. Serena's pale pink feather-and-crystal dress

2. Blair's orange heels at the Louvre

3. Vanessa's tangle of tough-looking gunmetal necklaces

4. Blair's black, jeweled date dress

5. Lily's '60s retro benefit dress, with the embellished collar

-- Judy Berman

Photo: Serena and Blair in Paris. Credit:Giovanni Rufino / The CW