'Gossip Girl' recap: Everybody hates Serena
Is Serena van der Woodsen a selfish, manipulative, unrepentant party girl or an indecisive college kid who can't fathom her own sexual power? Or is she simply an empty-headed cipher, a pretty projection of every man's desire and every woman's insecurities? Asking these questions may mean taking Serena more seriously than I'm inclined to, but they have fast become the theme of "Gossip Girl" Season 4.
In the past, we've been led to assume that Serena is merely a victim of fate -- the girl who ended up in the wrong hotel room on the wrong night, who can't stop loving either of the guys who had her heart in high school, who fell for a guy who she didn't even know would end up being her professor. Now, everything is starting to change. Her refusal to choose between Dan and Nate has gone on for so long it's become infuriating. The fact that she pouted her way into Colin's professional life and then dropped him as soon as he quit his job for her? Mystifying.
And, as of this week's episode, we're finally learning the history between Ben and Serena. When Lily meets Juliet and bribes her to leave Serena alone, Juliet reveals something I assume only she, Serena, Lily and Ben know: that Colin wasn't the first teacher Serena's been hot for. Lily pretends not to know what Juliet's talking about, but Juliet presses her: "Boarding school? Serena was a minor." Well, it sure looks like Serena got Colin's estranged cousin locked up for what may or may not have been statutory rape -- and that's likely why she left boarding school and returned to the Upper East Side over three years ago. (Of course, it's hard to imagine that Serena actually forced Ben to get physical with her.)
So, not only did Serena's pre-"Gossip Girl" life include witnessing a drug-related death, but it also featured a torrid affair with a boarding school teacher that her mother went to great lengths to cover up. No wonder Lily has such a hard time trusting Serena!
To be fair, though, all of this happened years ago. Basically, all Serena has done since is flit around in expensive dresses, flaunting her privilege, breaking hearts and stealing other people's boyfriends (namely, Vanessa's). As she reminds Eric at this week's masquerade party -- for which, tellingly, she had trouble deciding whether to dress as a saint or a sinner -- Serena has changed. Can she help it that she's irresistibly beautiful and impossibly wealthy? Surely, if Jenny and Vanessa (who don't have Juliet's demented, single-minded goal of destroying the girl who ruined her brother's life) want to attack one of the insiders, they could find a better target. How about Blair, for instance, who has twice banished Little J from New York and won't let Vanessa forget she's an outsider? Serena doesn't even care about that stuff!
But is she really so above it all? As Jenny notes, the trouble Blair makes often has something to do with getting Serena out of her most recent mess. Maybe people are starting to realize that Serena only looks so carefree and innocent because she has friends who aren't afraid to get their manicured hands dirty.
Whether she deserves it or not, Serena loses just about everything by the end of this week's episode. (Well, everything besides her looks and money.) At the masquerade, in a move Jenny already got away with at a different masquerade a few seasons ago, both Juliet and Jenny wear exactly the costume they spotted Serena wearing on Gossip Girl. Despite the fact that Serena, Jenny and Juliet don't actually look that similar and only part of the girls' faces are covered, the outsiders manage to pummel Serena's reputation. After Juliet-as-Serena smooches both Dan and Nate in full view of a roomful of willing Gossip Girl informants, Jenny-as-Serena pulls back a curtain to reveal Blair and Chuck secretly making out. Meanwhile, Vanessa has passed Nate's mom, Anne Archibald, an application indicating that Serena would like to be considered for a position she knows Blair covets at a powerful charity organization.
By the time the evening is over, Nate and Dan have both dumped Serena. Again. And Blair has decided that Serena is out to steal everything she's ever wanted. Again. And that's all before Juliet takes the plan even further than she let on to Jenny and Vanessa, throwing a woozy Serena into a cab to the middle of nowhere and using the passed-out girl's phone to e-mail a notice of withdrawal to Dean Reuther. At the end of the episode, it certainly looks like Juliet is planning to imprison Serena in her home.
These are all exciting developments, considering that the most wonderful moments on "Gossip Girl" tend to occur when someone comes completely unhinged. But do they tell us anything more than we already knew about whether Serena deserves her suddenly bleak fate? Not really. As far as I'm concerned, we still don't know her much better than we did the first time we spotted her making her way through Grand Central Station in the series premiere. Four seasons in, are we finally going to learn what (if anything) makes Serena van der Woodsen tick? And when we find out, will we even care?
Other scattered thoughts:
-- I continue to be bored with Chuck and Blair. This week, they were on again (as friends with benefits), then off again, then on again (romantically), then off again. At some point, during sex, Chuck said "I love you" to Blair and meant it. But other flimsy obstacles blocked their way to what would have undoubtedly been a mature, mutually respectful relationship, and they went their separate ways. Well, until next week. Yawn.
-- With Jenny and Juliet helming the outsiders' schemes, Vanessa is back to being her boring, morally uncertain self. I'm starting to feel for poor Jessica Szohr, who was great as a surprise mean girl last week but whose character just can't sustain a fun story line.
-- Did everyone notice the surreal moment when "Make Me Wanna Die," the single by Taylor Momsen's band, The Pretty Reckless, played as Jenny pulled the curtain on Chuck and Blair? I'll go on record as saying the song is far better than I ever expected it would be. But the convergence of Raccoon-Eyed Rock Star Taylor Momsen and Raccoon-Eyed Upper East Sider Jenny Humphrey has really gotten out of control.
-- It is high time we addressed the tumultuous bromance between Dan and Nate. Wouldn't we all feel better if the two of them would just start swapping spit already? Serena would be so confused!
Best line of the episode: "As long as I'm with you, I'm Hillary in the White House, and I want to be Hillary, secretary of State -- but with better hair." -- Blair to Chuck
Your weekly "Gossip Girl" fashion top five:
1. Serena/Jenny/Juliet's floaty, lavender Carolina Herrera masquerade dress.
2. Serena's sparkly, blush sweater dress.
3. Blair's devilish red slip. (I also loved that yellow bra-and-panty set she had on earlier in the episode but would somehow feel dirty listing it.)
4. Dan's light gray masquerade suit with the slate-colored tie.
5. Jenny's black sequined dress.
-- Judy Berman
Photo: Blair realizes that Serena has betrayed her. Credit: Giovanni Rufino/The CW