'Gossip Girl' recap: The beautiful and bland
Around this time of year, most shows are busy celebrating Halloween. But in the "Gossip Girl" universe, Blair's birthday -- traditionally observed with champagne, fussy hors d'oeuvres, a handful of cameos by minor celebrities and a climactic showdown -- tends to outshine that vulgar holiday. This year, all of those elements did indeed figure into B's big 2-0, but the result still left me hungry for the truly humiliating surprises and showstopping standoffs we could expect from a birthday party in "Gossip Girl's" golden years.
In fact, this week's episode only highlighted Season 4's biggest problem: Blair -- who, has become "Gossip Girl's" protagonist solely because she is its only semi-complex character -- no longer has a worthy foe. She has gone back and forth with Chuck so many times that every possible permutation of their power games has been exhausted. The Serena-Blair "frenemy" story line is so stale the characters themselves lampooned it a few episodes ago. Eva was never a match for Blair. Jenny is so scared of B that she's back to hiding out in Hudson after last week's Tim Gunn disaster. Georgina Sparks is out of the picture, at least for the moment. And no one else in the regular cast is even worth mentioning as a possible foil for Blair's scheming.
But, despite his strictly amateur status, it is Dan (and, for awhile, Eric) who steps up to destroy Blair's birthday this time. In an attempt to repay them for banishing Jenny from Manhattan again, just in time for Rufus and Lily's first wedding anniversary, the kinder, gentler Humphrey initially tries and fails to turn Chuck and Blair against each other.
Although Eric is eventually wise enough to see that nothing good can come of trying to beat the Mr. and Mrs. Smith of the Upper East Side at their own game, Dan won't be satisfied until he inflicts some pain. So he calls in a favor and recruits Swedish pop singer Robyn to show up at the party with a video of Blair getting sloppy drunk in Stockholm and squawking "Stand By Your Man" as Chuck tries in vain to get her off the stage.
Yes, that is the extent of Dan's espionage. And instead of letting Blair and Chuck, who she assumes pulled the stunt, continue to shred each other, Dan steps in quickly to confess what he did and make sure they both understand the moral of the story.
What "Gossip Girl" really needs isn't new love interests for Serena. We don't have to see Jenny yo-yo back and forth from Manhattan to Hudson, her smudgy raccoon eyes atwitter with anxiety. And let's face it: A lot would have to change for any story line focusing on Dan, Nate or Vanessa to put this season back on track. If the show wants to get out of its current rut, the writers are going to need to dream up a new character who is Blair's equal -- one who isn't just a Chuck surrogate. (Don't be fooled by the exes' "enemies with benefits" arrangement, either. Nothing remotely novel is going to come of that.)
At least there's still some potentially enjoyable drama in whatever is happening between Juliet, Ben, and Colin. This week, we learn that although Colin is their cousin, he isn't in on Ben and Juliet's conspiracy. In fact, he and Ben aren't on good terms. We also find out a vague, new tidbit about Ben's motivation to bring Serena down: "It's because she's responsible that you have to do this," he tells Juliet. "It is the only way to make things right. It is the only way for our family to ever move on."
As of now, Serena and Nate are the only characters who are tangled up with Juliet in a major way -- and they're not likely to clean up the mess that will inevitably ensue all by themselves. But if Blair, Chuck, and even the Humphreys wind up joining forces with their friends to destroy the outsiders who are trying to destroy Serena, we may still find a temporary respite from this season's frustrating wheel-spinning.
Other scattered thoughts:
-- The celebrity cameos are really starting to get old. This week, Robyn, a great performer, was totally wasted, with minimal dialogue and a throwaway song. And yet, who can deny the cathartic glee of seeing Rachel Zoe covered in chocolate sauce?
-- I'm enjoying Blair's ongoing fascination with powerful women. Madeleine Albright and Patricia Ireland are supposed to have appeared at the party, and Cyrus sends her a signed copy of the Eleanor Roosevelt memoir "This I Remember" for her birthday. Her best line of the episode: "I suppose, as I leave my teens, I should start to think about my legacy."
-- On the implausibility tip, I found it pretty hard to believe that a Columbia dean would attend her student's birthday party. But even if she did, she certainly wouldn't stand idly by as a gaggle of underage college kids got loaded on fancy cocktails.
-- Did anyone notice that even Gossip Girl now sees fit to editorialize on Nate's stupidity? As she says, "Nate's just thick."
"Gossip Girl" highbrow reference watch:
"I'm just dropping off a copy of my favorite book, 'The Beautiful and Damned.'" -- Serena to Colin
"If I want to hear fiction, I'll go talk to Jonathan Franzen." -- Blair to Serena
Your weekly "Gossip Girl" fashion top five:
1. Blair's flowery, green-and-tan shirt with the neck cutouts and green bouclé suit.
2. Serena's big, sparkly, blue necklace with the chains.
3. Nate's black suit with the dark red tie.
4. Serena's chartreuse empire waist dress.
5. Lily's dark purple halter dress.
-- Judy Berman
Photo: Serena and Nate broker a truce between Blair and Chuck. Credit: Eric Liebowitz/CW Network