'Gossip Girl' recap: Every Lily has its thorn
I've really got to hand it to "Gossip Girl." Whenever I start to think that the show has run out of material -- when you can't stand to see Blair and Chuck break up another time, or Serena continue to lead on poor Dan and Nate, or Jenny yo-yo from New York to Hudson, learning and forgetting some essential truth about the Upper East Side each time -- it unleashes a showstopping hour of sparkly melodrama that reminds me of why I'm still watching.
This week's "Gossip Girl" was easily the best of the season. With the focus off of inter-clique romance, we finally got to the heart of Juliet's vendetta against Serena, and Blair and Lonely Boy join forces to plot her destruction. Despite the fact that Juliet drugged, impersonated, and defamed Serena, no one has done the sensible thing and gone to the police -- a ridiculous decision, but I don't doubt that the eternal wrath of Blair Waldorf hurts more than a few years in prison.
When Dan and Blair show up at Ostroff, they're told that Serena isn't allowed to have visitors. They do tell Eric what happened, but he's strangely dismissive. "She's here now," he says, "and she's getting the help she's needed for a long time." Let me get this straight: it doesn't matter that your sister wasn't on a drug binge, or that a deranged Juliet could have killed her?
Undeterred, Blair and Dan decide to find Juliet -- with help from an unlikely source. Dan correctly predicts that Gossip Girl will be angry at Juliet for sending the faux photo of Serena snorting coke, and she responds to his e-mail with a street address (but no town, state, or zip -- in a moment of intense product placement, they have to type the address into Bing to find out the rest). They learn she's in Cornwall, CT, hop into a silly vintage car and light out to the 'burbs.
Blair and Dan don't find Juliet when they reach the address and walk into a raging high-school house party. Kids are playing beer pong. Girls are sauntering around in their bras. A thick cloud of smoke hangs over the entire place. Frankly, it all looks terribly unsophisticated. And who should be at the center of the debauchery but Damien Dalgaard, Serena's boarding-school friend who returned last season to sell drugs and corrupt Jenny?
That's when everything starts to come together. It turns out the quaint town of Cornwall is home to the Knightley School, which Serena briefly attended before abruptly and mysteriously returning to Manhattan in her junior year of high school. And Damien knows Juliet because she was a "townie" while he was at Knightley -- oh, and he happened to have recently sold her "coke, pills, and even some ether."
He leads the New Yorkers to Juliet's house (which, to my eyes, looks mighty comfortable for the childhood home of a "townie" who is entirely financially dependent on her rich brother), where her pretty mother invites them in. When Damien mentions that he went to Knightley, Mrs. Sharp tells him he must have known her son, Ben, the teacher. Suddenly, Blair has no time for tea.
As her friends do their detective work, Serena is still at Ostroff, talking to her therapist. She doesn't remember kissing Dan and Nate at the Saints and Sinners party, or dosing herself with cocaine and pills in a Queens hotel room. Still, she says, "This wouldn't be the first time that I've been with two guys in one night or betrayed my best friend." Good point! It's kind of pathetic that Serena has so little confidence in her ability to change -- but it isn't exactly out of character, either.
She tells her therapist the whole story about what happened at Knightley, back when she was the school's No. 1 party girl and Damien was just the geek who did her homework for her. In what appears to have been both a seduction attempt and a sincere effort to do better in school, Serena struck up a friendship with Ben. "It felt good to have someone who paid attention to me for a positive reason," she says. Soon enough, student and teacher were spending lots of time together.
This is where her story and Damien's diverge. While he thinks he saw Serena and Ben check into an inn together on a rainy night, he actually spotted them just before Ben -- clearly employing every ounce of his self-control -- deflected Serena's advances and insisted on driving her home. "I think he was the only guy to ever say no to me," Serena muses.
So, if Serena and Ben never slept together, what is he doing in prison on statutory rape charges? The truth comes out when Juliet (creepily, and against Ben's protestations) sneaks into Serena's room at Ostroff, totally unhinged and ready to do something (else) crazy. But before she has time to strike, she learns that Serena knows nothing about Ben's incarceration, and they figure out that the only person who could have gotten him locked up is... Lily!
Last week, I noticed that Lily has taken a turn for the worse this season. At the time, I had no idea how right I was. Turns out, when Serena wanted to come home from boarding school, her grades were so bad that her old Manhattan day school, Constance, wouldn't take her back. So, after hearing some rumors at Knightley about Serena and Ben, she decided to use his supposed misconduct as an excuse for Serena's poor academic performance. One thing led to another, and soon enough Lily was forging Serena's signature on an affidavit and Ben was in jail. Yes, folks: Ben Donovan is behind bars because Lily wanted Serena to go to a good high school. All of a sudden, Juliet doesn't seem so insane.
In an emergency family meeting after Serena humiliates Lily at her own party, Chuck tries to defend his stepmother -- until a disgusted Rufus reveals that Lily also plans to sell Bass Industries out from under him. Looks like Lily has always been the Upper East Side's biggest schemer of all, her selfish manipulations dwarfing even Blair Waldorf's nuttiest stunts.
The episode closes with the cast going their separate ways for the holidays. (Chuck, notably, will try to track down his evil uncle, Jack, in New Zealand, where he hopes they can save Bass Industries while he enjoys "girls who like sex games in the rain forest.") Serena wants Dan to road trip upstate with her, to find the judge who signed her affidavit and plead Ben's case. But he wisely tells her that this is one journey she has to take by herself. She seems to take his suggestion to heart, and in this week's final moments, we see that she's gone to visit Ben in jail.
Unfortunately, we won't find out what they have to say to each other until the show returns from its holiday hiatus. So, what's crueler: Lily's behavior, or The CW making us wait nearly two months, until January 24th, for a new episode?
Other scattered thoughts:
-- There was some mighty strange flirtation going on this week! Am I crazy, or did there seem to be sexual tension between Chuck and Lily after their interview? And it looks like Dan and Blair, New York's most unlikely couple, will be spending some time together, away from the judgmental eyes of their friends, over the holidays. Very interesting...
-- I love when "Gossip Girl" makes fun of its own absurdity. "You can't show up at a masked ball and not expect at least one social-climbing doppelganger to try and impersonate you," Blair told Dan. And, as usual, she's totally right.
-- How wonderfully campy was the flashback to Knightley, where Serena is in a dorm room demonstrating to a bunch of uniform-wearing preppies how one goes about preparing absinthe, complete with flaming sugar cube?
"Gossip Girl" highbrow reference watch:
"The trip to the Mary McCarthy collection at the Vassar library was so not worth it." -- Ben to Serena, in a flashback
Your weekly "Gossip Girl" fashion top five:
1. Blair's black, white, and gray plaid winter coat.
2. Chuck's lavender shirt, plaid tie, and frilly pocket square.
3. Chuck's gray suit with the pink shirt and silky bow tie
4. Blair's gray blouse with the black splotches
5. Lily's elegantly draped red dress
— Judy Berman
Photo: Ben and Serena get friendly at the Knightley School. Credit: Giovanni Rufino/The CW