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'Gossip Girl' recap: 'If James Franco can do it, so can you'

February 8, 2011 |  7:15 am

Ben serena party
Bad news, Upper East Siders of the world. The last episode of "Gossip Girl" was so nonsensical a character on the show actually suggested turning the repetitive plot into a drinking game. This week's edition was no less aimless or contrived. With the season's biggest mystery (Serena's past with Ben and what he's doing in jail) solved, the writers seem stuck.

Why else would Rufus have suddenly begun making decisions independent of Lily? In his infinite wisdom, he has elected to move Ben into the Brooklyn loft with Dan, at Serena's insistence and without consulting Lonely Boy. This is a bad idea for all kinds of reasons: Sure, there's the fact that up until recently, Ben and his sister Juliet were planning Serena's downfall. More immediate, if not more worrisome, is Dan's undying love for S and the irrational things it makes him do, all the while denying that his quixotic crusades have anything to do with said feelings.

Dan's unconscious jealousy kicks in right away, and he tries to convince Serena that having anything to do with Ben is a horrible idea. Of course, her unconscious tendency is to do things that give Dan even more reason to be jealous. Soon enough, she and Ben are giggling over takeout at the loft, and Lonely Boy spots a call from Juliet -- whom Ben supposedly isn't speaking to -- on his phone. The parolee's (kind of weak) excuse? She only called because it's their mom's birthday.

Some combination of the phone call and walking in on Ben and Serena's flirtation over Chinese food leads Dan to join forces with Eric and Damien, despite his better judgment. ("I'm not going to team up with the one guy I trust less than Ben, and neither should you," he originally tells Eric, in one of the few logical utterances of the episode.) It still doesn't make much sense that Eric, generally the sanest of all the Upper East Siders, sticks by Damien even after he stops buying drugs from him. I understand that we're supposed to believe Eric is in some kind of personal loneliness crisis. But considering his checkered past with the Van der Woodsen/Humphrey clan, you'd think even empty-headed Nate would see right through him. Come on, people -- his name is Damien!

Unfortunately for Ben, Damien manages to keep Dan and Eric under his spell right through the party du jour. Poor Florence and the Machine play a sad, lovely song, but no one is paying attention to them or their harps, because Damien is too busy instructing Eric to punch him in the face while Dan (who doesn't know Ben's being set up) calls Ben's parole officer. So when Damien shows up with a bright red shiner, it's time for Ben to go back to jail, even though he didn't do it; Serena believes him, and Damien is a lying drug dealer who tried to deflower Jenny Humphrey.

Once Ben is out of the picture, Damien comes clean that he doesn't care about Eric and never wanted to be friends. This is a ridiculously poorly calculated move, and a few minutes later, Eric is telling Dan and Rufus what really happened. By the end of the episode, Dan is apologizing to Ben ("I was jealous, I was angry, I cost you a night in jail"), Nate and Dan are alerting Damien's strict father to his illegal dealings, Serena and Ben are smooching (which means we're sure to see more jealous antics from Lonely Boy sooner or later) and Eric is confessing his existential angst to Rufus.

Let's talk about Eric for a moment. I like his character -- despite the recent inconsistencies -- and think Connor Paolo is one of the show's strongest actors. I appreciate that we're finally getting some insight into Eric's emotional state, but I want to see more. Why did his entire Damien-fueled drug romp have to take place off-screen? (Was it just too unbelievable to show?) When we met Eric, way back at the beginning of Season 1, he was recovering from a suicide attempt. It looks like he's heading to a dark place again, and I'd like to see the writers bring his story to the forefront and give Paolo a chance at a larger role on the show.

Speaking of dark places, over at W, Blair is nervous before her first performance review. But at least she's come up with a completely inappropriate solution to her problems: She needs to get her boss, Epperly, in bed with someone. For some reason, she thinks the best man for the job is Chuck -- because hooking your uptight supervisor up with your libertine ex-boyfriend is a marvelous idea! What could possibly go wrong?

Chuck begs off because he's busy trying to hypnotize Raina into falling in love with him, so she'll help save Bass Industries from purchase by Thorpe Enterprises. Although I loved Chuck and Raina at first, they seem to be getting into a rut mighty quickly. They spent the entire episode going back and forth between trust and mind games, until, tragically, Chuck realizes he has real feelings for Raina (who somehow had the exact same childhood he did, down to carving their initials into the floors of hotel kitchens) just before her father reveals that Chuck purposefully kept her from a crucial meeting. Then, before we have a moment to miss her, Raina's back to forgive Chuck. Blair has told her that he really does care about her. This mushy stuff is all well and good, but can we get back to the red-hot romance, please?

Since he can't support a story line of his own, Nate is around to take one for Team Blair instead. After some light manipulation, he allows Blair to throw him together with Epperly at the party. But nothing works out as planned. Distracted from her job, Epperly allows gift bags for the party to be delivered to the wrong place, and Blair has to spring into action to get them back.

The next morning, Epperly is in her boss' office, and Blair assumes she's being fired. It turns out Blair's boss is leaving her job -- because she quit to go on a yoga adventure in Bali. (Blair: "You're leaving the magazine for 'Eat, Pray, Love'?") And if you guessed that Blair, who just turned 20 and has barely done any time at W, gets her job, then you're right. But you don't win anything except more confusion. When Blair reminds Epperly that she's still an undergraduate at Columbia -- unbelievably, most of these kids are still supposed to be full-time students -- her soon-to-be former boss tells her, "If James Franco can do it, so can you."

And there you have it, folks. By the writers' own admission, the outcome of this week's "Gossip Girl" makes as much sense as James Franco's career.

"Gossip Girl" highbrow reference watch:

Serena gives Ben a copy of "The Count of Monte Cristo." How is it that she goes to Columbia, yet I can't imagine she'd be able to name a single character in that book?

Your weekly "Gossip Girl" fashion top five:

1. Blair's crimson party dress with the killer neckline.

2. Blair's gold, ruffled Oscar de la Renta blouse and gray-and-black Bensoni skirt with the yellow piping.

3. Chuck's navy suit, pink plaid shirt and purple patterend tie.

4. Serena's sparkly, silver mini skirt.

5. Raina's red, ruched dress party dress and big, black necklace.

-- Judy Berman

Photo: Ben and Serena flirt. Credit: Giovanni Rufino / The CW