This Monday on The CW, Gossip Girl hits (I believe) the final episode of its fourth season before the traditional holiday hiatus. As pointed out a few days ago on Twitter by Sean T. Collins and echoed by myself, this latest run of GG has been pretty stellar and a marked step up from last year’s on-again, off-again quality and a major reason has to be new villain Juliet, played by probably the best thing to come out of the unfortunate misstep that was Melrose Place 2.0, Katie Cassidy and unquestionably television’s finest user of that name since Lost ended.
Why has Juliet earned her notch above the likes of Poppy, that married lady Nate was with and perhaps even Georgina? A few reasons…
One chance to make a first impression
Juliet’s first appearance on Gossip Girl was innocuous enough, seemingly just a new fling for Nate, but then we had the dynamite end of episode scene where we learned she had some sort of grudge against Upper East Siders—only later on did we find out it was specifically Serena—and saw the reveal of her crazy wall o’ pictures that made her seem like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” if he only cared about Manhattan’s teen elite. Whether the show intended it or not, having her laptop open to Gossip Girl was a stroke of minor genius as fans speculated for weeks if she was in fact GG (she’s not).
We’ve had no shortage of rich kids squabbling amongst each other on Gossip Girl, but Juliet marks the first real time the threat has emerged from the middle class, and indeed her lack of wealth often comes into play, be it as a motivating factor, a secret to be concealed from Nate, or fuel for getting the likes of Vanessa and Jenny to serve as her pawns. In the weird dynamic of this show where the spoiled brats are the heroes, it just makes twisted sense that the girl who has to do her own dishes is the villain; you also get the twist of viewers who idolize Serena and Blair wondering if they should be siding with the underdog even if she is a manipulative sociopath (I figure).
Typically Gossip Girl is the ultimate ADD show, where no plot lasts longer than three episodes and no mystery stays unsolved much longer, but exactly why Juliet hates Serena and the other shadowy elements of her character have been handled with laudable restraint by the writers this season. We’ve gotten tantalizing teases pretty consistently—the middle class thing, her brother is in jail because of something Serena did, her cousin is rich and supported her—but not the big whammy, which they’ve saved presumably for this week.
Survival of the fittest
When the GG crew takes down an opponent, typically they stay taken down—Georgina being the one exception, but she’s an ally as often as she is an enemy—but Juliet has defied this more than once. She survived Serena and Blair teaming up to expose her initial scheming and still kept Nate under her thumb for a bit after. She managed to toss Vanessa under the bus for trying to get Serena booted from college and even retained her as an accomplice later on. Most impressively, she became the first character ever to survive the full brunt of the Gossip Girl Justice League coming down on her in brutal fashion at the ballet and bounced back to recruit Jenny and annihilate Serena over the next two weeks. She has actually evolved from each defeat to the point where it’s now going to necessitate the unlikely duo of Blair and Dan—Dan basically being the Adam Strange or Phantom Stranger of the Upper East Side JLA—to put the final nail in her coffin.
Not just a pretty face
It helps that Katie Cassidy is an attractive girl since otherwise she’d stick out like a sore thumb on a CW show, but she’s also got some solid acting chops, which believe it or not you also need on Gossip Girl, which I maintain features one of the more talented young casts on television. She’s been able to lend a depth to Juliet and make more sympathetic more than a few times, be it in her relationship with Nate or reluctance to turn on Colin; I felt really bad for her after the ballet smackdown! At the same time, she still revels in being a bitch and doing horrible things, so you never really mistake her for the good girl. The line Cassidy walks between these two roles is perfectly subtle and fluid; on Melrose Place, Ella tanked in spite of Katie’s talents because the writers seemingly had no grasp on who she’s supposed to be, whereas here the crew of Gossip Girl definitely seem to have a plan for Juliet, albeit a layered and sometimes confusion one, that the actress portraying her has pulled off wonderfully, proving once and for all when it came to that other show she was most definitely not the problem.
Though Juliet has certainly exceeded the average shelf life of a Gossip Girl villain already, I certainly wouldn’t be upset to see her stick around even longer; barring that, I look forward to Katie Cassidy’s next role, which will hopefully somehow be on Smallville.