Thursday, January 3, 2013

XOXO 4 Ever: Ben & Kiel Say Goodbye to Gossip Girl Pt. 2

Previously on Cool Kids Table, Ben and Kiel revealed their roots as Gossip Girl fans, talked about the show's origins, discussed the Blair-Chuck wedding an more. We continue...

Ben: Ok, before we get to the big stuff, let’s talk Dan and Serena. As people were falling in love with the Chuck/Blair pairing season two and beyond, I was the dude sitting there screaming “The show is about Dan and Serena, people!” I stuck to my guns on this one no matter how boring Dan got (in the opinion of others—I always thought Lonely Boy was the best) or how loathsome Serena became; I firmly believed that both characters and their story would be redeemed if they ended the show together, and…I still feel that way.

Kiel: I wasn't assuming or rooting for them to end up together, really. I just wanted to see how they would logically make an ending happen after all the awful shit these people have done to one another. But again, I'll wait to put all my pieces together. Proceed.

Ben: Yes, it’s a bit creepy that Serena ended up with the guy who essentially admitted to being her long-term stalker (which actually makes total sense because she’s a narcissist). Yes, Dan forgave a shitload more than any sane person would have (I still think she got off way too easy for making that sex tape last season; when this season opened she was back to pouting about how everybody else ruined her life when she was a monster and that’s probably the biggest dangling unresolved thread I have an issue with). And yeah, it’s kind of a bummer the way that otherwise glorious flashback scene to the high school (junior high?) party complete Chuck Bass in all his scarf-adorned glory underlined how far they are from the relatively decent people they were at the beginning of the show, but whatevs. Gossip Girl was about a lot of stuff (and also nothing of substance whatsoever), but more than anything it was about the guy from outside getting the golden girl, so yay for that happy ending.

It also made the reveal of Gossip Girl’s reveal beautifully creepy and subversive.

Kiel: Yes. Well, it was creepy by an objective standard, but by the show's logic I'd argue that the reveal actually CONFIRMS its overall "message." But again, you roll with it...

Ben: First off, the identity of Gossip Girl is a sweater you really can’t pull any strand off if you don’t want it to come apart entirely. I can say with near certainty there are scenes of Dan alone reacting to Gossip Girl blasts and being shocked that blow up the whole deal—I’m sure bigger fans than me have already located said scenes and are crying foul. But I don’t care if the continuity adds up perfectly here—it’s fucking Gossip Girl—or if the creators had this planned from day one—I doubt it—as long as the emotional payoff and explanation works, and I think it did, big time.

Kiel: I've been meaning to rewatch the Season 1 DVDs that I've got around here to see if there's any way they can justify this ending and say that they "planned it from the beginning" or some such. But until then, I'm going to assume you're 100% right.

Ben: Inverting the entire power structure of the show and making Dan the one who was really in charge all along? Brilliant. It retroactively gives all those schemes particularly from the early seasons where he was left on the outside looking in a renewed punch. I also love the larger message underlining Dan’s speech at Thanksgiving dinner to Serena and really showing what this show is about (not learning a lesson): these people were all horrible to each other, but at the end of the day forgave one another literally anything, so the only way to gain not just acceptance but the sort of unquestioned moral free pass you needed to thrive on the Upper East Side was something like this.

All that aside, I do like that when all is said and done the central conceit of the show was acceptance and gaining power respect and all that, but really a guy trying to get a girl. Was the way he went about getting said girl incredibly creepy and beyond borderline sociopathic? Yes! Absolutely! Was it still kind of sweet? Am I a monster if I say yes? I’m ok with that.

I also don’t think the fact that along the way Dan had relationships with Olivia, Vanessa, Blair, etc. blows anything up, because even if he momentarily lost interest in Serena—as a teenager would—that’s no reason he’d want to give up the intoxicating power of being Gossip Girl.

It was smart of them to cover their bases with the “Jenny knew all along” thing (and made for a hilarious “confrontation” scene demonstrating once and for all how low on the totem pole of respect and relevance Rufus is), but they hammered a little too hard with how Dan shutting down Gossip Girl after Blair and Chuck’s accident made him somehow a good guy; he wasn’t a good guy, but nobody was, so just own it. 

So anyhow, I was thrilled with the Gossip Girl ID. I can’t think of anybody else among the main cast who would have been as satisfying and bringing in somebody from left field would have been fun, but a bit of a cheat.

Kiel: All right. I agree with all of your points in a logistical sense. Dan's reveal made all the right people look foolish and all the the right reasons for his re-acceptance to the crew. I don't mind one iota that his canceling the blog when the car accident happened is a magical forgiveness bullet. I'm down with the "Jenny always knew" thing just because it semi-justifies the way that the characters kept mentioning her once every six weeks for the later seasons when any other show would have just ignored her existence once she was written out. I laughed out loud at the "it's not Dorota" joke.

But what really makes the reveal work is that idea you said about Dan being a monster for hatching a years-long plan to fool this girl into loving him. In anything resembling real life, that's 1000% true. But this is not real life. This is the Upper East Side.

For me, the show has been riding this line for a while where the characters would eventually either err on the side of actual, logical ethical structures (as Blair and Serena often profess to do while making up for the 135th time) or just embrace the evilness of what they are and ride that to its soapy nadir. Is Gossip Girl a series where the pursuit of power and social status is the ultimate moral code? You bet your ass.

I started thinking about this a lot during Season 4 where Sean made the A+ observation on Juliet's reveal as a big villain. She was poor. The poor are the bad guys in this show! For the characters to triumph, they don't have to do what's right. They just have to win the game, and poor people with their petty emotions and sense of fairness never learned to play.

To put it another way, Serena was a goddamned supervillain at the end of last season, and this year they found her out not for revenge but to beg her to rejoin the crew. You follow that through Dan's slow boiling plan of screwing her over so hard that she'd have to respect him (my FAVORITE storyline of the year...and now ultimately the true story of the whole show), and what the writers are showing us is that true happiness for these characters – for this world – is wealth by any means.

And while the reveal feels out of left field in the moment, it feels so right the more you reflect it against any other relationship in the show.

Ben: Speaking of out of left field—those cameos! I love that pics of Katie Cassidy leaked out early so people assumed she’d have a major part in the finale yet Vanessa wouldn’t show up, but instead they both ended up getting the same two-line appearance as Lola and the rest. It maybe would have been nice for them also to get Elizabeth Hurley or Bucky from the Captain America movie (or any of the other male love interests, really), but I was pretty satisfied with what we got. Kristen Bell and out-of-nowhere Rachel Bilson were incredible and made that scene seem more legitimate than it had any right to be; if somebody hasn’t already made a video loop of Kristen’s wink on YouTube yet, there’s your prompt to do so. Nice sneaky touch working in Olivia via Hillary Duff on the playbill for Ivy’s life story in the flash forward as well.

So finally, let’s talk about the flash forward. As already mentioned, the Nate thing was perfect in its sublime ridiculousness. I like that Blair and Chuck had a kid—and named him after Chuck’s French alter ego—because it gave them more substance than the destiny junk. Rufus wearing hipster glasses and being with an un-credited, non-speaking Lisa Loeb is more brilliant than words can express. Eric had a better appearance than Jenny—and I like that he made no effort whatsoever to visually move himself back to that character as opposed to the one he plays on Revenge—and I thought it was pretty BS that she got the “and” in the credits when he’s probably a bigger deal at this point. Lastly, Dan and Serena getting married in Blair’s apartment was ridiculous—I loved it.

Kiel: WOW. You caught so many more of the Easter Eggs than I did! I have it on DVR, so I'll have to go back and rewatch the last ten minutes. I had heard none of the leaks beforehand, so all the cameos were surprising and fun for us. The Bell bit was killer.

But what made me really love the montage into the final ridiculous wedding scene was how every little detail drove home what I was talking about a few paragraphs back. When I saw that Lily and William were still together, I loved it. It confirms everything about the Dan reveal. Ivy Dickens was a poor Florida actress (possibly a graduate of the Royal Tampa Academy of Dramatic Tricks) who also had some serious mental issues in the great "obsessive lover" tradition. But she still did a few decent human things in her arc. She was the only person nice to CeCe at the end and so she won that money for being good. And even though she did awful stuff at the end, it was for a so-called "pure" reason – true love for William. And what did she get for it? William scraped her off like she was dog shit he stepped in at the polo match.

Meanwhile, he and Lily go off to live the end of their romance as ultra wealthy assholes. And even Rufus is just like, "Fuck it! I'll marry Lisa Loeb and be rich!" The ending of that crazy cameo implies is that Rufus learned Dan was right in all this.

Even looking at that last scene in a meta sense supports the triumph of the Upper East Side ethos. Why did Taylor Momsen get a special screen credit when that Eric kid has a better career? Because Taylor Momsen is a fucking name in that ridiculous way that readers kind of care about who she is. All the supporting roles in ABC dramas in the world can't buy Taylor's It Girl cred.

And hey. Pour one out for Georgina Sparks. She may have been a shadow of her former self since sometime around the "I went to Christian Camp" storyline, but never forget that her blowing into town at the end of Season 1 was the thing that galvanized this show's themes. Take a bow, Harriet The Spy.

Ben: The final final scene, with Kristen Bell doing the “you may be rid of Dan Humphrey” narration and then explaining how as long as there are social outsiders there will always be a Gossip Girl felt like a freaking horror movie and was a nice “the characters you love are in their little bubble but the world they live in continues to be terrifying and awful” was the perfect way to end the show and one I never would have guessed.

This was a master class in how to do a series finale, in my opinion, be it ever so humble. Josh Schwartz did a great job on The O.C. with this too, so I’m not surprised. His formula of centering a big current event (the Chuck/Blair wedding or the Cohens moving) while also tying up all the loose ends (Gossip Girl’s identity or the relationship drama) then providing a flash forward so you don’t have to spend time wondering how all the characters ended up is a winner.

Kiel: You may find this random, but this reminded me so much Seinfeld finale. SO much. For years we've been watching these people do horrible and crazy things, and we've been perfectly entertained. Now as one last blast of people they've shit on are paraded in front of us, we realize our worst suspicions about them are totally true. But where Seinfeld reestablishes a normal moral universe at its very end, Gossip Girl revels in the triumph of its subterfuge. In this New York, awful rich people who laugh at a fat guy while he's robbed do not go to jail for a year. They go to a rooftop party where they drink for free, buy drugs from the DJ and embezzle from the host.

Ben: My hat’s off to the folks who created this for an exciting and satisfying finale to a show that wasn’t always good, but never took itself too seriously that I couldn’t at least laugh at it and ultimately taught me nothing.

Kiel: You know you love it.

Ben: XOXO!

But wait! There's more! Coming soon to the Cool Kids Table, the one and only Sean T. Collins joins Ben for an extensive interview on his original Gossip Girl comic, The Secret Origin of Chuck Bass!


Anonymous said...

As a fellow guy out of Gossip Girl's target demographic who nonetheless loved/hated this show from the very beginning, I enjoyed your discussion of the finale (which as far as I'm concerned made the last few seasons suddenly worthwhile), but I have to take issue with Ben's statement that "it’s kind of a bummer the way that otherwise glorious flashback scene to the high school (junior high?) party complete [with] Chuck Bass in all his scarf-adorned glory underlined how far they are from the relatively decent people they were at the beginning of the show." Let's not forget Chuck tried to date rape Little J in the very first episode. I'd argue he's the one character on the show who actually became a *better* person as time went on.

KP said...

For years, I argued with people that the date rape plotline was just something the show had to ignore from the pilot because at the time they didn't really know the kind of character they had on their hands at the start, but then they BROUGHT THAT BACK UP so late in the game! Still a solid arc overall, but I didn't need any more of that.