"Roman Holiday" S1 / E11
- B+ Community Grade
“The ER said he would make a full recovery. Everything is ruined!”
Has there ever been a more delicious piece of dialogue on Gossip Girl than those two lines—so plump with the petty, blinkered self-absorption of the young and extravagantly rich? I’m reminded of those real-life (or reality-TV-life) meltdowns on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16, when some hideously spoiled monster lashes out at her mother for ordering the wrong model of BMW. Except it’s hard to stay mad at Blair, whose viciousness really does come from an honest place—in this case, her hurt over her newly gay father’s absence from her life. It’s lines like those that continue to make the show irresistible, because they somehow both parody Upper East Side princesses and capture their essence at the same time.
To be honest, I was really worried about Gossip Girl tackling another holiday after the calamitous Thanksgiving episode from a few weeks ago. There’s some obligation to offer up those feelings of warmth and togetherness, which is generally the enemy of melodrama, at least in large doses. So hats off to the writers for making “Roman Holiday” a sweet and sour Christmas, treating the holiday with all the stomach-churning ambivalence it deserves. It was clear from the start that this episode would not end with the Humphrey family playfully collapsing on each other in a pickup football game/bonding session, and for that we can all be grateful.
Now back to Blair, who was in fine bitchy form tonight. Burned over having to share her father with Roman, his indefatigably high-spirited French flame, Blair regresses into scheming mode. (As her mom later says, Blair combines her mom’s scheming with her father’s unrealistic dreaming.) Tripping up Ramon on the skating rink was about as raw (and hilarious) an expression of her dismay as could be imagined, and something that a girl half her age would do, which made it extra fun. Her later plot was more sophisticated: Call up Ramon’s former boy toy and invite him to the Christmas party as a way of sabotaging her father’s relationship. Again, it’s pretty obvious to everyone but her bruised papa that Blair was acting out, but it was still funny to watch Leighton Meester’s reaction shots: First joy at seeing the scene play out just as she’d hoped, then bratty petulance mere seconds later when the whole thing unravels.
Meanwhile, there’s a sliver of Christmas tension between Dan and Serena, who are still very much in their honeymoon period. Vanessa, looking like a 19-year-old Punky Brewster, gives Dan a gift that’s admittedly hard to top: A letter arranging publication of his short story, “10/8/05,” in The New Yorker. (Yes, that New Yorker magazine, which is apparently now actively soliciting unrepresented manuscripts from teenagers for their fiction issues. Boy, have things gone downhill under David Remnick. Lucky for him, nobody reads the fiction issue.) For some reason, the willfully oblivious Serena isn’t all that threatened by Vanessa, even though she should be; granted, she feels burned that Punky Brewster knows Dan better than she does, but she’s mostly upset because she’s at a loss about what to get him for Christmas.
Leave it to Blair, then, to raise questions about Vanessa’s endgame. To be honest, I’m a little surprised that Blair cares all that much about Serena getting hurt, since a Vanessa/Dan hook-up would be just the sort of betrayal that Serena brought down on Blair a year earlier. But on second thought, perhaps Blair’s intervention is more tribal: Vanessa, like Dan, is a crude, bohemian interloper in Blair’s world, and she’d be happy to knock both of them off her borough. It also gives her the second-best line of the night, when leaving the bathroom after her one-on-one with Vanessa: Asked why she’s not working on the snowflake art project like she’d offered, Blair says curtly, “I think my work’s done here.”
So getting back to Serena and Dan’s gift exchange dilemma, I’m surprised Serena wasn’t stung by Dan refusing to take the watch from her. Yes, he’s not the fancy-watch-wearing kind of guy, but it was a gift she could afford and a reasonably thoughtful one at that. Anyway, this leads to their promise to get each other gifts under $50, which requires the sort of creativity that would drive thoughtless stuff-buyers like myself crazy. In the end, I’m going to have to give Serena the win on this one: Dan smuggling a Christmas tree into her hotel room is just the sort of hearty Humphrey gesture you’d expect, but it had nothing on Serena’s avant-garde sex palace. For Dan to lose his virginity in that context—and with a story to be featured in an august institution like the motherfucking New Yorker, to boot—counts as the best Christmas ever, indeed. Sorry, but it’s all downhill from here, buddy. (In all seriousness, though, I was genuinely touched when Dan revealed that his short story was about Serena. Should have seen that coming, but it was romantic enough to melt my critical circuitry.)
On an anticlimactic note, there was also lots of intrigue involving the parents. Roman and Blair’s dad finally did win Blair over, though they might have thought to open with those pictures of their vineyard in Lyon, which perhaps would have saved Roman a trip to the hospital. Blair’s mother played the unlikely peacemaker, all while snuggling up to divorced Daddy Warbucks named Jack Roth. Meanwhile, Rufus and Rufus’ Boring Wife come to the mutual (in publicist speak, “amicable”) agreement that their attempt to get back together for the kids isn’t working out. But it’s too late for Rufus and Lily, whose icky relationship with Chuck’s dad grows ickier on Christmas morning, when he tells Eric and Serena that he has “deep feelings” for their mother and proposes in front of them. The episode ends with a question: Which Lily will show up—the opportunistic gold-digger or the rebel who can’t resist that rustic Humphrey charm?
Tune in on January 2nd, for the first of what the network promises are the two best episodes ever. I’ll be the judge of that.
• I completely forgot to mention those frosty texting exchanges between Blair and Chuck, who fled to Monaco. No surprise that the revelation about Chuck’s claim on Blair’s virginity would eventually be dropped on Nate, who’s really the prize for both of them. Surely the upcoming “best episodes ever” will deal with the fallout.
• And speaking of texting, nice gift from Blair to her maid (or is it nanny?), who looks suitably thrilled at the opportunity to communicate more with her imperious brat of an employer.
• Great to hear a healthy chunk of the Band Of Horses song “The General Specific.” Since this show is at least partly about leading free-spending young people to products (like way-too-mature-for-them Victoria’s Secret lingerie, for example), the Band Of Horses album Cease To Begin is one I heartily endorse.