"School Lies" S1 / E12
Before signing off for a two-week holiday respite, the Gossip Girl promos promised that the next two episodes—the last ones before the show runs out of scripts—would be OMG, the best episodes ever. So did the first, “School Lies,” live up to billing? Yes and no. No, because it wasn’t anywhere near as good as the series’ finest efforts, including the last one, which had Blair upending her daddy’s boyfriend on the Central Park ice and Serena treating Dan to a Christmas surprise that even The New Yorker couldn’t match. (Or maybe it could: I recall The Onion’s head writer, after the website—still in its infancy—got mentioned by the magazine, likening the flattery to “getting a blowjob from 1,000 angels.”) Yes, because it was the first morsel of scripted original television I’ve seen in weeks and any meager bit of nourishment seems like a feast these days.
Certainly, the episode got off to a promisingly pervy start, with the UES brats sneaking onto school grounds and throwing a pool party, martinis and bikinis in tow. I appreciated the snooty audacity of the party: Most schoolkids would keep it small and maybe just smuggle their girl/boyfriends in for a quick snog, but here it’s nearly a catered event, with bottles of wine and mixed drinks, and probably some nice finger-food offscreen. Then there’s Serena, looking oddly apropos in a bathing gown out of the 1930s—sexy but chaste, retro but still fashion forward, at least on that body. It’s just too bad that the sequence feels so hastily assembled: There’s some intrigue with Nate and Blair in the pool, and Chuck seething on the sidelines, but it all ends too abruptly when a random party-pooper get clocked in the head and loses consciousness. (Big baby. Walk it off!)
What follows is Poolgate, a not terribly riveting inquiry into who was responsible for throwing this little bacchanal. Faced with an expulsion threat from the new headmistress, the rich kids make a vow not to give up the guilty party, which is all fine and good for them, but not so much for Dan, who can’t just enroll in another fancy private school if he gets kicked out of this one. He’s also unaccustomed to lying and would surely fold under questioning long before the waterboarding stage. Again, this subplot seemed to me like an opportunity wasted: Dan does indeed have more at stake than his privileged schoolmates and here was another chance to paint him as the outcast, especially since we could guess early on that Serena is the one behind the shindig. Seems to me there would have been more suspense if Dan knew Serena’s role in throwing the party earlier, and had to live with the dreadful decision of whether to protect her or uphold that patented Humphrey integrity. When it’s all resolved, with Dan not having to make that decision and Serena getting a wristslap for confessing, it felt like a cheat to me.
As for the Nate-Blair-Chuck love triangle, I’m happy to see the revelation of Blair’s non-virginity dangled like a carrot in front of our eyes for a little longer, though Chuck was too busy creeping out Serena (more on that in a second) to torture Blair properly. Blair seemed resolved to tell Nate the truth at the end and see if they can move on from there—which only seems fair, given Nate’s far more devastating (if less icky) past infidelity—but that scene is curiously withheld. (Are we to believe that Blair dropped this bomb offscreen or did she reconsider confessing to Nate? It wasn’t entirely clear to me.) In any case, I did enjoy the way Vanessa’s documentary shoot, contrived as it was, paid off in various blackmail schemes to get possession of incriminating footage. As any independent documentary filmmaker will tell you, a year’s rent and $10,000 in genital herpes research money is more than you can generally expect for your art.
I feel like I’m being a little too critical of this reasonably decent episode, so perhaps now’s the time to talk about what I liked about it. The Lily-Rufus-Bart triangle isn’t terribly exciting in and of itself, but it’s gangbusters for skeezy plot developments. At the end of the last episode, the Van Der Woodsen kids had to consider the chilling notion of having Chuck for a stepbrother, but that’s nothing compared to having the Humphreys as kin, which is pretty much a relationship killer. Serena convinces her mom not to sabotage her coupling with Dan, but the alternative is shown in all its disgusting glory. Which is the grossed Chuck-ism: “The family that plays together stays together” or “I hope you’re going to make yourself available for more missed childhood memories—bathing together, for example”? I appreciate the concision of the former, but that last come-on just can’t be beat.
My favorite detail in the entire episode: The key. Only on Gossip Girl could a 21st century private school be accessed via a key that Lord Thistlewicke might have used to open his lady’s 18th century bedroom chamber.
• It’s an obvious question, but doesn’t Lily have an option C? If she can’t run off with Rufus, why does have to marry Bart? Though she’s clearly used to a life of luxury, she’s not a trailer-trash golddigger of the Julie Cooper school. There’s no indication that she needs the marriage to maintain her high social standing or that she’d be entirely comfortable marrying for money. Granted, I’m happy that the Basses and the Van Der Woodsens are coming together, but give us a good reason, please.
• “Now this transaction is finished and I’m free to return to disliking you.” Ah, the things that Blair’s money can buy.
• Is this the last we’ve seen of Vanessa’s documentary or will Dan return the favor by submitting it to Cannes without her knowing?