It's been over three months since the last new episode of Gossip Girl aired, but as far as tonight's episode, "The Hurt Locker", was concerned, that quarter of a year was little more than a fortnight.
Of course, if the show had jumped ahead to March, the major developments of "The Debarted" would've lost their immediacy, and as tonight's "previously on" recap—which rushed through most of the early season—proved, it's those developments that will drive the show's current arc: Nate and Serena's inevitable shot at being a couple; Dan's less-inevitable admission of his true feelings for Vanessa; a violation of trust between Rufus and Lily; Jenny's entry into drug-dealing; and, most shocking of all, Chuck's discovery of a woman who could be his mother—because who else would leave behind a locket containing a picture of Bart Bass at the man's grave? Despite being the plot points freshest in our minds, all but the discovery of Chuck's assumed-to-be-dead mother have been a long, long time coming. These are things the characters have been waiting for or things they've kept buried and—in line with the pleadings of icy R&B deconstructionalists The Xx, whose "Crystalized" implored Serena and Nate to "go slow" while their libidos and an unoccupied, very large coatroom urged them to do the opposite—writer Sara Goodman opted not to give them instant gratification. (With the obvious exception of Serena and Nate.)
The coupling of Serena and Nate was years in the making, continually undone by bad timing and inconveniences like a poorly chosen, mid-wedding hook-up. It looked as if it was going to be undone again by outside forces—the advice of Dan and Blair, pitched in humorous back-and-forth cuts that lightened the mood of what was otherwise an overly serious episode—but they eventually chose to follow their instincts, which are apparently inclined toward clandestine activities at society functions. A happy Nate is a less brooding Nate, which while not optimal is still more likable, especially because he's less whiny. The episode still gave Chace Crawford the opportunity to exercise his crinkly face of disappointment, though, staring daggers across the French ambassador's dinner at Serena's "make Nate want me more" date, diplomat's son/dealer Damien, referred to in the Adams house as "Baby Patrick Bateman". He's still being out-acted by the set design, but at least Crawford's creeping toward a place where he doesn't annoy with his mere presence.
I'm moved to call the pill-slinging Belgian import played by Kevin Zegers—perhaps best known as the young moppet who taught us there ain't no rule that say a dog can't play basketball in Air Bud—Baby Patrick Bateman not because I think he's capable of feeding a cat to an ATM, but because from what we've seen of him, Zegers performance is like Zac Efron doing an impression of Christian Bale in American Psycho. He's been positioned as something of a replacement for the morally ambiguous Chuck Bass of old, but despite being given a backstory of past achievements in academics and non-canine-assisted athletics, he's still little more than a placeholder for more effective Gossip Girl villains like Georgina and Carter Baizen. (CARTER BAIZEN!)
Damien's brought out an engaging side of Jenny, however, as the latest escalation of her rebellious streak has also come with a desire to shed her occasional descent into "damsel in distress" mode. She's crafty enough to realize she can sew a client's fix into a horrid, horrid shawl, which resulted in turned tables at the climactic dinner, where she lent a helping hand to former knights-in-shining-armor Nate and Damien. The dressing down she delivered the coat check girl provided a glimpse of Jenny the bitchy queen bee, but it was all in the service of getting the pill-laced shawl out of the party. Looks like Jenny's foray into the underworld won't last through the next episode, but it's fun to imagine her bossing around suppliers and bashing in the kneecaps of UES brats whose trust funds can't cover their habits.
The tutelage of Chuck and Blair has served Jenny well—but it's as if they've entirely transferred their rough exteriors to Little J. "The Hurt Locket" shows the two at their squishiest and most vulnerable, caught up in the mystery of the mourning brunette. Chuck sacrificed an evening of Russian-accented, Anna Karenina role-playing to solve it, while Blair gave up schmoozing with a possible "in" to one NYU secret society. (The bigger loss here is obvious, and it involved a lengthy pan across Leighton Meester's fur-lined boots.) The third season has continually toyed with the hopes of viewers longing for the return of The Old Chuck, and if his cold reaction to Blair at the end of tonight's episode is any indication, when it turns out Elizabeth isn't his mother—and she most certainly isn't—than it's going to lead Chuck into at least a temporarily withdrawn state that ought to bring with it a relapse into stinging bon mots, excessive drinking, and all-around awesomeness.
In the time between "The Debarted" and "The Hurt Locket", I had a lot of time to think about why I enjoyed the first two seasons of Gossip Girl more than I'm enjoying the third, and I came to realize it has a lot to do with the fact that this is the first season I've watched unfold in real-time. My wife and I watched most of the previous seasons in multi-episode binges, letting their arcs play out in the space of one evening as opposed to three or four weeks. Halfway through season three, I'm still adjusting, but with no breaks between now and the end of the season, my desire to slam through the show may be partially fulfilled. Unfortunately, it turns out I'm a lot like Serena and Nate—when it comes to watching Gossip Girl, I prefer my gratification instant and dirty. But it doesn't have hidden away in a coatroom.
- If The Hurt Locker hadn't cleaned up at the Academy Awards, would the producers have changed the name of this episode? It would've been awfully hard to work a pun around Avatar or Precious: Based On The Novel "Push" By Sapphire, though I'm sure there's a future episode entitled "Up In The Blair" in the works.
- Sure, she thought it was a present from Damien, but Serena was bizarrely protective of such an ugly shawl.
- Take the raccoon eyes of Taylor Momsen and she ages by five years.
- I'm really looking forward to William Baldwin's debut as Dr. Van Der Woodsen, which says something about how much I care about the younger characters' current plots.
- This episode worked toward one of the show's trademark "everybody ends up at the same party" climaxes, but then let it fall flat. It probably didn't help that only Jenny, Damien, and Blair had anything invested in the party—with Blair eventually deciding she had more important places to be.
- One Tree Hill won't be the show's lead-in for the rest of the season, which means "One Minute Hill" is on hiatus; I apologize to the three of you who found it funny. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Life Unexpected will inspire anything from me but longing for Gilmore Girls' whip-smart dialogue and the chemistry between Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel.