You know, for an episode that had two weddings, a death, and the long-awaited unveiling of the gossip girl herself, “New York, I Love You, XOXO” is excruciatingly boring. Anticlimax follows anticlimax in a kind of funeral procession, slowly marching the juggernaut that was Gossip Girl to its long-awaited death. Bart Bass’ death is the first nail in the coffin, a death that was already faked this one time before. Chuck is sort of implicated in his death because he didn’t, like, go help him. Blair was a witness to his potentially criminal act, so his uncle suggests that Chuck and Blair get hitched so she can’t be forced to testify against him.
Of course, #CHAIR has been contemplating marriage all season, so they take the plot opportunity to rush headlong into an ill-advised Upper-East-Side marriage of convenience. Of course, they can’t do it without the help of their dysfunctional group of friends, who are dispatched to the four winds to gather what #CHAIR will require to marry in style. (In this case, it is a white suit, a blue flapper dress complete with tiara, expensive flowers, and something in a box that Georgina keeps carrying around. No one knows what that thing is, which leads me to conclude that the show’s soul, along with the live, beating hearts of the show’s fans, were all trapped inside. In the dark, you can hear them screaming to be let out.)
As this is playing out, prettily but also predictably, Dan and Serena are engaged in some kind of bizarre endgame centered around his magnum opus, the memoir-slash-expose of the Upper East Side elite. His first chapter, on Serena, has two versions, “nice” and “nasty.” Guess which one gets published in Vanity Fair, though! Blake Lively’s Serena has always been the most frustrating character on Gossip Girl—the character who should have the most emotional resonance and instead somehow manages to have the least. (Only Chace Crawford’s Nate matches Lively’s general woodenness.) So it’s hard to care, but you gather she’s pretty upset, because she flounces off to her private jet to brood over her bruised feelings elsewhere. But then! Dan’s last gambit pays off—he slips her the nice version, which she spends “all night” reading, and because it’s flattering, and also perhaps romantic, but mostly because it’s about her, she stops the plane and returns to talk about herself with him.
Eventually, it emerges (first to Serena, then to the world at large) that Dan Humphrey, lonely boy, mild-mannered guy from Brooklyn, has been the gossip girl this entire time, the outsider looking in, the smart kid who recognized that if people are talking about it, it matters. And he, like, literally started the site because he was crushing on Serena this one time when she was wearing a white dress, and he was like oh I can get people to talk about her and then about me omgzwtfbbq i kno wat the interwebz are!!! So he not only, um, used Gossip Girl as a platform for spreading rumors, denigrating his friends, revealing his sister’s sex life in public and embarrassing ways, and, oh yes, nearly getting himself expelled (that is some ninja double-crossing skill)—he was using it to try to impress a girl that was literally the subject of his stalker-takedown-campaign for at least two years, if not for the run of the entire show.
Needless to say, this makes absolutely no sense.
I’m not saying that the idea of Dan as the Gossip Girl doesn’t have some sort of logic, in some universe where which seasons two through six never happened. Dan is the natural choice to be a jealous, bitter firebrand, the one would want to stir up trouble out of a desire to draw attention to himself and to expose the foibles of the world he is somewhat unwillingly a part of and now wants to belong to. But for Dan to be the Gossip Girl he has to be a complete sociopath—a person deeply comfortable with lying to the people who are closest to him over and over again for years. And betraying all of those people, sometimes with their consent and sometimes without, as well as occasionally inventing dramas for himself, in order to maintain a persona that grants him a nebulous sort of power which gives him some sense of control and membership to a world that doesn’t want him. And you know, the story of that sociopath can be really interesting (See: Revenge!). But that’s not the show Gossip Girl was ever trying to be. There’s no pretending that the choice to reveal Dan as Gossip Girl is anything but infuriatingly contrived. On some level, it is no surprise that the show’s producers had no idea what they were doing, but on the other hand, finally seeing that proven in this series finale is deeply frustrating, and must be doubly so to the fans who have stuck it out with the show (there are not that many, but still!).
The strangest twist to all of this is that Dan’s totally psychotic attempt to fit into this world works. Because the girl he was trying to pursue the entire time is somehow barely affected by what should be literally terrifying news—instead she seems to find it kind of hot. Yes, after Dan slanders her online numerous times, publishes a takedown piece of her in Vanity Fair, and admits to having lied to her repeatedly for years, Serena finds that Dan is exactly the kind of guy she has always wanted to be with, a guy who has “earned” his place among us as someone who knows how to pull the strings of power. Frankly, Serena is impressed, teaching little boys everywhere that stalking and tearing down the object of your affection might actually work, so go ahead, take your best shot! She reaches across the table to hold his hand, and the episode cuts to five years later. Blair and Chuck have a son named Henry, who is wearing an adorable little suit. Blair’s running her fashion business from what might be a sweatshop in China, and Nate is considering running for mayor of New York, as his newspaper The Spectator is super successful (private-jet successful!). Oh, and Dan is waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a boutonniere because… uh, because he’s getting married to Serena, who is, obviously, wearing a wedding dress made largely of gold lamé. Blake Lively smiles her brilliant smile, a sunny, all-American countenance that makes the rain stop and the birds sing, and even, for a brief moment, makes it seem slightly reasonable that she still is willing to trust the person standing in front of her… but only for a minute or two, before you get distracted by Penn Badgley’s terrible hair, and also by the fact that Henry is named after Chuck’s secret identity he used to cheat on Blair that one time with hookers, and then you curl up in a corner and cry, and not even Blake Lively’s beautiful, beautiful smile can save you.
The series ends with Gossip Girl’s voiceover cheerfully stating that while Dan Humphrey might no longer be the Gossip Girl, there’s always an outsider looking to fit in, and so there will always be more gossip girls, OR SOMETHING, YOU KNOW, WHATEVER.
Lest we wander too far into the woods of critique, the thicket of plausibility, the quicksand of motivation, consider that the show may have been playing a long game with us all along. We finally get the answer to the fundamental question of the series—who is Gossip Girl?—at a point where character is entirely irrelevant, because the characters have been stretched so thin beyond their original conceptions that they don’t even hold together as personalities anymore; they are just names, to be combined into other names to create composite names, which are sometimes called ships, which are then hashtagged and placed all over the internet. (#Derena. #Cheorgina. #Vuck.) Who is gossip girl? Who cares, dear readers? In the alternate universe where these characters each have personalities that didn’t perilously bleed into their peers’—where narrative force and character develop carry our heroes through despair and triumph and taught them something about the world—where privilege is not mysteriously masked as a burden, weighing down the lives of the beautiful and carefree—there, perhaps, someone cares about the true identity of the woman reading the voiceovers at the beginning. But in this universe, where Chuck Bass marries the woman he briefly sold for a hotel, and a five-years-later epilogue transports us to a future where Dan Humphrey, terrible hair in place, sociopathic tendencies now a known quantity, marries Serena Van Der Woodsen, who is, obviously, dressed like a cupcake—in this universe, it doesn’t matter who Gossip Girl is, because we are all Gossip Girl, or maybe they are all Gossip Girl, or you know, actually, something like Gossip Girl is in fact actually Kristen Bell, omg she’s texting me right now tho!!1
The far more relevant question for inhabitants of our universe is in fact: What was Gossip Girl? This is the question that Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage discuss with some smug superiority in the first hour of the Gossip Girl finale, a look back at the show as it was, and why it was “relevant” (or “viral,” or whatever those kids are talking about these days!!). The thing is, Gossip Girl was somehow strangely relevant, in a way that none of us can remember now. It was an artifact of New York culture that felt oddly authentic, despite the blatantly overdone plotlines and character arcs. (It had texting and walking at the same time, after all!) Watching Gossip Girl, Savage says, should have been a substitute for reading a magazine. If you wanted to know what the cool bands were or what the “it” designers were, you could open a magazine… or you could tune into a slushy nighttime soap with some plot and great production values. Gossip Girl has always been about demonstrating, defining, and repackaging “cool” far more than it ever was about plot.
The true characters in Gossip Girl were in fact the members of the nebulous elite that cared about the lives of our main characters, the shadowy social circle that texted in tips to Gossip Girl. These were the other students in the background at Constance Billard, the people who hung around in the back at parties, the many visitors to Gossip Girl’s website. Dan might have started that site, but he (and the show, repeatedly) points out that ultimately, the information came from the ether, from the diffuse and mysterious elite who live in a world of mutual scrutiny.
And that, ultimately, will probably be the legacy of Gossip Girl—that it showed us the mysterious underside of a world that feels perpetually out of reach. Schwartz and Savage specialize in stories about the ultra-elite, having worked together on The O.C. and moving forward to work on The Carrie Diaries, slated to premiere next year. They only have to deliver the trappings of our worst fears and desires about what that world is. Everything else can fairly conveniently fall to the wayside. In other words, ladies and gentleman, you’ve been had. It’s all been a terrible mistake.
The final scene really should have been Kristen Bell strolling out to break up the wedding, winking at the camera, and saying, “Did any of it make any sense? Did you waste your time for six years? Do you even perhaps regret being born? That’s a secret I’ll never tell. XOXO, Gossip Girl.”
- For all of its flaws, this episode has an amusing number of cameos. Rachel Bilson and Kristen Bell randomly pop in as actors rehearsing the first few pages of Dan’s screenplay, with Bilson playing Blair and Bell playing Serena. Bell gets a text during the rehearsal that tells her who Gossip Girl is, and then she looks up and winks at the camera. It’s cute, but like, makes no sense and relates to nothing else.
- Also, Mayor Bloomberg is in it?! He is also surprised by the identity of Gossip Girl. OBVIOUSLY.
- Also, Mayor Bloomberg declared my birthday Gossip Girl Day, which is UNACCEPTABLE.
- I burst out laughing twice. Number one: “Every trembling bone in my body wants to be with you.” Number two: “The good news is we can do what we did the last time Bart died!”
- Blair’s middle name is Cornelia? I mean, yikes.
- I found this extremely helpful, and I bet you will also find it useful as you pick up the pieces of your shattered, useless, wasted life.