The theme of tonight's episode of Gossip Girl was "starting fresh." And how do we know that? Because the phrase "fresh start" or some similar permutation was uttered several times by different members of the principal cast. Clearly, the Gossip Girl writers are fans of Garth "The One-Man Fear Factory" Marenghi, who once said (and continues to say in the comments section of this week's Inventory) "I know writers who use subtext, and they're all cowards." And so the fresh starts for our fresh-faced heroes—and one particularly well-groomed father—were all out in the open, plain to see: Dan and Vanessa gave Georgina a second chance (and then Dan gave Georgina a second second chance on the roof of their dorm wink wink, nudge nudge); Serena began to look to Rufus for fatherly advice, following her decision to defer her schooling at Brown; Chuck began his unfortunate trudge toward his father's life; and Dan was crowned king of the New York University literati, while Blair fell to a rung on the NYU social ladder so low that she wasn't worth the time of two nerds arguing about Battlestar Galactica. And Nate was there, too, though he was shacking up for 24 hours with Bree Buckley in a test of their relationship that seemed like a Seinfeld episode which I can't recall at the moment. Also, the episode is called "The Freshmen." Gossip Girl writers ≠ cowards. Unless it involves getting the crazy fire started, because in that case, the second episode of the third season proves Gossip Girl writers = cowards.
Most of the show's action revolved around Dan, Vanessa, Blair, and Georgina moving into the NYU dorms. The revelation of Georgina's covert request to be Blair's roommate provided the juciest moment of the episode (and the perfect time for an act break), with Georgina crashing into the room imbued with fake sincerity and false excitement, just as Blair is debriefing an anonymous gathering of recruits for her NYU clique. (Or hive? It would make too much sense for "Queen B." to have a hive, right?) Thus the SS Georgina fired the first shot across the bow of the HMS Blair, and the war slowly escalated from there. Blair threw a UES-style party with sushi and saketinis, Georgina countered by inviting the whole floor over for pizza and "Michel Gondry bootlegs." Georgina hosted a kegger on the roof of the dorm; Blair attempted sabotage with the help of Georgina's old Jesus freak cronies and a guest list at the apparently real Monkey Bar. The preview of next week's episode promises some classic passive-aggressive dorm room fare—like having sex when you know you're roommate's about to come home—but things in the Blair-Georgina War Of 2009 need to heat up quicker, before Michelle Trachtenberg is lost to NBC's Mercy.
Blair's fall from grace is paralleled by Dan's rise to dorm God, a man in possession of such awesome power that he can make college freshmen stay at a party with free beer. The ascent of Dan begins when he's recognized at the first in a string of Village coffee shops where the NYU characters will go to brood; his piece in The New Yorker earns him the admiration and scorn of fellow writer Katie, who just might be the series' first black character who's not a security guard, doorman, or a brainless Blair acolyte. Katie heads up a writer's group, which Dan wins over in no time with a reference to Judy Blume's Forever. Maximum yuks all around the coffee shop table. From there, it's a bullet train to Dorm Tastemakerville, Saving Georgina's Party Town, and Falling Asleep With Georgina's Head In His Lap City. Vanessa was wrong last week when she said becoming rich was going to Dan's head—Dan's head is beginning to go to Dan's head. Like his sister before him, he's due to come crashing down in a few episodes' time. (On the subject of Little J.: Keeping true to the episode's title, we heard not a peep nor saw an awkward head-bobble from her tonight. No high schoolers allowed.)
In between the main action, Serena continued "acting out," ruining two of Chuck's business meetings, where the son of Bart attempted to sell investors on a combination fine dining establisment-speakeasy, where the speakeasy is set up in a bank vault. (Gossip Girl's Weekly Moment Of Topical Awareness™: "The harder the times, the harder people want to party and forget about it."-Chuck Bass) Carter Baizen (CARTER BAIZEN!) is Serena's accessory to the second spoiled meeting, but he realizes Serena is just using him in her childish game of "Hey dad, look at me!" and tells her they're through. Suddenly, Carter Baizen looks like a reasonable fellow who doesn't deserve my raised voice and shaken fist. Having opted not to go to Brown—seeking refuge first in the Bass Cave, then at the Humphrey's loft—Serena is adrift and unsure of her future, and she seeks advice from the person least qualified to give it, Rufus Humphrey. Turns out a step-dad can be just like a real dad, even if he's kind of an idiot. But everyone's kind of an idiot on Gossip Girl—Serena cops to being one when she reunites with Carter at episode's end. We get three reunited couples during Gossip Girl's closing narration: Serena and Carter, Chuck and Blair (whose time apart is probably to blame for their individual defeats), and Dan and Georgina, whose romantic flame from the end of the first season was reunited thanks to keg beer and Phoenix's killer single "1901."
"The Freshmen" was another place-setting episode, which is allowed and tolerated in a season of 22 hour-long episodes. While it's great to see these characters and their surroundings change, I'm beginning to grow anxious for the writers to put the illogical pedal to the illogical medal. Gossip Girl shouldn't go zero to 60 in 60 minutes—it should go 0 to 60 in five, 60 to 120 in fifteen, crash into a tree at the 45-minute mark, and then drag itself into another car during the lead-up to the cliffhanger. "The Freshmen" was a minor improvement over the season première, but Gossip Girl's fresh, collegiate start is starting to look, like Blair's party, dispiritingly dull.
-Those Nate and Bree scenes should've been cut out or shuffled to another episode. They're in it to win it now, despite what their families might say. Zzz. Congrats, Romeo and Juliet—now get out of the apartment and interact with the show's interesting characters.
-My fiancée and I aren't imagining that Seinfeld episode, right? It involves Jerry testing whether or not his new relationship will work out by taking a weekend trip with his girlfriend, only to find out he hates her halfway through. The best Google gave me was "The Hamptons," but that's the "shrinkage" episode.
-The new, serious Chuck Bass is bringing me down. The old Chuck Bass would celebrate a failed business proposal with exotic drugs and foreign women—this one just lies in bed waiting for Blair to spoon with him. I blame it on the Bill Lumbergh outfits. To paraphrase the last episode, Chuck Bass doesn't do power ties. He'll start nailing the deals when he resumes wearing mismatching colors.
-Nice to hear "1901" on the show, though it was upstaged by the Leighton Meester-guesting Cobra Starship party-starter "Good Girls Go Bad." I wonder if that song's "speakeasy in the back of a deli" music video inspired Chuck's bank vault club.