The Party of the Week on last Wednesday's Gossip Girl is a masquerade ball, once again arranged by the peerless Blair Waldorf, who spends her prep time ordering Jenny around to get things. The poor girl even borrows a bracelet from a jewelry store Blair patronizes, believing she'll get to wear it tonight.
Blair and Serena are busy curling up in Blair's bedroom and discussing the plan for tonight. Blair is casually explaining that she's sending Nate on a scavenger hunt tonight, during the ball: she'll give him a clue leading to the first handmaiden, who will give him a clue to the second handmaiden, and so on and so forth until, eventually, he finds Blair. She concludes that if Nate finds her before midnight, he gets a prize. What's the prize? inquires Serena. Blair gives her a look that clearly says, My virginity -- duh! The most brilliant part of this scene is the way Blair nonchalantly explains the whole plan like it's a totally normal thing to send your boyfriend on a scavenger hunt for your virginity.
Of course, Serena's a little surprised, and even more so when Blair asks her to be the handmaiden who gives the last clue, saying she trusts them both. After making sure that Blair's certain of this kooky plan, Serena makes light of the awkwardness, the way I'm sure she's learned to make light of the fact that basically, she always, always wins. The girls move on to discuss inviting Dan. Serena insists he would never go to something so "pretentious." I'm sorry, I think that word is completely misused here. It's not pretentious to be rich, dress up, and get drunk. It's pretentious to believe you're too deep for such activities as having money and spending it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being uninterested in Serena's lifestyle -- but as the one who's sitting around and judging everyone else for their shallowness, Dan gets the Pretentious Award.
Aaaanyway. While this is going on, Dan is talking to his father about how he's not invited and says it's because S. knows he'd never attend something so pretentious. (Grr.) Just then, a mysterious entity named Vanessa -- the very name brings a significant look onto Rufus' face -- calls Dan on his cell and asks if he has her copy of The Crying of Lot 49 (which is written by the supposedly great but super-challenging Thomas Pynchon, reading whom is often the very epitome of pretentiousness). He gives her crap for getting in touch with him after a year incommunicado when he rounds the corner and -- there she is, sitting in his apartment like she owns the place. She's cute, dark-haired and dark-complexioned, and very smiley. And she's back in town for the rest of high school! I smell a threat to Serena!
Just then, Miss van der Woodsen herself calls Dan, describes the event with her typical bashful acknowledgment that it's "pretentious," and Dan starts being totally shifty, saying that the female voice Serena hears is his sister. Just then, of course, Jenny walks into Blair's room and Serena looks absolutely crestfallen, following up her description of the party with a "Have a good night" instead of an invitation. In the Humphrey Hovel, Vanessa brightly asks what they're doing tonight. In the Waldorf Palace, Serena says sadly that she thinks she needs a date.
Prep time for Saturday night: Nate wanders downstairs to hear his mother and father preparing for Eleanor Waldorf's party that night. Dan and Vanessa try to pick a movie as they wander along the streets of New York -- The Angelika is suggested, a theater that's great for seeing cool indie movies, and I love the Angelika so I guess I'm pretentious like these two. I hope their relationship gets nicknamed VD. Think that'll catch on? Anyway, Blair finds Serena a hot date, who IMs her later on. And Blair spends her prep time crushing the hopes of Jenny Humphrey, saying that freshmen never get to come and gently making her feel like an ass for having borrowed the bracelet. "Your time will come, I promise, now if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready," she breezes. Lily asks Serena for dress advice and denies having a hot date, but her pants are very much on fire, as we will see later.
Anyway, Nate finds his dad's drug stash. And it's not marijuana, if you know what I'm saying. He calls Blair, but the girl is of course unavailable, so he goes to Serena for help. Having answered the door in a bathrobe, she acts all uncomfortable -- Serena honey, I'm sorry, the boy's already seen you naked, now just think how awkward you'd feel if it was someone who hadn't yet! Basically, just don't answer the door in a bathrobe. She's happy to comfort him, but when he tries to hold her hand she uncomfortably jumps up and kicks him out of the house, basically. For this scene, and basically the entire episode, Nate walks around like a robot whose emotive software has been destroyed by a virus. I know his acting is normally bad, but not this bad, so I suspect he pulled a Robert Downey Jr. on his dad's stash.
Night arrives, and the Humphreys resolve not to let their lives be ruined by B. and S.'s B.S. Dan cancels on Vanessa in order to stalk Serena at the ball (aka, "write his history paper"), while Vanessa, ditched, saunters into the Humphrey Hovel and encourages Jenny to crash the party ("Handmaiden is Jane Austen for 'slave,'" she counsels). Meanwhile, Rufus, who turned out to be Lily's date (duh), realizes he's there to make Bart Bass jealous and is both shocked and, when he sees Bart brought a hot young thing as his date, sympathetic. He also makes out with Lily "to make Bart jealous." Lily goes weak at the knees, but when Bart calls, she goes.
So now Dan and Jenny are at the ball, and so is the dazed-looking Nate. Poor Nate is doing really badly at the whole scavenger hunt thing -- there's an amusing scene where Kati and Isabel give him a clue that's actually about one of them, and all he can say is "What?" -- and Blair's getting upset about it. Meanwhile, Serena's dancing with her date and getting really bored, so the minute she excuses herself Dan waltzes in, so to speak, and sweeps her off her feet again. Vanessa finds them and gets all upset, saying that Dan said he loved her before she left! "Loved," Dan says, "In the past. In a pre-shaving, sixteen-year-old kind of way." Erm, ouch, Dan. She chokingly says it looks like he's traded up, and runs out. Dan runs after her.
But Jenny's having her own little drama, since the mask she's wearing hides just enough of her face for Chuck to mistake her for a new victim instead of someone he's already tried to date rape. She gets him to strip and then locks him outside. I was looking forward to an actual naked!Chuck scene, but unfortunately, Jenny only gets him down to undershirt and boxers. Cheap! She finds Serena and they have a brief girltalk about Dan, wherein Jenny convinces Serena that Dan really likes her. Serena gives her her own mask and sweater, and since they're both wearing yellow and have luxurious enviable masses of gorgeous blonde hair, it's kind of foreseeable that people might, just might, get mixed up about their identities. So Nate chases after Jenny, thinking she's Serena, to tell her he loves her. Then Dan, who changed his mind about the whole chasing-Vanessa thing, tries to follow Jenny around yelling pathetically, "Serena! Serena!" But Dan and Serena find each other eventually and avow their feelings once again. Nate gives up on Serena and finds Blair, but she says he didn't even try to find her and tells him there's no happily ever after. He arrives home to see that his parents have found "his" stash. And Vanessa apologizes to Dan and they decide to be friends. The end.
Whew. Masked balls are complicated!
Gossip Girl had a major opportunity to go big and glamorous with the masked ball concept, but it didn't. The visual appeal factor was high, but the mistaken identities and intrigues were sort of minor and accidental. Instead, Blair and Serena were at an all-time high for tranquility, "doing besties" for real by supporting and trusting each other. I like to see that, and they make it feel real, and Blair's trust in Serena kind of breaks your heart because it's so doomed to be disappointed.
The introduction of Vanessa, which I realize came from the books, was just a poor choice in my opinion. She's an extremely annoying character who's always sailing into the Humphrey apartment like she's part of the family and asking prying questions about Rufus' and Jenny's love life, not to mention her being all up in Dan's grill all the time (to use an old and beloved phrase from Josh Schwartz's first TV masterpiece). She's also too easy a foil for Serena, too smiley (it's annoying!), too one-note a character (likes pierogis, movies with subtitles, pomo writers -- got it), and doesn't have any obvious potential to interact with the main characters outside of the Dan-Jenny-Serena bubble of social marginalization. Let's see something better than one of Schwartz's patented lightning-fast love triangles.
Best moments of the episode: Lily and Rufus simultaneously saying "I need a drink" after their big kiss; Jenny responding to Chuck's compliment of excellent taste with "Apparently not, I'm talking to you"; and the requisite primping montage wherein the various ball-goers pull on their mask -- Chuck, particularly, donning his in a dark, creepily-lit shot. Fun stuff, but next week I want more sass from Gossip Girl and less self-congratulating blather from Dan and Vanessa.
In Summary: Shut up, Vanessa. But the sheer genius of Blair's virginity scavenger hunt made the entire episode worthwhile.