Three generations of scary blonde Rhodes women laugh and sip their tea. Serena runs off to get pictures of her "summer abroad," which answers a few timeline questions, and left alone, Lily apologizes to Cece for the whole Serena/cotillion thing. "I imagine you came all this way to change Serena's mind, but she is intractable on this." Cece gives a totally crazed, sad, dramatic doom face and tells Lily that she's got lung cancer or something. Lily fully crumples and freaks out, and Cece's voice shakes, and says that her cancer is the free pass that should get Serena to the ball. "Oh, Mother, anything for you!" says Lily, and they hug, and over Lily's shoulder Cece makes a very scary face. Like maybe she's lying about the cancer in order to get her way, which is nuts, or else it's all true, or somewhere in between. Serena comes in and ascertains that her fate has been decided, and Lily tells her straight: "Um, Serena, you're going to the debutante ball." And one thing about Serena is, she doesn't throw Jenny fits. She just makes a resigned face and is unhappy. "Serena van der Woodsen, looks like your invitation just arrived...with strings attached. Come out, come out, wherever you are."
Nate's getting fitted for his tux or whatever and fussing because Blair's late, and he knows this will cause problems for him, even though she's the one that's tardy, because it's his ass that needs to be completely in line with her desires. She finally comes running in tossing out excuse after excuse, and sits down to text and smile, and what's going on is that she totally just hooked up with Chuck Bass and now they are cutely texting each other, and Nate's standing right there getting fitted for a tux. This is all very sad, really. Nate goes on and on about all his plans for their wonderful night and she ignores him, texting and giggling, and finally he's like, "What's going on, though?" She tells him she's texting Serena, and that she has to take over her mother's tea party for Cece. He's like, "Oh, I can help!" But she just runs off, tossing out a sweet, kind little smile at the door: "Not bad, Archibald. I almost forgot how handsome you are." But she's gone. "Spotted: Nate Archibald, learning you don't know a good thing till it's gone and found someone else."
Lily's walking through a shoe department with Little J, kind of suspicious and unsure that Alison would all of a sudden let her daughter go to a cotillion with Lily. Jenny's like, "Hey, whatever! She thinks it's great!" Jenny is, I may have mentioned, kind of a dipshit. Lily's like, "Okay, putting that huge lie aside for the moment, your dad also thinks this is a good idea?" Before Jenny can spin any more of her web of deceit that a bright terrier could see through, we see that Alison is coincidentally in the same store, coincidentally buying those same shoes as before, only retail. Which is a sad little moment that the director of this episode really didn't understand or give its proper weight, but you can see the ingredients. Alison realizes that she's fighting for her daughter against the assembled forces of social climbing and richesse, which means her whole sad life is repeating itself on her, because she's had to fight those van der Woodsens for everything, just in order to believe in herself, and she whooped it, but now it's back. I mean, you never feel poor until somebody calls you poor, you know? These are the shoes that she is buying for Jenny to wear to her art opening, so that she can say, "I am an artist, and I have a family, and I am a mother, and you too can have it all." That she has finally been forgiven; that this is her debut into the art scene, just like cotillion really: she's a woman who has been redeemed and can now make her way back into society, and all she's asking is for Jenny to wear these shoes, and she couldn't even do that right. So I like the sad little bribe of the shoes, and it's too bad it didn't come off.