Awesome return to form! Sparkling dialogue, vibrant performances, convincing/insane wrap-ups to both the Eyes Wide Shut and To Die For storylines, and more overwhelmingly layer-on-layer metafictional tricks and glosses than Michel Gondry taping himself in reverse fucking Charlie Kaufman and reading aloud from Charlie Kaufman's biography of Michel Gondry entitled The Autobiography Of Michel Gondry By Charlie Kaufman To Be Read While Fucking Charlie Kaufman Backwards, By Michel Gondry As Told To Kristen Bell.
The thing this show has always done really well -- reinterpreting classic romance works and tropes in an absolutely modern soap opera framework -- becomes the subject of the show: at its heart a parable about the construction and protection of social roles in a grossly oversurveilled culture that -- by virtue of the Gossip Girl blog -- puts them always already "onstage" anyway. So the first metafictive jump implicit in the story, then, has the characters interacting with the blog directly, in order to change the narrative flow of the story itself. That's the first thing you tell people so they'll watch the show, of course, but then comes this episode, which makes all that seem like child's play.
All the senior classmen -- including the Plastics -- are in a play based on Age Of Innocence. Of course, our kids find themselves falling under the spell of the play's story and their chosen roles, leading to direct commentary on the melodrama in which they are constantly embroiled, and how it echoes classic romantic works, for two seasons now. Midway through the episode, Dan pushes through another fictional wall, playing with his lover Ms. Carr the scene in the play that he'll immediately be reiterating onstage, and which in turn itself becomes a mise-en-scène feint when it's performed: an act of lovemaking being repeated back onstage as a cover for a quiet fight about the very events happening off-stage. That's like two scenes, but the whole fucking episode is like this. It's like a party for your brain.
Nate is quite perfectly perfect in this episode, funny and unrehearsed, pissy and sexy by turns, and sweet as hell. He gets wigged out by the third romantic iteration -- Cyrano de Bergerac -- being played out by Vanessa and Serena with the play's director, Julian (a serious waste of serious hotness), but eventually comes around and learns to read because he loves V so much. You know who else loves V? Serena van der Woodsen. And you know who else loves Vanessa Abrams? This guy. They took what was wrong and made it so, so right.
Meanwhile, Rachel Carr has completely lost the thread and is obsessed with taking revenge on Blair, even though if you'll remember, the whole Mrs. Robinson scandal was resolved with no ill effects for anybody at all -- and she got bonus Dan's ass out of it. (BTW, Dan Humphrey is hot as hell in this episode. Deal.) She spends the whole episode secretly sending out GG blasts and calling in anonymous tips, getting Nelly Yuki into Yale and Blair tossed out, embarrassing S, etc.
This causes Blair to attack each member of her posse, and the cast, in increasingly crazy ways, shifting the focus and intensity of her ire about twice every act. ("Do you know how hard it is to get revenge when your enemy is changing every five minutes?" she literally complains to Dorota at one point.) So Blair's going nuts over here, and attacking Dan onstage, while Nate has the wrongheaded idea that it's Vanessa, not Serena, with the crush on Julian, whose main goal of course is taking advantage of Nate's giant gorgeous gayface by parking on it.
This quadrangle love rhombus throws off a surprising amount of heat before it all comes down. Add to this the serious chemistry between Dan and Rachel, the absolute fun of seeing Nate acting unfettered and normal, Serena palling around with Vanessa, Blair's loss of her moral certitude, and the enjoyable inclusion of the other Humphries, and you're looking at one of the high points of the series, even given the lack of Chuck in the main plot and Lily/Eric in the story at all.
With Dan alienated, Blair rabid, and Nate being totally awesome, the second act of the performance falls apart massively and amazingly, scandalizing the audience and exciting the Times' Isherwood to a startling degree. Dan guilts Rachel into leaving town altogether, Julian informs Serena he's queer, Nate storms off to watch a film of Age Of Innocence, etc. Though all is forgiven with Blair -- the cast's increasing lack of patience with her antics is very much appreciated -- she's having trouble forgiving herself, because she realizes how paranoid, childish and vile she's become. It's more heartbreaking than expected to see this character, who's 99 pounds composed entirely of willpower and lipstick, questioning herself even momentarily, much less heading into the Dark Night Of The Soul she seems to have aimed herself at now.
Having lost Yale for like the third and final time -- and unaware that Chuck has jumped through his entire Sex Cult storyline in three easy steps of not being that interesting to begin with, and is now ready to settle down and be in love with her -- Blair sets her sights on downwardly spiraling, in a deliberate and blunt-force fashion that only Blair could muster. And her first step? Carter Baizen, the hobbit trustafarian/Sex Club member last seen taking Nate to a dangerous poker game... And played by Leighton "Blair" Meester's real-life boyfriend Sebastian Stan. Is your brain broken yet?
"On the Upper East Side," Gossip Girl explains as though it's not the entire point of the show, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. But once a year, Constance/St. Jude's students shed their usual roles and take on new ones for the senior class play. This year's pick? The Age Of Innocence." Nate and Dan are being silly backstage, gadding about while everybody gets dressed. Nate complains that it's a senior requirement and Nate laughs in this hilarious mincing way -- and Dan giggles approvingly -- about how Chuck got himself diagnosed with acute stage fright to get out of it, but should have gone with mercury poisoning.
I miss the sexy little place Jeremy Piven's brain used to be, before it shit the bed. I don't even know if I can watch Cupid because I loved the old one so much. Man, all I watched on TV that year was Cupid and LA Doctors, and nobody remembers either of them. Now, my favorite shows are this one and Battlestar Galactica. I think the UN could learn a lot from Blair Waldorf, don't you?
In case you have been watching some other show, this week has decided to get real on your ass in the most awesome way. The show's always worn its literary references pretty high on the bodice, but this week is like, "LOOK MOTHERFUCKERS." You have the whole thing in the recaplet about the book Age Of Innocence and the movie and the play all informing each other, and then our kids playing themselves as characters from the play onstage and off, and the fact that they're all playing characters anyway because that's what you call high school, and then on top of it you have the characters playing out parts of the play and casting and recasting each other in scenes from the play, and it's like this... literary teabagging.
But not content to just come out and say, "This is how the show has always been, here's your decoder ring and maybe next time you can play along without having it explained to you in bright colors and unsubtle references and actually engage in your entertainment so that it doesn't rot your fucking brains," the episode also adds a whole other set of references -- to Chekhov's The Seagull -- which are really sort of breathtaking and scary. So you get the over-the-top demonstration of the idea of the show, and the other metafictional references to the way the characters on the show are referenced outside it (Nate can't act, Vanessa is annoying, Serena is retarded, Blair is an alien visitor from Planet Scary), but you also get the part that I like best: the sad, ugly bits of the characters being exposed through entirely other references.