In the early moments of this week’s Gossip Girl premiere, the image of our Serena van der Woodsen on a train, seemingly battered by a lifetime of pampering and poor decision making, bleeding from her nose like her cocaine had been laced with shards of glass, highlights mortality as a theme in this farewell run of the series that has put the Upper East Side and its scandalous denizens on the map (of everyone who hadn’t previously owned a map.) Our sweetheart has apparently fallen victim to a Princess Diana amount of spotlight, extensively narrated, if not prompted, these past five seasons by the titular voice-over blogger. But these are the first minutes of the first episode of the final season of Gossip Girl, a show as much a vehicle for Blake Lively’s youthful leggy blonde-ness as Gossip Girl is an implicit euphemism for Serena and the girls in our world like Serena, those that solicit and inspire gossip through glamour and celebrity. And smart viewers know that Serena isn’t going anywhere. However, the series does make an effort to go somewhere. Towards a hopefully satisfying close.
As I’ve discussed before, no one actually likes Gossip Girl. Even self-proclaimed fans must also proclaim just how disgruntled they’ve grown over the years and how disenchanted the series’ reluctance to even feign character development or growth has left them. The end of season five felt very much like a culmination of dead horse beatings. Serena once again outed herself as plainly everything bad about the trope she represents — the self-centered, self-destructive, socialite seeking attention — when she discarded both her relationship with Blair and Dan to pull a final ‘Hey, look at me. I’m someone. Love me.’ Coupled with the return of father Bass, because apparently we were all secretly pining for that, and Blair and Chuck reinstating their relationship, or something like that, the series had hit the reset button in various ways. The question remained, however, if the refresh would do us any good or would we find ourselves somewhere uncomfortably similar to where we’d come from when the show started. The van der Woodsen women are manipulative and oblivious. The Humphreys are sulking over heartache. Chuck has full-fledged daddy issues on display. Blair follows him blindly into calamity. Nate is ineffectual. The core of the show remains unchanged.
Season six begins with a reminder of how that may be in fact what we needed. A look back to the earlier seasons. Where’s Serena? proves to be a potently reductive, stripped down way of revisiting classic Gossip Girl. Reluctant alliances. Arbitrary competition. Horribly poor parenting on Lily’s part. All classic staples of the best GG storytelling. The group is back in full form and Dan, for all his faults, is apparently best utilized as the dark horse, the outsider, “Lonely Boy.” He reinforces the core group better than he plays nice amongst them and while his sulking may frustrate some, it establishes the UES as a place incomparable to the rest of the world, especially Brooklyn. While things may happen to Dan like breakups or disappointment, the Upper East Siders are apparently events in and of themselves that can resurrect from the dead as Vassar alums named Sabrina or crash civil union ceremonies and turn them into interventions. Dan is the straight man to this road act. With his self-righteousness and brooding in moderation, and everyone else willing to let go of the silly notion that they’re reasonable, responsible adults (Marriages? Pregnancies? Careers!? How gauche!?), we’re back on track. These are rich, spoiled, outlandish characters and these are their stories.
It’s even clear that relegating Ivy to hijinks with Rufus is a healthy decision consistent with Gossip Girl procedure for deviant characters. It’s not unlike sending problematic characters like Eric (or actresses like Taylor Momsen) to boarding school in London or Spain like Vanessa. And Ivy does well in the premiere to basically stay out of the way and plant seeds that can bloom within the next nine episodes (wow, it’s really almost over) without derailing anything important longtime fans would expect from a final outing with the gang that may never have fully matured out of their Constance Billard-St. Judes uniforms. It seems only right then that the final season start off feeling like they’ve almost put them back on.