There was a time when I considered myself a “Gossip Girl” fan. I read the books, I was excited about the potential movie, and even more excited about the TV series. I loved Serena and Blair from the books. I was obsessed with Dan and Nate. I thought the series was brilliantly cast and I was thrilled to hear that Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage were at the wheel. I loved this show before this show even started.
When “Gossip Girl” launched on The CW, I found it odd that so much press surrounding it focused on the “Who is Gossip Girl?” angle.
I wasn’t a member of the press at the time; I was a college senior who watched the show while eating dinner out of a box and ruminating on whether it was going to be a vodka night or a beer night. And I couldn’t understand why the press cared who Gossip Girl was, because I really, really didn’t. The point of Gossip Girl was that she was omniscient. She was everybody. She was nobody. She was, essentially, a faceless, nameless entity that represented the general grossness of our voyeuristic, schadenfreude-driven society. She relentlessly exploited young women for the sake of entertainment. She was Perez Hilton at his filthiest, most vile moment, but so much worse, because she was bullying children, not celebrities.
She was not Dan Humphrey.
I spoke with executive producer Stephanie Savage and showrunner Sara Goodman at the beginning of this final season. The CW’s promos promised to reveal the identity of Gossip Girl, and I was curious to know whether the writers had employed a plan for Gossip Girl’s identity from the beginning of the series. “We’ve always had ideas,” Savage said. “I think how far we were going to go with those ideas, how much we were going to make her into a character kind of shifted from season to season.”
In other words, they didn’t begin the series with the concrete plan that Dan would one day be revealed to be Gossip Girl. This is painfully obvious, at this point, to any long-time fan — there are just too many moments where Dan could not or would not have blogged what Gossip Girl blogged. But the logistics aren’t necessarily the real problem with this reveal. If it had made sense for Dan as a character, and for the people around him, we’d have forgiven the occasional “he couldn’t have been blogging then, because he was standing in the church at Blair’s wedding” moment.
Season 6 has been wildly destructive to Dan’s character. Last year, he was one of my favorites, but coming into this season he was just awful. Sleeping with Serena in a misguided effort to hurt Blair, conspiring with Georgina, throwing his friends and family to the wolves for the sake of his writing. If this season of “Gossip Girl” was the only one I’d ever seen, I would have believed Dan capable of all the terrible things Gossip Girl did.
But I watched this show from the beginning, and I can’t reconcile the person Dan was in Season 1 with a guy who would violate the private details of his little sister’s sex life in order to “write himself in” to the Upper East Side. (Yeah, the writers tried to ret-con in the idea that Jenny knew all along, but I’m not buying it. No young girl ruins her own life so she can have the “strength” to escape it. That wasn’t Jenny Humphrey.)
Here’s how it’s explained, in Dan’s own words, in the finale:
“The Upper East Side was like something from Fitzgerald or Thackeray – teenagers acting like adults, adults acting like teenagers, guarding secrets, spreading gossip all with the trappings of truly opulent wealth. And membership into this community was so elite you couldn’t even buy your way in. It was a birthright – a birthright that I didn’t have. And my greatest achievements would never earn it.
“All I had to compare it to was what I read in books. But that gave me the idea: I wasn’t born into this world … maybe I could write myself into it. I overheard enough conversations to mimic the voice of the Constance girls, but every writer needs his muse and it wasn’t until that photo of Serena in the white dress that I knew I had something strong enough to actually create a legend and launch a website.
“Within weeks I was getting dozens of emails with stories about Upper East Siders, so I posted them anonymously. And then I got more. Before long it was a monster. Everyone was sending tips … When Serena came back from boarding school, I wrote my first post about me, Lonely Boy, the outsider, the underdog. I might have been a joke but at least people were talking about me.”
He tries to romanticize it, to compare himself to the great masters of literature, some kind of Truman Capote with a WordPress account. But he wasn’t an artist, a “legend,” or an observer of the human condition. Dan-as-Gossip-Girl was a horrible person. He slut-shamed every girl on the Upper East Side, revealed intimate personal information about his own relationships, profited as his friends’ families crumbled under the weight of corruption that he revealed. In deciding (on a random whim, it seems) that Dan was the blogger, the writers retroactively destroyed every good, healthy moment he ever shared with anyone in his life.
It wasn’t only Dan’s character that was destroyed by the reveal, though. I understand that for the sake of shock value, the writers wanted to pull the veil off of Gossip Girl in the series finale. But in doing so, they created a problem for themselves as storytellers. Dan had to reveal himself to his “friends,” and in order for the story not to end with the entire clique in shambles, all of those friends then had to… forgive him.
So now, Serena finds out that one of the people she’s closest to in life — a person who has been a lover, a family member, and a friend to her — betrayed her on a consistent, systematic, calculated basis throughout her weakest moments. And she immediately forgives him, because it all turned out okay. “What he did was write a love letter,” she says. No, Serena, what he did was tell the world you had an STD. What he did was make it abundantly clear that you are still the same weak-willed, easily-influenced child who returned to New York City with her tail between her legs five years ago.
Chuck then had to shrug off the revelation that his wife’s ex-boyfriend had betrayed her on countless occasions, used her weaknesses against her, and tried to tear her away from her best friends. Sorry, but you can’t tell me that Mr. I’m Chuck Bass is the kind of guy who lets someone get away with that without any kind of reaction. Not even a “get out”? Please. He’s supposed to love Blair?
It even made Rufus look like more of a simpering doormat than he already was. He finds out his two children conspired to cyber-bully everyone they knew and trample on everyone who ever trusted them, and his response is little more than a shrug and a sigh?
Blair was the only one who didn’t quite let Dan off the hook, but since she already had an enormous amount of disdain for him, that was to be expected. She didn’t like him, as she told Serena, because he wasn’t “one of them” — finding out he was also a total jerk all along was probably just the icing on the cake, as opposed to a deep, emotional betrayal by someone she had, at one point, cared about and trusted.
None of these characters have grown. None of them have gotten better. None of them are any stronger than their parents were, none of them have risen above, none of them have learned. None of them are particularly likable.
When “Gossip Girl” began, it was great. The hour-long retrospective that The CW aired before the finale served as an excellent reminder that five years ago, the show was addictive and fun. While over-the-top and decadent, the characters still felt real. They had the potential for growth and hope and love; they had the potential to grow up to be better people than their parents were. And then that fell apart.
Revealing Gossip Girl’s identity in the finale was the equivalent of pulling out that last block in a game of Jenga. The block that you didn’t realize was holding the entire structure together. The block that makes everything come crashing down. Because now, even those halcyon Season 1 days have been sullied — we can’t go back and watch those DVDs and enjoy them the way we once could. We’ll not only be picking out plot holes, but we’ll also be aware that Dan is the villain. Not a writer. Not a keen observer. Not a kid who wants to be accepted. He was a villain. And that stinks, because I really liked him back then.
“Gossip Girl” as a whole would have been a more successful series if they’d declined to show their hand. We already understood that every character (except Nate, apparently) was sending in tips and photos. Did we really need to know whose finger was clicking the “publish” button?
Perhaps if the plan had been in play from the beginning, and if Penn Badgley had been in on the joke, this could have worked. The reveal could’ve felt like the end of “The Sixth Sense,” where you find out Bruce Willis has been dead all along and you immediately want to start from the beginning and watch to see what you missed. Instead, it had the opposite effect. I don’t want to go back to the beginning, ever. It’ll only reveal what the writers and the actors missed.
I should say that there were things that were fun to watch about the series finale. I loved the returning characters; the brief visits from Vanessa, Juliet, and Agnes were really fun. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Hilary Duff nod was great, and Kristen Bell’s cameo was just tongue-in-cheek enough to be charming and delightful without being too self-congratulatory. I loved Chuck and Blair’s son Henry, who could not have been more perfectly cast, and the idea that Dorota now has a new generation of Waldorf crazy to deal with. I liked the possibility that Georgina and Jack ended up together. I loved that Taylor Momsen and Connor Paolo collected a paycheck for doing basically nothing.
I just didn’t like anything that had anything to do with the main characters I grew somewhat invested in over the course of five years. In fact, while I’m ranting, here are three other things that bothered me:
1. Chuck and Blair’s proposal was the least romantic thing I could possibly imagine. The fact that it was the suggestion of the vile Jack Bass was immensely offensive, given his involvement in the most disgusting moment in “Gossip Girl” history. Besides — it was pointless. Chuck didn’t kill his father, we all know he didn’t kill his father, and she wouldn’t have testified that he did kill his father. It was just a sad excuse for Blair to have to literally beg Chuck to marry her to save himself. Can’t something nice happen in Blair’s romantic life without her having to desperately clamor for it?
2. Lisa Loeb. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really care about Rufus and Lily’s love life, ever. But having Lily end up with the man who abandoned her kids and gave her fake cancer was annoying, because she didn’t grow at all. She’s just an adult woman who will be with any man who wants her, and it’s sad. And Rufus ending up with Lisa Loeb could have been cute in another scene, but it was actually distracting. It just felt like there was an outsider sitting in on a private family moment. We didn’t really need resolution in these characters’ love lives.
3. Serena and Blair had no moment. When I spoke with Savage early in the
season, she said that their friendship was the cornerstone of the show,
and would be treated as such in the final season — but I’m not really
seeing that. Their one scene alone together in the entire finale was
used to give Blair the chance to rant about Dan being from Brooklyn. I
thought I was watching Season 1. For me, the show started off being
about these two girls, and it should have ended being about these two
girls. Not about pairing everyone off.
At least Nate came out of this unscathed. Unfortunately, we all stopped caring about Nate years ago.