My age-inappropriate love affair with episodic teenage melodrama goes back to, I believe, Dawson’s Creek. True, when those plucky Capesiders were first talking themselves into a frenzy of polysyllabic introspection, I was not long out of high school myself, but out of it nonetheless. Other similarly set shows of the time, like Buffy and Roswell and later, the early years of Smallville, I watched because they were set in high school and were science fiction (two of my greatest loves), but among the more mundane entries into this distinctive oeuvre, it took the impossibly beautiful aristobrats of Gossip Girl to really send me over the edge into Twi-Mom-style obsession with the doings of perplexingly popular young girls and the peculiar boys who love them.
Indeed, for much of the first season, I couldn’t abide a single character in the show—though I found one of the dads, Rufus (Matthew Settle), pretty hot. Still, not an instant of these so-called teenage interactions was believable, not a one of their motivations could be considered at all sympathetic, and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why the friend who introduced me to this privileged world insisted so strongly that I watch these entitled, mean-spirited rascals in all their designer-clad viciousness.
But then came Chuck and Blair.
Chuck (Ed Westwick), then not yet seventeen, already had a reputation as a womanizer; heir to a forbidding billionaire, he was an avowed playboy and connoisseur of every possible vice. His best-friend had previously dated Blair (Leighton Meester) and broken her heart; although, given her ruthless, often vindictive, scheming it was sometimes difficult to believe she had one. These two utterly irredeemable souls were somehow redeemed in my eyes through their depths of emotion for each other; but as Chuck and Blair’s twisted, co-dependent love story played itself out, as Chuck finally came to confess his love of Blair but then betray her (a lot), and it all came unraveling about them over the subsequent couple of seasons, I felt myself drifting away from the show. I still watched, but dispassionately; the thrill was gone. Nate (Chace Crawford) was a perfect young Adonis but otherwise not good for much; Serena (Blake Lively) remained gorgeous but annoyingly limpid; the characterization of Vanessa (Jessica Szor) was slipshod at best; Eric (Connor Paolo) was woefully underused; and I missed train wreck Jenny Humphrey (Taylor Momsen) almost every episode since her Season 3 departure.
But then my Gossip Girl devotion got a shot in the arm from a most unlikely source. My main reason for tuning in lately—as I will, breathlessly, when GG returns from a far too long hiatus tonight, April 18th—is the out-of-almost-nowhere screwball comedy-esque romance of elitist Blair Waldorf and liberal Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley), which has been delighting me no end for... wait, has it really only been seven episodes?
I say out-of-almost-nowhere for two reasons. One is that pretty much every regular on this show has hooked up with every other at least once—except for Eric (gay), Dan and Jenny (brother and sister) and Chuck and Serena (step-brother and sister… although Dan and Serena are also step-related and they’ve been “in love” at least a dozen times)—so, really, it was pretty much just Blair and Dan’s turn.
But the second reason I have come to realize this little plot twist was all but inevitable? Blair and Dan have vociferously, artistically and determinedly hated each other for over three seasons, so of course they had to find their way to romance sooner or later. It’s all very Darcy and Elizabeth, but with less ballroom dancing. (Although, actually, not that much less; these New York kids love themselves a ball!)
Dan on Blair: “Blair Waldorf… is basically everything I hate about the Upper East Side distilled into one 95-pound, doe-eyed, bon mot-tossing, label-whoring package of girly evil.” — “Bad News Blair” (01.04)
Blair on Dan: “The only thing lamer than dating Dan Humphrey is mourning Dan Humphrey.” — “Summer, Kind of Wonderful” (02.01)
Yes, in the great tradition of Moonlighting’s David and Maddie, The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully and the aforementioned Dawson’s Creek’s stand-out bickering couple, Pacey and Joey, Dan and Blair appear to be making the transition from enemies to soul mates, and man, I am loving it. There is just so much history here that should be keeping my new favorite It Couple apart, but somehow...isn’t. Not quite, anyway.
For a start, Blair’s BFF Serena and Dan have been an on-off thing so mercurial it makes Ridge and Taylor look like steadfast Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver. Dan is also childhood friends with Vanessa, whom Blair hates unreservedly; she also hates Dan’s sister, Jenny, with such a fiery passion the younger Humphrey is not permitted to enter Manhattan, much to Dan’s displeasure. The two of them have embarrassed, manipulated, insulted and otherwise been so vile to each other (Blair more than Dan, it must be said) over the years that one would have thought it impossible to bridge that gap.
Apparently not. The writers of Gossip Girl have done it in, as far as I can tell, just over a quarter-season. That is impressive work.
My UST detector kicked in belatedly here, with a possible hookup between these two first occurring to me only during a fraught road trip conducted to try and free Serena from a psych ward due to a drug overdose (long story), at the midpoint of this current fourth season.
BLAIR: Is the pedal to the metal? Because I swear if I shove my feet through the floor I could run faster. At least there's no radio so I'm spared your horrid taste in music. I think we were supposed to turn there. DAN: You know, I'd tell you to stop being such a back seat driver but how can you be one when you don't even know how to drive? — “The Townie” (04.11)
Blair has long held Dan’s lack of proper social pedigree in contempt; she has called him “Humphrey” with awful disdain, and said that she would prefer not to go near him “without a tetanus shot.” But in this episode, she used his first name, she sat comfortably at his side, relied on him for support and ideas, and at the end of it all, not only does it transpire that the two of them will be the only ones of their circle remaining in New York during their forthcoming vacation, but both have plans to see a somewhat obscure classic film playing at an art house theater.
BLAIR: What are you still doing here? Shouldn't you be off living your dream? Days on end in a real car with Serena? DAN: No. I'm staying here. So actually I'll be living out my nightmare. Trapped in the city with only Blair Waldorf to talk to.
That was the clincher for me—when I finally realized this might actually be happening. “Blair and…Dan?” I wondered, in wild surmise. Hmmm…
“Blair and Dan?” turned to “Blair and Dan!” only one episode later, when Gossip Girl came back from hiatus (yeah, GG, like all CW shows, takes an inordinate number of breaks; it’s like Congress over there) and we were cleverly teased with the mystery of just what these two had been up to. Somewhat disappointingly, it transpired they’d merely been to the movies together a few times, but it was clear there was more to this story, and as they competed over a magazine internship, consoled each other on setbacks, and worked together to finesse various disasters, their burgeoning friendship still a secret from everyone they know, it was clear that it was all leading up to one glorious cliffhanger to see us off to yet another CW-mandated hiatus. Is there something more than friendship between them? And how can they tell?
DAN: Just one kiss. And then we can know without a doubt. BLAIR: I suppose that would work. One kiss. That's that. DAN: One kiss and that's that. So? BLAIR: So. [A pause, as Dan seems unable to put his words into action…] BLAIR: Oh, for crying out loud, Humphrey!
She grabs him by the lapels, brings him in for their “one kiss,” and with Chuck and Serena both on their way over, our unseen, strangely omnipotent narrator whispers coyly “XOXO, Gossip Girl.”
No, Gossip Girl. Save your XOXOs for Dan and Blair, as they take yet another step along their rocky road to romance—an old trope that goes back at least as far as The Taming of the Shrew, and no doubt much farther than even that. (Of course, they’d probably insist on calling the old trope “vintage” on the Upper East Side.)
And what will that fleetingly glimpsed kiss bring our bickering potential lovers, come tonight? Desire? Disgust? Either could work in this context, and neither would surprise me in the least.
The only thing that is really surprising right now is just how much I, a woman in my thirties, have had to say on this topic. Age-inappropriate doesn’t even begin to describe it, but that’s all right. The characters may be young, but the appeal of this particular kind of courtship is truly ageless.
Rachel Hyland is the Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.