In ancient cultures, the wolf stands for many things: hostility, aggression, and ferocity, to be sure. But also loyalty. Fidelity. Family. The wolf may hunt alone, but it always returns to its pack, and will do anything to protect them. In the beginning of last night’s episode of Gossip Girl, the pack was scattered. Serena was off on Long Island, “acting like a teenage Rielle Hunter” with her married quarry Trip van der Bilt, who seemed remarkably un-busy for a newly elected congressman. Back at NYU, Nate and Dan were together but alone, each tormented by thoughts of the other’s ex-girlfriend. And the anniversary of his father’s death drove the recently domesticated Chuck Bass, the show’s original lone wolf, back to his old wild, snarling self. Thankfully, just as he was on the brink of climbing atop the nearest homeless shelter and unleashing a righteous howl, the pack managed to call him back.
Faker Than a Writers’ Retreat With a Hot Tub
• We open on a dark night. Tinny radio music plays as a car weaves down a rain-wet street, slick with autumn leaves. Inside, a couple sits in a car full of unhappiness. She stares out the window, then fiddles with the radio dial. He looks at her. “I love you,” he says. “It’s too late,” she says, pouting. “Everything is ruined.” We feel transported, as though we’re watching a scene from Mad Men or reading a Hemingway short story instead of watching a cheesy teen drama. Except, wait: Suddenly there are three stupid-looking wolves in the middle of the road, which the driver has failed inexplicably to notice, having looked away from the wheel for approximately two seconds. As the car that we now see is an SUV careens toward the side rail, the screen fills with misty purple-and-pink lighting effects similar to those used in the video for Winger’s “She’s Only 17.” “Triiiiiiiiiiiiippppppppppp,” the woman shouts in slo-motion. Then: The car crashes, and there is silence, but for the music, coming tinnily out of the speaker. Minus 10 for extreme cheesiness, the fact that there are no wolves in Nassau County, the use of freaking echo effects and the absurdity of television car crashes in general.
• Also, Minus 5 for the fact that Serena’s big injury was a mere blotch of blood on her creamy skin.
• Blair’s houndstooth top in the first scene is about two years and a continent too late. Minus 3.
• Please, billionaires like Lily Bass don’t go to co-op meetings. Rufus would have been going since the beginning, in her place. Or, like, Eric. Or Vanya. Minus 3.
• Buildings like Lily’s don’t have shared rooftop gardens, unless they are shared by the penthouse owner and his or her houseboys. Minus 2.
• Co-op meetings are held in people’s apartments with melba toast and pâté, not over dinner at Park Avenue Autumn. But nice brand loyalty! Minus 2.
• Gossip Girl says: “Looks like the roadie to success is paved with Cruel Intentions.” What does that even mean?? Minus 1.
• Nate would not be so awesome about encouraging Dan to date his ex. Minus only 1, because against all odds, Nate is becoming our favorite character on this show. That Footloose contract must really have the writers nervous.
• Random Woman From the Building: “It’s okay. We all sacrifice our independence for love. At first it seems totally worth it, it’s just later after you’ve given everything up that you realize that you have nothing to offer. That’s when your husband starts banging his yoga teacher.” Please, that lady didn’t marry whatever multimillionaire she married for love. Minus only 2, because we suspect that this lady is going to be a raging lunatic and we can’t wait.
• Serena can’t deal with being alone without Trip, coffee, or cable, as though those are her three essentials. Please. Surely there’s a plastic handle of Bacardi in that place somewhere she can mix with some Swiss Miss. Minus 2.
• Trip: “I do care about my career, but not more than I care about Serena. I just want to be clear about that.”
Maureen: “It’s my personal opinion that Serena’s just a phase.” We highly doubt anyone would be able to deliver this understatement of the year with such a straight face, with or without that ridiculous tartan hat. Minus 1.
• Chuck wouldn’t drink scotch out of a stemless wineglass, even if he were all alone. Minus 1.
• Also, while Chuck would obviously have fantasies about his dad belittling him, it’s unlikely that he would actually start seeing visions of him — that all of a sudden, one year to the day of his death, the ghost of Bart Bass would manifest all sunburned and mystical, like he’d been hanging out with the cast of Lost this past year, and start chattering his face off so much that Chuck was forced to scream at him to “LEAVE ME ALONE” in public like an actual crazy person. Minus 5
• Serena: “I prefer Fitzgerald to Hemingway.” HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Minus 3.
• S: “Maureen, you have no right to be here.” Actually, Serena, you have no right to be there. Minus 2, because even she, a natural-born home wrecker, would know that.
• Nate would not take a stretch limo out to Long Island. That just doesn’t make traffic sense. Neither would Chuck, for that matter, even if it was only to a cemetery in Queens. (Which, while we’re at it, is not where they’d have buried Bart, is it now?) Minus 7.
• Terrible Trip would have totally moved Serena’s body at Maureen’s behest, but this is canceled out by the fact that Nate, who just a couple of episodes ago thought nothing of electoral fraud, recognizes this is a bad thing. Wash.
• Blair’s wearing a houndstooth coat, too? And mismatched houndstooth scarf? What is going ON? Minus 3.
• An Eric and Jenny truce? We don’t believe it! Gays have memories like elephants; they never forget a moist trunk or a loose tail. Minus 2.
• Maureen wouldn’t give up her trump card to Rufus. That’s just not how blackmail works. Minus only 1, because of course a Wasp wouldn’t be able to figure out what the Irish and Italians mastered long ago.
• As much as we applauded the appearance of Laura Haring as Chuck’s mother, it doesn’t make up for the sheer ridiculousness of the plotline, especially the fact that it involves a locket, which is like one step up from a yellowed diary, and caused us to experience a small post-traumatic flashback to that whole Eyes Wide Shut gentleman’s club plotline we were trying hard to forget. Minus 4.
Realer Than Moving on to “A Palate Cleanser”
• Chuck: “Today is a day like any others.” Except he’s wearing a somber black suit, not some ridiculous paisley clown outfit. Plus 2, because everyone mourns, even Chuck — though obviously he’d try to lie about it.
• Lily invents Vanya’s “Coats for Kiev” as a cover for incessantly going through her closet, and Rufus (who would obviously know) corrects her that Vanya is from Minsk, which is actually, you know, in Belarus. Plus 3.
• Wow, Rufus went from zero to the zipper cardigan really fast. He must also be on the kept-husband e-mail list, which the co-op ladies detect immediately. Plus 4.
• The outfits of the Constance mean girls whose names we refuse to remember were puzzling this episode. Each of their school uniforms was accessorized monochromatically: One was wearing all purple, one was in blue, and one was in green. We’re too old to understand, but we think this must have something to do with which sex acts they’re willing to perform. So Plus 5 for that.
• OF COURSE BARNEY FRANK INVITED TRIP TO SERVE ON THE FINANCE SUBCOMMITTEE. Single-sex water-polo games can’t be far behind. Plus 10.
• Serena, who is 18, thinks it’s okay if “everything falls apart” and she and Trip have to “start over.” Plus 2.
• Blair: “Um, this building is a homeless shelter. a) Gross and b) really? I’m not a huge advocate of the downtrodden but I am a fan of not stepping on them when I’m at John Derian. If you turn these into lofts then where are they going to live?” Great twisted logic there, B. Also, you know she had to search her mind frantically for a home-goods store south of 5th Street. Plus 3.
• Blair: “You, Chuck Bass, are not your father.”
Chuck: “I know.” Aw. No he doesn’t, but Plus 1 for sentiment.
• Of course Trip drives a Land Rover and dresses like he’s on a foxhunt when he’s “relaxing.” Plus 2.
• Also, of course Eric switched to a less pretty ‘mo ho. The pretty ones are more threatening. Plus 2.
• D: “[Paul Hoffman is] a handsome guy, he’s a sophomore, he and Vanessa have a lot in common.”
N: “He’s a douche.” Plus 3.
• Willa is SUCH an NYU actress name. Plus 1, and Plus 3 for her performance-art piece, which she describes as a cross between Karen Finley and Daryl Hannah in Legal Eagles, and Plus 4 for Nate telling Dan, “Dude, she’s a drama major. Actresses are totally crazy” and being right.
• Maureen has a kick-ass Mercedes roadster. Clearly it was Trip’s prized possession, and clearly she was driving his baby to make him antsy. Well played. Plus 3.
• Of course Chuck’s worst nightmare is being “soft.” It’s the fear of all those with strong jawlines and eyebrows. Plus 2.
• M: “It’s a time-honored political tradition. I’m Jackie, you’re Marilyn.” Oh man, who wouldn’t rather be Jackie? Serena, that’s who. Plus 2
• Bart wouldn’t tell Chuck where his mother, Evelyn, was buried. Plus 2.
• Serena. “I risked everything to be with Trip.” HA. What did she risk? Her PR job? Her reputation as a non-floozy? Her career in politics? Bless. Plus 4.
• Serena walks out of the country house with her baggage and no car in sight, just planning to “find a cab” in the middle of bumfuck Nassau County. God, she’s amazing. Plus 5.
• Trip Ted Kennedys–out on Serena? Perfect!! Plus 40, because, ah, old-money Democrats.
• We literally threw our hands in the air when Nate punched Trip. We’re not sure we have ever been in such close agreement with a response by a character on this show. Plus 5. Oh, except for maybe when Nate punched his dad. That was pretty rad, too.
• Serena appears to be wearing lipstick in the hospital, which makes sense. Lily would have glossed her right up the second she woke up. Plus 1
• Blair: “I don’t think you ran away because you couldn’t handle death. I think it was because you couldn’t handle feelings.” Plus 2, because only in this world is that statement a compliment.
• We can’t get enough of Maureen’s ridiculous swirly tartan hat. It’s the perfect accent to the evilness of her character, like a preppy, uptight suburban version of Cruella Deville’s coat made of puppies. Plus 5.
• We weren’t buying Vanessa’s apparent obliviousness to the fact that Dan was in love with her, after the threesome and the Snow White kiss and the introduction of his New Face in the last episode. But last night we realized, she did know, she was just pretending not to, because it was awkward or because she doesn’t trust him and thinks he’ll break her heart like last time or maybe because he was frankly disappointing at the sex. In any case, this clearly isn’t over yet. Plus 2.
• No points, but great teasers of the Jenny, Chuck, and Rufus future plotlines.
Despite the obvious cinematography flaws, the Chappaquiddick scenario pushed this week’s episode straight into the black.
Related: Aaron Tveit: Playing a Gossip Girl Adulterer Is All in the Suit [Vulture]
Jennifer Sankowski at TV Guide thought the Vanessa and Dan plotline seemed rushed, like it was stuck in there just to have their characters be part of the episode.
EW’s Tim Stack thought the hospital scene with Blair and Chuck was the most serious and emotional scene the series has done yet, but doesn’t buy the story that something is going on between Lily and Papa Van Der Woodsen. Also, he’d like Serena to put on a Snuggie.