Three weeks after its last big celebrity cameo and two weeks after a barely scandalous same-sex kiss, the latest episode of Gossip Girl dove into November sweeps by engaging in some meta-plotting and centering its A-story around political intrigue involving William "Trip" Van Der Bilt III's run for congress. Hey, wha' happened?
Wha' happened is Gossip Girl spent the first episode of a sweeps month—one of those magical, quarterly periods where the networks traditionally (and transparently) woo additional Nielsen households with ramped-up programming, a period that has previously brought us Blair Waldorf the burlesque dancer and Wallace Shawn's sorely missed Cyrus Rose—on a bold gamble to prove that it can be a serious drama for serious adults. Did it pay off? No, not really, but that's because it surrounded the off-tone story of Trip's big election day (and the video that could undo all his and Nate's hard work) with on-tone Gossip Girl plots like the potentially permanent dissolution of Serena and Blair's friendship and Olivia's attempt to hide some embarrassing interview footage from Dan. Nonetheless, that little "+" up there? That's for trying.
"The Grandfather: Part II" spent most of its time in the world of the Van Der Bilt's, a world as privileged as any in the Gossip Girl universe, but one where there's much more to be gained in the trade of secrets and lies. Tonight, Trip stood to gain a congressional seat, his first step toward being enshrined in the family's Hall Of Political Figures. It's something he, his cousin Nate, and their grandfather William have all put tremendous stakes—and a majority of their screen time this season—in. With Trip trailing in the polls on election day, Nate and Grandpa V found themselves struggling with a way to shore up support for Trip. Nate didn't want to go dirty; grandpa remained mum on the subject, but the look in his eye all but said "I don't care if it loses me your respect, I'm going to win this for Trip at any cost." So it seemed incredibly fishy when Nate, Trip, and Vanessa—filming a documentary on the Van Der Bilt campaign because, duh, she's Vanessa—happened upon a guy drowning in the Hudson River. Trip and Nate dove in to save the guy, Vanessa caught in on film, and with Trip's "young, non-philandering Kennedy" charisma thusly compounded by the dumb-luck heroics of a Dennis Duffy-type, he began a surge toward election no Buckley-born mudslinging could slow. That is, until Vanessa, while editing her footage of the rescue, stumbled upon the Lucas Gusher of Gossip Girl secrets (and the most unintentionally hilarious image of the season): Drowning Guy, ever so gingerly, entered the river of his own volition. As it should be on a compelling television program, her next move wasn't entirely clear: In exposing the hoax by passing the footage onto the local news, she risked severing her ties to Nate and his family. In keeping things under wraps, she risked implicating herself in a coverup, which would all but ensure awkward dinner conversation the next time she goes home to visit Arlo and Gabriella.
Presumably like the political thriller on which Robert Pattinson stand-in/Serena's fake boyfriend Patrick Roberts (See what they did there?) was supposedly hinging his career, "The Grandfather: Part II" hung on Vanessa's decision—as well as Nate's decision to kill the story, then accuse his grandfather of meddling, then take the bullet before Trip could withdraw from the congressional race. Unfortunately, there was such a great disparity between the weight of those decisions and the evening's other loyalty-based choices—Serena regrets picking her job over Blair, Olivia regrets making entertaining chit-chat with Jimmy Fallon rather than protecting Dan's feelings—that the journey into Woodward and Bernstein territory felt outlandish. And it wasn't a good outlandish, like Blair's accidentally befriending a woman who, to paraphrase Jay-Z, carries her work across the state for a gentlemen. Of course, Blair was just using Brandeis (Brandyce? Brandice? Whatever way you spell it, how could you not tell she was a call girl?) to make Serena jealous—a favor Brand-Dice returned by ditching Blair at Trip's election party in order to add some names to her client list.
Befitting its Godfather-riffing title, "The Grandfather: Part II" showed most of its characters with their strings exposed and manipulated by other characters. In its final moments, it was revealed that the drowning hoax was set into motion not by Nate, Trip, their grandfather, or the Buckleys (which was my guess), but by Trip's wife, who used it as a ploy to fully discredit William and eliminate his influence over Trip's time in office. Despite being an less-than-successful venture into a realm more serious then the show can handle, the episode did manage to hit one note of a decent political thriller: Just when you think you're in control, you find out there's another person above you who's actually calling the shots.
-This week, on "One Minute Hill": Retired professional wrestler Luke "Lantern" Jaw and his 22-year-old second wife Randi consider vacation spots. They settle on Tree Hill, a world-famous hill named for the tree that tops it. Cheryl and stalker/barista Todd have moved on to a new point in their relationship—sitting in close proximity to one another. Meanwhile, Jill and Corree hate on Tara (that might not have been the name they mentioned, but I made up Tara last time, so I running with it), not shown here as it's a full moon, and she must hunt—for blood.
-Abbreviated thoughts on last week's episode, "How To Succeed In Bassness": After treating Eric and Jonathan like that, Jenny deserves to come down with whatever cold she was fighting this week. And it was really hard to hate Rufus in his Ramones getup.
-If Serena's hemlines continue to creep toward her necklines, she's going to be wearing nothing but one-button vests by the end of the season.
-"The Grandfather: Part II" marks Jimmy Fallon's second prime-time cameo in under a week. Is his version of Late Night hurting that badly for ratings?
-Preemptive "yikes": the Debbie Harry-like flow of Leighton Meester's single "Somebody To Love" crops up in next week's episode. In other music-related Meester news, I haven't mustered the ability to make it all the way through this video of her performing with Weezer on Halloween. The vapidity of her icy electro pop is a good match for Weezer's recent output, though.
-"This coming from someone who just pushed their best friend into a cake."-Chuck, in response to Serena's Blair-directed accusations of childishness.
-Make your pick on who's going to end up in next week's ratings-baiting threesome (I'm going with Dan, Olivia, and Vanessa) in the comments.