After a lacklustre season last year, Gossip Girl has once again hit its stride. It is no longer the fashionable high school drama it once was. After a season three where it attempted and failed to focus around the politics of university classes and cliques with much success, Stephanie Savage has finally realized what the show should be now that prep school is over - Gossip Girl today is a comedy of manners about young socialites and their exploits. Sure, some happen to go to university, but that's incidental, as it should be. University is not the type of place, in my experience, where cliques matter nearly as much as in high school, but New York high society seems like prep school on crack. This is great fodder for a great comedy of manners.
What's more, this year the show is doing some valuable social commentary about how class and cliques intersect. For example, Juliet and Vanessa both realize that when it's their word against Blair or Serena's, all the upper-class boys will always stick with their upper-class female counterparts. Our middle-class characters can't win for trying!
It's not just social status and friendships that are at steak, however. Ben Donavan, Juliet's brother, goes to jail because Lily couldn't get her daughter into a Manhattan prep school without finding a way to blackmail her boarding school into doctoring her record. Rather than keep her daughter at said perfectly decent boarding school or sending her to a less prestigeous Manhattan school, Lily, based on idle gossip, accuses her daughter's teacher of statutory rape (which he did not commit) and sends him to jail for 5 years - all behind Serena's back. Ben knows he can't fight it because Serena's family is so powerful, and so he doesn't. Here, innocence can't compete against class privilege, and Ben, who is a university educated teacher, isn't even that poor! In Gossip Girl, we see a world where middle-class people have good reason to live in fear, because any rich person could take them down at any moment just to get their loser daughter into a slightly better prep school...Lily Van Der Woodsen is the ultimate mean girl, because EVERYONE without a doorman is a means to an end for her - even when the end really doesn't nearly justify the means.
Not only is the show a powerful commentary on the class system, but it's also maintained its feminist relevance. This week, we had a very compelling storyline when Nate's mother decided to divorce her husband after years of "standing by her man." All set to take him back, Mrs. Archibald realizes that taking back an ex-con, ex-druggie husband who has even hit her son on occasion comes with a high cost. In addition to the fact that the Captain could easily relapse as a druggie or a criminal, putting her through more emotional hell, none of her friends want to be around him, and so by extension, they will no longer want to be around HER when he's released from prison.
When Mrs. Archibald sees her son at Lily's party (which she was not initially invited to when it looked as if she would not file for divorce), she tells her son that she "needs all this" more than her husband. One might think that this is a shallow and materialistic viewpoint. But I don't think she meant she simply needed parties with good champagne and famous people. What Mrs. Archibald doesn't want to risk are her friends, her charities (which are her life's work), and her family who disowned her the last time her husband went to jail. All that is a heavy price to pay to take back a dude who wasn't very nice to her when they were married. Maybe he's changed, but is the possibility that it MIGHT work out this time worth risking everything else in her life?
Mrs. Archibald, as a strong women perhaps should, chose not to sacrifice her friends, work and family for one guy with a history of being a bad husband. It's a very valid choice, and I'm glad she made it. These kind of plotlines make me love the show all the more!