Last week, when outlining how the pilot episode set up each of our main characters, I summarized Chuck as being "a complete asshole." I didn't get into it because I wanted to just chat about the start of the series, but I don't think we can go further into "Gossip Girl" without discussing The Chuck Bass Problem. (Please note a CW: sexual assault for this issue.)
Right off the bat, in the very first episode of the series, Chuck sexually assaults two out of the main three female characters: First Serena in the Palace's kitchen, then Jenny on the roof of the Kiss on the Lips party. That's...really bad! And in case there was any ambiguity, in episode two, "The Wild Brunch," we get a number of lines backing up the concept that Chuck is, as I said, a complete asshole. When sending Blair up to his suite to have sex with Nate, he tells her he's "honored to be playing even a small role in [her] deflowering." (Gross, but nice foreshadowing!) Late in the episode, he taunts Dan by implying he has "unfinished business" with Jenny, and when Dan gets in his face, he replies, "Poor Daniel, so little time, so many sluts to defend." Yikes. But the worst, of course, is when Blair tells Jenny that Chuck isn't talking about her yet because, "Chuck likes to brag about his conquests, not his victims."
Of course, I do want to acknowledge that this was filmed in 2007, a solid decade before the #MeToo movement changed much about how the entertainment world operated (on a surface level, at least, I certainly wouldn't claim that it ended abuse overnight or even at all in many cases); up through at least the mid-teens, it was not only acceptable but popular to use sexual assault as a plot device to advance character development with no real responsible follow-through or repercussions. (Looking at you, "Game of Thrones"!) [And speaking of #MeToo, this is all further complicated by the fact that actor Ed Westwick would go on to be accused of sexual assault by three different women in 2017; Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office ultimately did not file charges, citing "insufficient evidence."]
Watching this show as it aired, the impression I had of Chuck was, "Ugh, this guy is kind of a creep," and not "Holy shit, this guy is straight up a sexual predator!" I think that context does matter here, because I don't think you could get away with redeeming Chuck's character after this today when you absolutely could back in 2007.
And the show very much does set about attempting to redeem Chuck not long after this. It's pretty clear that at the beginning, Chuck was intended to be a more or less straightforward villain, the absolute worst of what an entitled rich kid in Manhattan could be. He goes to bed with his father's employees, pushes himself on girls who explicitly tell him no, makes classist cracks about those not in his social sphere, refuses to take his education even remotely seriously and generally just takes anything he feels his inherited wealth entitles him to have with no sense of gratitude or humility. In other words: A complete asshole!
What I think the writers did not anticipate at the very beginning was the level of chemistry between Ed Westwick, who plays Chuck, and Leighton Meester, who plays Blair. Whenever the two are on screen together, they crackle. They make evil plotting seem fun; it's a very "Cruel Intentions" dynamic at the beginning — minus that whole stepsibling thing — with two people who seemingly get off on causing social destruction and who mutually admire each other's ability to behave in reprehensible ways.
By season two, though, Chuck and Blair's will-they-won't-they dynamic becomes the central heartbeat of the show and the pair were fan favorites. "Gossip Girl" is tasked with making up for Season One Chuck; in "Seder Anything," he apologizes to Jenny and promises her he'll clear out if the Humphreys ever moved in, and in "You've Got Yale!" he stops his Uncle Jack from sexually assaulting Lily. (Again with the sexual assault plot lines.) In season four, Chuck apologizes to Rufus for the way he has treated Jenny and Lily vouches that he's a changed man.
The problem is that the show makes it so hard to root for Chuck even beyond the first season. He trades Blair to his uncle for a hotel in season three, which is so gross, and when they break up, he ends up taking Jenny's virginity in the season finale. In season four, he reacts to Blair's engagement by telling her that she belongs to him and putting his fist through a window pane. In many ways, I find that last one to be much more disturbing than the sexual assault, because it implies a very sinister underbelly to his feelings for Blair and veers into an abusive territory that the show never really resolves.
Ultimately, I land where the show tells me to, which is to say that I believe that it is possible for Chuck Bass to become a better person and I do believe Chuck and Blair are endgame for each other. Lazy plot devices used to establish his "dark side" aside, I think the writers are successful in making him one of the more complex and interesting characters on the show; I root for Chuck, as hard as "Gossip Girl" makes it sometimes, because overall I think the work they put in to making him more likable and human pays off.
But I definitely don't begrudge anyone who feels differently! If I were coming to GG in 2021, it's entirely possible I'd desperately wish for Chuck to fall down a very long well so we could be done with him entirely. Spoiler alert: He won't.
Dan: “She probably won’t be there long, right?”
Dexter: “Once she went out and didn’t come back for six months, but feel free to sit.”
Dan: “It’s nice to see you again Mrs. van der Woodsen, I hope you’ve had a pleasant, uh, 21 hours, since I last saw you.”
Lily: “Yes, it has been very pleasant. Until now.”
Blair: “I must’ve totally blanked on the part where I invited you over.”
Lily: “Just coffee, I’m not staying long, I’d like to get out of here before someone throws me down and tattoos me.”
Rufus: “This is Brooklyn, Lil, not the Warped Tour. And don’t tell me you had all your tattoos removed — even that one, that little heart shaped one between your-”
Lily: “Don’t try and be cute, okay, those days are behind you.”
Rufus: “And here I thought I was getting better looking every day.”
Lily: “Oh, well, I know what you’re implying.”
Rufus: “Admit it, you’re falling for me again.”
Lily: “You’re right, you’re right, it’s the low-income tax bracket, the bad v-neck t-shirts, the awful jokes — I don’t know why your wife left you.”
Rufus: “Well, she’s got better taste than you.”
Chuck: “What are you doing here?”
Dan: “Why, what is this, your hotel?”
Nate: “Actually, it is.”
Chuck: “Yea, so unless you have a reason to be here, I’ll have to ask you to wait on the curb with the rest of the trash.”
Dan: “Trash?! Look man, I live in Brooklyn, alright, not the Ozarks — no offense to the Ozarks.”
Lily: “Tell your harem of shop girls and models that you’re seeing someone.”
Bart: “I am, but those conversations take a little time.”
Lily: “Well they’ve got nothing but time, Bart, they’re 25.”
Blair: “She was waiting in a hotel room. For my boyfriend.”
Serena: “To talk.”
Nate: “About why we’re not talking.”
Blair: “That doesn’t sound any smarter the second time.”
Chuck: “Looks like it’s just you and me. Apparently my room is available.”
I know, I bet you were expecting I'd chose Blair's Thread Social dress, which I do love. But it's hard to beat the perfection of this Blumarine dress Serena wears, which is impeccably styled by Eric Daman. Chef's kiss.
Okay, someone get Dan Humphrey an Oscar for his performance at Bart Bass's brunch: This little hissy fit he throws about thinking Serena was different from "her world" takes on a whole new shade of sociopathic when you consider that Dan literally started an entire website to document all the ways in which Serena was exactly like this whole world. A world, by the way, that Dan desperately wanted to worm his way into!
Oh, and of course, there's the blast he sends out post-brunch, which reads in part: "Well Serena’s mystery man is a mystery no longer. His name is — oh, who cares. Now that he and S are over, so are his 15 minutes. [...] And as for S herself, we hear she left today’s brunch with no friends, no boy and nowhere left to run. It looks like the ultimate insider has become a total outsider. It’s your move, Serena, and you know who will be watching: Gossip Girl.”
And that's it! Thank you for signing up for Lincoln Hawk Fan Club; if you have any thoughts, questions or comments, I'd love to hear them. Hit me up at LTylerMcCall@gmail.com. XOXO!
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