What Are the Rules for Gossip Girl?

s01e03: "Poison Ivy"

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Tyler McCall

May 17 2021

9 mins read

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Recently, a TikTok went viral discussing the salary Kristen Bell received for playing the role of Gossip Girl: reportedly a cool $125k per episode, or $15,125,000 for 121 episodes. Obviously, worth every penny — and frankly, probably even more than that — for her voiceover work, considering that Bell brings the anonymous blogger to life with all the verve and wit necessary to give some stakes to the world of teenage hijinks.

But when are the contents of a Gossip Girl voiceover known by the characters and when is it just a narrative tool for the viewer? The show definitely plays with this line a bit, and I'm not sure it's ever explicitly made clear. My personal rule for the sake of this newsletter is that unless the characters are looking at a blast or talking about having seen something on Gossip Girl, any Bell-narrated bits of information are for the benefit of the viewer and not an official Gossip Girl tip that the characters would know. I don't think that is a hard and fast policy, but it feels like a safe one in the context clues provided by the show.

Is it even necessary to have a Gossip Girl narration, though? It's not as though the viewer needs to hear something like, "Honesty may be the best policy in some zip codes — but not in this one, and not this week. ‘Cause ‘I was a teenage drug addict’ is not exactly a winning college essay,” when you've literally just watched Serena's life theoretically implode in front of your own eyes, even if it is a great line. Most shows on television clearly get away without having an anonymous and snarky narrator, which makes most of Bell's voiceovers borderline superfluous.

They still serve a purpose, though, and that's to underline that there is always someone watching these events unfold. Even when Bell's voiceovers aren't directly taken from a blast, the implication is that Gossip Girl knows what's happening at all times, whether because someone involved is sending her a tip or because someone in the room actually is Gossip Girl. More importantly, these voiceovers show that there's always someone narrativizing the events happening in the characters' lives. Gossip Girl is hardly an unbiased and reliable narrator; a scandal isn't a scandal until GG puts her spin on it.

For example, at the end of the episode, Gossip Girl says, "Spotted in Central Park: two white flags waving. Could an Upper East Side peace accord be far off? So what will it be? Truce or Consequences? We all know one nation can’t have two queens. What happens next? Only time will tell." We just ended the episode with Serena and Blair at an impasse, so she's partially right. But the "one nation can't have two queens" bit certainly implies that both S and B want power and one will have to concede when that isn't necessarily the case in a real-life friendship. And how would Gossip Girl know about this at all? It's pouring rain, and Bethesda Terrace is empty. (Which, unless Serena was there reading at like, 6 AM, I find extremely unlikely, even with the inclimate weather. Tourists love that spot!)

It's not like we need Gossip Girl to ramp up the drama — the plot does a good enough job on its own — but the show is definitely better for Bell's participation, if for no other reason but the escalation in ridiculous lines and puns as the show goes on. God, they really do get so absurd. I can't wait to get into it.


Best Lines of the Episode:

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Blair: “Oh, too bad you missed the assembly. Not that it matters. Brown doesn’t offer degrees in slut.”

Dan: “It really comes down to one thing: Dartmouth is my dream. And I’ve never asked Dartmouth, but I think it’s been dreaming of me. …. That was a joke — or, an attempt at one. Next question?”

Dan: “They gave it to Nate Archibald! Ugh. Last year, I believe he had an original thought. It died of loneliness.” 

Blair: “If you weren’t such a perv, I’m sure the CIA would hire you in a second.” 

Chuck: “Defending my country. Now there’s a future I never imagined.”

Blair: “With good reason. What is she doing there?”

Chuck: “What’s anyone doing there? It’s a facility for the disturbed or addicted.”

Blair: “You must have your own wing.”

Chuck: “You don’t get nearly enough credit for your wit.”

Jenny: “Wait, so who’s the entertainment?”

Rufus: “Since it was such short notice, the only person I could get was…myself.”

Dan: “Kind of a staid affair for early ’90s post-punk math rock, don’t you think?”

Blair: “It’s because of their excellent program which aids so many young addicts and alcoholics that a student here with us today is clean and sober…at least, for now. Can I please have Serena van der Woodsen join me on stage?”

My Favorite Outfit of the Episode:

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There's absolutely no question on this one: It's the Vena Cava dress Serena wears to the Ivy mixer. The Chanel headscarf really seals the deal here.

Final Stray Observations:

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  • We'll get to this eventually, but how insanely pissed do you think the writers of this show were in seasons four and five that they used the "Poison Ivy" title this early in the game?
  • This Constance Billard a cappella group take on Fergie's hit single "Glamorous" is obviously one of the more iconic moments of the first season. It did seem a bit random, though — until one Twitter user posted what appears to be a rough cut of a cast intro featuring the song. I'm not totally convinced it was going to be the show's opening credits (I think it was probably for upfronts or something), but it does make this scene make more sense.
  • Do Kati and Iz live together? Why are they getting ready for school together when everyone else is solo? What is the story here?
  • I assume Ivy Week is a real thing for rich kids, but I went to public school in Florida so I'll never know for sure.
  • "College is about academic excellence, not your stock portfolio." Oh, Rufus. Sweet, dumb Rufus.
  • When Jenny taunts Dan about there being a spotlight, she does a very weird, borderline-appropriative accent and I need to understand that acting choice on Taylor Momsen's part.
  • There is an alternate timeline where Nate goes to USC and Serena moves out to Los Angeles to open a juice bar or GOOP blog or whatever and they live happily ever after. I want that for them.
  • DOROTA HAS ARRIVED!!!!!!
  • Lily advises her daughter to take a cab to school instead of walking during rush hour because it's "faster," which is just insanely wrong. The Palace is right by the 4/6 line, which is obviously the quickest way to get uptown, even if it will be completely packed with plebes. Come on.
  • I consulted with my colleague Ana, who went to Brown, and she informs me that because Brown offers independent study degrees where you can essentially make up your own major, Brown very well could offer degrees in slut. The more you know.
  • I have recently decided that Blair is bisexual and her getting physically aggressive with Serena during field hockey practice is going in my evidence pile.
  • This episode is also the first appearance of the "I'm Chuck Bass" line.
  • Blair is reading InStyle while sitting on the couch. No disrespect intended to InStyle, because I love that publication, but there is absolutely no way.
  • God, remember Feist?
  • Jenny arrives in her Waldorf original! That's a brilliant costume touch.
  • Fun Fact: "Donald Ostroff" is named after Dawn Ostroff, the former president of entertainment at the CW who helped develop Gossip Girl. She went on to co-found Condé Nast Entertainment and now she's at Spotify I think.
  • I'm sorry, how psychotic is it for Blair to smile at Lily after eviscerating Serena in front of every Ivy League rep, parent and teacher on the Upper East Side?
  • Both Blair and Serena walked to the middle of Central Park in the rain while wearing heels? As someone who once did that, I cannot recommend it.

And Now, Your 'Dan Is a Psycho for This' Moment of the Episode:

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As discussed, there was no official Gossip Girl blast this episode, but Dan is still running his campaign to gaslight Serena. He nails her for her privilege pretty much every chance he gets (while simultaneously managing to cut Nate some breaks and show him some begrudging kindness? Sexist much?) right up until the final moments of the episode, after Jenny tells him about Eric being the one at the Ostroff Center, when he decides to cut her some slack since — quelle surprise! — she actually has real life struggles! "Obviously, I don't know anything about your life," Dan says straight-faced to the woman he has spent nearly two years tormenting by documenting her every horrible mistake and secret on a website blasted out to all their peers. Also, at one point, Serena gently teases him for being angry and he says, "Short fuse, I’m trying to work on that." Psycho!

Now, to be fair to Dan, I will also point out that he does do something very good here. He has all the information he needs about Eric and he doesn't post a single thing about it on Gossip Girl, respecting Eric's mental health and privacy. "No one will ever hear it from me," he promises Serena, which I think is nice. That's one hell of a tip to pass up when you're running a gossip website!

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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