Revisiting 'Gossip Girl's Disastrous Snowflake Ball, 12 Years Later
Welcome to Retro Recaps, where we revisit your favorite old shows and give them the modern recap treatment that they always deserved. We've done Buffy's silent episode, Friends' 18-page letter, Sex and the City's Fleet Week episode, and The O.C.'s Chrismukkah episode. Today, we dive into Gossip Girl. Caution: snark ahead.
Back in the late aughts Gossip Girl was the shizz, as the kids were saying back then. I would bake a batch of Ghirardelli brownies and watch the episodes live on actual television with commercials with my roommates and it all seemed so hip and young and hot and New York and we loved every single minute of it. Now, looking back on it, were we as vapid and dumb as all of the kids on the show, the 20-somethings playing the most advanced teenagers on the planet? Maybe? I don’t know.
I loved Gossip Girl though and even recapped some of the episodes when I was working at Gawker (RIP) so this should feel somewhat familiar even though, well, with the passage of time everything is incredibly different. Just ask Ed Westwick’s career.
For diving back into the series, let’s look at “It’s a Wonderful Lie” the twelfth episode of the second season with the infamous Snowflake Ball. This is when the series was in its prime: soapy and fun. It was unbelievable, but not people-returning-from-the dead-unbelievable just, “How can Vanessa try on a gown in the middle of a gallery when she’s supposed to be working and there are customers there and while she’s ignoring the customers, how can she keep this job” unbelievable.
The episode starts with Blair and Serena sitting around their school and Blair is wearing a knit argyle capelet that buttons up the front and you know that we are in for a ride honey if the fashion has started this early. Buckle up your chunky belts, you’re going to need them.
The annual Snowflake Ball is the next day and Blair is deciding who she is going to bring as her date. Um, sorry, but the party is tomorrow? Dresses need to be bought, corsages need to be ordered, condoms that will go unused need to be pilfered from a Duane Reade. Don’t these kids need to do any planning at all?
Serena goes inside when she sees Dan in the hallway because she has a gift for him. It’s the first edition of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. (Retail value for the American version: $1,300.) It’s a gift for him for some unknown reason. “I picked it up at the rare bookstore you told me about,” she says. Hmmm. A rare bookstore that Penn Badgley knows about? Does it have a cage in the basement? Do Gossip Girl and You exist in the same cinematic universe? After the gift, Serena and Dan decide to go to the Snowflake ball together, you know, just as friends.
There are four stories going into the ball. The first plays out when Chuck stops by Blair’s house and she’s wearing a red satin top, a yellow chunky belt, a brown skirt, and her power headband and it is so color-blocked and wonderful that you could wear it today and everyone would think that you were an Instagram influencer selling Fit Fab Fun boxes on the side.
Chuck decides that since neither of them have dates they should turn it into a wager. Chuck will pick Blair’s date and Blair will pick Chuck’s date. Whoever is most satisfied with their date wins. Now, how are we determining satisfaction? Is it meant to be a pleasant evening? Something that goes on to become a lasting relationship? Are we talking sexual gratification? At least in Cruel Intentions the outcome was much more clearly mapped.
The next story is about Dan and Serena. After school, Serena and Dan go to Dan’s dad’s gallery to see the show for Serena’s new photographer boyfriend Aaron Rose. Aaron looks like if you hit Adam Driver with a shrink ray. He has the same floppy hair, patchy stubble, and the petulant look of someone whose oak-milk latte did not come out warm enough, but none of the height, muscles, or otherwise menacing sex appeal. Basically, that makes Aaron Rose decaf coffee, non-alcoholic beer, or sex with your clothes on.
His show consists of portraits of Serena in different poses, some with her hair pulled over her face and a pair of novelty sunglasses over it like she was in the photobooth at a mid-tier bar mitzvah. Aaron is standing there with his ex, Lexi, and she is relentlessly mocking the photos, as she should because they are awful. Lexi has a crush on Dan so the four of them decide to go on a double date and walk around Brooklyn. No one seems to remind Dan that he is at work and that there are patrons in the gallery and he just can’t leave it and its lame coffee bar unattended to walk around Brooklyn with two bratty college kids and talk about how much he liked writing outside of the house where Norman Mailer used to live which simultaneously is the most lame and most pretentious thing I have ever heard in my life.
The two couples decide that they should all go to the Snowflake Ball together, even though two of them are too old to go to an event with a bunch of high school kids and, need I remind everyone, this event is the next freaking day! Aaron tells Serena that Lexi always puts out on the first date. “She claims it’s a political statement against male dominated sexual hypocrisy,” and for a second slutty Lexi is the only person on this show that I like.
Later at Blair’s, Serena confesses that she hasn’t had sex with Aaron yet and that she’s taken aback that Lexi is so sexually forward and thinks she should warn Dan that he is definitely, 100% going to be knee deep in cooze after the Snowflake Ball. “Yes because guys hate to be caught unaware with sex on the first date,” Blair jabs. Amen sister. Serena decides that if Dan is gonna get laid she is gonna get laid and makes a plan to bone Aaron.
The third story concerns the parents and — snore. Lily is mad at Bart because he hired a PI to investigate her or something. He says he’s going to fire him and they’ll be in love again. She invites him to the ball as her date even though she and Rufus were just eye-fucking each other as the only parental members of the decorations committee. Later, when Lily learns that Bart, who was coming home from a business trip to Miami, was having a meeting yet again with the same PI, she calls him and tells him not to meet her at the ball after all. Ugh. Whatever.
The stupidest story of the episode belongs to Jenny Humphrey, an eyeliner pencil that came to life but somehow lost its soul. She first confides in Vanessa that she’s upset that Nate Archibald, a Hooked On Phonics before picture, didn’t come to rescue her when she ran away from home and had a fashion show or something. I don’t know. I always got up to use the bathroom when Jenny was on the screen because she makes my bowels constrict. Vanessa is like, “Um, sorry.” Even though the reason Nate didn’t rescue her is because Vanessa stole a letter Jenny sent to Nate because suddenly this is a 19th century novel and they’re starring in Washington Square. I know that everyone still has flip phones, but this was antiquated even then.
After talking to Nate about how he and Vanessa have feelings for each other, she shows back up at Jenny’s house and is like, “I have a gift certificate for Grimaldi’s and I’m thinking double pepperoni.” Ugh, sorry, but waiting in line for two hours for a pizza doesn’t seem like a treat, it seems like a chore. Jenny is pissed because she got a Gossip Girl alert on her pink Razr that Vanessa was making out with Nate. As revenge, she teams up with Blair’s mean girls to give Vanessa a see-through dress so that when she shows up to the ball as Nate’s date she’ll be embarrassed when everyone sees her in her knickers.
OK, we need to talk about how Gossip Girl is supposedly Dan, something that we learned about in the series finale. (And, indeed, he wasn’t originally supposed to be.) Apparently he was penning the blog the whole time but, of course, you can’t retcon the show to support this theory. Why would Dan blow up his best friend’s spot and piss off his little sister at the same time? Well, you could say, “Dan was trying to protect Jenny from Nate and Vanessa,” which would be noble, but then he’s still screwing over his two besties.
Later, at the Snowflake Ball, after Vanessa shows up and is humiliated in the see-through dress — which Jenny totally had time to prevent, but stops short of actually protecting Vanessa from the revealing spotlight — Gossip Girl writes, “Poor Vanessa. Even Cinderella was offered a stealthy getaway. But what is a trio of ugly step sisters compared to Jenny Humphrey?”
Dan is really going to write that about his little sister? And, if he is, then it makes no sense why he would try to protect his little sister with the dispatch above. Or maybe we can say that Jenny was feeling guilty about what she did and had Dan post that as some kind of self-flagellating punishment. (No, self-flagellation is not farting on yourself.) I guess you could find some sort of mind bending reasons why GG would write these posts, but your mind will have to be as nimble as a Cirque du Soleil professional.
OK, so we get to the ball and…meh. It looks like every event space in Manhattan and it’s just decorated with some white and some little crystals and then a bunch of 20-somethings in tuxedos pretending to be teenagers. Wait, I was of the right age and in New York during this time. Why did no one ever ask me to be an extra in a Gossip Girl party scene? I now feel especially uncool.
And the dresses. UGH, the dresses. Blair’s mean girls are all wearing these taffeta monstrosities that look like they were designed by Honey Boo Boo for the Little Miss Big League Chew pageant. Serena is wearing a gown with a fitted nude halter, a sunburst of bejeweling around the midsection and then a flared-out tulle skirt that looks like a longer, droopier version of Carrie Bradshaw’s gutter-spattered tutu.
Jenny eventually arrives in a goth ensemble with a big black shawl and a short bubble dress that looks like it was right out of the Kate Bush for Kohl's Collection. Blair is wearing some nondescript midnight blue thing and Chuck is wearing a bedazzled tuxedo jacket that looks like something that has been sitting in a Manhattan dry cleaner’s front window for the better part of 50 years. It’s a shambles.
Blair and Chuck meet up and introduce each other to their dates. They both decided that they were the best date for each other so they found knockoffs of themselves. Blair’s choice is even wearing a headband. Blair takes one look at her date, who looks like Ben Whishaw on a hunger strike, and she’s pulls Chuck away for a chat. They’re all like, “Why do we know we’re perfect for each other but can’t be together?” It’s dumb and I don’t quite understand it as a plot point, either.
When they return, their dates are predictably making out, because they are as attracted to one another as Chuck and Blair are. Blair is upset. “She’s me but less. I even gave her that headband.” I knew it! And she would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you pesky kids. Chuck and Blair go off to dance together and it’s just like, “Yay, doomed love forever,” or something. I don’t know. This Wuthering Heights bullshit is for the birds, or for Jenny’s dress to sing her to sleep at night.
As I said above, Vanessa shows up at the ball and is humiliated by her see-through dress, but she told Nate the truth about the stolen letter because she is a cavewoman — sorry, caveperson — who cares about physical correspondence. Nate chases her out into the street and is like, “It’s cool. I forgive you. I’ve been attracted to cavewo..cavepeople ever since my first visit to the Natural History Museum.” Then he tells her that they should go get a drink together and I’m like, “You’re seventeen, where can you even go get a drink?” But, thankfully, no doomed love for them.
There is some doom for Dan and Serena. They’re kind of like, “Why are we here with our dates when they want to be here with each other?” but also they’re pretending like they still don’t care about each other. Lexi tells Dan that Serena is going to bone Aaron and he’s like, “Oh. Um, I don’t know how I feel about that.” And Sexy Lexi is like, “I put a Viagra in your mocktail,”and he’s like Schwing and then he’s like “Uhhh. I have to talk to Serena.”
Serena tells Dan that Lexi is going to bone him and he’s like, “That is the strange feeling in my tight rented suit pants.” Serena, a mumble with a hairstylist, tells Dan, “You and Lexi… I don’t know. I thought sex was meaningful to you.”
“It is,” Dan says. “Especially when I haven’t had it in a long time."
Oh my god, that is the most idiot boy answer of all time. First of all, it is definitely true. Second of all, it is definitely something you don’t say out loud outside of your inner circle. You certainly don’t say it to a woman and you certainly don’t say it to the last woman you had sex with. Serena, a pout personified, storms off, but before everyone goes home to put some Ps in some Vs, Serena pulls Dan aside and he tells her that the night they boned was the best night of his life and Serena says, “The day I launched Preserve was the best day of my life, but this was a close second.” They part on good terms but separate, and we don’t know for sure if anyone gets laid.
Finally, we have Lily and Rufus. She shows up to the ball saying she’s going to leave Bart for what he did to her and Rufus encourages her and they have a fraught dance and they rub their geriatric parts against one another and there aren’t sparks there are just limp shudders. That is what happens when you pass 30. Sorry kids, your genitals just stop working and fall off. It sucks, but, hey, c’est la vie as still-genitaled Emily in Paris would say.
There’s a short scene of Bart in the car with the PI and he tells him that he’s fired. Then he says, “But you don’t know what I found.” Ooh. What is it?
Then the brick in Lily’s pocket starts vibrating. Oh, it’s not a brick, it’s an antiquated communication device called a BlackBerry, which once gave magical powers to publicists and personal assistants across the land. Steve Jobs took them all out behind a barn and shot them. This episode should stand as a memorial to the great BlackBerry Crackdown of 2009.
Lily says to Rufus, “Have you seen Chuck? Bart has been in an accident.” And that’s it. That’s the end of the episode. And that is how Bart Bass dies. We don’t see a crash, we don’t see his body, we don’t even see Chuck react to hearing the news.
The next episode starts and he’s just dead and they’re headed to the funeral. This seems like a missed opportunity, but considering that he comes back in Season 5 and is totally alive I guess that makes sense. Like I said, the show quickly devolves into back-from-the-dead unbelievability and, honestly, all of this is why we will forever love Gossip Girl, even if these 30-year-olds are the stupidest people alive.
Images: CW, via Netflix