The picture of Jessica Szohr as Vanessa that I chose to accompany this recap says a good deal about what's wrong with "Chuck in Real Life." I mean no disrespect to the lovely Szohr, but the sight of Vanessa all dolled up at Bart and Lily's housewarming party is a good representation of an episode that never quite came together.
So how did things get to this improbable point? As we know, Vanessa is a creature of Brooklyn and not at home in the GGers Upper East Side haunts. In order to secure signatures for a petition to save a funky Brooklyn bar, Vanessa decides to collect names at Constance Billiard. Since Vanessa still has photographs of Marcus and Vanessa making out, she uses the pictures as leverage over Blair. Blair must sign up 1000 people or face public humiliation. (Wasn't that whole Marcus & Catherine thing like, so 4 episodes ago?) From what we've seen of Vanessa to date, spitefulness really isn't in her repertoire. So the decision to get in Blair's face feels more than a little forced. Couldn't Vanessa have found enough signatures on a Sunday afternoon in Williamsburg?
Of course what we're really waiting for are some more Blair-Chuck fireworks. Chuck is recruited to "seduce and destroy" Vanessa on Blair's behalf with the promise of a night with Miss B. herself. This leads to one of the odder moments the season; a newly squishy Chuck, desperate for dad's approval, likes the bar and decides to buy it. Chuck bonds with the bar's elderly owner over their love for Joseph P. Kennedy; it's nice to know Chuck at least has a sense of history. When Chuck invites Blair to the family housewarming party it looks like the trap is set.
Chuck and Blair's plans run into the other major theme of this episode: domesticity. "Chuck In Real Life" is probably the GG episode with the most time allotted to Bart Bass (Robert John Burke). Bart is back from his endless business travels, no doubt a cover for Burke's other acting gigs. He wants to be a family, so there are rules. Curfews for Serena, Eric, and Chuck, and a weekly family dinner. Lily goes along with Bart's plans, but does she really want to or is she just doing it to keep a husband? Bart certainly throws a damper on things, I really wanted to see that Mapplethorpe picture of Lily. Serena's rebellion leads to a scene at the party and a chance meeting with Dan (who has just invited Nate to movie in with the family). But do we really want a GG where Serena is trying to avoid being grounded?
All of this leads to the inevitable scene in which Chuck reveals his true feelings for Blair. What will a Blair who's chasing Chuck be like? I wish I'd liked this episode better, but as we move into the second third of the season we're ready for the dawn of a great new TV couple.....