In Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming there's an offhand line I've always liked when the main character's girlfriend is telling Grover (Josh Hamilton) about her plans to study in Europe. "I've been to Prague," Grover replies. "Well, I haven't BEEN TO PRAGUE been to Prague." I was reminded of that moment when watching last night's Gossip Girl, in which Nate dips a toe in the water of a non-Upper East Side existence.
The Grandfather of the title is Nate's; he's played by the veteran actor James Naughton, who was warbling "Danny Boy" and being vetted for Secretary of Energy a couple of weeks ago on Damages. Did you remember that Nate was part of the Vanderbilt family? I didn't, so it came as a surprise when Nate was whisked off to his grandfather's mansion for a crash course in the family business (politics) and a weekend of touch football and networking. Vanessa and Dan come along for the ride and Vanessa is understandably wary of seeing Nate with his family, especially once he's welcomed back with open arms and all that business with his criminal father swept away. All of this would be a good deal more compelling if Nate hadn't been shuffled off to the sidelines this season, reduced to wandering around Manhattan and squatting in his own home while developing a crush on Jenny that never felt right. But all of that's behind him now; it's serious prodigal (grand)son returns time.
Despite the fact that Nate had been openly contemptuous of the way his family shunned him after his father's flight, he proves himself not quite ready to break free of the Vanderbilt shadow and start his own life. A planned European backpack trip with Vanessa (that was what made me think of the "Been to Prague" line) is cast aside for a summer internship at the Mayor's office. Say what you will about Dan and Chuck, I think either one of them would have shown a little more backbone when their future was on the line. That said, Nate's capitulation to his grandfather's wishes felt like something a teenager might actually do when faced with a similar situation. That means that compared to the typical GG episode this week might as well have been a Frederick Wiseman film; it's refreshing to see one of the character's not acting like one of the slightly robotic proto-adults we've come to know and love.
We find Blair at a crisis point, having done God knows what with the odious Carter and apparently ready to begin the dissolute, no-college phase of her life. Or is she? Carter is easily dispensed with thanks to a blackmail threat from Serena (what happened on that trip?), but Chuck and Serena believe Blair has fallen in with a dangerous crowd. They follow her to a townhouse where they find Blair not reenacting scenes from Belle du Jour but rather begging a Sarah Lawrence administrator to let her into fall's freshman class. That doesn't work, so Blair sets out on a booze-soaked mission to forever ruin her name among the ritzy and glitzy. Thank goodness for Chuck, who certainly shows more heart than we've seen from him lately. He pulls Blair away from trouble but realizes she's not the same girl he fell in love with.
The scene between Blair and Nate at the party felt both right and wrong to me. The awkwardness and sweetness of finding yourself with an old love was there, but the scene was (as usual) overwritten so that nobody sounded like a high school student. As for the "What the...." moment at the end with Nate in Blair's bedroom, it's either a bit of misdirection or more likely a setup for the season-ending Blair-Chuck showdown. I'm waiting for the episode in which everyone who's not going to Yale next year decides to room together in an apartment just off campus.