Spotted: Serena van der Woodsen! Blair Waldorf! Dan Humphrey! Chuck Bass! Nelly Yuki! Well, kind of, anyway. The last original Gossip Girl character on that list makes an appearance in the flesh courtesy of returning actor Yin Chang, playing the all-grown-up editor of New York magazine. The other four? You’re going to have to settle for cosplay. It’s a Halloween episode of Gossip Girl 2.0, you see, and the GG originals are the hottest costumes in town.
At least that’s how things wind up in the end. There’s a lot of back-and-forth between Julien Calloway, her half-sister Zoya Lott, and their gaggle of friends and boyfriends and minions and whatnot as to whom they should portray at Bette Midler’s* annual Hulaween costume party. (*Bette Midler not included, but hey, Billy Porter makes a cameo, so it’s a wash.) The themes for the party are “New York legends” and “couples,” and initially Z and J decide to play their alleged rivalry for laughs by showing up as Solange and Beyoncé, going so far as to reenact the infamous Solange/Jay-Z elevator incident.
But their plan never gets off the ground. Someone spreads the word about their costume idea, and suddenly half the party is dressed up as the Knowles sisters—except for Julien’s hated rivals from another school, Pippa and Bianca (Katherine Reis and Ella Rubin). Those two are attending as Blair and Serena, a hotter pair of frenemies than ever thanks to the resurgent Gossip Girl account.
But it gives our heroines an idea. Swapping clothes with Zoya’s bf Obie and their friend Aki, they show up as Dan and Chuck, and beat the upstarts at their own game. Do they actually look anything like Dan and Chuck? Not in the slightest! But it’s the thought that counts, and for now, at least, they’re thinking together.
The same cannot be said for Monet, heretofore Julien’s chief advisor. For reasons that remain opaque to me, she remains furious about Julien’s decision to befriend her half-sister. Soon the truth comes out: It was she who leaked the info about the costumes, and now she’s joining up with Pippa and Bianca, leaving the friend group behind. She delivers a whole spiel about how Julien’s decision to scale back her social-media presence left her longtime friends and confidantes in the lurch, but she’s so passionate about the whole thing that I can’t help but wonder if there’s more to it than that. (Or maybe she’s just being written as a one-dimensional villain. That works too!)
In emotional terms, however, the main Julien/Zoya storyline is just a sideshow, with the real action occurring in the lives of other members of the core cast. Take Max, for instance. (Mr. Caparros sure did!) His hot-for-teacher relationship is going hot and heavy, up to and including blowjobs in a classroom with a wide-open door in the middle of the school day.
But whether out of jealousy over Max, concern for his well-being, or some combination of the two, Aki isn’t feeling it. When he confronts Caparros over his illicit relationship, the older man threatens to ruin the kid’s reputation and even get him expelled, faking the start of a physical altercation in front of witnesses to provide backup for his bullshit. As Aki continues to dig, he discovers that Caparros hasn’t been disowned by homophobic parents as he’d previously claimed. And Max finds out for himself, via one of Caparros’s past flings, that he’s a serial student-fucker. So Max slinks back into the loving arms of his friend group, a wiser—if not exactly better—young man.
And that friend group needs his support now more than ever. Max’s one-night stand Audrey is back with Aki, but she’s on the outs with her mother, whose fashion company has gone bankrupt. Audrey pulls out all the stops in an attempt to persuade her mom not to sell their apartment and pull Audrey out of school to relocate to Connecticut, but her plan backfires when a reunion with her mother’s old New York friends simply dredges up more emotional baggage. The two have a screaming match before Audrey goes to the costume party, at which she gets good and hammered.
Suddenly (with a little help from Aki) she realizes that her mother’s drinking, like her own, is a plea for attention from her loved ones. When she gets a call from her mom she’s ready to apologize and to forgive—only it’s the hospital, calling to tell her that her mother is in intensive care. Alcohol poisoning? Attempted suicide? A bad spill? We don’t know yet, and all the doctor says is that it’s going to be a long road to recovery. But now Audrey feels fiercely loyal to her mom, and she’s prepared to go the distance for her.
And what of Gossip Girl herself/themselves? Kate Keller finds herself so sick of the thing that she shuts it down entirely, locking her co-conspirators out in the process. (Jordan takes this opportunity to make an ill-advised play for Kate’s affections, the poor sap.) But after an evening handing out candy with Zoya’s father Nick, who seems to be developing feelings of his own for her, she somehow takes his praise of the short story she submitted to the Paris Review (it gets rejected) as a sign that she should reactivate the GG account—it’s her voice, after all, and maybe she’s making more a difference with it here than she would in a literary magazine. It’s a sketchy self-justification for bad behavior. But this is Gossip Girl—would you want it any other way?