Jo Piazza: After five seasons of defying everything good and holy, capitalizing on debaucherous underage sex and drug abuse, using a ménage a trois in a national ad campaign and generally creating some of the more deviant characters on primetime television, Gossip Girl has found god—the Catholic version no less.
And they have done it by appropriating the handy narrative created by Graham Greene in the last of his four overtly Catholic novels The End of the Affair.
A brief synopsis of Greene’s story: Maurice Beatrix, a struggling writer falls in love with Sarah Miles, the wife of a milquetoast and impotent civil servant named Henry. The affair is volatile from the start due mostly to Beatrix’ insane jealousy and after Beatrix is nearly killed in a bomb blast Sarah breaks off the affair with no explanation.
Believing she is carrying on a new affair, Beatrix investigates and eventually learns that Sarah made a promise to god that she would remain faithful to her husband if he would spare Beatrix’ life in perpetuity.
And now back to the Upper East Side.
If you’ve watched Gossip Girl even fleetingly for the past two seasons you know that the love triangle between bad boy Chuck Bass, Fifth Avenue’s Queen Bee Blair Waldorf and European Prince Louis has dominated the show.
Most recently before a holiday hiatus Blair finally called off her wedding to the terribly boring Prince Louis in order to spend the rest of her life with Chuck who has been on his own road to redemption (though light on the religion), mainly through the adoption of a mangy stray dog and a willingness to give up on hookers and cocaine. Just as it seemed the pair may live happily ever after (despite Blair’s being pregnant with the Prince’s illegitimate child) in a juxtaposition of allegories Blair and Chuck’s town car is run off the road by aggressive paparazzo on motor bikes.
In the hospital Blair recovers quickly. She is told Chuck is near death. She prays in the hospital’s overtly Catholic chapel for Chuck to recover and promises god that she will keep her vow to marry Louis if her lover is allowed to live.
A nurse sweeps into the chapel in a field of blinding light like an angel from on high to inform Blair that Chuck is on the mend.
Chuck lives. Blair renounces their love. She agrees to marry Louis.
And so begins what appears to be a continuing Catholic narrative on this once scandalous show. Blair starts going to Catholic Church (beautiful, well-appointed ones on the Upper East Side). She prays all the time and consults her priest about all her decisions.
Critics have long hypothesized that The End of the Affair was Greene’s (a convert to Catholicism) tortured way of trying to exonerate himself for his own sin of having an affair with Lady Catherine Walston.
Like Beatrix and like Greene, Blair and Chuck are complicated, flawed sinners. This trope was Greene’s wheelhouse, examining the motivations of belief and redemption for longtime nonbelievers and sinners.
What I couldn’t help but wonder was whether this episode, very obviously titled “The End of the Affair” is signaling the end of the audience’s affair with Gossip Girl.
Even loyal fans can admit that after five seasons the plot lines have gone stale, the characters have outgrown their adorableness in the way things simply got weird when the kids from the original 90210 graduated from college and began running nightclubs and alternative newspapers. Is Catholic Greenian narrative a way for the show’s creators to atone for past sins as they conclude our affair with Gossip Girl. Will it redeem them?
Media analyst Brad Adgate of Horizon Media admits that the Gossip Girl audience slowly slipping away and doesn’t know how much longer the show will be sustainable.
“Through early January Gossip Girl has been averaging 1.298 million viewers, last season through early January it was 1.509 million and 2 years ago through early January it was 1.811 million,” Adgate told me. “The show’s saving point is that at 32.1 it has one of the youngest median ages in prime time. I don’t know with those numbers how sustainable theshow is going to be beyond this season.”
So perhaps borrowing Greene’s Catholic narrative is a Hail Mary pass (forgive the pun) to keep the show relevant, bring back an alienated audience and preserve the show for yet another season. Or maybe it is a way for GG to atone for past sins and go out on a miraculous note.