In the third season of Gossip Girl, Chuck sells Blair to his uncle in exchange for ownership of a hotel

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com

I used to date a woman who loved the early version of this show, when it was fun and when it had a heart. I watched most of the first season with her. Apparently after I stopped watching, the show took what I would describe as a dark turn, though many fans loved the new direction. What does it mean that for some people this darkness is a happy fantasy?

In the third season of Gossip Girl, Chuck sells Blair to his uncle in exchange for ownership of a hotel. The exchange is explicit and is meant to be sexual (although the uncle backs out of consummating it at the last second), and is set up without Blair’s knowledge or consent.

Within the moral universe of the new Gossip Girl, this event was dramatic, but not morally abhorrent; all relationships, the show suggested, are at their core transactional and exploitative. Every time Chuck made a declaration of love to Blair, it was accompanied by expensive gifts: a jeweled necklace, imported candies, a custom-made couture gown. Essentially, he had bought her. She was his property, and now he was selling her. It was only fair. Within a few episodes, Chuck and Blair were back to declaring their eternal love to each other in romantic scenes drenched in candlelight.

The same thing happened again in the fourth season, in which a drunk Chuck violently grabs a newly engaged Blair, screaming, “You’re mine!” and smashes a window pane over her face, cutting open her cheek. It was unpleasant, the show allowed, but look: Blair was his. He bought her. Only a few episodes later, Blair declares her love for Chuck once again. And when Blair goes through with her wedding (to a prince of Monaco; this show was absurd) only to realize her mistake and wish for a divorce, Chuck buys her freedom. He pays her dowry.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the show’s writers and producers intended for late-run Gossip Girl to be read as a sordid and cold story of prostitution and emotional horror. In most of their interviews, they framed the show in general, and Chuck and Blair’s storyline in particular, as an epic, star-crossed romance.

“It was just so beautiful,” said showrunner Stephanie Savage of one Chuck and Blair scene, holding back tears, “the visual of her in her orangey-red gown with her incredible jewels. … And the image of them with the train station in the background as Chuck was about to leave, forever, and turn his back on his identity [this was during the Henry Prince plot line] — for me, that’s everything of the show.”

It seems Savage and her colleagues found the Chuck and Blair storyline to be incredibly romantic, even when he was selling her for a hotel, and they seem to have meant for the audience to feel that way too. But regardless the writers’ intent, the fact remains that the storylines they returned to again and again were at their core storylines of prostitution and degradation. And it’s worth noting that part of what Savage seemed to find romantic about her favorite Chuck and Blair scene was the idea of Blair as an exquisite, expensive object — she rhapsodizes about Blair’s costly Harry Winston jewels — and Chuck as the owner.

…In Gossip Girl’s final episodes, Chuck asks Blair to marry him so that she couldn’t be forced to testify against him in a court of law, because all relationships are transactional. And Dan reveals that he was the titular Gossip Girl all along, obsessively tracking his friends’ doings and secrets and posting them all online (this reveal makes no logical sense and no one can ever make it make sense), but he convinces Serena to marry him anyway, because all relationships are exploitive. Gossip Girl may have begun as a trashy-fun rich-kid soap with heart, but it finished its run as a curdled and soulless treatise about monsters treating each other as property to be bought and used and sold.

In large part, it’s a cautionary tale. Gossip Girl designed Chuck Bass to stand for the attractions and the dangers of the Upper East Side — and then it fell in love with him and let him take over the story. It took a show ostensibly about people struggling for authentic human relationships and turned it into a Liaisons Dangereuses redux — only in this version, the villains turn out to be right about everything, and the people who thought it was possible to authentically care about anyone turn out to be suckers.

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