The network's description: "Summer, Kind of Wonderful" - "GOSSIP GIRL INVADES THE HAMPTONS / GUEST STARS INCLUDE AUTHOR JAY MCINERNEY, SOCIALITE TINSLEY MORTIMER AND ACTRESS MADCHEN AMICK As the summer draws to a close in the Hamptons, Serena (Blake Lively) and Nate (Chace Crawford) have everyone fooled into thinking they are a couple to cover up the fact that Nate has been hooking up with a married older woman (guest star Amick) and Serena has been secretly mourning her break-up with Dan (Penn Badgley). Blair (Leighton Meester) returns from abroad with a hot guy on her arm (guest star Patrick Heusinger), making a very jealous Chuck (Ed Westwick) question his decision to leave Blair stranded at the heliport. Dan has spent the summer assisting a famous author (guest star McInerney), but decides to head to the Hamptons to see how things stand with Serena after a summer spent apart. While interning for Eleanor Waldorf's company, Jenny (Taylor Momsen) sneaks an invite to a much-coveted Hamptons' White Party at which Eric (Connor Paolo) introduces her to socialite Tinsley Mortimer. Matthew Settle also stars. J. Miller Tobin directed the episode written by Joshua Safran (#201)."
"Never Been Marcused" - "GOODBYE HAMPTONS..."GOSSIP GIRL" IS HEADED BACK TO THE UPPER EAST SIDE Blair (Leighton Meester) is over the moon that she is dating royalty and has every intention of becoming a royal herself, but a scheming Chuck (Ed Westwick) has other plans for Blair and hew new love, Marcus (guest star Patrick Heusinger). Serena (Blake Lively) and Dan (Penn Badgley) agree to keep their recent hook-ups a secret from their friends and family until they figure out what all this means for their relationship. Meanwhile, Nate (Chace Crawford) learns the downside to having an affair with a hot older woman, Catherine (guest star Madchen Amick), who also happens to be married. Taylor Momsen, Jessica Szohr and Matthew Settle also star. Michael Fields directed the episode written by executive producer Stephanie Savage (#202)."
"The Dark Night" - "CHUCK LOSES HIS MOJO Serena (Blake Lively) and Dan (Penn Badgley) are forced to deal with their unspoken problems while trapped in an elevator during a citywide blackout. In a humorous twist, Blair (Leighton Meester) questions the lack of passion in her relationship with Marcus (guest star Patrick Heusinger), while at the same time Chuck (Ed Westwick) appears to have lost his "passion" for any woman other than Blair. Meanwhile, Nate (Chace Crawford) struggles between his feelings for Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) and his more-complicated-by-the-day relationship with Catherine (guest star Madchen Amick). Jenny (Taylor Momsen) risks losing her internship when Eleanor (Margaret Colin) catches Jenny critiquing one of the Eleanor Waldorf designs. Matthew Settle also stars. Janice Cooke directed the episode written by John Stephens (#203)."
What did they leave out? Although credited, co-star Kelly Rutherford doesn't appear in the new season's first three installments.
The plot in a nutshell: The summer of 2008 has left our favorite New York teens still reeling from the events of the past year. And while superficially all of them have moved on to new ventures, the memories and feelings of days past still linger. For Nate (Chace Crawford), it's trying to escape from his family's troubles by having an affair with Catherine (Madchen Amick), a married woman nearly twice his age. For Jenny (Taylor Momsen), it's putting a wild streak behind her with a fresh start as an intern for Eleanor Waldorf's (Margaret Colin) company - complete with an overbearing boss (Michelle Hurd). For Chuck (Ed Westwick), it's struggling with regret - not to mention a certain physical ailment - over his decision to stand up Blair (Leighton Meester). For Blair, it's trying to prove she's over Chuck by returning home with a new beau (Patrick Heusinger). For Rufus (Matthew Settle), it's coming to terms with a choice between life on the road and being there for his kids. For Dan (Penn Badgley), it's finding he's lost much more than Serena since their break up - all despite a dream job as an assistant to a famous author (Jay McInerney). And for our hero Serena (Blake Lively), it means after a year of many ups and downs - a few quiet months alone in the Hamptons. The new season then picks up as our clan begins to converge after months apart. Not surprisingly for most of the cast, it's a party that brings them together, a White Party (sorry Diddy, natch) no less. There everyone finds that their respective wounds are far from healed and choices are made as to where to go from here.
What works: For all the flack this show gets for being unrealistic, overhyped and (if you've seen the ironic billboards) "mind blowingly inappropriate," "Gossip Girl" continues to impress me with its ability to create a living, breathing world. There's a tone, an attitude and a visual style (director J. Miller Tobin somehow makes the Hamptons even more beautiful) to the show that's distinctly, well... "Gossip Girl." From Kristin Bell's oh-how-we've-missed-you snarky narration to Chuck's increasingly outrageous attire to how everyone seems to get their comeuppance at the most delicious of times, all of the show's signature elements are back. And thankfully, after a somewhat rocky post-strike run (Georgina, we hope you stay in character limbo like "The OC's" Oliver), the new season marks a return to form for the show. The writers have wisely chosen to spend the first three episodes revisiting all the choices made by the gang in said finale and deepening the rationalization for them - more specifically the Chuck/Blair and Serena/Dan breakups. I'm particularly impressed by how the latter is handled - the resolution to their relationship somehow manages to reaffirm the chemistry between the actors/characters but also reinforce why they need to head their separate ways, for now at least. (They even manage to slide in a meta-commentary about their relationship via a Greek chorus of Dan/Serena-relationship fans.) That's not to say the new Chuck/Blair/James/Marcus "Roman Holiday"-esque triangle (don't ask) isn't fun - Blair actually gets the new season's best lines - from the sure-to-be-a-new-GG-fansite-name "motherchucker" to an actual use of the phrase "Oh-my-f-ing God" to "I wasn't aware robots got jealous. Did your software get updated while I was away?" to "Give me a reason [to go with you]. And I'm Chuck Bass isn't one of them." (Told you there were quite a few.) The same goes for the always welcome Rufus, who in just a few beats after returning home, makes the only choice he can about his future.
What doesn't: I'm less excited about the rest of the show's developments - Nate's cougar affair reeks of usual creepiness that comes with almost statutory rape, but does in its defense serve a purpose beyond the obvious, including adding a new twist to his family's foibles and giving him a chance to revisit his relationship with Jessica Szohr's Vanessa. Jenny however can't quite escape her albatross status - while her whiny, selfish ways are behind her, they've been replaced by the even sillier notion that she can become a potentially full-fledged fashion designer in just three episodes. And lastly, Vitamin Water, really? (Wait and see.)
The bottom line: There's no reason to be ashamed folks, "Gossip Girl" is a great show.