The new HBO Max iteration of Gossip Girl, one that substitutes influencers for socialites and pop culture insults for traditional snobbery, has been slowly teasing out references to the beloved original, and the latest might be its most meta moment yet. The standout moment of this week’s episode, “Hope Sinks,” is its frenemiest yet, and it involves two of Gossip Girl’s OGs: Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodsen.
In last week’s episode 4, we met the devious spawn of Georgina Sparks (Michelle Trachtenberg), Milo, a tiny but controversial character ushering in a new generation of villains; now, in episode 5, we’re meeting this generation’s Blair and Serena — and they’re awful.
It all takes place during the second biggest party of the year — after Zoya’s (Whitney Peak) messy birthday event from episode 3, of course. Zoya and Julien (Jordan Alexander) are attempting to squash all the lingering doubt around their friendship by dressing up as an iconic couple for Hulaween, the annual costume contest thrown by “one of the witches from Hocus Pocus.” The contest, according to Luna (Zion Moreno) and Monet (Savannah Smith), is the event of the season, resulting in front page — or rather, front Instagram feed — coverage from fashion magazines like Women’s Wear Daily, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar. This is all very blah-blah-blah to Obi (Eli Brown), who starts to further distance himself from both his current girlfriend Zoya and ex-girlfriend Julien as they try to fake nice until they actually make nice. Part of what ends up uniting the two half-sisters is their equal disdain for two white high schoolers at a rival private school named Pippa (Ella Rubin) and Bianca (Katherine Reis). P&B have been on Julien’s radar for years, mostly because they think they’re her competition. She, as Don Draper so memorably put it, doesn’t think of them at all.
Pippa and Bianca are — in their minds, at least — the chicest, trendiest, most sought after high schoolers in Manhattan. (I would say New York, but I’m not quite sure they’re aware of the other boroughs.) Defined by their inability to read the room and their unquenchable thirst for attention, the two teens find themselves in direct competition with Zoya and Julien on the eve of the Halloween contest. Unfortunately, due to unexpected warfare from Monet herself, Zoya and Julien’s costume has been leaked to all the other Upper East girlies, which means all eyes are Pippa and Bianca, who show up as Blair and Serena in their prime. Beaming in gluttonous pride, the girls are immediately photographed, and eager to brag about their utterly brilliant couple’s costume as two of the most scandalous alumni of Manhattan’s elite.
But the joke houses a deeper meaning — it isn’t just an easter egg for fans of the TV duo, it’s also a commentary on what the show once represented. Pippa and Bianca are insufferable to be around; after a peer of theirs brings a gun to school due to relentless bullying related to the Gossip Girl Instagram account (the teachers, as we’ve said, need to answer for this), the girls see an opportunity for sympathy and attention. There’s no pragmatism to their need and want for popularity — it is who they are and who they were raised to be. And the bitter reality is that they used to be the type of characters that the show once revolved around.
“[Pippa and Bianca] believe they should have the mic because they, and people like them, have always had the mic in television and in this world for so long,” Gossip Girl creator and showrunner Josh Safran tells Refinery29 of the scene. “They don’t understand that they don’t have the mic [anymore].”
What was once a show about two white, cisgendered, and extremely wealthy women who argued about boys, reputation, and murder, is now a show with two women of color (a start, but still a ways away from fixing Hollywood’s colorism problem) leading a conversation also about boys and reputation, but also social justice, inequality, and intersectionality.
In the episode, after spotting Pippa and Bianca’s grand entrance to the party in full sparkly Ulla Johnson-esque debutante gowns, Julien thinks back to the Vanity Fair event pages from her youth — what could make her and her half-sister stand out amongst the vanilla mean girl basics?
Zoya channels a Chuck Bass (squarely not an Ed Westwick), while Julien puts on her best Dan Humphrey (Penn Badgley). They crash Pippa and Bianca’s photos and don a prom pose. It’s no Leighton Meester and Blake Lively cameo — for those holding their breath, please come up for air because Safran has said anything that big will come later in season 2 — but the nod is somehow better. It shows how the show’s core intentions have changed and makes us question how we ever tolerated the Pippas and Biancas all along.
“I really enjoy winking at that,” Safran says of making the 2021 version of the show’s previous stars lean into their inherit privilege. “It was very important for us in the writer’s room to... show somehow that the Blairs and Serenas of the world — and the Pippa and Biancas of the world — still believe that they have a ‘right’ to something that they don’t. We needed to create these characters to show that.”
Safran also shared another little joke that viewers might have missed about Pippa and Bianca’ interpretation of B&S. “They still are a Blair and a Serena, but, I don’t know if you noticed, I switched their hair color,” he says, conspiratorially. “I thought it was a fun thing we did.”
If you enjoyed languishing in the doomed toxic behavior of these mean girls, then you’re in luck. The pair will be back for part two of season one of Gossip Girl later this fall.
This story has been updated.