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Gossip Girl’s Scandalous Ending, Explained

Gossip Girl ended with an infamous reveal—and it haunts everyone to this day. Seriously, what happened? Does this ending work at all? Watch this video and figure out what’s so scandalous about Gossip Girl’s ending and the show’s surprisingly enduring legacy.

TRANSCRIPT

Blair Waldorf: “So I guess that means it’s all over now.”

Dan Humphrey: “Yeah, Gossip Girl’s dead.” - Gossip Girl, 6x10

Gossip Girl ended by answering the mystery that had been (very loosely) hanging over the soapy teen drama’s entire run. Fans expressed everything from baffled amusement to indignant outrage upon learning that the omniscient gossip blogger aiming to take down young Upper East Side elites was in fact Dan Humphrey, the outsider Lonely Boy from Brooklyn who had befriended and romanced his way into the upper echelons of New York teen society. Evidently, Dan created the nasty blog, which frequently attacked the woman of his dreams, Serena van der Woodsen, as a way to…. show his love for her.

In addition to causing many problematic plot holes, the abrupt reveal reframed Dan (the intellectual, moral, and at times judgmental member of his friend group) as kind of a sociopath. Still, the decision to make Dan Gossip Girl did drive home the show’s central messages-like that your internet troll might be the person closest to you, and that (deep down) everybody wants to be an insider.

Gossip Girl: “There will always be someone on the outside wanting to get in.” 6x10

Here’s our Take on the ending of Gossip Girl and this surprisingly enduring teen drama’s ongoing legacy.

Upper East Plot Holes

The reveal of Dan as Gossip Girl bewildered fans and critics alike by essentially rewriting everything we’d seen up to that point. This revelation meant that the brainy, wise heartthrob of the group has made libel victims out of his family, the woman he says he loves, and even himself.

Rufus Humphrey: “Dan, I cannot believe you are the one responsible for all of this poison. The damage you’ve done to your friends, to your family, to your own sister!” 6x10

Starting in season one, the Gossip Girl blog added to Jenny’s unpopularity with nasty rumors about her sex life. So why exactly would Jenny’s own brother be slut-shaming her to ruin her social life? Although the finale later tried to explain away other Gossip Girl-related blows to Jenny as a benevolent plot to help her get out of New York, this still took the form of yet again publicizing her sex life.

Then there are the many, many stories dragging Serena through the mud. Despite his claims that this is all inspired by love for her, Dan’s constant public shaming damages this woman’s emotional well-being, stability, and reputation.

Serena van der Woodsen: “If anyone should be mad, it should be me.” 6x10

He also directly sabotages the romantic relationship he supposedly was always after-like when he accuses himself of cheating on Serena, or when he intensifies the awkwardness of his dad getting together with Serena’s mom by putting their quasi-incestual ties on blast. And let’s not forget the time he leaked Blair’s diary pages to damage his relationship with her, or the times he blows up his relationship with Vanessa by (again) branding himself a cheater.

Co-Creator and Showrunner Stephanie Savage has insisted that Dan was always the choice for who’s behind Gossip Girl (source: TVLine). But more recently, the show’s producer Josh Safran has confirmed that both Serena’s brother Eric and cool kid Nate were early candidates. According to Safran, after the media caught on that Eric was probably Gossip Girl,

The show’s creative team decided that—given the direction they were already taking Dan, “Lonely Boy”, made more sense as the blogger (Vulture).

Dan: “All I had to compare to this world was what I’d read in books, but that gave me the idea.” 6x10

Gossip Girl tonally tended to walk the line between soapy and tongue-in-cheek, so it’s fitting that the final reveal is a little bit of both, too. It’s not supposed to make total sense. Thus, we don’t really need to worry about the fact that Dan has a text conversation blackmailing himself to bring Blair to a party, or somehow writes up a post while still standing in Blair’s wedding.

Savage said Gossip Girl’s identity wasn’t “something that we wanted viewers to be actively thinking about” during the course of the show. Still, if they did know for a long time that Dan was Gossip Girl, it’s odd that the creators didn’t feel this would have been relevant information to share with the actor who played Dan, Penn Badgley. Savage told TVLine, “It was nothing that we wanted to be part of Penn Badgely’s performance as Dan.” But not only does this lead to numerous scenes where Dan reacts with genuine shock and horror to a Gossip Girl post he’s reading all by himself. It also drastically changes the fundamental nature of who Badgeley’s character is. So what does this last-minute bombshell tell us about Dan Humphrey?

Dan: “I wrote my first post about me, Lonely boy, the outsider, the underdog.” 6x10

Dan Is Actually the Villain

All hilarious plot holes aside, with the canon of Dan as Gossip Girl comes the realization that he’s been the villain of the entire series. If we accept this reveal at face-value, it’s interesting to revisit the series and try to make sense of Dan’s emotional arc- what could be driving him to be this much darker character than he appeared to be all along?

The narrative Dan puts forward is that he started the blog because he wanted to be close to Serena after he was accidentally invited to a party she was at. Yet once he finally does get to be with Serena, he evidently has the impulse to brag about his conquest - like when he tells everyone he might have got her pregnant. Other posts—like when he spreads rumors that she has an STD—suggest toxic jealousy and possessiveness directed toward his dream girl. So it appears that on some level Serena is a prize he wants to win, and her special importance to him is symbolic of a deeper desire: to be on the inside. Over time, his obsession with belonging to her world seems to take precedence over actually being with Serena herself.

Dan: “Membership in this community was so elite, you couldn’t even buy your way in. It was a birthright. A birthright I didn’t have, and my greatest achievements would never earn me.” 6x10

Meanwhile, he also resents Serena for the way her extreme privilege has insulated her, in ways that his merely upper-middle-class level of wealth has not.

Dan: “Have you ever wanted something so badly, but you just know you’re not going to get it? … Of course you don’t.” 6x10

There’s a streak of bitterness running through his Gossip Girl posts, which can be explained by his repeatedly watching his friends enjoy unfair privileges that he doesn’t get, like when Serena avoids serious punishment for throwing a pool party on school grounds or when Nate beats out Dan for the Dartmouth Ivy League usher position, without trying at all.

Over the course of the series, Dan is repeatedly disappointed that Serena’s ultimate allegiance is to her world over him. And at times, he appears to lose respect for her entirely.

Dan: “It has always been your world and you’ve never let me forget it. I’ve always been a visitor. The poor kid from Brooklyn who you’ve never seen as an equal to you.” 6x8

Eventually, jaded and tired of feeling like he’s still not enough for Serena and still not fully accepted by the group, he publishes scathing exposés he’s secretly been writing about them, no longer hiding behind the blog. He stoops to what he perceives to be the Upper East Siders’ level, thinking that being as mean as them will finally make them accept him. Along the way, in addition to venting his frustrations, the Gossip Girl blog has also been a tool for him to figure out what kind of writer he wants to be. There are even times when we can spot him bringing in his more high-brow literary sensibilities in the Gossip Girl voiceover. But ultimately it’s by transforming into a ruthless, exploitative, sensationalist gossip writer that Dan eventually does come to belong in Serena’s world.

Dan: “If I wasn’t born into this world, maybe I could write myself into it.” 6x10

Through his pursuit of literary and social success at all costs, this frequent critic of his friends’ superficiality evolves into the most hungry, image-obsessed of all. And in the end, he’s rewarded with the acceptance he always craved—he just had to entirely change who he was, and bury his idealistic former self, in order to get it.

Serena: “You were supposed to be different.”

Dan: “I used to be. Got me nowhere. So now I’m the same.” 6x8

Arguably, the final reveal even villainizes the outsider, essentially for being one—sending the message that not belonging was Dan’s original sin, requiring him to undertake the ugly business of pushing his way into a society that doesn’t want him.

Blair: “Chuck is one of us, whereas Dan despite his years of trying, never will be.” 6x10

This shrewd observer-turned-conformist decided to base his entire life and identity on the fundamental principle underlying Serena’s world: that you’re no one unless you’re talked about.

Dan: “I might have been a joke, but at least people were talking about me.” 6x10

Glossy Ending to a Glossy Show

The other major message of the finale is that however many bad things these rich kids have done, and however many traumas they put each other through, everything will always work out for them.

Chuck Bass: “You and I come from different worlds. In my world, if I’m suspended or expelled, a wing is donated in the Bass name.”

Dan: That sounds like quite a world.” 1x12

What makes Gossip Girl an even guiltier pleasure than previous soapy teen dramas about rich kids is its lack of real consequences for its characters’ behavior. In Beverly Hills 90210, Donna’s chances of graduating are threatened when she drinks at prom. In The O.C. Marissa dies in a car crash. But in Gossip Girl, no one dies (at least, no one you’re supposed to care about). And no one is held accountable for objectively terrible behavior. Chuck Bass—the show’s original villain, turned central love-interest, gets redemption and his dream girl Blair Waldorf, even though he once sold her to his Uncle for a hotel business and sleeps with her enemy. It’s even okay if you run a nasty years-long gossip blog about your best friends, as long as you explain why you did it.

Serena: “Dan was as hard on himself as he was on any of us. And he wouldn’t have had anything to post if everyone hadn’t been sending in tips.” 6x10

All of Gossip Girl’s snark about its characters’ bad behavior gave way to a conventional romantic pairing-off that delivered audience wish-fulfillment wrapped up with a bow. In the retrospective special the CW ran right before the finale aired, Showrunner Stephanie Savage likened watching Gossip Girl to reading a glossy magazine—it’s a fun glimpse into the glittering world of the monied elite.

And what viewers loved the most about Gossip Girl was the over-the-top glamour it showcased. The show premiered the same year as Keeping Up with the Kardashians, in the midst of the reality and semi-scripted TV boom of the 2000s, when audiences were becoming ever-more captivated by privileged glimpses into the so-called “real lives” of the rich and famous. Gossip Girl offered the 18 to 34 demographic a rose-tinted, aspirational Sex In the City-style Manhattan, only it populated with horny teenagers instead of horny 30-somethings. It was the perfect intersection of teen soap, Golden Age of Television character development, and reality TV escapism.

Blair: “Here’s my advice. Have a little faith, and if that doesn’t work, have a lot of mimosas.” 4x12

It was also one of the first teen dramas to use the internet in the central premise of the show—something Pretty Little Liars would later mimic through its plot centered around blackmailing texts. And Gossip Girl was the jumping-off point for numerous series to come focusing on the sensational lives and supposed problems of rich people, including Turkish, Thai, Mexican, and Indonesian versions of Gossip Girl; the Bravo reality show NYC Prep and a 2021 HBO Max reboot of the show (Deadline). After a slew of more realistic, heavy, or dark teen shows, Gossip Girl’s good old-fashioned pulpy escapism may continue to appeal. It remains to be seen how the show’s sensational fantasy of the wealthy elite will fit with today’s more critical social discourse.

But if there’s one thing the show’s enduring influence proves, it’s that we will always want a glimpse into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s elite.