Gossip Girl Season 6, Episode 5, “Monstrous Ball” opens with a black-and-white collage of images set to Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids.” It’s a fitting ode to the ever-present wealthy “in-crowd”  — and to the flashy life into which Dan Humphrey is trying to assert himself. This episode serves, more than any other hour yet this season, as a stark evaluation of the characters: Their struggles, their failures, their chaotic present lives. As Frank Ocean puts it: “Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends.” Serena can’t land a husband, Blair still can’t sex up the man she loves, and Lily Bass replaces Dorota as the voice of reason.

SERENA AND DAN

Remember when Serena was a principled Phoenix recently arisen from smutty society ashes? Serena doesn’t. The girl who overcame her Season 1 sex scandal has returned to the scene of the crime, and this time her sins aren’t just of the flesh. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves...

Serena, having traded in her Ivy League ambitions for whichever boy will give her the largest ring, says things like “Are the pancakes okay?” Steven, aka the most depressing onscreen walking-talking metaphor for Barry Watson’s career we could ever have imagined, is preparing to put a ring on his nubile blonde girlfriend, but his daughter (only years younger than Serena) is having none of it.

Armed with the technology and drive only ever seen in Blair’s darkest moments, Sage manages to wrestle Serena out from under her father with the only currency known to the rich kids of Instagram: a sex scandal. Namely, Serena and Dan Humphrey’s sex tape, recorded when Dan was still sexng up Serena’s best friend, and replayed in the middle of the Cotillion.

Serena’s past sins cannot outrun either the kids or technology of today, and she’s left without a fiance, diamond ring, or best friend. The only person willing to pick up the pieces — and feed her a burger? Dan Humphrey.

CHUCK AND BLAIR

Chuck and Blair have the same endgame in mind but are battling different daily demons. Chuck enlists Ivy in a clumsy attempt to take Bart Bass down, a plot that involves spraying his cologne and drinking Scotch (oh, Chuck, you should know better). Bart catches Ivy in the act, tells Lily, and Lily promptly realizes Chuck is trying to rope her into a coup to overthrow her husband. Bart then sensing an opening, confesses his foreign-oil dealings.

Blair, meanwhile, is momentarily distracted by Dan’s Vanity Fair street cred and pomade-laden coif. Lonely Boy escorts our fair Queen Waldorf to her Cotillion, only after realizing that Blair and Chuck are indeed engaged-to-be-engaged — and Blair is already wearing Chuck Bass’s ring around her neck. Via Georgina, Dan greenlights the publishing of a juicy chapter of his memoir — one that seemingly paints Chuck as a superhero.

But the Serena/Dan sextape overshadows all of Humphrey’s good intentions, firebombing both Blair’s Cotillion and all of her hopes (yes, hopes) for lasting alliances. In one of her most human moments, Blair chastises Serena: “You wanted to prove that you could still have anyone I wanted. I stopped when I knew you would really get hurt.”

IN CONCLUSION

Credit: The CW

Chuck and Blair are left to lick their wounds (an evil father, a narcissistic best frenemy), while Serena and Dan chow down on burgers and three kinds of pie. Blair meets Chuck and his Design Within Reach-furnished loft, asking him — the only person she has left — if he still wants her. Chuck nods, kisses her, and says, “I know it seems like forever, but I know what my father did and I just have to prove it.”

BURNING QUESTIONS

- Why does Chuck and Blair’s future hang on the shadow of Bart Bass?
- Will Dan and Serena turn their past and present failings into a functional future?
- Will Serena continue to put her past so far behind her, she can’t remember who she was?