We are back! Or, they are back. We've been here the whole time, but our entitled friends from the Upper East Side disappeared almost two months ago and left us all alone here, without any Drama or Scheming or any typical Gossip Girl things. But now that's over! Yay!

Yay? I don't know. It was so long ago that we last saw Silver and Adrianna and Teddy and all them (that's the same show right?), that I had a really hard time remembering or even, gulllp, caring what the various plotlines were last night. I mean, there's something going on with Lily going to the hoosegow? Don't drop the gilded truffle soap at rich lady prison, Lily! And then there's something with Nate and his friend Raina, something about Raina's mom dying from fire, and I guess we're supposed to care about that? I mean, Nate is a very interesting character, dynamic and shaded, so it's weird to not totally be into one of his plotlines, and yet here I am, not really into it. I mean, how can anyone focus on, or remember even, what's going on with the other characters when the most important storyline of Gossip Girl's time is sputtering along in front of us. Of course I'm speaking of Dan + Blair = Blan. (What, is there a better portmanteau?)

Yes! Last we saw them they had mouth smooshed and that was like six weeks ago, so surely so much has to have changed, they're probably doing i- Huh? What's that? Nothing has changed? They just kissed the one time and that's it?? Booooooooooooo. Hisssssss. Gossip Girl, it is so not like you to be plodding with your plotting, so why then are you dragging out this, the one story most of us have cared about in two years? It's just cruel. Anyway, yes, last night Blair was laid up in bed, miserable because her powerful lady career is ruined (or something, feh), but also because she is so sex-confused about her tingles for rumply old barracuda-jaw, Dan. What is she to do? Well for now she is to lie in bed and have weird Dan dreams (rolling around in a pile of fake New Yorkers, listening to old Rufus and the Wailers EPs, tasting Dan's waffley taste on her lips) and have Dorota stare at her suspiciously.

Meanwhile Dan is all bonered and upset about it too. There was a funny scene toward the beginning of the episode in which Dan was looking all confusticated while trying to sort books in his room, and there sitting in a corner, looking on with a strange Mona Lisa smile, was Erik. What was Erik doing alone with Dan at Dan's house on a sunny spring afternoon? Hmmm? Anyway, Erik could tell that Dan was all constipated about something, so he began to pry it out of him. Dan, ever weak and gushy, very quickly began to spill the beans. "Erik, can I tell you a secret?" he asked. Erik cleared his throat, shifted in his seat. "Of- Of course. Sure. Of course. A secret. Lay it on me." Dan walked closer to Erik, hoping somehow that proximity would keep the secret more secure. Erik took in a deep, sharp breath. Here it was, finally. Dan looked down, nervous and embarrassed. "See, I have a crush..." Erik held his breath while in his head a single, lone firework whistled up into the sky and burst into glorious white light. "On Blair." Erik felt his stomach flip-flop, swore he could hear his heart as it clattered down the empty elevator shaft. "Oh. Blair. Blair? Really? Well, OK." Dan looked relieved, glad to have finally said it out loud. Then he said something about how Blair smells nice and everyone playing along at home fell to ground in spasms, because ew, and Erik felt his insides one again knotting and hardening with cold. How foolish he'd been to let a hopeful blush of spring into himself. Spring is all mud and wetness and rot. Better to be the winter, better with the icepack and dim gray light. Poor Erik. Poor us. Poor everyone.

So yeah, that's where Dan's at. He's admitting that he has a crush on Blair, breaking Erik's poor deer's heart in the process, and potentially endangering himself. How? Chuck's how. Chuck! Remember Chuck? He's the once-kinda-fun evil character who now spends all his time Don Johnning around, trying to ruin Hero's wedding put together elaborate plots to win back Blair's affections. It's so boring with this stuff these days! Everyone just stop it with Chuck and Blair. Eh, no one's listening to me. Chuck's plan this week was to have Blair's old W boss, EpiPen, call Blair up and be all "So I'm back from my stupid trip and working for Taschen now and we're doing a photoshoot for 'new royalty' or some nonsense, so you should come assist me." Blair of course was tickled by the idea, so she threw back the sheets, flung open the drapes and the French windows and yelled down to the sreet, "You there boy, what day is this??" and the boy, Erik, was like "The worst day ever.." and Blair yelled back "Fuck it, whatever, I'm going to a photoshoot!" So the idea was that Blair would go and see Chuck and totally fall in love with him. Simple enough, right? No! There was another angle to the plan...

Chuck found out somehow, it doesn't really matter how, that Dan is the boy that Blair kissed recently, so he's got to take care of Dan while he's wooing back Blair. Normally Chuck would just make a single, brief, deliberately vague phone call — something like "Fix it" or "Make it happen" or "Do the thing" — and Dan would be found a few days later in the Brooklyn loft, having "slipped and fallen" in the shower, and that would be that. But no, Chuck didn't want to win Blair's heart through tragedy, he wanted to win it through shame. So he had EpiPen or someone call up or write to Dan and say "Hey we're doing this Taschen photoshoot about new royalty or something stupid and we want to photograph you as an 'up-and-comer' or something stupid." Chuck's plan being that at the photoshoot he would embarrass Dan, because of course there was no up-and-comer section, and thus Blair would realize that Dan is too much of a stupid Brooklyn bumpkin to live in Blair's fabulous world. Good plan? No, not good plan. Dan, meanwhile, assumed that he'd been called in for the shoot because Blair wanted to spend time with him, which was sad and gross. Everyone was wrong. Cue muddled, mumbled comedy of manners farce.

First, though, we gotta deal with Lily van der Woodsen up there in her glass sky palace of crystal tears. She's waiting by the phone to find out what kind of jail sentence she gets, so everyone is very nervous. Plus her ex-husband Billy Baldwin is there, which doesn't help matters, especially because Rufus is all snippy and put-upon about Billy Balds being there. Rufus clearly would never actually do anything about it, because he's Rufus the Goofus, not some self-actualized adult man, but it still creates tension. And then of course there's the unpleasant presence of Lily's mother, Lady Badactress, making the whole van der Woodsen family scene a total nightmare. It couldn't possibly get worse! Haha, of course it could! All of a sudden Lady Badactress announced that Lily's long-lost sister Carol would be coming up from her bohemian lifestyle in Florida, so they could all take a family picture together for the, yup you guessed it, new royalty photoshoot! (Modern royalty? American royalty? I don't remember, whatever it was it was lame and I'd like to think that no self-respecting person, no matter how rich, would ever actually participate in a photo shoot themed around being royalty, because gross.) Lily was unhappy to see her sister, because her sister doesn't approve of her tony, troubled lifestyle, but Lily is also really excited to take the photo, so she doesn't know what to do.

Meanwhile Serena runs into her cousin Charlie, a girl, in the lobby of the apartment building. Seems that Charlie, though she's been told by her mom for years that the New York van der Woodsens are bad and spoiled people, is really curious to see, and perhaps live, the flashy lifestyle. So she sneaked up to New York without telling her mom and now here she is talking to Serena. The two immediately hit it off and Serena takes her brag shopping. Of course at the same time, Lily and Carol have made friends again, very suddenly and abruptly after looking at old photos (hilariously they were just stills from that awful spin-off attempt), so they decide to go giggle around town and buy zany '80s outfits for their photo shoot (oh, right, the formal photo shoot got canceled because Lily is a hardened criminal, but the girls decided to do one of their own anyway, because sisters are doing it for themselves) and who do they bump into? Serena and Charlie at Intermix, and Carol is all upset and worried that Charlie is going to be corrupted and Lily and Serena are like "Chill out, bitch!" but that bitch won't chill out.

Everyone storms back to Lily's cream-colored torture spa and in the lobby Serena overhears her grandmama talking to Carol and saying "I send you a check every month..." Whaaaat? Noooo. Carol's whole thing is that she said "Cram it" to the family money and does things for herself down in FLA. Turns out she doesn't, has been living a lie, and has kept her daughter away from the rest of her family based on said lie. Of course it all comes out in the wash eventually, and there are hints that Charlie is evil — she made flirties with Dan, she likes trying on everyone's fancy clothes just a little too much, Carol basically said "Watch out, she's evil" — and I'm guessing we'll see more of that as the last few episodes of the season roll themselves out. Ugh, whatever. We've had this plotline so many times on so many shows! We just had a crazy jealous cousin on 90210! Don't give us another crazy jealous cousin storyline please, folks. Just don't. It was perfected with Tara on the original 90210 (she wasn't a cousin, but it functioned much the same way) and we just don't need it anymore, please.

So that's that and now we go back to the photo shoot. William Baldwin called in a few favors and got the royalty shoot back on for the van der Woodsens, so they all headed over in Lily's invisible diamond minivan to take their portrait. At the shoot, Blair was Blairing around like she does, Chuck was standing in shadowy corners waiting for his plot to unravel, and Vanessa was there, for no good reason at all. Ugh, Vanessa! Well, she did eventually serve a purpose, her only current purpose on the show: to overhear things. That's all Vanessa does. She just stands around hearing things that people are doing and then trying to figure out who to tell first. Vanessa Abrams: Hearer at Large. What she hears is this: Dan goes up to Blair and is like "Hey, I'm here in my suit for my up-and-comer shoot" and Blair is like "Who? What? This isn't a high school yearbook, there's no up-and-comer shoot" and then Erik pops up from a potted plant and says "Wait, Dan, sorry, what did you say about being up and coming and shooting?" and they all laughed and said "Oh, Erik" and Erik turned to the camera and gave us his trademark "Who, me???" joke face and it was a great moment. No, no, what actually happened is that Dan was like "But... I thought you orchestrated this to be near me... " and Blair said no and then Chuck the dastard leaped from the shadows with his cape furling and he said "Aha! It was I all along! Blair, don't you see he's a penniless pauper with no placd in grand society? PS I know you too kissed." That's what Vanessa heard, that Blan kissed! Uh oh, she's toooootes going to tell Serena and the blonde poop will hit the $500 vintage fan.

Anyway, Blair was totally like "Um, Chuck, ya burnt," with the whole plotting thing, and though she'd gone to the photo party thinking she might reunite with him, she now knew for sure she wouldn't. She said at least Dan was a grownup and Dan got a boner and Erik popped up from under table and said "You're growing, up?" and Dan shook his head and walked away. Blair told Dan that she was confident he'd find his princess someday and indicated to Serena, which, noooo, god noooo, we can't have that happen again. Let's focus here people, please let's focus? Blair and Dan. That's where we're going. Maybe we're going there next week? It looks like we might be. Oh, but of course that prince Garibaldi or whoever showed up at the very end, so that will throw a wrench in the whole thing. Sigh. I just want Dan and Blair to do it already!

We'll just have to wait for that I guess. For now it's just this silly photo shoot. The van der Woodsens decided not to do the formal shoot, so they all retreated back to Lily's shimmermansion and had waffles and then the fam surprised Lily with a famous photographer coming to take a portrait of the whole crazy van der Woodsen-Rhodes-Humphrey clan. Everyone smiled and then strangely the backgrounds went all weird and cheap and '80s? What the hell was that? It looked the backdrops from the make-your-own-music-video booths they had at the mall when I was a kid. It looked like the backgrounds from my six-year-old sister lip syncing "How Do You Know" while wearing a Boston College sweatshirt. (Real thing that happened and still exists in video form!) It was a very strange design choice for the show people, but whatever. The photo shoot happened and everyone smiled and though the phone rang, possibly with details of Lily's jailtime, she didn't answer it. She wanted to wait, she wanted to preserve this happy moment forever, before everything changed, the way everything is always changing.

That's the magic and weirdness of photographs. And that's a nice part of people, I think. This want, this activity of preserving a moment, capturing oneself and those around you, giddy and frozen in time. Aren't photographs hopeful! Aren't they also so sad? Isn't everything ending, just when it feels like it's starting again?