Chuck and Blair: An Abusive Relationship?
The “Gossip Girl” series finale left many people asking how Serena could stay with Dan after all he did to her. I think the more important issue to discuss is how Blair could stay with Chuck after all he did to her.
While Chuck (Ed Westwick) and Blair (Leighton Meester) are arguably the series’ most popular couple, I’ve never really been onboard the Chair train. Sure, there are times I’ve rooted for them. There are moments between the pair that make me swoon. But I can’t shake the toxicity of the relationship.
The problem goes back to the very first episode. In the “Gossip Girl” pilot, Chuck tries to force himself on Serena in one scene and then attempts to rape Jenny in another. He even remarks at one point that Serena needs to be “violated.” There’s this saying: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. We should’ve taken Chuck at face value as he showed us who he was from day one: a predator.
Episodes later, we learned Chuck could be an emotional abuser as well. After Blair loses her virginity to him, Chuck spurns her and cruelly spits, “You held a certain fascination when you were beautiful, delicate, and untouched. But now you’re like one of the Arabians my father used to own: Rode hard and put away wet. I don’t want you now and I don’t see why anyone else would.” And yet, even after such vitriol, they continue a push-pull dynamic and eventually end up embarking on a relationship.
Their romance reaches a sadistic low in season 3, with Chuck essentially offering Blair up for sex with his uncle Jack in order to regain control of the Empire hotel. To be clear, Jack won’t give up the hotel unless Blair has sex with him and Chuck agrees to that. Blair becomes a transaction, her body a commodity. It’s a plot straight out of Indecent Proposal (and one also done years before in season 6 of “Beverly Hills, 90210.”). Like many abusers, Chuck then becomes suicidal when he thinks Blair is done with him for good… and then sleeps with Jenny. He keeps that dalliance a secret when Blair returns to him and then sleeps with her.
This unhealthiness only worsens in season 4, when a drunken Chuck — angry that Blair is in a serious relationship with someone else — attempts to grab her at a party. He later forces himself on her (a leopard doesn’t change its spots) and punches a window right next to her face. Blair’s cheek is left bleeding from the shattered glass, but make no mistake: If she had not ducked, it would’ve been her face that Chuck punched, not the window.
Executive producer Joshua Safran tried to justify the violent encounter, insisting to E! Online at the time:
“The way we viewed it, I think it’s very clear that Blair is not afraid in those moments, for herself. They have a volatile relationship, they always have, but I do not believe — or I should say we do not believe — that it is abuse when it’s the two of them. Chuck does not try to hurt Blair. He punches the glass because he has rage, but he has never, and will never, hurt Blair. He knows it and she knows it, and I feel it’s very important to know that she is not scared — if anything, she is scared for Chuck — and what he might do to himself, but she is never afraid of what he might do to her. Leighton and I were very clear about that.”
That is not apparent at all in the scene, especially when you consider Blair ends up literally running away from him. Disturbingly, the author of the piece linked above also refers to Chuck as a “classic romantic hero” who “always had that Gothic thing, and those guys are always imbued with a dark side in addition to their vulnerability about their girlfriends.” It’s a characterization I find sickening — and worrisome, given the show’s youthful viewers and how impressionable young girls are at that age. This is the message we’re sending them? That men who behave this way are romantic heroes, who aren’t culpable for their actions as long as the woman isn’t scared?
Then in season 5, we’re apparently supposed to feel sorry for Chuck, so emotionally stunted because of Blair’s rejection and his troubled childhood. We even get an apology scene that is seemingly supposed to make him redeemed.
More push-pull in season 6 ultimately culminates in Blair and Chuck getting married, and in the series finale’s five-year flash-forward, they are depicted as happily wed with a son. We have no idea if Chuck has stopped being physically or emotionally abusive, but Chair fans were thrilled the couple was endgame.
To be fair, the issue here isn’t only Chuck. The couple’s repugnant behavior goes both ways. While Chuck disturbingly insists Blair is “mine,” there are times when she treats him as a possession all the same. There’s even a scene where she slaps him after trying to seduce him. Their dynamic through the whole series could even be boiled down to them taking turns rejecting one another, both physically and verbally.
And the conclusion that their relationship is abusive isn’t something that’s only evident in hindsight. In 2011, after Safran defended Chuck getting violent with Blair, Zap2it published an article titled, “‘Gossip Girl’: Is Chuck Bass abusive? E.P. says no; we beg to differ.” Author Carina Adly MacKenzie, who is now a television writer herself, rightfully pointed out:
“Humiliating a woman with sexual language and derogatory statements, as Chuck did at the party, is abusive. Physically intimidating a woman by invading her personal space, shoving her, and being destructive to her surroundings is abusive. Women and girls who watch the show should be aware of this.”
But the passage of time has afforded more opportunities for critical looks at the Chuck-Blair relationship, including one written in 2017, 10 years after the show debuted. In “We Need To Talk About Sexual Assault On ‘Gossip Girl,’” the writer pointed out:
“In the end, everyone got their happily ever after, including Chuck and Blair whose ‘will they, won’t they’ attitude toward true love kept us pining well after it seemed reasonable to do so. The thing is though, we never should have been rooting for Chuck Bass.”
In a 2018 article titled “How Gossip Girl normalised abuse,” featured in a student publication for the University of Oxford, the writer asserted:
“The love affair between Chuck and Blair is toxic, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. It panders to the idea that love is meant to make us feel awful all of the time, and while those feelings may be powerful, they don’t always constitute a healthy relationship. Chuck and Blair exist together in a cycle of destruction and pain, hurting each other constantly, projecting psychological issues onto one another, and feeding off their problems… ‘Chair’ have all the hallmarks of a toxic relationship, one which in the real world would self-combust.”
And in 2019, after the “Gossip Girl” spinoff was announced, Vogue India ran a story that implored, “Why the creators of ‘Gossip Girl’ need to be mindful the second time around.” The author flat-out declared “#Chair was a mistake,” writing:
“Chuck and Blair’s relationship was, for a large part of the show, abusive and toxic. Chuck and Blair’s common desire to control and manipulate those around them (even their closest friends) was the foundation of their romance which, unsurprisingly, evolved into something far more sinister… There was lots of gaslighting as well… Yet, the guy got the girl and everyone lived happily ever after.”
To this day, I don’t understand why. I don’t know what so many shippers see in Chuck and Blair’s relationship that I don’t, and how that somehow outweighs all of the very, very bad. But while Chair may be the predominant “Gossip Girl” pairing among the fandom, I don’t think I’m alone in viewing their coupling this way. Look at all these BuzzFeed lists from the last year, many of them compiled from fan submissions, featuring Chuck, Blair, or the pair:
“People Still Can’t Believe Teen Dramas Got Away With These 22 Inexcusably Problematic Plotlines”
“18 Teen Drama Boyfriends So Bad, They Should Have Been Written Off The Show”
“22 Times Two TV Characters Were Perfect Together Because They Were Both Legitimately Awful”
“19 TV Characters Who Got Happy Endings They Didn’t Deserve”
“19 Teen Drama Moments That Were Supposed To Be Romantic But Were Actually Kind Of Messed Up”
“26 TV Couples So Bad, They Shouldn’t Have Dated In The First Place”
But Chuck and Blair are also listed on “23 Toxic TV Couples That Fans Ended Up Falling In Love With,” with the fan comment stating:
“Chuck and Blair will always be the greatest. They’re equally matched with their lifestyles and attitudes toward things like partying, sex, money, and power. Plus, they both had great character development from the first season to the last. And you can’t tell me the ‘Three words, eight letters, say it and I’m yours’ episode doesn’t make you root for them!”
As I said from the outset, there are, in fact, some moments between them that make me melt. The teen dramas are designed to suck you in, especially when it comes to the relationships. But sometimes you have to draw a line. And the Chuck-Blair romance shamefully crosses it.
Reminder: Your premium subscription to TeenDramaWhore includes perks like exclusive content (including essays like this), fan interviews, trivia parties, and Zoom chats with the genre’s key players. Pretty cool, right? Help TDW grow and spread the word!