I mean, obviously. Chuck/Blair has been a near-constant battle. Games were part of the foundation of their relationship ("You and I bonded over a mutual love of scheming"), games were part of their undoing. Season 2 is inundated with dialogue about games and stakes, winning and losing. Games + Chuck and Blair's king and queen pretensions = every chess and war cliche reference in the history of ever.
Also obviously, games aren't the point. S2's sabotage, schemes, wagers, and ~seductions are just a way for Chuck and Blair to channel their feelings for each other into a safer type of interaction. They lie that the game is what they both enjoy about their relationship, but they're really just afraid to be more than frenemies.
BLAIR: If I say it then Chuck wins.
DAN: But... if you say it then you get him and you win.
BLAIR: No, I lose.
CHUCK: I thought you were ready to tell me how you really felt. Obviously it was just another one of your games.
BLAIR: Tell me if what you feel for me is real, or if it's just a game.
S3 is a metaphorical chess game, and Chuck and Blair struggle to play on the same team. Blair is controlling. Chuck is both distrustful and untrustworthy. The game culminates in a ~war with Jack for the ~Empire, in which Blair protects her ~king and Chuck sacrifices his ~queen.
CHUCK: In order to be a team, we have to focus our duplicity on others.
BLAIR: It's a queen's job to protect her king. Chuck should be thanking me for making his club possible, not treating me like some useless pawn.
JACK: I told Chuck I'd take either you or the hotel. He chose to give me you.
* IDK if all these shots of checkered floor in 3x17 were on purpose, but this had to be.
In S4, references to royalty are thick on the ground. Chuck declares war on Blair, and Serena and Nate broker an actual peace treaty (complete with actual territorial disputes) between them. Like S2, the war is just a way to suppress their feelings. Neither wants to admit that they still love each other.
CHUCK: This means war, Blair. Me versus you. No limits.
SERENA: We've witnessed the Waldorf-Bass wars firsthand. We know you both. You have nuclear capability.
CHUCK: Humphrey, the intricacies of our war games are too complex for a prole like you to fathom.
DOROTA: You aren't fighting with Mr. Chuck, so you fight with everyone else.
The way these three arcs were written, the game-playing is a symptom, not the actual problem(s) with their relationship. I think the best way to try and unpack those problems is to follow the show's lead and use Chuck and Blair's labels: coward and weakling.
Blair's weakling label has been been linked to her feelings for Chuck ever since Gossip Girl handed them out. In S2, Blair being afraid to say "I love you" to Chuck is equated with weakness:
BLAIR: I won't let her be right about me, I will not be weak anymore... Chuck Bass, I love you.
In S3, Blair offering herself to Jack in exchange for Chuck's hotel is her ultimate moment of weakness, and the shame she feels afterwards (she even relapses with her eating disorder) makes Blair reevaluate what she wants:
BLAIR: There is something someone could do to get back the Empire. And yes, it is terrible. But they'd be doing it out of love.
BLAIR: I would do anything for you, Chuck. But what if that's wrong? I never thought it was possible to love someone too much, but maybe it is. I don't like who I've become with you.
In S4, Blair is obsessed with becoming a "powerful woman." Powerful is the opposite of weak, and weakness is associated with her feelings for Chuck:
BLAIR: What I want is to be a powerful woman. But whenever Chuck's around, I just feel like a weak little girl.
BLAIR: I thought that if I could be the Blair Waldorf that I want to be a little sooner, that maybe I could return to Chuck before he fell for someone else.
CHUCK: You don't have to be powerful on your own first. We can build our futures together.
CHUCK: Don't let anyone tell you you're not powerful. You're the most powerful woman I know.
BLAIR: It's taking all the power I have to walk away from you.
We were all so bummed when Blair made her powerful woman arc about Chuck at the end of 4x16, but the truth is that it was always mostly about her feelings for Chuck and how they make her feel weak. It's not Chuck making Blair weak. For example, he sends a famous chef to make sure her Girls Inc. (a "female empowerment organization") event is a huge success... but she ditches the foundation to go tell Chuck she loves him. It's Blair's jealousy of Chuck/Raina that drives her to bite off so much more than she can chew at W. Watching Blair be owned by her feelings for Chuck has been really sad and unfun. It's like watching constant self-sabotage.
Chuck's coward label is important too, but it isn't tied to his relationship with Blair; Blair's weakness is to Chuck as Chuck's cowardice is to his father. Chuck not being able to say I love you was equated with cowardice, but it was his father's death that took it to an extreme level. In S3, Chuck deals with his own ultimate moment of cowardice: running away instead of being there when Bart died. In S4, Blair tells "Henry Prince" that he's being a coward, but Chuck is running from more than just the mistakes he made in their relationship.
Sadly, the show has never explicitly unpacked Chuck and Blair's labels for us. So this is where I get to start making stuff up!
03. NARCISSISM / CODEPENDENCY
BLAIR: Only a masochist could ever love such a narcissist.
The idea that this quote from S2 is important has been kicking around fandom for awhile. I've never really been interested in psychology, and I tuned out whenever my English teachers went on tangents about Freud (seriously, why are they so obsessed?), so to me 'narcissist' was just an adjective for 'self-centered.' I didn't realize narcissism is an actual psychiatric diagnosis. It's even a personality disorder, if you have it badly enough.
Characteristics of Narcissists:
develop when their parents are unable to form a healthy attachment to them
create an illusion of superiority to build up an image of high self-worth
exhibit grandiose, arrogant, and egotistical behavior designed to protect themselves
unable or unwilling to trust others
alternate between feelings of emptiness/deadness and states of excitement/excess energy
impaired ability to feel empathy; fails to recognize and experience how others feel
possess a sense of entitlement and feel rage when it is curbed
prone to knee jerk reactions that may be aggressive, abusive, violent, or vengeful
project guilt, blame, and responsibility for their behavior onto others
intense need for affirmation and confirmation in relationships; seek out idealized partners
exploitative; takes advantage of others to achieve their own ends
I think Chuck is written to be pathologically narcissistic, not just someone who is self-absorbed. Chuck rarely takes responsibility for his actions. He has difficulty trusting even those closest to him. He's incredibly selfish. He sells out the people who care about him. Oftentimes he doesn't seem to *understand* what he's done; he laughed when Blair told him she hadn't slept with Jack, like that was the problem. His "apologies" to Blair project blame onto her ("I'm sorry, but no one forced you to go up there") or are framed in a way that makes it all about his feelings: "You have no idea what I've been going through since that night." Chuck is almost always all about himself and his pain and his needs:
CHUCK: Because... I'm Chuck Bass.
CHUCK: No marketing. I say where and when, people show up.
CHUCK: Dear old Dad? Unfortunately all I know is what he didn't want. Which is me.
LILY: If we had stuck together on this, we would have won.
CHUCK: It looks like I did anyway.
LILY: You have to know everything, control everyone, trust no one.
LILY: It's no one's fault.
CHUCK: Yes it is. It's your fault. His blood's on your hands.
CHUCK: (on sleeping with Jenny) It was no one's fault. It was fate. Tragedy.
CHUCK: Jack set me up.
BLAIR: There's no one to blame but yourself. I believed in you. Your father believed in you. You are the only one who didn't.
CHUCK: You went up there on your own.
CHUCK: Look, you put family before all else. I can't do that. My father was never there for me. My mother abandoned and betrayed me. My uncle is my worst enemy!
RAINA: Is this what you do? Wonderful things for the people you care about before you turn on them?
CHUCK: I'm Chuck Bass, the love of her life. Anyone else is just a waste of time.
It's almost comedic how rarely Chuck takes responsibility for his actions. And the "wonderful things" is interesting too, because one of the "grandiose" types of behavior narcissists exhibit are big romantic gestures. And since narcissists's OTT behavior is designed to protect themselves, maybe that's why Chuck's "romantic" Affair to Remember invitation to the Empire State Building came off like an ultimatum instead: "If you're not there tomorrow at 7:01, I'm closing my heart to you forever."
Psychologists think narcissism is something people develop to defend themselves against shame. Chuck probably developed his in order to protect himself from the shame of "killing" his mother and his father's rejection. Narcissism is about insulating oneself from acute feelings of inadequacy on a very deep level. Chuck told Blair he abandoned her at the helipad because he was afraid she'd see the real him. Jack told Chuck: "Blair's seen the real you, now. It's over. She could never love that. No one could." He fabricated an entirely new identity rather than face his mistakes, and he humiliated Eva so she wouldn't find out about his past. Chuck is a self-loathing 'coward' because he's a narcissist, and his label is tied to his father because his relationship with Bart is the root of his narcissism.
Narcissists are users/takers because they have to look outside themselves for everything -- happiness, goals, self-worth, validation, joy, excitement. All of it has to come from their possessions (which include partners and children, who they objectify) and achievements. In relationships, narcissists are looking for "narcissistic supply," which is an academic concept that boils down to attention or validation or whatever floats a particular narcissist's boat. The ideal person to provide that is a codependent. Narcissists and codependents are described as "natural magnets" for each other.
Codependency is a really broad concept. (Basically unhealthy love.) Codependents can be addicted to addicts, narcissists, relationships, have savior or martyr complexes, etc. I don't think Blair is a codependent; if she was, I think her relationships with Serena and her mother would be infinitely more fucked up. But I do think Blair has codependent tendencies re: relationship addiction, and I think Chuck's narcissism brings them out in her.
Characteristics of Codependents:
attempt to control events, circumstances, and the people around them
possess an unhealthy tendency to behave in excessively care-taking and protective ways
self-sacrificing; compelled to solve other people's problems
attempt to make safe and trustworthy environments with unsafe and untrustworthy individuals and circumstances
seek out/are attracted to people they can "fix"
seek out/are addicted to excitement, drama, and chaos
romanticize their partners
believe in unconditional love; love so much that it hurts
lose sight of boundaries and perspective of what is normal in relationships
relationships are a source of constant stress/drama
Last season, probably the most frustrating thing for Blair's fans was watching Eva and especially Raina walk away from Chuck, whereas Blair was never allowed to move on despite being treated so badly. But one reason codependents/narcissists are "natural magnets" is that only someone who is as unhealthy as the narcissist will put up with their treatment long-term. In this sense, Blair is Chuck's enabler. Like Chuck says: "We bring out the dark sides in each other."
BLAIR: I thought that if I could finally say it that everything would change, but he's just as selfish and soulless as ever. Only a masochist could ever love such a narcissist. Help me.
This quote is so melodramatic and self-absorbed in context; Chuck's dad just died! Nate also talks about how sweet and maternal Blair is with Chuck ("I mean, worrying about him, offering him food, it's downright maternal"). I think the codependent part of Blair kicked into overdrive after Bart's death. Subconsciously, she may even have seen it as an opportunity to prove her love to Chuck.
What narcissists are looking for in a relationship is validation. Their codependent reflects back their view of themselves as special:
CHUCK: I'm not Chuck Bass without you.
BLAIR: Now, who wants to hear how I got the great Chuck Bass to tell me he loved me?
CHUCK: I'm Chuck Bass. And I told you I love you. You're saying I'm easier to win over than a bunch of pseudo-intellectual, homesick malcontents? You'd really insult me like this?
CHUCK: Next time you forget you're Blair Waldorf, remember: I'm Chuck Bass. And I love you.
Blair takes pride in the idea that she's helping Chuck change. Chuck throws that back in her face when he believes that Eva, who he idealizes as "pure and perfect," has finally changed him:
BLAIR: I know how hard it was to let your guard down. To let me in. But you've changed.
BLAIR: We're celebrating you. Opening your heart to your mother. And me. Being the woman who encouraged you to do it.
CHUCK: You just can't stand to see someone finally change me that wasn't you.
Re: their partner's problems, codependents are controlling and resentful when their help/advice is ignored.
CHUCK: Did you do all this?
BLAIR: What? Throw you a brunch? Try to do something nice, supportive? Yes.
CHUCK: I don't need your help! Stop trying to play wife!
BLAIR: You have the liquor license! What does it matter who called who to get it?
CHUCK: This is not about last week. It's about you, Blair. It's the reason why I couldn't say "I love you." It's not a game. It's because I knew I couldn't trust you.
BLAIR: I did this because I love you.
JACK: He knew exactly which buttons to have me push. Said you wouldn’t be able to resist stepping in to save him behind his back.
Codependents believe in unconditional love. They lose sight of boundaries in their relationships.
BLAIR: The worst thing you’ve ever done. The darkest thought you’ve ever had. I will stand by you through anything.
CHUCK: The worst thing I ever did. The darkest thought I ever had. You said you would stand by me through anything. This, Blair, is anything.
BLAIR: I never thought that the worst thing you would ever do would be to me!
BLAIR: There is something someone could do to get back the Empire. And yes, it is terrible. But they'd be doing it out of love.
BLAIR: I would do anything for you, Chuck, but what if that's wrong? I never thought it was possible to love someone too much, but maybe it is.
BLAIR: I wasn’t going to show up, I was resolved not to. Every bone try to slow me, every voice in my head screamed don’t. But I didn’t listen... In the end, love makes everything simple.
Codependents "love so much it hurts." So many books on codependency have titles like 'When It Hurts Too Much to Let Go' or 'When Love Hurts.'
BLAIR: I was the one who asked you to say it first... And when you didn't I wanted to die.
BLAIR: Chuck Bass, I love you. I love you so much it consumes me.
BLAIR: I've been acting like I'm okay, but I'm not. They say it's a broken heart, but I hurt in my whole body. What if I stay like this forever? What if I never get over Chuck?
BLAIR: It's taking all the power I have to walk away from you.
People recovering from codependent relationships talk about being emotionally destroyed. They compare their partners to vacuums or vampires who have sucked them dry of life/happiness/self-esteem/energy/etc. And that's exactly what happened to Blair. That's the kind of language she uses to describe her relationship with Chuck:
BLAIR: ChuckandBlair. BlairandChuck. Who else could love me after what I've become?
BLAIR: We're both sick and twisted. If you think about it, we're incredibly fortunate to have even found each other.
BLAIR: Louis made me happy. Happy. Do you know the last time I felt joy? Chuck had brought me into his darkness for so long, I had forgotten what that felt like.
BLAIR: I loved Chuck for so long and he's punished me for it. He ended up treating me like something he owned instead of something he earned. And it destroyed me.
Chuck named the luxury hotel he's building in Brooklyn The Charles. That's ridiculously narcissistic. I actually think The Charles may represent Chuck's narcissism. I think that's why Blair was held hostage there in the finale. Russell Thorpe intended for The Charles to blow up with Blair inside of it (<-- I can't believe I just typed that in a sentence, tbh); Blair "I love you so much it consumes me" Waldorf would have been literally ~consumed, literally ~destroyed in The Charles. The Charles may be the setting for Chuck's growth next season, which works with the idea that it represents his narcissism since he desperately needs to grow out of it.
Narcissistic/codependent relationships are exciting. They enable both participants with their ~drugs of choice: the codependent provides the narcissist with ~narcissistic supply~ and the narcissist provides the codependent with the relationship dynamics she's attracted to: high drama, someone who needs her, someone else's damage to focus on. These relationships are like emotional roller coasters. THE LOWEST OF LOWS and THE HIGHEST OF HIGHS:
CHUCK: You and I are magnetic. You can feel it. Our pull is as undeniable as ever.
CHUCK: No one could ever measure up to what we had.
CHUCK: I know you felt it.
BLAIR: We were caught up in a scheme. And it was role play.
CHUCK: It was real. I know you feel it right now.
CHUCK: I did the most dangerous thing I could when I said I love you. But it was worth it.... We're never going to be safe. So are you brave enough or aren't you?
BLAIR: What we have is a great love. It's complicated. Intense. All-consuming. No matter what we do and how much we fight, it'll always pull us in. What's mere happiness in the face of all that, right?
It's like they're addicted to their relationship. Angry, amazing hatesex, better-than-sex takedowns, Affair to Remember proposals... One minute they've "hit rock bottom", the next they're "going up in flames." Chuck and Blair's relationship is high risk and high drama, and it provides them with a mutual rush they'll probably never have with anyone else. But by the end of S4, Blair knows she wants something different. She *wants* to kiss Dan, and she *wants* to feel something when she kisses him... but she doesn't. And so she wallows in bed for a week before "accepting" that Chuck is her destiny. She tells Louis he's "the only man in my life, the only man that I want there, anyway." She's not over Chuck, but she *wants* to be.
The best evidence that Blair's S4 story line has been about relationship addiction is Prince Louis and how he foiled Chuck. Louis waited for Blair "all night" at Constance. Chuck "couldn't wait two minutes" for Blair at the ESB. In 4x20, Louis chooses Blair over his empire, which is in stark and deliberate contrast to Chuck choosing the Empire over Blair. Blair is even wearing a dress they bought her in both scenes:
Which means that even though Prince Louis treats Blair so much better than Chuck did, even though Louis makes her happy and Chuck doesn't, even though Louis is the simple, honest love she's been longing for since S3, even though Louis is the literal man of her actual dreams... Blair still wanted Chuck. A matter of days after he was not!abusive! to her. I don't think that's romantic. I think that's really, really sad.
In LA, I think Chuck will chase adrenaline rushes in an attempt to substitute the ~rush of his relationship with Blair. Which is totally narcissistic. Narcissists enter a "manic phase" to replace their ~narcissistic supply~ whenever it disappears. Which is basically what Chuck does all the time. He's always on to the next on on to the next one: Elle and Eyes Wide Shut, Prague, Eva, Raina. Thrill-seeking, substance abuse, and reckless, self-destructive behavior are just another facet of that, another way for narcissists to get the fix they need, because without it they feel numb and empty.
I keep seeing speculation that S5 will be a Chuck/Blair parallel because daredevil!Chuck will literally hurt in his whole body in LA, just like Blair did in Paris. Which conveniently illustrates the problem with Chuck/Blair's dynamic: In LA, Chuck hurts himself through his own actions. In Paris, Blair hurts because of Chuck. Gossip Girl is big on symmetry, but I really don't think Chuck and Blair getting past their individual damage lines up, except insofar that the roots of their "labels" are their low self-esteems. Bart exacerbates Chuck's label/narcissism in the same way Chuck exacerbates Blair's label/codependency. Blair tells Serena that she wants to escape Chuck's "darkness;" Chuck tells Nate that he wants to escape his father's "dark shadow."
And that's why it's so much easier for me to see a path forward re: Chuck/Blair for coward!Chuck than weakling!Blair. Chuck's damage exists outside of his relationship with Blair, and he lashes out at/lets her down because of it. But Chuck could make peace with his father's memory, take responsibility for his actions, and become less narcissistic. However, Blair's damage exists *in* her relationship with Chuck, and she stays with him/loses herself because of it. The problem with their relationship isn't just that Chuck degrades Blair by treating her like a possession he can barter, like a possession he is entitled to. It's also that weakling!Blair degrades herself by being willing to trade herself to Jack, by choosing him over her own happiness, by wanting to be with who someone who hurts her.
DAN: You have to decide what’s most important to you. Keeping your pride and getting nothing or taking a risk and maybe, maybe having everything.
SERENA: I told her to talk to you because I genuinely thought that you would help her be brave.
DAN: No headbands in college.
DAN: You do know that 'powerful woman' is not actually a career, right?
DAN: Just to clarify, I do think you deserve to be with someone who makes you happy.
DAN: Your prince is out there waiting for you.