The Handmaiden's Tale is the 6th episode of the first season and the 6th overall.
Long ago, when European royals grew bored with palace balls they took a page from the Peons and added some pageantry. Couture and canapés are just another Saturday night until you add a mask. But preparing for a ball is an event in itself. Which is why queens invented handmaidens.
Dan is torn between two girls when his childhood friend, Vanessa, returns home and declares her feelings for him. At the masked ball, Blair sends Nate on a scavenger hunt, but Nate is ultimately distracted by his feelings for Serena. Finally, Lily asks Rufus to accompany her to an Eleanor Waldorf event in order to make Bart Bass jealous.
In order to help Blair prepare for the upcoming masked ball, Jenny goes to pick up the dresses for everyone and the shopkeeper kindly lends her a diamond bracelet; and says he hopes she gets to go as well. He tells her that he'll put it on Blair's tab and that since the girls are his best customers, he's going to show off his nicest items. At the Waldorf's, Blair and Serena discuss the ball. Blair explains that she has a scavenger hunt set up for Nate, including him having to go through several ladies in waiting to get more clues, and if he wins, they are finally going to have sex. She asks Serena to be a lady in waiting, and says that the night is all about starting over. At the loft, Dan hears about the ball from Jenny and Rufus. She says it's odd Serena didn't mention it and leaves to continue her errands. Once she's gone, Dan tells Rufus that he thinks she didn't say anything because she knew he would think its pretentious. Back at the Waldorf's, Serena tells Blair exactly that. However, Blair disagrees and says she thinks Dan would go just to spend time with her. Back at the loft, Rufus encourages Dan to escort her to the ball if he wants to; but Dan says it's too late for bold gestures. His phone rings and sees his old friend Vanessa Abrams on the caller ID. He answers and she asks if he still has a book she lent him. He says he isn't sure and goes to look, but finds her sitting on his window sill. They hug and she explains that her parents gave her permission to live with her sister in New York, so she's back for good. Dan awkwardly says that he's glad and his phone rings. She tells him to answer then goes off to say hi to Rufus. He answers to find Serena on the other end. She overhears Vanessa in the loft before she can invite him to the ball and asks who that is. He lies that it's Jenny, which Serena figures out because at that moment, Jenny walks into Blair's room. She backs out of her invite and hangs up. Afterwards, she tells Blair she needs a date to the ball.
At the Archibald's, Howard freaks out on Nate's mother, Anne, over the way his dress shirts were cleaned. He tells her that everything needs to be perfect for Eleanor's party that night and she reminds him that Eleanor knows he is the best one to take her company public. He angrily leaves for work and Nate asks Anne if he's okay. She says he's just stressed about work and that it's nothing for him to be worried about. Unconvinced, he goes along with it. Elsewhere, Vanessa tries to get Dan to go to a movie with her but he isn't into it. She makes a crack about the rich kids he goes to school with then asks if it's weird having her back. He asks why it would be weird, and she reminds him of what he said before she left. Hee adds that she asked him to take it back and that a lot has changed since then. She replies that she looks forward to hearing about it and they make plans to hang out that night. Back at the Archibald's, Nate invites Chuck over to figure out why his dad has been acting weird. Chuck asks if he ever found out what happened to his trust, and Nate says Howard claimed to be moving accounts around and that all the money was back the next day. He opens a book on Howard's desk and finds a bag of cocaine hidden inside Chuck comments that he thought Nate was strictly an herbal man, and Nate replies that it's not his. At the Waldorf's, Blair orders Kati and Is to find Serena the hottest date they can for the ball. Afterwards, she notices Eleanor directing the set up for her Moroccan themed party and misses a call from Nate, who leaves her a message saying he really needs to talk to her about his dad. Meanwhile, Jenny finishes her errands, which pleases Blair. She notices the bracelet and remarks that the diamonds look real. Jenny says they are, and that the man at the shop lent it to her. Blair asks why he would do that, then realizes that Jenny thinks she gets to go to the ball. She tells her that freshmen aren't allowed, as part of tradition, and promises her time will come eventually.
At The Palace, Lily asks Serena what she thinks of the dress she's going to wear to Eleanor's party. She notices Serena's gown for the ball and asks if she's going with Dan. Serena lies that he has plans, and says the real question is with whom. Lily admits that she's sort of relieved because Serena should be out playing the field. Serena asks if she's bringing anyone to Eleanor's and Lily says she isn't. When she leaves to try on her dress, Serena receives an IM from Edward Abbott IV, a senior at Dalton. She notes that he isn't Dan but he would be an acceptable date. At the loft, Dan calls Jenny and leaves her a message inviting her to come out with him and Vanessa. On his computer, he notices a Gossip Girl blast that wonders why Serena's friends are scouting potential dates for her, and that Prince Charming needs to get off his saddle at some point for her. Back at The Palace, Serena invites Edward to attend the ball with her just as Dan decides it isn't too late for a bold gesture. Afterwards, Nate comes by and admits to Serena that he needs someone to talk to. He confides in her about the coke and she suggests that maybe it's old. Nate also explains that it makes sense since they having money problems. He wishes that Howard would be honest with him and not shut him out, and Serena advises him to keep trying to get him to talk because he's probably scared. He thanks her for listening and leaves. Back at the loft, Vanessa arrives to pick up Dan and finds Rufus dressed to go out. She asks where Dan is and Rufus says he should be back soon, then adds that Dan seems happy to see her despite her breaking his heart before she left. She confesses that she hated being away from him and that she plans to tell him how she feels that night. Rufus says that a lot has changed since she left and Vanessa asks where he's going. He vaguely says he's going to some party with a non friend and leaves. Once he's gone, Dan calls Vanessa to say he won't be able to make the movie because he has a paper to write. After they hang up, Jenny arrives home and Vanessa notices she looks sad. She follows her to her room and asks what's wrong.
Meanwhile, Lily and Rufus arrive at the Waldorf penthouse. He asks how this is a favor to him, and she explains that there's plenty of people at the party who will help his gallery get on the map. She introduces him to Eleanor, who is pleased to see them. They go to get some appetizers and Lily spots Bart at the party, escorting a beautiful young blonde. He comes over with her and introduces them to the woman, Carissa. They have an awkward interaction and Rufus realizes Lily brought him to make Bart jealous. Elsewhere, Howard and Anne also arrive at the party. Back at the loft, Jenny explains to Vanessa about not being allowed to go to the ball. She offers to help Jenny sneak into the ball and they go off to make it happen. At the ball, Dan finds a drunken partygoer outside and is able to steal his mask and identity to get past the doorman. Meanwhile, Vanessa and Jenny sneak in the back successfully. Vanessa trades Jenny's pink bag for a fan and leaves while Jenny goes inside. Upon entering, Dan spots Serena dancing with another guy right away. Elsewhere, Vanessa sneaks back inside because she accidentally took Jenny's house keys with her bag. She wanders in to find her and takes a mask from a table. Meanwhile, Chuck spots Jenny while Blair wonders why Nate isn't following the scavenger hunt. He approaches her and asks to dance with her. She smirks and suggests that they skip all that and go somewhere quiet to talk, and he tells her that he'll get the champagne. Back at the Waldorf's, Howard tries to convince Eleanor to let his company take her's public. She argues that he has never done a fashion account before and that she already has a company in mind that has a good offer. Anne asks to change the subject, then shows Eleanor her great grandmother's ring, gifted to her by Cornelius van der Bilt; and says that Blair should have it when she and Nate get engaged. Across the room, Lily tries to be low-key about watching Bart. Rufus comes over and says that there is only one thing that will make men jealous. Before she can give a good reply, he kisses her; which Bart notices.
Back at the ball, Serena grows tired of her date's anecdotes and is about to excuse herself when Dan asks to dance. He says he's saving her because he can see her eye rolling from across the room. Meanwhile, Nate is approached by Kati and Is; who try to engage him in the scavenger hunt. He doesn't pay attention and Kati finally just tells him to find Serena, who will lead him to Blair. Elsewhere, Jenny suggests to Chuck that the play a game: he goes to hide and leaves her a trail of clothes so she can find him. He agrees immediately and heads upstairs. Back on the dance floor, Serena asks Dan what he's really doing there. He says he was trying to make a bold gesture to see her because he cares for her. She replies that he didn't seem to care when he was with another girl and lied about it. He explains that his old friend Vanessa, who briefly moved to Vermont, came home and only lied because he was an idiot. He also says that his relationship with Vanessa was complicated until he met Serena, and he wanted her to invite him to the ball. She admits that she was going to invite him and he removes her mask to kiss her: which Vanessa witnesses. Shocked to see her, Dan follows and says he's surprised to see her there. She says the same thing and sarcastically reminds him of the paper he was supposed to be writing. He accuses her of following him and she reminds him that he said he loves her. He replies that he loved her, back before things changed. Noticing Serena, she tearfully says that he traded up and leaves. Dan tells Serena that he has to go after her and also leaves. On the roof, Jenny finds Chuck in his boxers and undershirt. She says he found his pants, and he says she's getting warmer. She laughs that he hopes he doesn't get cold and grabs all his clothes before closing the door, leaving him locked outside. At the Waldorf's, Rufus notices Lily sitting alone. She says she needed a moment after the kiss and he tells her that Bart doesn't appreciate all she has to offer and he'll regret it down the road. Afterwards, she whispers that his plan worked as Bart comes over and asks for a moment with her alone. Rufus watches them speak closely, and he pushes the elevator button to leave.
Downstairs at the ball, Nate tries to catch Serena but only glimpses her going into the restroom. Inside, she sees Jenny; who asks her not to say anything about her being there. She asks if everything is okay and Serena explains that Dan came to surprise her but left to chase after a girl named Vanessa. Jenny explains that she is Dan's best friend but also admits that they have history. However, she assures Serena that Dan has never liked a girl as much as he likes Serena, especially considering he came to a masked ball for her. Encouraged by this, she decides to go find him and offers to trade masks with Jenny because her's is bothering her. She also offers her her sweater and asks if she had fun. Jenny answers that it was everything she hoped and Serena helps her take down her hair. Outside, Nate grabs Jenny, thinking she's Serena, and confesses that he isn't over her and wants to break up with Blair because he can't fight his feelings for her. He kisses her, but Jenny pulls away and runs off. Serena comes over and asks why he hasn't found Blair yet. She tells him where to find her because the clock is about to strike midnight. While Jenny is trying to run out, she's grabbed by Blair; who also mistakes her for Serena. She grabs her wrist and asks where Nate is but Jenny pulls away, leaving the bracelet in Blair's hand. Knowing Jenny had the bracelet, Blair realizes she snuck in just as everyone removes their masks and she meets eyes with Nate. Elsewhere, Dan calls after Jenny, also thinking she is Serena, but sees her run away. Outside, Blair fills Chuck in on Jenny sneaking into the ball. He realizes she must have been the one who trapped him on the roof and Blair goes to her limo. Nate follows but Blair says he doesn't get his prize since he didn't find her in time. He apologizes and Blair admits that all she wanted was for them to start over and is disappointed that he didn't even try. She gets into her car and drives off. Meanwhile, Dan calls Serena and asks why she ran away. She sees him call her and walks over, explaining that tonight there was more than one Serena. He admits that he likes her and only her, and she replies that she feels the same before they kiss. At the Archibald's, Nate arrives home to find his parents waiting for him. Anne shares that Eleanor is letting Howard take her company public and when she went to find a wine opener to celebrate, she found the bag of coke. Howard says nothing and Anne asks what Nate has to say for himself, since it isn't her's or Howard's so it has to be his. At the loft, Dan tells Jenny he went to the ball; not knowing she was there too. She smiles that his night isn't over and says he has someone there to see him. He sees Vanessa in his room, where she's eating pierorgis. She says she is there in peace and he winks at Jenny as he closes the garage door. They also make up, and agree to work on their friendship. As they eat, Dan begins to share about Serena, Lily, and Blair and the roles they play in his life now.
- Blake Lively as Serena van der Woodsen
- Leighton Meester as Blair Waldorf
- Penn Badgley as Dan Humphrey
- Chace Crawford as Nate Archibald
- Ed Westwick as Chuck Bass
- Taylor Momsen as Jenny Humphrey
- Kelly Rutherford as Lily van der Woodsen
- Matthew Settle as Rufus Humphrey
- Jessica Szohr as Vanessa Abrams
- Margaret Colin as Eleanor Waldorf
- Zuzanna Szadkowski as Dorota Kishlovsky
- Nan Zhang as Kati Farkas
- Robert John Burke as Bart Bass
- Francie Swift as Anne Archibald
- Sam Robards as Howard 'The Captain' Archibald
- Nicole Fiscella as Isabel Coates
- Ward Horton as Edward Abbot IV
- Kiss, Kiss by Yeah Yeah Yeahs
- Guess Who (Parov Steler Remix) by Nekta
- Take It to the Top by 5 Alarm
- A Taste (The La La Song) by Sofia J
- Nasty Funky Crazy (featured in Gossip Girl) by Becca Styles
- Ring a Ling (featured in Gossip Girl) by Miss Eighty 6
- Timebomb by Beck
- Happy Ending by Mika
Rufus: Haven't you heard? Your sister is Cinderella.
Dan (to Jenny): Let me guess, your wicked stepsister is Blair Waldorf.
Chuck: Mysterious financial transactions, warring parents... Welcome to the Upper East Side.
Blair (to Kati and Is): Serena must have the hottest date ever! If he's got plans, he'll change them, if he's got a girlfriend, he'll dump her, and if he's out of town, he'll charter a G5 and fly home. Make it happen.
Blair (on Eleanor's party props): Is it a bong, Mother?
Blair: I didn't take you for a stoner.
Eleanor: It is a hookah! And it's adorable.
Vanessa: So this Blair girl used you as her slave.
Jenny: No, I was her handmaiden.
Vanessa: Handmaiden is Jane Austen for slave.
Serena: You saying you're not into your old friend Vanessa?
Dan (before kissing her): That is exactly what I'm saying.
Dan (on the UES): You hate this world.
Vanessa: So do you. Or so I thought.
Rufus (to Lily): Right, um, and, um, I'm sorry I kissed you. But I did it because that mercenary in the starched white shirt? He doesn't appreciate everything you have over an attractive 25 year old mannequin. Cause... beauty fades but your's has done a remarkable job of holding on. And in the long run, it's gonna be his loss. And I thought he should know how it feels to lose you. Cause trust me, it's not fun.
Nate (to Jenny, thinking she's Serena): Serena, don't say anything just let me explain. I'm trying to do the right thing but it's killing me. Look, I know we both care about Blair but maybe the best thing is for me to just tell her the truth. I'm not over you. And I thought I could fight it but I can't. And if you don't stop me, I'm going to kiss you.
Dan: Let me say, for the record, I like you. Only you.
Serena: Well, that's good. Cause I feel the same about you.
- The episode title is based off the movie The Handmaid's Tale.
- This is the first appearance of Vanessa Abrams and Anne Archibald.
- Chuck's IM username is "chucktastic", Nate's is "n8", and Dan's is just "dan".
- This is one of the only episodes not to feature a voiceover from Gossip Girl at the end of the episode.