I recently watched the new “Year in the Life” Gilmore Girls mini-series. (It’s on Netflix.)
Then I had to go back and watch all of “Gilmore Girls”, from the very beginning to the very end.
Yes, there will be spoilers here.
There were three really awful things in this show that I love:
- There are a bunch of jokes about homosexuality (and, in the final season “Summer” episode, a bunch of jokes about fat people in swimmers). From memory, this was the era when things changed fast in TV. Just mentioning gay people, especially joking that “I” (whoever “I” is, in context) might be gay, was a little bit pro-gay at the time. On US TV shows, just acknowledging that gay people existed was a bit of a big deal. On Seinfeld, men leapt away from physical contact, then said, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But… Gilmore Girls is meaner, and it ages very badly. So, after all my attempts to defend the show, I have to admit: it really sucks, and makes me wince every time (and there are a lot of times, unfortunately).
2. In general, Rory and Lorelai have a medium-level case of “main character syndrome”, ie, they are frequently selfish and awful, but the audience still loves them because they’re the hero of the show. Their main character syndrome is worse in “A Year In the Life” (season eight?), probably mainly to add drama and humour…but they’re pretty awful people. (Especially to Rory’s boyfriend of TWO YEARS, who everyone forgets the second he leaves the room. It’s played entirely for laughs, but it does feel a little like how Rory and Lorelai often treat men badly. Oh yeah, and Rory’s sleeping with Logan – who is engaged – the entire time.)
3. The infamous “last four words”. The writers were too impressed with their own structural cleverness. There’s a saying “Kill Your Darlings” which means that the parts of a story a writer is most fond of should probably be cut. This is sooooooo one of those times.
For those who don’t know (spoooooooiiiiiiillllleeeeerrrrrsssss) the last four words are:
Rory: I’m pregnant.
The writers have been holding on to this ending for literally ten years. Structurally, it’s fascinating. But also horribly depressing. And also kind of pointless. And also very, very unsatisfying. We don’t even get to hear how Rory (or Lorelai for that matter) feels about it. Which, in a show that is all about discussing life moments, is deeply disappointing.
Looking around the interwebs, there’s a lot of discussion about how the writers could have been even crueller, making Rory fall pregnant during/immediately after her graduation. It looks like that’s what they actually wanted to do, which is just. . . eauch!
Are they trying to say that we’re all doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? What a bummer message for such an upbeat show!
So Rory doesn’t have a relationship or a job, but at least she’s 32 rather than 16. And she gets on with her mum and step-father, so she has an excellent support system in place. She’ll be okay.
The fact I have to think through “Will she be okay?” shows what a dumb ending this is. It’s not a cool, edgy ending. It’s a question mark where there should be a full stop (or at least an ellipsis!)
I was comforted by the mainstream fan theory that “Logan = Chris, and Jess = Luke”. Since the writers are so proud of their structural prettiness, that makes perfect sense, and it tells us the rest of the story: Although Logan is the father of her child, he is too weak to be Rory’s life partner. Jess, however, still loves her and always will. He and Rory are intellectual and psychological equals (now that Jess has grown up), and will eventually find lasting happiness with each other.
Despite its slightly repetitive nature, I’d love to watch that show. In my head, THAT is the end of the story.
Why do I love Gilmore Girls so much?
It’s fun and funny. That’s pretty much it – but that’s plenty! It managed to stay fun and interesting and funny throughout, which is considerably more than many shows manage. Nothing truly awful ever happens. It’s perfect escapist TV and I’m sad my binge is over because there are very few shows that are so purely enjoyable to watch.
My current self (as opposed to my past self, who was younger and more innocent) can’t help noticing that this is a show that is led by women – two female leads (three, counting Emily), and is very much a success because of the writer (and producer?) Amy Sherman-Palladino. So it gets extra kudos for that.
It’s hard to watch sometimes, when I see characters I love heading directly for pain, but the show has an almost evangelistic fervour for “Life experiences”. The most blatant example is that both Lorelai and Lane say (regarding Rory’s attraction to Jess, who is clearly a jerk at that stage), “She’s 17. She has to fall for a bad boy.”
Uhh….no. That’s not true at all! My philosophy as a teen was, “Why get into an obviously doomed or unhealthy relationship?” and although it was often very, very hard to resist attractive men that wanted to date me, I really didn’t need to go through the pain to figure out that a man who compulsively lied wasn’t going to be good for me.
Having said that, it’s true that bad experiences have value in terms of personal growth, and that fact makes the show very satisfying. Especially when it comes to relationships, which in the show (as in life) is where the greatest mistakes tend to happen.
Lorelai and relationships
So Lorelai dated Chris when they were teens, and when she fell pregnant Chris did the expected thing and asked her to marry him. Partly because she was 16 and partly because it was what her mother wanted her to do, Lorelai bolted in the opposite direction. She came to Stars Hollow, found work despite being a teen single mum, and ultimately became a functioning adult. For the entire period between Rory’s birth and the beginning of the show, she chose to be virtually celibate. She had rules. Those rules definitely protected Rory (and Lorelai, for that matter).
The show begins with 16-year old Rory and her 32-year old mother in Luke’s diner. Luke is clearly a close friend, and clearly in love with Lorelai, who is clearly oblivious. He is a flannel-and-baseball-cap wearing guy who has a base level of charming crankiness but clearly also has a heart as big as Stars Hollow. Fundamentally, he doesn’t always handle his emotions well, but he’s steady as a rock. Lorelai has ambitions; he does not. (That’s morally neutral, but they are clearly very different people.)
It’s interesting that the very first scene is Lorelai and Rory both getting hit on by the same guy. This is a neat plot device for introducing the “teen pregnancy” backstory, but it also accidentally foreshadows the idea that men are a disposable commodity. Yes, the guy is a bit of a creep – but I don’t generally find rejection funny, so there’s a tiny twinge there for me when the guy becomes a punchline.
Lorelai quickly falls for Rory’s English teacher, Max Medina. He is a smart, kind, intelligent man and he never does anything truly bad. Lorelai resists the attraction for a while since he’s Rory’s teacher, but in my opinion he IS worth breaking her “rules” for, especially since Rory isn’t a baby any more. The situation is awkward and mistakes are made, and Max and Lorelai try to solve the problems by getting engaged rather quickly.
Lorelai suddenly panics and breaks up with him the day before the wedding, and from then on the story is, “I wanted to love him, but I just didn’t.” (stupidest reason ever? why yes)
She even kisses him several months later, which is spectacularly selfish.
This is a relationship that hurts both Rory and Max quite badly.
In experiential terms, this is Lorelai letting down the walls she’s built up in the 16 years since she fell pregnant. She screws things up very badly, but I have a tiny amount of sympathy given that she needs to learn how to fall in love as a grown up and a mother.
The second major love story is, of course, Chris. It’s clear from the start that Rory loves him and that Lorelai has learned from experience that he can’t be relied upon even to show up for one of his daughter’s major life events. Would things have been better if Lorelai had married him at 16? No. She made a brave and difficult choice, and deserves credit for the fact that living on her own really was better than living with either Chris or her parents.
But then it seems Chris really has grown up. He has a steady job and has switched out his motorbike for a car. For a moment, Lorelai and Chris are finally both in the right place to have a mature relationship………. and at that exact moment, Chris’ ex-girlfriend calls to say she’s pregnant.
He can’t fail another child, so he leaves Lorelai and Rory and goes to be a proper father for the first time (which is a very good thing, because the ex-girlfriend snaps and leaves one day, making him a single father – a structurally beautiful/tragic moment that works very well).
Much later, he becomes very wealthy and helps pay for Rory’s education (a good thing to do, but not actually something that required long-term maturity). When Luke and Lorelai get together (and Lorelai’s parents deliberately attempt to break them up) he is a selfish jerk, and it quickly becomes clear that he still has the weak nature that he had as a teenager. They finally get together, but he’s insanely jealous of Luke and keeps pushing Lorelai to move the relationship forward quickly due to his fear of losing her. They even get married – a clearly stupid decision, and it hurts Rory since they didn’t even tell her beforehand. In some ways they’re living the dream, living together with their two children at last – but it’s not right. Chris knows it, and Rory knows it, but Lorelai is ignorant. She’s so convinced they’re meant to be (after twenty years, I’d probably make the same mistake) and is definitely on a rebound from Luke too. The relationship ends, relatively amicably, but in “A Year in the Life” Chris’ role in the story is further clarified when Rory goes to see him, telling him she’s writing a book. He says, “Please don’t make me too much of a villain.”
That line tells us that he IS the villain. He was a pretty awful father, and then very nearly caused Lorelai and Luke’s relationship to fail forever. Like most real-life villains, he didn’t mean to cause harm; he was just selfish. It’s good that he knows it, and won’t cause more harm. He’s working at a desk, representing adult responsibilities. It’s quite likely he’ll eventually have a healthy adult relationship of his own.
As I said above, Luke is a good man. There’s a lovely subplot where he listens to self-help tapes and then finally asks Lorelai out (then promptly gives the tapes to Jess, since he’s now “done” and Jess needs them to learn how to communicate with Rory).
Then there’s Luke’s daughter. She shows up as a weird & brilliant 12-year old that he didn’t know existed. Luke and Lorelai are already engaged (and already dealing with a big emotional load because Rory has been arrested, sentenced to community service, and has left Yale AND moved in with the grandparents). Luke quickly builds a healthy relationship with his daughter (it’s beautiful when he fights to keep her and wins against the odds), but there’s a lot to process so even when Rory gets her life back together he isn’t truly ready to get married (but is clearly still heading in that direction).
Lorelai feels more and more sure that the wedding is off, and finally gives Luke an ultimatum. He’s utterly thrown, so she breaks up with him. Since it’s their second break-up, she sleeps with Chris in order to make sure the breakup is real. THAT certainly ends a relationship.
The next day Luke shows up with his truck packed and ready to elope – but it’s too late.
Although the relationship should not have ended (and, indeed, they get back together at the end of season 7, and finally marry in season 8 after living together about 10 years), it’s reasonably understandable (unlike the Max Medina thing).
This is the canon, long-term relationship, and I’m glad.
The mother of Luke’s daughter should have included Luke in their lives from the beginning. He missed so much, and that is a tragedy. She is a weird and brilliant girl who is mature enough to seek out Luke on her own and then decide on her own to continue having a relationship with him. She and Rory are great sisters, and when she’s 22 and Rory is 32 both are struggling with the weight of expectations versus reality. Rory helps her, and is pretty much the perfect sister. I like that, and I hope Luke’s daughter finds a path that’s right for her. (Side note: Rory wants to be a journalist and Luke’s daughter probably wants to do something science-y. Both are very hard jobs to get, and very low paid. Luckily Rory knows a publisher, and both are connected to very wealthy people. I choose to assume they’ll be fine.)
I love it when Emily and Richard get back together after their separation, and I also like how Emily ends season 8: she’s dating a nice man, gotten a job for the first time, and has built a “family” with, oddly enough, her maid. The final scene sees her alone and happy, with the rest of “her” people asleep. She doesn’t seem to be invited to the wedding, but she and Lorelai have moved past the pain of Richard’s death.
There’s no doubt that Emily and Richard always loved Lorelai (and of course Rory) but were too controlling to have a healthy relationship with them. They’re villains, but they’re also heroes sometimes. Both are very compelling characters.
Lane and her mum, and Lane:
My absolute favourite storyline is the way Lane’s extremely strict mother gradually grows to respect Lane’s choices (but remains her very fierce self as well – as an ally rather than an enemy).
Lane has this awful storyline where she has sex for the first time when married, and it’s a terrible experience that turns her off sex……and makes her pregnant. With twins. She says to Zach, her partner, that she spent her whole life trapped by her mother, then she broke free…and now she’s trapped again. Shortly after that, Zach gets a great musical opportunity, and she encourages him to take it – going on tour for months while she’s left alone with the twins.
So…she was right?
In the future the band is still playing, which is excellent—but they don’t mention touring, and they do mention that Zach now has to wear a tie to work. I sort of like that, because they’re still playing (which is where the true joy is) but they don’t seem to have gotten anywhere with their art (which hurts, but is realistic).
Way back in season 7, I was waiting for her to start enjoying sex, but that storyline was never mentioned again. So… is she a stay-at-home mum to two boys in a sexless marriage featuring a shared, failed dream?
It’s probably not that grim. Being a mum actually goes well with a lot of the artsy professions (odd hours and working from home), and the boys are definitely old enough now that touring is possible. Given that the band made $9000 from a tour organised by Lane’s mum, there’s plenty of opportunity for them to earn at least some of their living from music. And I’m sure the sex is just fine. And Zach is clearly willing to sacrifice his dreams for Lane, and is an active and involved father.
So all’s probably well in the Lane household (which still, amusingly, includes Brian – who is also a great babysitter), but I feel like the writers forgot Lane.
Lane’s mother is a stereotype in some ways, but the fact that she’s specifically Korean (rather than more generically Asian) helps, and I find the stereotype affectionate (and detailed) rather than offensive. That may change with time or perspective (I’ve been to South Korea, but I know very little about it except that there are a lot of Christians who have a reputation for pushiness…so, just like Mrs Kim).
There’s an odd line in season 8 when someone says, “Hey look! There’s Mr Kim!” and Lane waves at her father. I don’t think he was ever mentioned or seen before that instant, which makes me feel like it was some kind of fan service. But it raises more questions than it answers. Mrs Kim was clearly a single mum, so was she divorced or widowed? Is this Mr Kim her ex-husband, or Lane’s step-dad?
This, more than anything, makes me want another season: MORE LANE, and more of all of her family.
Dean is just not her intellectual match, and everyone except Rory knows it. (He’s no dummy, but he’s not an intellectual like Rory, and he can’t move through several layers of society like she can*.)
I hate him forever for every aspect of his first marriage, especially him marrying someone when still so very in love with Rory, and of course for sleeping with Rory (not just once, but continuing until she breaks it off).
I hate Rory for sleeping with him, too. And I hate Lorelai a little for just saying, “Talk to me before you have sex” rather than, “Sweetie, your body is going to mess with you. Big time.” and teaching her how to resist temptation and make good choices when every instinct is saying, “Sleep with him right now now now!”
Jess is clearly desperately in love with Rory, and her intellectual equal. But he’s a jerk, and Rory is definitely influenced by his less stellar qualities. He dates another girl just to mess with Rory which is obviously not okay. Rory is a worse person because she likes him. When they’re going out, Jess is unreliable and incommunicative (which he continues for some time after they break up too). In the end, Jess does grow up into a decent human, loyal friend, and (finally) Rory’s true equal.
It’s clear in the final season that he’s utterly in love with her, with the same friend-zoned devotion that Luke showed towards Lorelai.
Logan is charming and generous and a risk-taker (which Rory needs a bit of). He grows up a LOT during the show. He learns to be monogamous; he leaves his father’s business; he faces up to his (big) financial mistake; he stops acting like a drunken college kid (mostly). Like Chris with Lorelai, he is devoted to Rory but circumstances aren’t right. Like Chris, he proposes because of expectations (Chris because Lorelai is pregnant; Logan because college is over and marriage is what you do next – worse, he proposes publicly without having talking about marriage with Rory), utterly failing to understand the girl he loves (Rory loves him too, but isn’t ready to settle down).
Like Chris, Logan is weak. By the time season 8 rolls around, he is back working for his (somewhat evil) father, and is engaged to a woman his father effectively chose for him. He’s also cheating on his fiancé. Despite all that, he’s still a loyal and helpful friend to Rory—but their friendship has soured into something that’s just wrong.
He and his friends give Rory a beautifully fun night and morning, ending the relationship in a way that’s both conclusive and friendly….and she gets pregnant.
So, Chris/Logan are the rich, privileged, weak men who make great friends but aren’t mature enough for the women they love.
Luke/Jess are the lower-class but business-owning men who aren’t fabulous at communication but are working hard to be good men – and succeeding. They ARE, in the end, mature enough and smart enough for the women they love.
Luke and Lorelai’s relationship
I really liked how Luke and Lorelai actively worked on their communication skills way back in season 6, and improved their relationship as a result. I completely understand how (in season 8) Lorelai feels she’s too selfish to make Luke happy—and how Luke actually is completely happy, and doesn’t understand why Lorelai is stressing. My own real-life marriage is between a high-maintenance, spirited, driven woman and an extremely calm and steady man. I cried a bunch in season 8, and just loved that whole storyline.
I was a little worried when Lorelai AGAIN proposed and AGAIN rushed into marriage – but a wedding is all about the friends and family, and I was fine that L&L effectively just ticked it off their to-do list.
I like it that the “genius” Rory, who was so full of promise, has had some notable writerly successes, has several irons in the fire, and is ultimately not sure where her next paycheck is coming from. That’s life.
I like that she’s writing a book about her life (especially since we know Jess will publish it). It’s great therapy, and I think she needs to go through that to “find herself” in much the same way middle-aged Lorelai had to run off into the wild to find herself. It’s something spirited women in particular need to do periodically in life.
As a writer, I REALLY like that Jess wrote a book that got published by a small press and DIDN’T make him a million dollars. I like that even when he was running the publishing company he was living upstairs and barely scraping by.
So Gilmore Girls is that rare creature: fiction about writers that is reasonably realistic.
My own first novel is actually my 15th (that’s fifteen years of novel writing without getting published!) and is published by a small press (meaning it’s not stocked in every single store, and isn’t advertised much at all). Fortunately my interactive fiction pays more, because being a novelist isn’t easy (nor is making a living as a writer of Interactive fiction, but IF is much better-paid overall). I think you can forgive me for hating it when a fictional character sits down, writes their first book, and is swimming in cash and accolades six months later. Hah!
Well, I’m finally finished my Gilmore Girls binge + debrief. Perhaps I can get some real work done now.**
*Luke hates being around rich people, but he can handle himself.