Rewatching Rory Gilmore: How Our Relationships with Fictional Characters Change Over Time

Images: Warner Bros. Television

When it comes to comfort food, nothing hits like a delicious portion of Gilmore Girls. A cultural touchstone of the early 2000s and a springboard for the careers of the likes of Jared Padelecki, Milo Ventimiglo, Melissa McCarthy and Matt Czuchry, Gilmore Girls falls into the homey category of low threat television. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s family drama follows the eponymous mother and daughter duo Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory Gilmore (Alexis Bledel) through small town Connecticut in a caffeine-fueled coming-of-age series. It plunges viewers into the warm-toned world of Stars Hollow, where single mother Lorelai settled after running away from home in the wake of her scandalous teen pregnancy. From season one it is established that this premature entrance into motherhood has been no hindrance. Both mother and daughter are well loved by their town’s collection of kooks; Lorelai the attentive, creative, fast-talking ‘cool mom’ and Rory is the picture of the girl next door, intelligent, focussed, quiet and bookish. The show is a blanket to lay over the wounds of real life, it settles the soul like chicken soup, gently curing aches and pains with an abundance of pop culture references and witty comebacks.

Returning to a series born before the age of streaming is always interesting. Gilmore Girls concluded in 2007 after a seven season run with Rory, having just graduated from Yale, well and truly come of age. That was it, the Gilmore girls were now the Gilmore women. 2016 brought a four-part Netflix revival and with that, a can of worms was opened as contemporary viewers revisited an old faithful with brand new eyes and found it wanting. 

How we consume television and what we want from it has changed. What ages Gilmore Girls beyond the bootcut jeans and questionable highlights is that intentional representation is just not there. This show is apolitical, its cast and characters are not that diverse and whilst this is largely latent and forgivable, there is a carcrash of a throwaway line in series four where Chris Eigeman’s character quips that waltzing “is a little gay”. But, then again, it was 2004 and anyway, if we are really looking for representation, the likes of the Korean Kim family, Frenchman Michel (Yanic Trusedale) and working class Liz Danes (Kathleen Wilhoite) at least broaden the horizon beyond that of upper-middle class white America. 

With Rory, viewers and characters alike pin their hopes. When we meet her she is sixteen, book-smart, conscientious and charmingly naive, attending expensive private school Chilton. She is also awkward, with hunched shoulders, nervously rambly and pandered to by the characters of the town that raised her. Lorelai’s fast pride raises on instinct when it comes to her daughter – Rory always deserves the best. The private education is paid for by a hefty loan, Lorelai’s own education is put on hold until Rory is old enough to look after herself, each event in Rory’s life is a ceremony, marked by food and decoration and shared by everyone in town. And it works. Over the first three seasons, Rory gains confidence, lifts her head out of the sand, is offered a place in three Ivy League Colleges and befriends her nemesis Paris Geller (Liza Weil). She graduates high school as valedictorian and in her speech credits a world of books, her mother and grandparents for their kindness and example. It is the story of an underdog victorious. Lorelai, who stitched Rory’s first clothes out of her own and made sure her daughter was sheltered from a world which scorns teenage mothers, succeeds in raising a daughter who is top of her class in all respects. The one problem, of course, is Rory, who at eighteen has never been told anything other than the incantation of “you are special, you are deserving, you can do it” and it is with Lorelai’s victory comes Rory’s hubris. 

Rory is expectant that things go her way; she should be academically exceptional, she should be a staffer on the prestigious Yale Daily News, she is entitled to the study spot she wants. Throughout her first year of college, Rory’s worldview, never broad exactly, but beyond that of the 1%, reveals her to be rather unsympathetic. There is onset entitlement with Rory which takes form with how she interacts with the opposite sex; she rightly expects to be treated with respect, she not-so-rightly expects every boy she encounters to be dazzled by her and whilst she cannot endure being teased or brought down to their level, she sleeps with her married ex-boyfriend and does not see issue with it. It is adult, independent Rory where the careful cultivation of the safe, confidence-boosting environment she was brought up in comes back to bite. Having left public schooling far behind, Rory still believes she deserves more. Where once she deserved the chance to get into a school like Yale, she now believes she deserves a summer travelling in Europe instead of working a job or internship. She deserves to be lent money, she deserves to be a non-paying live-in tenant to her college boyfriend (Matt Czuchry) and she deserves to reject this as privilege because of her single parent background.  

Lorelai’s monster is characterised by the pivotal role of how she handles criticism throughout the series. It escalates slowly. When Chilton headmaster criticises Rory’s antisocial behaviour, a series of events culminate with a suspension. When she pens a bad article for the Yale Daily News, her rebuttal piece is a cruel, tabloid-esque tear down of one of her peers. The resulting confrontation results in Rory commenting “it’s Avril Lavingne’s world, we’re just living in it,” as a way of apology. These behaviours are centred around Rory’s perspective and are quickly forgiven – where her grandparents are concerned “people should be told when they are not good at something”. This double standard does make sense but it is damaging. When Rory sleeps with married Dean, she does not understand why her mother disapproves. What is perhaps worse for viewers of our blue-eyed ingenue is that this rejection of responsibility is not out of character. When it is Rory’s turn to be told she may be lacking in her field, she does not take it well. She lashes widely, ending up spending the night in jail and temporarily dropping out of college. Despite a later coming to her senses, it is these cracks of character which define Rory in the Netflix revival; when unprepared for a job interview she cattily blames the publication, she sleeps with sources, falls asleep while conducting an interview and views herself as above local journalism. 

The large ensemble cast of Gilmore Girls helps cushion the blow of Rory’s close-mindedness. The interesting story here has always been the single mother who, in neglecting all the nepotism she could have embraced, roots herself in community life. And it is in this community where the Gilmore girls bloom in parallel and interweaving storylines. Lane Kim (Keiko Agena), Rory’s highschool best friend grows to become her foil as she struggles with her protective mother’s stifling standards. Whilst the strict mindset of the religious Mrs Kim (Emily Kuroda) is not shared by her daughter, it is understood. Lane’s rebellion is not a fight against her mother’s traditional views, but an attempt to find her own happiness in her pursuit of playing drums in her rock band. The boundaries Lane crosses are harmless to all but her mother’s feelings and Lane shows she respects her mother through her acceptance of the choice made for her to move out of the family home. However Lane’s work ethic and determination is not squandered by these events. She, like Rory, drops out of college but immediately gets a job in the local diner, she rents her own house and shares it with her bandmates and she continues to play music despite numerous obstacles. The tentative reconciliation of the Kims is one of the most moving relationship plots in the series as Mrs Kim not only learns to love and encourage her daughter for who she is but uses her Christian connection to organise a tour for the band. 

Comparing these two mother/daughter relationships tackles the questions of how beneficial it is to raise a daughter as a friend and are Rory’s faults actually down to her own mother’s characteristics? To an extent this will stand, but Lorelai’s parenting whilst unconventional is not negligent; she works hard, she values education, she supports her daughter and puts her own business ventures on hold to be a present parent. Lorelai does not date until Rory is a teenager and whilst she does make poor choices here, she does not rush into marriage nor does she make a habit of infidelity, ending relationships when she is not committed to them. Rory’s mistakes do not copy across easily from Lorelai’s prototypes.

When it comes to Rory Gilmore, all the telltale signs of her hubris are there from the pilot which she spends stroppy about her move to Chilton. Rory never feels fiscally limited despite allusions to the poverty the pair have faced and this is a testament to Lorelai in the extreme; her daughter is blindingly unaware of the prospect of borrowing money to afford luxuries. “Maybe I am just selfish” Rory herself flirts with this truth explicitly, but the thought is dismissed as she is validated constantly by an adoring posse. And there is no doubt that Rory is talented; she is the witty offspring that has not fallen far from a rather charming tree, but she straddles two realities and in doing so misunderstands her own background. Rory sees her single parentage as a free pass, but only until the name drop of “Gilmore” gives leeway. The reality that Lorelai so rejected is embraced fully, but not recognised by her daughter. What starts small grows through Rory like a vine and it is this weakness, this Rory unaware that is compelling, if not admirable. The much disputed ‘downfall’ of Rory Gilmore is not so much a fall from grace as a development in the opposite direction expected.

by H. R. Gibs 

H. R. Gibs, also known as Hannah Gibson (she/her), is a freelance journalist based in the Belfast music scene. Come September she moves to Dublin to tackle an MA course in journalism. She is deeply committed to the works of Carly Rae Jepsen and any movie makeover montage. Her favourite films include but are not limited to Billy Elliot, Marie Antoinette, God Help the Girl and As Good As It Gets. She can be found on twitter @hrgibs

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