“A Tale Of Poes And Fire” (season 3, episode 17, originally aired 4/15/2003)
This week on Gilmore Girls, there’s an Edgar Allen Poe convention in town, and Rory’s deciding between three Ivy League schools for college, and Jess is named employee of the month, and Kirk’s selling silly t-shirts, and the inn burns down in a devastating fire. Wait, what was that last thing? That’s right, the inn burns down. Gilmore Girls rarely strays outside of whimsy, and even this episode sticks firmly to the usual pattern, but it also does well to make the loss of the inn devastating, as the show begins to shake things up for the approaching fourth season.
Rory’s going to college. It’s this week that she decides on Yale, which apparently just overwhelms Harvard in the pro-con list that she makes. The decision is not given much specific thought although it gets plenty of attention, and I’ve never heard Amy Sherman-Palladino’s reason for switching schools after three years of Harvard hype. It’s not like Rory is learning some valuable lesson about putting her eggs in one basket—Yale isn’t different enough from Harvard. I assume it was more logistical, that if she’s at Yale, it makes more sense for her to visit home frequently, and for Emily and Richard to occasionally be involved in her storylines.
Whatever. Rory’s going to Yale! Good for Rory! The inn is on fire! Jesus Christ! “A Tale Of Poes And Fire” has the same qualities as one of those ER episodes where everything goes wrong and everyone snaps into crisis mode. It’s very cool to watch Lorelai and Sookie and a reluctant Michel spin into action and get all of their guests safely situated within Stars Hollow. The town is, of course, willing to help, with Luke’s turning into a satellite kitchen of Sookie’s, Miss Patty’s becoming a temporary headquarters, etcetera.
It’s also a smart way to spur Lorelai and Sookie into their plans to open their own inn, of course, but we’ll get to that later. Gilmore Girls is pretty shameless about its deus ex machinae, and in cases like this, why not be? This is not a densely plotted show, after all. Sometimes (say, in the case of Jess, whose troubles continue to mount as it’s discovered he’s barely going to school anymore) it can feel a little forced. But the Independence Inn needs to go if Sookie and Lorelai are going to move on.
This episode also brings up an old character template, grafted onto a new storyline. Remember when Luke and Rachel broke up because she was convinced he was in love with Lorelai? Well, Nicole also considers Lorelai a bit of a sore subject. This is revealed when Lorelai sleeps over at Luke’s house because her house is full of people. Of course Lorelai does that, and of course their banter is adorable when she does, and of course Nicole is jealous. I’d be jealous too.
“Happy Birthday, Baby” (season 3, episode 18, originally aired 4/22/2003)
I forgot to mention this in the last episode, but Paris is on the slow road to recovery after her meltdown in “The Big One.” Consigned to bed and watching soap operas, Paris’ rejection makes sense after we hear a snippet of her interview. She is being used as a cautionary tale about putting your eggs in one basket, and her intensity is what did her in. No matter, since we’ll have plenty of fun with Paris awaiting us in the future. These two episodes mark the formal healing of her relationship with Rory (their rift won’t re-form for a very long time), who gets her out of bed and back into the world.
“Happy Birthday, Baby” is the first (and, if memory serves, only) Lorelai birthday episode. She’s 35! Good for her! It takes a weird approach to what must be a yearly extravaganza, having the action occur off-screen at the end of the episode, but I suppose the idea is that it’s a drama-free event, and even for Gilmore Girls, there’s not enough to really center an episode around. Still, I wish we could have seen them eat that giant pizza. I wonder how Rory paid for that thing.
This is one of those rare episodes where Rory and Jess are just adorable with each other. It’s consistently mentioned that they spend a ton of time together as part of the Jess time equation: he works, he dates, he works more, he doesn’t go to school. But we never really see it, outside of a brief moment here, where they argue over video rentals (Jess is obsessed with Almost Famous, barf) and even Lane has to admit they’re pretty darn cute. I don’t know why the show avoided having the two of them on-screen as a couple more, since the actors were dating anyway and it totally shows.
The other thing that happens in “Happy Birthday, Baby” is really stupid. Richard gives Lorelai an unexpected birthday present of $75,000, a payoff from some real estate investment he made in her name when she was born, and she quickly gives it back, paying off her Chilton debts and at least nominally freeing her from Friday night dinner obligations.
…What? It’s not particularly empowering for Lorelai to pay her parents back with money her parents just gave her. It’s not particularly important that Friday night dinners stay or go, because Rory’s going to Yale and Chilton is about to be done with anyway, so who cares, really? The episode is answering a question no one was really asking: “WHAT ABOUT LORELAI’S CHILTON DEBT?!” It means a fight, but no part of it is really worth remembering.
- I love Kirk’s t-shirts. “Babette Ate Oatmeal” is the best, just because “Faux Poes Foes” is too clever for Kirk.
- Luke nicely mocks Jess, the Wal-Mart employee of the month. “I gotta get back to work.” “Yeah, the forklift’s going, ‘Where’s the extension of me?’”
- Luke always gets the town news last. “You’re the one that’s cracked.” “Nice thing to say to a pregnant woman.” “You’re pregnant?”
- Rory does a sock puppet show that the kids just eat up. “I named them Mr. and Mrs. Sock Puppet. I put no energy into this.”
- Richard cooks everyone Johnny Machete, which is a real thing and sounds disgusting.
- Luke is impressed with Jess’ grooming. “You ever worry if a bird flies in your head, it’ll never get out?”