“Red Light On The Wedding Night” (season two, episode three; originally aired 10/16/2001)
After a two-parter that gently approaches Lorelai’s nuptials to Max without really taking them seriously, here, finally, she has to take the idea of marrying this man seriously, and that’s all it takes to put an end to their relationship. “Red Light On The Wedding Night” is fantastic (although inaccurately titled, as the wedding isn’t for another week), even as it unabashedly rushes into a twist we’ve all seen coming: Lorelai’s decision to, essentially, leave Max at the altar. At least she gives him a few days’ notice.
Things all start smoothly. We have jumped ahead through the summer (Max has been on some kind of trip or academic thingy meaning Lorelai hasn’t had time to settle in with him) but now he’s trying to ensconce himself in the Gilmore life and failing even as he succeeds. Everything seems great—he makes garlic bread in their oven, to their utter amazement (“Hey, it’s on fire!” Lorelai yells when she sees the broiler) and takes his fiancée on a double-date with Rory and Dean (now fully back in cute-couple mode) but it’s already obvious things are wrong.
Max’s talk with Dean might be my favorite Dean moment in the entire series. Rarely does that character get to show off such awareness; he’s shocked at Max’s novice knowledge of the Gilmores and tries to educate him, giving him tips like “don’t ever use the last of the Parmesan cheese” and noting they get cranky at night. His best line underlines that Dean knows he’s lucky to be part of the Gilmore clan at all, telling Max to go with Lorelai’s bits and follow her logic even if he doesn’t understand—it’ll become clear at some point. “If she holds up a pepperoni and the pepperoni asks you for your opinion, don’t just laugh. Answer the pepperoni.”
It’s good advice, but it’s too late for Max. The only thing that’s annoying about this episode is that it took this long for that fact to be obvious to the characters on the show. He still doesn’t have a key to the house, he has no idea what his role will be in Rory’s life, and Lorelai admits she basically hasn’t thought at all about how he’ll fit in.
And then there’s the two other men in her life: Luke and Christopher. Luke is his usual testy presence around Max (presenting him with a lunch menu when he takes too long with the breakfast one) but his usual grumpy sweetheart with Lorelai, hand-carving a chuppah for them to stand under, giving us an obvious, but probably necessary, shot of the two of them under it.
Christopher is much more relaxed even though Lorelai calls him in the middle of her bachelorette party after Emily tells a story about being nervous before her wedding. This handily foreshadows Christopher’s status as Lorelai’s main romantic preoccupation in season two (not to spoil anything), but it also proves the final piece of evidence in the case against Max.
There are a lot of great scenes in this episode. The stuff with Emily (cool as a cucumber in a drag club) at the bachelorette party is great, laid on just thickly enough. The installation of the endlessly long red light is used as a nice tag for the end of the episode. And Lorelai’s final breakdown, where she urges Rory to pack for a trip to escape the wedding, is perfectly played by Lauren Graham. Lorelai is barely keeping it together and cracks under Rory’s questioning, and then Rory immediately realizes she has to keep the energy going after that. It’s beautiful to watch!
“The Road Trip To Harvard” (season two, episode four; originally aired 10/23/2001)
We segue right into their road trip for a mostly light-hearted episode that perfectly encapsulates how this show can do drama without getting too dramatic. There’s one scene of yelling, in the bed and breakfast, where Rory snaps and tells Lorelai she thinks she’s in love with Max and just scared to get married. Lorelai resists fighting back before calmly telling her that she wishes she was in love, but she just isn’t.
The mistake Max and Lorelai made is trying to get married so fast—the problem goes back to his initial proposal, which was made to solve an argument. Even though he proposed again, the root cause was the same, and that’s enough to doom them. Anyway, we get the point through one slightly tense scene and an otherwise charming, breezy 40 minutes, which barely any show could pull off as well.
Lorelai and Rory drive with no particular destination in mind, ending up at a cat-themed bed and breakfast that encapsulates their worst nightmare, from moving flower wallpaper to wrenchingly dull chit-chat with Boston dentists. Alexis Bledel is a highlight in this episode—Lauren Graham is gifted with the funny, but Rory rarely gets to be as animated as she is here. Some of the faces Bledel makes in the B&B are priceless, and her general banter with Lorelai (Rory’s grumpy, Lorelai is chipper) is nice buddy-comedy that’s even more heightened than usual for the show.
The crux of the episode is a visit to Harvard, awe-inspiring to Rory (who holds her own in a lecture-room debate on Seneca) and faux-nostalgic for Lorelai, who wonders at the life she might have held, staring at the valedictorian from the class of 1990 wistfully and gamely flirting with students and chatting with co-eds in college speak she picked up from Happy Days and Moon Unit Zappa’s “Valley Girl.”
For Gilmore Girls, this is a blockbuster episode, which is just the most darling thing in the world, and it’s totally the right way to handle the Max breakup. Once she’s back in town, everybody knows and offers their sympathy, but the show doesn’t have to dwell on it, which is fine, because there’s much more interesting material around the corner. Lorelai is resolved to move on and try and open the inn with Sookie; Luke is quietly excited that Lorelai is back on the market; everything is the same, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Lorelai rejects Sinclair Lewis and Byron for wedding invites. “We have buried the putrid corpse of liberty!” “Mussolini it is!”
- Rory knows her references. “Our life is going to morph into this mutation we never could have foreseen!” “Like the giant ants in Them?”
- Lorelai says Rory is low-maintenance. “Kind of like that robot kid in A.I., only way less mother-obsessed. Oh my God, that kid was so annoying, I would have pushed him out of the car while it was still moving!”
- Luke offers to mow the lawn. Lorelai says they have a Pete who does it. “Big Pete?” “Little Pete.” “He’s the better of the Petes.”
- “We’re not going to have this fight in a flowery bedroom while dentists sing ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves’ in the background! It’s too David Lynch!”
- Lorelai eats fuzzy Certs from her bag. “They tasted like keys!”
- That’s Masi Oka, later of Heroes, debating Seneca with Rory at Harvard.
- Lorelai asks Luke for business advice. “Can I ask a stupid question?” “There is no such thing.” “How does ink come out of pens!”