“The Breakup, Part 2” (season 1, episode 17, originally aired 3/15/01)
This is definitely as soapy and traditional as Gilmore Girls gets in its first season. It’s worth nothing how unconventionally the show approached its romantic entanglements early on, although it aligned to more friendly WB standards later on, what with love triangles and aggressive will-they-won’t-they flirting and so on. That’s all in the mix of Gilmore Girls season one, but the approach to relationships is shockingly casual: Rory and Dean are flirting a couple episodes before they’re bonded at the hip. Lorelai and Max are barely getting to know each other before they’re discussing their deep distant future. Couples break up suddenly and get back together just as quickly (more on that in coming weeks).
But even though this episode is pretty much ripped from The WB playbook, Amy Sherman-Palladino (who wrote this episode solo) puts her shine on it. We begin right where we left off, with Rory returning home from her fight with Dean and announcing he dumped her with no more explanation. Lorelai vainly presses, as gently as she can, and sweetly puts a box of “Dean things” that Rory creates into the back of a closet rather than destroy it as she’s commanded. Most of the rest of the episode is about everyone in the town trying to manage or guess at Rory’s feelings; that means there’s a bunch of nice moments, my favorite being Luke’s silly, puffed-up efforts to dissuade Dean from entering his diner.
It’s a nice moment for a bunch of reasons. Luke’s paternal feelings towards Rory are so well-intended, even if they come across a little silly in moments like these. His peacocking displays of aggression against Dean are always fun to watch as a result. And their subsequent slap-fight is such an epic display of buffoonery that Lorelai and Rory have to break it up, defeating the whole purpose of the thing.
The entire episode, Rory approaches the breakup as one might expect her to: she’s very driven and organized and type-A, pressing through a list of annoying chores with Lorelai despite her mother’s endless protestations that she should just go home and wallow. Then, the whole episode takes a very WB turn when Rory goes to Madeline’s party, thrown in what looks like the lobby of Caesar’s Palace, but is probably just her house. Rory sidles up to a broken-hearted Tristan, abandoned by his bitchy girlfriend Summer, and kisses him (bringing tears and wallowing, since she obviously likes Dean much better). Even Lane gets to come along and meet a nice Korean boy, Henry, who to her utter horror she likes even though her parents would approve.
At the same time, spurred by the revelation that she never really wallowed about Max, Lorelai visits him and falls into bed with him, demanding a rekindling of the relationship. This is as headache-inducing as most of the Lorelai/Max arc is. Their breakup made adequate sense but came so abruptly, and then was basically never discussed again until the previous episode. I don’t think Lauren Graham and Scott Cohen lack chemistry, but the level of commitment Lorelai and Max are demanding from each other is too intense to really feel plausible. They can be cute together, but because every conversation has to be about whether it’s feasible for them to date, they become impossible to watch almost immediately.
“The Third Lorelai” (season 1, episode 18, originally aired 3/22/01)
Trix Gilmore, aka Lorelai Sr., played by Marion Ross, is probably the second most ridiculous character on Gilmore Girls played by Ross (Marilyn, who we meet in season four, was admittedly more insane). Trix comes a close second, a fossilized, ridiculously mean but at the same time completely badass lady who seemingly drops in from the Gilded Age wearing crazy black floor-length dresses and unleashing an attitude Emily Gilmore cannot begin to tolerate. She is the apple of Richard’s eye and exists mostly to bug the shit out of Emily, who she can’t stand, but she does serve an important purpose in this episode, too.
“Christopher Returns” is rough to watch because Lorelai really gets raked over the coals by Straub Hayden for her “blue-collar job” and her scandalous pregnancy. Trix is a ridiculous rich lady who says things like “I once traveled to a small village in Cambodia, I did not eat dessert there either” when exiting the table. But she’s also smart enough to understand that Lorelai is no slouch and has done a good job raising for, and providing for, her daughter. Her tacit approval, or at least her lack of interest in making a fuss about it, is an important moment for the show.
Mostly, “The Third Lorelai” is about Emily’s insecurities, which haven’t been touched on in quite a while. Trix offers to set up a fund to pay for Rory’s education, saying that Lorelai’s business of borrowing from her parents is too uncouth. Lorelai is eager to jump at it, of course, but Emily is immediately perturbed, thinking she’ll lose the foothold she’s established in her daughter’s life.
It’s so sad to watch, really, but I totally sympathize with Emily’s fear, even if it sounds terrible when you say it out loud. Is she just paying Lorelai and Rory to have a relationship with her and Richard? She’s not, but she’s also not being completely irrational if she thinks they won’t see much of them without the routine of the Friday night dinner. After all, it’s not like she saw much of them the previous 15 years, and her relationship with her daughter remains volatile.
At the same time, it’s obvious that great strides have been made. Lorelai is an amused, if willing ally in Emily’s efforts to keep Trix happy, even though they both know Trix can’t stand her daughter-in-law. Rory is so close to her grandparents now and grows more independent by the day and wouldn’t let them just slip out of her life. So when Trix withdraws the offer at the end of the episode, it’s almost disappointing, because you want to see Lorelai and Rory surpass Emily’s fears. But at the same time, we’re just one season in, and maybe the show isn’t ready to remove one of its core plot tenets.
The other plot of “The Third Lorelai” is a winner for me because it involves a vulnerable Paris Geller, perhaps my favorite intersection of humor and brittle sweetness on this show. Rory convinces Tristan to ask her out and Paris panics and seeks her help to prepare, throwing the whole thing in Rory’s face once she realizes it was a setup. I just love every glimpse into Paris’ insane home life and thought process that we get in episodes like this, even though she’s obviously being wasted on Tristan. Chad Michael Murray never really steps up for this role, and is such a chemistry mismatch with Alexis Bledel that their exchanges here seem very forced. This is a problem that will be addressed by the show’s second season, but it’s notable how little spark there is between any of the teenagers in season one.
- Lorelai probes Rory. “Honey, he did not plan an entire romantic evening complete with dinner and a junkyard, which we’ll get back to later, and then suddenly decide to dump you for no reason.”
- Lorelai refuses to toss a sweater, even though Dean praised it. “Well then he’s got good taste.” “He said it brought out the blue in my eyes.” “Well then he’s gay.”
- Luke fumes at Dean’s dumping. “Good riddance, adios, bienvenidos, hasta la vista.” “Could we get off the Small World ride and start cooking please?”
- Babette offers advice from her own romantic history. “I was pushed out of a moving car once.” “Now that's a peppy little anecdote.”
- Lane bemoans the charming Henry. “There’d be dancing in the Kim house! Dancing!” “Really?” “Followed by a lot of praying. But initially there'd be dancing!”
- Emily’s freakout getting out the gifts is one of the finest comic moments for Kelly Bishop thus far. “I have to get out everything she’s ever given us. Thirty five years’ worth of fish lamps and dog statues, lion tables and stupid naked angels with their…butts!”
- Also, “She doesn’t just give you a present, she ‘gives’ you a present and she tells you where to put it, how to use it, what it costs - for insurance purposes of course - and God forbid you should have a different opinion or you don’t think it works in the space or you just get tired of waking up every morning with those horrifying animals staring at you!”
- Lorelai talking to the dog statues gets me every time.
- Paris brings her whole wardrobe to Rory. Nothing left at home. “Nothing but my Chilton uniform and my bat mitzvah dress which has menorahs on the collar.”
- Rory examines it thoughtfully. “You’d be one well-dressed widow.”