Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: The debut of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has us thinking about our favorite TV exes.
Gilmore Girls, “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out” (season six, episode eight; originally aired 11/8/2005)
The mother-daughter hijinks on Gilmore Girls occasionally took a break for plotlines with the girls’ various suitors. For Lorelai, this involved being pulled between Luke and Christopher—fortunately, mostly Luke—for the show’s seven seasons. Rory had the misfortune of dating two blocks of wood—too-earnest Dean and way-too-smarmy Logan—but in between them there was Jess Mariano. Team Jess for the win.
The witty, snarky, impossible Jess was most entertaining when he started sniffing around Rory in season two, and battling with her in season three. Once they started dating, and he started pulling stuff like ditching school to go drive a truck at Wal-Mart, things got more problematic. Rory and Jess were never that great when they were actually together: Even Babette calls out their first public kiss in “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” as lame. After their breakup following the disastrous “Keg! Max!,” Jess would show up randomly and beg Rory to run away with him, like that’s something our straight-laced Rory would ever do.
Still, the two were intellectual equals (not so with Dean), and their sparring was always wholly enjoyable, as Rory tried to crack Jess’ rough exterior and Jess tried to be good enough for Stars Hollow’s favorite daughter. The connection between the two was solid, almost tangible on the screen. Which is what makes “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out” such a satisfying entry in the otherwise-dismal season six. In an insane turn of events, Rory has dropped out of Yale, stopped speaking to her mother, and lives with her grandparents in Hartford, where she works for the Daughters Of The American Revolution and spends her nights as Logan’s designated driver. She’s drowning, and who shows up in the middle of all this to save her? Jess. He’s righted himself by now, the author of a short novel with a job at a small publishing company. So their roles have reversed, as he is the one on a clear path and Rory’s the one who’s momentarily aimless.
After a tension-filled re-meet cute, Rory and Jess get angled into dinner with her current boyfriend Logan, which soon descends into a pissing match. (How could Rory seriously date a tool who offers claptrap like, “Again, consult your Hemingway”?) Jess bolts, Rory runs after him, and he speaks the words of truth the viewing audience has been chomping on for eight full episodes: What in the hell is going on with Rory? Her ex knows her well enough to realize that this life she’s currently stuck in isn’t anything like what she really wants. Jess Mariano was never better than when he demands an answer from Rory: “Why did you drop out of Yale?” When she stammers that it’s complicated, he rightly rallies back, “It’s not! It’s not complicated!” With this kick from Jess, Rory finally realizes how far she’s drifted from the path she’s meant to be on. She reunites with her mother and gets back into Yale in the very next episode.
Jess showed up only one more time before the end of the series. But he cast such an impressive shadow, he made every other guy in Rory’s life seem inconsequential.
Availability: “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out” is streaming on Netflix, and can be purchased on Amazon. It’s also available in Gilmore Girls DVD box sets at your local video store/library.