Good Grief in ‘Gilmore Girls’

New Gilmore Girls

There is a quote in Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray that has a tinge of truth, as most quotes by Oscar Wilde do:

“It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

I thought of this quote when I was watching the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix. How we deal with disappointment, and how we grapple with grief after a significant amount of time has passed, reveals the core of who we are. Some people are conditioned to self-pity, which is a form of self-involvement. Like medicine that is over-prescribed, it can be an addictive form of pleasure. Others have the wisdom matched with the discipline to train their minds to think differently and control the way they act to achieve complete autonomy. It’s not magic. It’s hard work. Only those who are free, those who have wisdom and discipline, can stop sadness from sapping their minds and deliberately choose to be cheerful, when it would be so much easier to sulk.

In Gilmore Girls, Rory sulks. She is incredibly smart, well-read and educated—she graduated from Yale—and at age twenty-two was covering the Obama campaign as a journalist. It’s not clear what she has been doing for the past ten years, but when we catch up with her again, at age thirty-two, she is unemployed (and refusing to take jobs that don’t suit her) while her love life is in “shambles,” as she puts it.

It’s difficult to pity Rory, however, since most of this is self-induced. She interviewed at a publication and did not have one —not one—pitch prepared. As a result, she did not get the job. She was supposed to write an article for GQ about the psychology of people who wait in lines, but made only a feeble effort to do any reporting for it. She quasi-dates her college boyfriend, Logan, who lives in London and is engaged to a French heiress, but their romance is more of the sneaking-around variety, not a functional adult relationship.

Much of the drama of watching the Gilmore Girls revival stems from the theme of the show’s creators—husband and wife Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino—that the process of seeking closure is necessary to heal from disappointment and grief. For Rory, closure will take the form of writing a book about her life, detailing her experiences growing up with her mother. She also interviews influential people in her life, including her father. When she visits him he asks, “You’re not going to make me the villain, are you?” and she responds, “Of course not.” But the scene also leaves viewers wondering if writing about her dad will ever truly help Rory overcome the experience of being raised without him for most of her life.

Lorelai, too, seeks closure. In the first episode, she insults the memory of her father, who has recently died, in front of her mother and his friends, highlighting that he wasn’t an involved father when she was growing up. By the end of the series—and the year—she calls her mother while in the grips of a miniature midlife crisis to share a heartwarming story about how her father took care of her when he discovered her skipping school. As Lorelai tells the story, she cries and explains that she did not get closure—no Lifetime movie ending, no “I love you’s” exchanged—but she does confront her grief. As a result, she’s able to make better decisions: she returns home, marries her longtime boyfriend Luke, and becomes more responsible, like her mother, Emily.

Emily, too, gets closure, and as a result, loosens up, becoming more like her daughter, Lorelai. She initiates therapy with Lorelai who, surprisingly, enjoys going (though Emily eventually stops). The passing of her husband makes Emily recognize what’s important in life—her real relationships with her family, not artificial acquaintances with members of the DAR, for example. As painful as grief can be, it can also bring people closer together, a cliché that nevertheless conveys an important truth. To get there though, Emily had to wallow—sleeping in until noon, Marie Kondo-ing her house, and the like. But she eventually forms a relationship with her daughter that allows both of them to accept each other for who they are.

As for Rory, by the time the series ends, she has not finished her book—she has written three chapters. She is too young to seek full closure, she has a long life ahead of her, one in which she will follow in her mother’s footsteps, as the writers intended. (Mega-spoiler alert: in the final scene of the revival she reveals she is pregnant, presumably with Logan’s child).

Although sometimes heavy-handed in the way they portray it (what’s a show without drama?), Gilmore Girls’ creators successfully convey the truth that Oscar Wilde observed: confronting grief is a painful, necessary part of life that forces us to recognize what is and isn’t important.

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  • Shannon

    Wise.