In the decade since Gilmore Girls went off the air, the show has achieved something like cult status. With its lightning-fast wit and obscure allusions, the dramedy has spawned books, fan get-togethers, podcasts and the adoration of more than one generation of viewers. Gilmore Girls, about Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her precocious daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), has become one of the most beloved shows in recent TV history.
But the seventh and final season was without creator and show runner Amy Sherman-Palladino, who departed the series after a contract dispute. After the series finale aired, fans almost immediately hoped for the return of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. What originally seemed like a pipe dream has now become a reality. With Netflix’s four-part Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (pictured above), the world of Stars Hollow returns to our screens November 25.
The original run of Gilmore Girls included 153 episodes, ranging from the absolutely brilliant to the depressingly terrible. Before Gilmore Girls returns, let’s grab some coffee and a Pop Tart, fire a maid, do a Kirk dance and take a look at all of them, from worst to best.
"Go Bulldogs!" could be mistaken for a spec script written by a person with only tangential knowledge of the characters. Everything, from Lorelai’s childish behavior towards her parents to Luke’s (Scott Patterson) ridiculous bad date, comes off as throwaway filler. It even includes a plot done in a previous season: Sookie’s (Melissa McCarthy) guilt over using someone else’s vegetables. Gilmore Girls is rarely as recycled and lazy as it is in "Go Bulldogs!"
"S’wonderful, S’marvelous" is the first episode of the much-derided seventh season that’s completely devoid of the charm that made Gilmore Girls great. Though every story in this episode sounds worthwhile on paper, each is handled in cheesy, frustrating or irritating ways. Lorelai and Christopher’s (David Sutcliffe) movie date is brought down by Christopher’s insecurities and Lorelai’s inability to be quiet for one damn minute. And just for the hell of it, Emily (Kelly Bishop) gets arrested, because why not? Without a doubt, the episode’s most annoying story is Luke’s bonding time with his daughter, April (Vanessa Marano). The precocious child is best in small doses, but almost every scene between April and Luke ends with him proudly grinning at his daughter, like he’s in a ‘90s sitcom and he just taught her a lesson. S’terrible.
The key thread that connects the stories of "Eight O’Clock at the Oasis" is boredom. Lorelai goes on a date with a wealthy, boring guy played by Jon Hamm. Sure, this is a few years before Mad Men, but it’s still a shame not to see more of Hamm and this terrible date. In Lorelai’s other (pointless) story, she must water the lawn of a new neighbor, whom we’ll never see again. The episode’s only saving grace is a rare kind moment from Jess (Milo Ventimiglia). When you dedicate a huge chunk of your episode to watering lawns, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
"The Great Stink" centers on two arguments that shouldn’t matter as much as they do. Rory is mad that Logan (Matt Czuchry) didn’t tell her his coworker is a woman, while Lorelai and Christopher argue over whether or not Gigi should go stay with her mom in Paris. Rory’s story is a lame way to drum up some drama upon Logan’s return to America, and Lorelai’s is nothing more than the setup for her surprise Paris marriage to Christopher. "The Great Stink" ends up playing out like the main characters are desperate to make something out of nothing.
Lorelai fears her parents’ influence made her who she is. This isn’t a revelation; it’s a reiteration of the facts, strung out for an entire episode. "Lorelai’s First Cotillion" turns subtext into text, explaining things that any viewer should’ve known by now.
After a run of some of the series’ worst episodes, "French Twist" has its problems, but at least it moves the story along. Olivia (Michelle Ongkingco) and Lucy (Krysten Ritter) come to Stars Hollow, and Rory’s new friends act as if they’d be better suited to attend April’s birthday party. While it’s not particularly great, Lorelai and Christopher secretly getting married does kick the narrative up a notch after several episodes of nothing happening.
You know "An Affair to Remember" is a mediocre episode when the best thing it has going for it is a C-story about Kirk (Sean Gunn) going on a date. Rory’s story is one of the most stupid in the show’s history: Rory can’t study anywhere, she finds a good tree to study at, a guy takes her studying tree, and then she complains about it until she pays the guy off. That’s it. All Rory does in this episode is worry about whether or not she can sit at a tree. It’s not funny. It’s not entertaining. It’s just frustrating and, at times, annoying. When Lorelai calls Rory childish, it’s hard not to agree after this dumb time-waster of a plot.
As the title implies, "I’m OK, You’re OK" is just, well, OK. Rory returns home for a Stars Hollow vacation, and while the show hasn’t delved that much into life of the town to this point in Season Six, it’s a shame how little Gilmore Girls does with Rory’s change of locale. Even the stories that do have potential— Rory visiting Anna’s shop, or Emily and Richard (Edward Herrmann) visiting Stars Hollow—pop up and disappear without leaving any lasting impression.
"Secrets and Loans" is the rare episode of Gilmore Girls that has no impact on anything that comes after. Lorelai and Rory’s house has termites, Emily co-signs a loan with Lorelai, and Lane (Keiko Agena) is now a cheerleader, but none of these threads ever make an appearance again. Plus, all the clashes in "Secrets and Loans" are ones we’ve seen before. The episode shows Lorelai’s determination and has a great moment in which Lane finally calls out Rory for being judgmental, but if “Secrets and Loans” didn’t exist at all, nothing on the show would change.
With Rory settled in at Yale, "The Hobbit, the Sofa and Digger Stiles" sets up everyone else for the season. Richard partners with Jason “Digger” Stiles (Chris Eigeman), the son of his former boss, Floyd. Lorelai and Sookie start a shaky catering business, and since Rory’s borrowed money from her grandparents, Emily’s interference in her life is poised to become more commonplace. Even Rory’s first non-Lorelai party is bland, though it at least showcases the new, more outgoing Paris (Liza Weil).
Rory doesn’t have any direction in her life at this point in Season Six, and Gilmore Girls is equally aimless. Lorelai is worried the inn will be on Sores and Boils Alley, and Rory tells Logan she loves him after unintentional pressure to get married. Neither of these is quite substantial enough to sustain an entire episode, and when Richard comes to Lorelai with concerns about Rory, it’s as if “Welcome to the Dollhouse” is finally starting up, right as it comes to an end.
"Here Comes the Son" is a glimpse at what a Jess-focused spinoff would’ve looked like. Thankfully, that show was never picked up. As the network must have realized, Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) isn’t the type of character on which to base an entire series. He has three modes: grumpy, loudly reacting to someone giving him crap, or reading. That’s about it. Throwing him into Venice—which is as quirky as Stars Hollow—with another makeshift family doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen. Surprisingly, everyone in Stars Hollow is completely fine with Jess being gone. Rory isn’t even upset about her boyfriend leaving. There are more important things to worry about on the horizon, and getting Jess out of the way (for now) can only help.
Every season of Gilmore Girls has a few episodes that are essentially charming and enjoyable but nothing of substance happens—just a perfectly fine hour of television with no purpose. "I Solemnly Swear…" is one such episode. It introduces Alex (Billy Burke), who’ll be an incredibly brief love interest for Lorelai, and once again shows distrust between Rory and Paris. But neither thread manages to suggest any meaningful stakes: We know Lorelai won’t end up with Alex, and the Rory/Paris dynamic is far more interesting when they’re in an uneasy friendship. There are some fun little segments scattered through the episode—Lorelai’s deposition when one of Emily’s maids sues her; Sookie accidentally flirting with (and then apologizing to) Jackson—but these are simply distractions to pad out the running time.
"That’s What You Get, Folks, for Makin’ Whoopee" makes a lot of unusual choices in showcasing the first big problems of Season Seven. Lorelai throwing an Asian-themed night for Rory is generic and iffy. Lane’s first experience with sex being terrible and ending in pregnancy is almost mean-spirited after the series finally gives her the freedom she grasped at for so long. But kudos to Season Seven for handling Luke and Lorelai’s breakup in a refreshing way: The duo finding some peace could’ve easily gone on for some time, and knocking it out here is a breath of fresh air for a show with a habit of dragging out relationship problems far too long.
As "The UnGraduate" proves, it’s vital for the show to have Lorelai and Rory interact. Because of their lack of involvement with each other in this episode, their stories are simple: Lorelai meanders through a bunch of B-plots, while Rory joins the Daughters of the American Revolution. Their separation does let Season Six catch up with the supporting characters, however, as Gilmore Girls fights to keep Paris relevant (since Rory isn’t at Yale anymore), and shows how Hep Alien did on tour.
Pretty much the two things you need to know about "Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant" are right there in the title: Norman Mailer starts hanging out at the Dragonfly Inn and Sookie is pregnant again. "Norman Mailer, I’m Pregnant" exists to set up future developments in multiple stories: Christopher is back in the mix and Rory grows closer to Logan so she can write an article about the Life and Death Brigade secret society.
The return of Rory’s past loves is usually eventful, but the formula falls flat in "The Real Paul Anka." Rory showing up in Philadelphia while Luke is on a field trip with April doesn’t really make sense, and the reappearance of Jess doesn’t serve any identifiable purpose. The Philadelphia trip has a lot of threads with promise—like Luke bonding with his daughter and Rory visiting Jess—that never quite take off the way they should.
"Introducing Lorelai Planetarium" ends with Luke watching Bringing Up Baby, almost as if he’s longing for his days with Lorelai. To the audience, however, it’s as if Gilmore Girls is longing for its own quick-witted past. In fact, "Introducing Lorelai Planetarium" is more like the past than most of the season. There are actual relationship developments; the story progresses. Rory and Logan fight over their class differences and similarities. Rory is frustrated over her mother’s decision to get married without her. And Luke and Lorelai have their first moment together since the beginning of the season. Finally, the series is finding its footing again.
Like Lane’s bridal shower in the episode prior, "Gilmore Girls Only" is a fine idea that doesn’t work as well as it should. In many ways, "Gilmore Girls Only" is a follow-up to "The Ins & Outs of Inns," as Emily deals with Mia (Kathy Baker), who was like a surrogate mother to Lorelai. Emily’s scenes with Mia don’t have the electricity that they originally did, and by catching up with Mia five years later, the episode covers much of the same ground. In theory, Mia should be far more integral to the mythology of the show, but instead she comes off like she’s been shoehorned into Lorelai and Rory’s past.
Luke and Lorelai’s relationship has been mostly blissful since their engagement, so it
makes sense to throw a wrench into the works with "Just Like Gwen and Gavin." In many ways, April is Gilmore Girls’ chance to show what a young Rory would’ve been like, and how she would’ve interacted with Luke, but after six seasons, April’s more of an obstacle than a character—an easy way to make things difficult again. From the moment Lorelai and Luke postpone their wedding, it’s obvious this is just the beginning of the uncertainty, long after our characters should be feeling that way.
Season Four frames Richard’s business brilliance as the guiding principle in his life, and "Tick, Tick, Tick, Boom" shows just how shrewd he can be, as he makes a backdoor deal and throws Jason under the bus. But the episode doesn’t quite take off because it’s almost strictly about business. At the very least, the dissolution of the company finally gives Gilmore Girls a way out of the boring and problematic Jason/Lorelai relationship.
It’s unusual that it takes until Season Seven for us to see how Lorelai and Rory celebrate the holidays, and their traditions are the most charming part of “Santa’s Secret Stuff.” But only a few episodes after Christopher and Lorelai’s marriage, his attempts to fit in somewhere he doesn’t—despite having the family he could have had decades ago—are already becoming tiresome. "Santa’s Secret Stuff" also makes Gigi a much bigger part of the family than usual, which makes sense for the holiday-themed story, but is also just the show trying to blast a little extra cuteness into its final season.
In one of Season Seven’s best examples of parallel storytelling, "Merry Fisticuffs" draws comparisons between Lorelai and Rory’s respective relationship problems, as well as showing the growing frustrations of Christopher and Luke. Emily coming to Lorelai’s house simply to state that marriage is a compromise is exactly what Lorelai needs to hear, even if it’s a bit on the nose. While the show often treats Lorelai’s attitude as fun and quirky, it’s important for Emily to point out that it can come off as selfish, too.
As much crap as the seventh season gets, "The Long Morrow" is a decent episode, especially for the series’ first without its creator. David S. Rosenthal, who became the show runner in Season Seven and previously wrote for the series, knows how to hit the usual beats. "The Long Morrow" is a bit soapier that we’ve seen to this point, but the final moments between Lorelai and Luke, as they definitively break up, are among their finest on screen together.
Even though Jess has been on Gilmore Girls for a full season to this point, we haven’t really seen any positive qualities in him, outside of how he feels for Rory. In "Take the Deviled Eggs…" we finally realize that Jess can be a determined worker: He takes job at Wal-Mart in order to afford a car. Just as Jess begins to show some initiative, though, everyone in Stars Hollow is ready to beat him back down again. Lane yells at him. Luke makes fun of him for his second job. Rory and Lorelai (deviled) egg his car. It’s so odd for the series to build the character up only to tear him down. "Take the Deviled Eggs…" is an unusual episode, in that it shows the characters annoyed and frustrated by other people’s happiness and success.
"Haunted Leg" is the first episode in Season Three to deal with the issues raised in the Season Two finale. "Haunted Leg" puts an end to Christopher and Lorelai’s back-and-forth, at least for a while, and Jess confronts Rory’s self-righteous anger about Jess moving on. The episode’s biggest flaw is trying to fit in another Chilton-based story, which rarely works for the show. "Haunted Leg" brings back Francie (Emily Bergl), who we last saw in "Like Mother, Like Daughter," but once again she’s given a story that’s frivolous and silly. Between that and Lorelai getting asked out by Kirk, not much in "Haunted Leg" has much depth besides those two big confrontations, which thankfully pack enough punch to carry the episode.
"The Nanny and the Professor" is all about keeping relationships hidden. The least interesting of these is Paris sleeping with her professor, Asher Fleming (Michael York). It doesn’t give Rory much to do other than cover for her friend and be weirded out. Stranger still is the relationship between Jason and Lorelai, as Jason seemingly doesn’t know how to act like a normal human being. At the very least, his moments with Lorelai feature a witty repartee that explains their connection, but their chemistry beyond that is sorely lacking. The episode’s most hilarious moment is Michel (Yanic Truesdale) watching Sookie’s baby, whom he accidentally rolls under her bed. Michel and babies should never mix, but for the sake of comedy, they absolutely should do so more often.
With relationships beginning and ending, "Jews and Chinese Food" exists to let the audience know where the story won’t be going. There won’t be another Rory love triangle, as Rory decidedly chooses Logan over Marty, and it won’t be so easy for Lorelai and Luke to get back together. Still, Kirk in an elementary school production of Fiddler on the Roof is strange and hilarious enough to keep one’s mind occupied in the meantime.
"Dead Uncles and Vegetables" is one of the few times Rory and Lorelai are accessories to other people’s plots. Here, they help out at Luke’s diner while he plans his Uncle Louie’s funeral. "Dead Uncles and Vegetables" further deepens Luke’s character, as he fears he might become as grumpy, lonely and despised as his uncle was. After the show decided to make Luke a core part of the ensemble in the second half of Season One, Season Two does an excellent job at showing who the town’s diner owner really is. Even with the funeral focus, "Dead Uncles and Vegetables" is very light, with side stories of Emily helping Sookie plan her wedding and Taylor Doose’s (Michael Winters) fear of a competing vegetable provider. It’s not exactly thrilling stuff, but it’s a great showcase for the community and for Scott Patterson, who doesn’t receive nearly enough of the series’ attention.
Thus far in Season Five, Gilmore Girls hasn’t spent much time on Rory’s life at Yale. "But Not as Cute as Pushkin" tries to correct that by fitting a ton of college experiences into one episode. Most of the material wouldn’t be enough for a B-plot in other episodes, as Marty’s crush on Rory seems like it’ll be ignored. Even Luke’s arc about the "dark day" he celebrates each year doesn’t have much substance. Nevertheless, "But Not as Cute as Pushkin" does a nice amount of world building for a side of the show that had been mostly neglected.
"Tippecanoe and Taylor, Too" doesn’t focus all that much on Lorelai and Rory, who are both making new discoveries about their significant others. With the race for town selectman at the center of the episode, “Tippecanoe and Taylor, Too” builds sympathy for maybe the show’s most obnoxious character: Taylor Doose. Taylor has been nothing but an annoyance since he was introduced, and it’s good the show gives him an extra layer that makes him slightly more likable. With the exception of Lane telling Zack (Todd Lowe) how she feels about him, though, "Tippecanoe and Taylor, Too" doesn’t do much that won’t return to normal later.
"Afterboom" ends the Lorelai-related plots that haven’t worked in Season Four (such as her relationship with Jason) and gets cracking on some with potential (the opening of the Dragonfly, Richard and Emily separating). The Friday night dinner that occurs as Emily’s leaving Richard blows the rest of the episode away: After an entire season of unhappiness and secrets, one of Gilmore Girls’ strongest relationships falls apart before our eyes.
Almost a third of Season Five has passed without many interactions between Emily and Lorelai. Thankfully, "How Many Kropogs to Cape Cod?" reunites the mother/daughter duo once again for Friday dinners, a dynamic that’s been absent from the series far too long. The family meets Logan, which showcases his pros and cons. Pros: He could be great for Rory and the standing of the Gilmore name. Cons: His entitled attitude and his family’s attitude towards the Gilmores could be a problem. Graham is the standout in this episode, as Lorelai’s put in a tough spot with regard to Logan and gets a taste of wanderlust that could lead to trouble.
"I’m a Kayak, Hear Me Roar" sets up for Gilmore Girls’ final act. Rory’s journalism dreams come up for the first time in quite a while, and Liz (Kathleen Wilhoite) and TJ (Michael DeLuise) remind Luke of his loneliness. In a season light on moments at Richard and Emily’s home, Lorelai drunkenly teaching her mother how to use the computer and getting kind-hearted feedback about her divorce is a welcome surprise. As other relationships fall by the wayside, it’s fantastic for the show to return to their mother-daughter rapport.
On the surface, "The Prodigal Daughter Returns" seems important because it gets Rory back on track. But it’s the characters’ realizations, some which have been decades in the making, which pack the biggest punch. Rory knows she’s been in a bad place. Lorelai knows she’s selfish sometimes in what she wants with Luke. And Luke knows that revealing his newly discovered daughter could spell trouble for his engagement. Emily’s scene with Lorelai is an essential one, as she finally understands that she’s what drove Lorelai and now Rory away. No matter how far Emily has gone to become a part of her daughter and granddaughter’s lives, it’s this one truth that has always escaped her.
Season Seven largely forgets about the community aspects of Gilmore Girls, a source of much of the show’s quirky, broad comedy. "Knit, People, Knit" finally brings Stars Hollow back into the fold, and the town’s knit-a-thon frames Christopher as an outsider who can’t find his way in. While it’s great to have these characters back in the mix, however, they don’t quite pop in the way that they used to, even if their coldness works for the story of nobody warming up to Christopher.
With parental drama taking up the majority of the first half of Season Six, the second half turns to relationship drama with "You’ve Been Gilmored." In a sweet surprise, Emily and Richard finally accept Lorelai and Luke as a couple. And even though Rory moves in with Logan, he’s still pretty much the blandest character on the show, so it’s hard to care one way or another about this development.
Like many of Season Four’s early episodes, "The Fundamental Things Apply" lays the groundwork for the new relationships that sprout up once Rory leaves Stars Hollow. Since Rory has only ever been in serious relationships, Lorelai believes Rory needs to date around. This continues Lorelai’s late-in-the-game attempts to expose Rory to the college experience, and opens the door to Rory’s potential suitors, even though none are all that compelling so far. When talking about his comfort with the women he’s dated, Luke mentions that he also feels comfortable with Lorelai. (Surprise, surprise.) "The Fundamental Things Apply" apparently needs to remind us that Gilmore Girls still has these two in mind for each other.
Until now, both Luke and Paris have been grumps with rare moments of humanity. In "Concert Interruptus," we learn what made them the way they are. Lorelai learns about Luke’s ex, Rachel—who broke his heart—and Sookie becomes the latest person to point out Lorelai’s blooming interest in her favorite restauranteur. But "Concert Interruptus" is really about Paris’ growth: Even if the idea that Paris could have the best night of her life at a Bangles concert is pretty far-fetched, seeing the way that Louise (Teal Redmann) and Madeline (Shelly Cole) use her and discovering why she (or anyone) would like Tristin turns Paris into an actual human being just as she’s becoming friends with Rory.
If "Love & War & Snow" is Lorelai’s love letter to the first snow of the season, "Women of Questionable Morals" is the opposite, as Lorelai begins to hate the frozen precipitation. There’s a new man in Lorelai’s life (Luke, not Max), a different historical event to be celebrated and anger toward snow instead of love. Because of that, "Women of Questionable Morals" doesn’t have the magic of its predecessor, until Luke builds Lorelai her own ice rink in her front yard. Much as "But Not as Cute as Pushkin" helps build the world of Yale, however, "Women of Questionable Morals" gets us back to the strange, eventful days of Stars Hollow and the always enjoyable characters that inhabit it, before huge changes to come in the season’s second half.
Before jumping into the wedding fears of subsequent episodes, "Hammers and Veils" allows Lorelai to embrace her upcoming nuptials before she calls them off. It’s the last time Lorelai’s love life is simple for some time. Both "Sadie, Sadie…" and "Hammers and Veils" do a nice job of showing where Rory and Lorelai are in their lives and bringing new viewers up to speed with crucial information. Before Gilmore Girls blows it all up in the next few episodes, that is, and sets a new course for the characters’ lives.
Even though Rory is now at Yale, it takes eight episodes for Gilmore Girls to dedicate a story to Rory’s studies. But "Die, Jerk" is a pretty great place to start, as we see Rory working at the Yale Daily News. For a character who wants to be liked by everyone, "Die, Jerk" sees Rory hurting a ballet dancer with a negative review. At first, she feels bad about it, but upon realizing she did what the job called for, she gets over it. This is an important lesson for Rory to learn, and it’s a welcome change from her people-pleasing tendencies. The episode also has one of the best Friday night dinners of the season, as Jason subtlety flirts with Lorelai and a hilarious side plot over a "marriage pot" develops between Lane and Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda).
With all the main characters now in play, "Cinnamon’s Wake" is the first time we see Stars Hollow as a community: When Babette’s (Sally Struthers) cat, Cinnamon, dies, the entire town comes together for the wake. It’s ridiculous, but seeing the townspeople rally behind one of their own immediately makes Stars Hollow even more charming. "Cinnamon’s Wake" also allows Gilmore Girls to start testing the waters of possible romantic entanglements. Rory’s teacher, Max, asks out Lorelai, while Dean’s borderline stalking of Rory leads to them admitting their feelings towards each other. "Cinnamon’s Wake" is the first time we see how an individual’s desires can directly affect the happiness of another.
With Luke and Lorelai back together and Logan and Rory deciding to be exclusive, "Pulp Friction" gets back to the season’s main focus: the split in the mother/daughter relationships. Lorelai wants to butt in on Rory’s romance with Logan, then yells at Emily for doing the same to her. While not that essential from a narrative perspective—except for the cool Quentin Tarantino-themed party—"Pulp Friction" shows Rory and Lorelai’s fractured relationship, and might cause one to wonder if it’ll ever be the same again.
After several episodes of heartbreak, "The Third Lorelai" is relatively inconsequential. Focusing on the arrival of Richard’s mother, the original Lorelai Gilmore, a.k.a. Trix (Marion Ross), the episode’s insular stories carry little to no weight going forward. Still, "The Third Lorelai" shows cracks in the armor of the series’ most invulnerable characters: Emily’s weakness is her mother-in-law, while a date with Tristin almost makes Paris like Rory.
In hindsight, the guest cast in "Bridesmaids Revisited" is amazing. Rectify’s Abigail Spencer, SNL’s Nasim Pedrad and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. all make appearances, some blink-or-you’ll-miss-it. Beyond these future stars and some wonderful moments in long-forgotten relationships, however, "Bridesmaids Revisited" doesn’t have much going for it. Even Logan and Rory’s break up comes off as temporary, while Zack proposing to Lane seems more about getting the band together than actual love.
"The Ins & Outs of Inns" introduces Mia (Elizabeth Franz), the owner of the Independence Inn, but for someone so important to Rory and Lorelai’s past, it’s strange this is the first time we hear of her. (Mia was a surrogate mother to Lorelai when she moved to Stars Hollow.) As in the previous episode, "Like Mother, Like Daughter," “The Ins & Outs of Inns” is funny—especially the town meeting—but the stakes more or less irrelevant to the rest of the series, merely adding background on the town’s various inns and ending Jess’s attempts to be such a prankster rebel.
Lane’s baby shower is a great idea and a sweet gesture, but the execution of the event is too forced. Instead of relying on the inherent drama of welcoming twins into the world, "Will You Be My Lorelai Gilmore?" returns to the well of Lane and Mrs. Kim’s many disagreements. Over previous seasons, their relationship had shown a considerable amount of growth, so having them fight over how Lane will raise her twins is a disappointment. And cramming Lorelai into the center of this fight is a clumsy way of giving her something to do.
Sometimes it takes a glimpse of your past to move forward in the present. Jess’s return, along with seeing the version of her grandmother that her mother always warned her about, has Rory rethinking her life (finally). Every time Jess comes back, he’s more mature, and he pushes Rory to think about her current choices. If the notion that Jess’s criticism of Rory’s decisions would be the catalyst for change—especially considering everyone else in her life has done the same—is a bit too simple, it’s at least a start. "Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out" also nicely balances the selfishness of those in Rory’s life with the selflessness of Lorelai taking care of her new dog, Paul Anka. They both need each other, and they’re finally starting to see the empty pieces that make them whole.
With the return of Jess and his mother, Liz, to Stars Hollow, there’s clearly huge stuff to come after "A Family Matter." Lane has moved in with Rory, Lorelai can’t bring herself to tell her parents about Jason and Paris breaks up with Jamie for her new professor boyfriend. With the Mariano clan back, Luke is part of a primary storyline once more. Season Four will end up being a landmark season for Luke, so it’s great to have him back in the spotlight again.
The penultimate episode of Season One, "P.S. I Lo…" positions love front and center to set up the season finale. The episode’s purpose, in essence, is to nudge the story toward the desired conclusion: Max and Lorelai are becoming an item again, Rachel (Lisa Ann Hadley) and Luke’s relationship is complicated by Lorelai’s attempt to buy him some nice clothes, and Rory and Dean seem like they’re on the precipice of reuniting. "P.S. I Lo…" also shows how Lorelai’s worst traits manifest themselves in Rory. Rory’s frustrations with Dean and her inability to avoid him lead her to run away and spend the night with her grandparents, and she and Lorelai discuss their mutual commitment issues. Mother and daughter share the same fear of letting someone else in.
If Season Five witnesses Rory becoming less her mother’s girl and more her grandparents’, "The Party’s Over" shows that the change is happening despite Rory’s own protestations. Certainly, Rory doesn’t act like the same person who once was so close to her mother. "The Party’s Over" has plenty of flaws—Dean’s displacement feels like a rehash of the Jess years, and Lane’s interactions with Kyon are questionable—but the episode is an integral step in Rory’s evolution.
"Lorelai Out of Water" kicks things up a notch in the Lorelai/Luke chemistry department. Lorelai goes on a fishing date with Alex, but first needs Luke to teach her how to fish—which leads Luke to go on his own date with Taylor’s attorney, Nicole (Tricia O’Kelley). It’s clear neither of these will ever work out, but it’s the type of springboard Luke and Lorelai need to start circling each other again. "Lorelai Out of Water" is also a strong Lane episode, featuring a sweet moment with Lane and Rory at a Korean wedding—their 46th over the years—reminiscing about their past, contemplating their futures and trying to find common ground on Jess. It’s a nice change of pace from their usual conversations, which typically revolve around music or boy problems.
"Farewell, My Pet" finds Gilmore Girls bidding farewell to Lorelai and Christopher’s relationship once and for all. The episode has to get Christopher out of the way, but, in a nice added bonus, it also gives Michel a little bit more to do as the end of the series nears.
Season One gave Lorelai plenty of relationship options, including Christopher, Max and Luke. "Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy" does the same for Rory. Luke’s nephew, Jess, comes to town and is the exact opposite of Dean’s bland niceness. At the beginning, though, Jess is too much "the bad boy" to be likable. He’s dismissive of everyone, and does lame, disruptive things like steal Babette’s dwarf statue. But it’s still nice to find someone who doesn’t go along with Stars Hollow’s optimistic flow. "Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy" also gives Luke a story that doesn’t revolve around his feelings for Lorelai, as his dynamic with Jess is pretty great.
Almost halfway through Season Two, "Run Away, Little Boy" digs up a bunch of loose ends from Season One and throws them into the mix. Tristin (Chad Michael Murray) returns to school, cast as Romeo to Rory’s Juliet, and causes friction with Dean once again. Lorelai receives a very late wedding present that she can’t return and attempts casual dating to move past Max. Tristin and Dean’s confrontation almost reveals that Tristin and Rory have kissed, which all seems so quaint. Considering these elements probably should’ve been left in the past, "Run Away, Little Boy" still works surprisingly well, gives a nice send off to Tristin (One Tree Hill beckons) and allows for Lorelai to go on dates without the expectation of meeting "the one."
"Happy Birthday, Baby" is the only Lorelai birthday episode in all of Gilmore Girls, strange given that it’s a week-long, entire-town event. What’s truly odd, though, Richard’s gift—a $75,000 check, earned through an investment he made for his daughter years ago. Instead of using it to build her own inn or to send Rory to Yale, Lorelai pays back the money she borrowed from her parents for Chilton. Of course, this doesn’t go over well, and Emily assumes that means Lorelai and Rory won’t come to Friday night dinners anymore. Maybe it’s Gilmore Girls’ way of closing the loose ends of its Chilton chapter before Yale comes into the picture, but it’s completely unnecessary to do so.
"Super Cool Party People" is essential at this point in Season Six, specifically by showing how important Rory and Lorelai are in the lives of the men they love. Rory pushes Logan’s cold and uncaring father to visit his son in the hospital, while Lorelai makes Luke a better father. When Gilmore Girls presents a relationship, it’s often a matter of time before trouble arises, but "Super Cool Party People" offers two examples of both people in a relationship rising to the occasion.
"But I’m a Gilmore" centers on the commitment inherent to strong relationships, from Paris taking care of a sick Doyle to Luke taking over for Sookie at the Dragonfly Inn. Rory and Logan officially become an item and Rory meets Logan’s family. Though Logan’s been a big question mark in the series so far, "But I’m a Gilmore" fully fills in the character and makes him sympathetic rather than smarmy. Logan isn’t necessarily a bad guy, but his family’s influence and their impact on Rory is already harmful this early on.
In “Emily Says ‘Hello,’” Emily tries to move past her marriage. When she breaks down after her first date in 40 years, it’s clear she’s not ready to do so. We want Emily to be happy—even if that means seeing her with other men—but the recognition that she doesn’t want to be with anyone else is cathartic. We only want to see her with Richard, too.
"Ted Koppel’s Big Night Out" introduces some uneasy relationships. Continuing a thread started in Season Three’s "Let the Games Begin," we meet Richard’s old fiancée and discover that he’s been having annual secret lunches with her. Season Four builds a lot of distrust and worry into Emily and Richard’s relationship, which, despite their stuffiness, had been one of the show’s strongest. “Big Night Out” also closes the gap between Lorelai’s personal life and her parent’s lives, as she goes on her first date with Jason, Richard’s business partner. Jason’s closed-off nature doesn’t bode well for these two, but a surefire way to know if a Lorelai relationship will last longer than one episode is to show the date, rather than turning it into an anecdote for later. And who would’ve thought the first real Yale relationship would be between Paris and Professor Asher Fleming?
Three seasons in and this is the first episode with Lane as its primary focus. The story of her rebellious desires being controlled by her mother is fine, though it reinforces what we already know about them. Lane’s dying-her-hair plot exists to point out, once again, Rory’s disinterest in Dean and her focus on Jess. (Meanwhile, Lorelai goes to give a speech at Rory’s old school, only to be inundated by questions about getting pregnant at 16.) "One’s Got Class and the Other One Dyes" isn’t groundbreaking, but it does make it seem like Lane’s close to reaching her breaking point.
When Amy Sherman-Palladino left Gilmore Girls at the end of Season Six, she wrote the series into a corner it couldn’t manage without her capable hand and understanding of the characters. "To Whom It May Concern" is the first episode of the season free from these limitations. Christopher, always the outsider, finally leaves his marriage, and Luke finds new hope for his relationship with Lorelai. This season, Rory has primarily been on the sidelines, but in this episode, her relationship with Paris hits new highs and her bonding with her grandfather continues. It was always going to take a while for Gilmore Girls to find its place without Sherman-Palladino, and halfway through the season, "To Whom It May Concern" does just that.
After the separations, drama and fights of "Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller," "A Messenger, Nothing More" returns Gilmore Girls to solid ground. Lorelai and Rory forgive each other, and Lorelai and Luke are finally back in town together. But "A Messenger, Nothing More" also makes sure we know that these characters have slightly changed—Rory is shaken after Dean, Lorelai is more motivated, Luke is nervous and romantic. With all the characters in fairly new situations, "A Messenger, Nothing More" sets up where these characters will go in the rest of the season.
"That’ll Do, Pig" focuses on two of the series’ most interesting triangles. In the Rory/Dean/Jess saga, Dean has decided to be Rory’s friend, bide his time and see what happens. Meanwhile, when Trix returns to Hartford for Richard’s birthday, Lorelai teaches her mother her trick for coping: Make everything a joke. Trix’s appearances on Gilmore Girls are great because they frazzle the often completely composed Emily, and in "That’ll Do, Pig," her presence draws Lorelai and Emily closer, as they find common ground in their annoyances.
Even though Jess doesn’t appear in "Back in the Saddle Again," his presence looms over Dean and Rory’s story. Dean is trying to spend time with his girlfriend, who keeps avoiding him. The episode concludes with Dean realizing that, yes, his girlfriend likes Jess, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. With only four episodes left in the season, "Back in the Saddle Again" starts to move many of the characters toward a new stage in their lives. Sookie’s upcoming wedding is stressing her out and, after helping Rory with a school project, Richard decides to end his retirement after only a few months. "Back in the Saddle Again" hints that big, dramatic changes are coming soon.
Whenever we see shades of Lorelai in her parents, it’s a complete joy, which is what makes "Face-Off" so wonderful. After witnessing her mother-in-law making out with a track-suited man, Emily lashes out against Trix. Bishop doesn’t get enough credit for her comic talents, but Emily’s comeuppance against Trix is thrilling and hilarious. Even better is the rare sight of Lorelai joking around with her father, making fun of Trix’s beau. "Face-Off" also points out the fundamental flaw in Jess and Rory’s relationship so far: Neither of them has dated anyone like the other, and they don’t know how to deal it. Yes, Jess is still sort of a pain, but at least there’s some semblance of an explanation for his immature choices.
While Jess has made some small strides toward being suitable boyfriend material, "Swan Song" shows that he can still be the absolute worst. Here, he’s jealous of Dean for spending time with his girlfriend and mad about getting a black eye—from a swan. Jess takes it out on Emily when he’s late for dinner and keeps the truth from Rory. Why does he do this? To protect his bad boy persona? To hide the fact that he can be taken down by a waterfowl? When Emily finally loses her cool and rails against Jess to Lorelai, it’s hard not to be on her side. But the episode’s finest moment comes when Rory tells her mother she’s considering having sex for the first time. Lorelai is uncharacteristically silent. You can see the fear in Lorelai’s eyes that it might be with Jess, and as “Swan Song” makes clear, Rory indeed deserves better.
Considering how badly Rory wants to go to Harvard, it’s great that "Application Anxiety" finally starts moving in that direction. With college in the not-so-distant future and Lorelai contemplating Rory leaving, this is also the series’ reminder that things aren’t going to remain the same: Rory won’t have Lorelai and Dean around whenever she needs them, and vice versa. The introduction of Adam Brody as audiophile Dave Rygalski starts Lane on her own independent path, giving her the push she’s needed since the beginning of the series.
Before all hell starts to break loose in the final two episodes of Season Two, "Help Wanted" shows sides of the characters we rarely see. In the main plot, Lorelai helps her father build his company by working as his temporary secretary—the first time a plot involving Richard and Lorelai ends amicably, without the years of repressed anger coming out. Meanwhile, after everyone blames Jess for Rory’s recent accident, Luke and Rory bond over the town’s incorrect assumptions. And if ever a character needed more depth, it’s Lane, whose decision to take up drums is a natural fit and gives her story somewhere to go, independent of anyone else.
"Double Date" is an example of Sherman-Palladino’s writing strengths—very little happens in the episode, yet it’s still captivating. Both Gilmores go on double dates to help their best friends out. On Sookie and Jackson’s first date, Lorelai is paired up with Jackson’s obnoxious cousin, Rune. Meanwhile, Rory sets up a double date so that Lane can go out with Dean’s friend, Todd—a person with whom Lane shares absolutely nothing in common. "Double Date" gives Sookie the only real stable relationship in Stars Hollow and moves Lorelai and Luke closer together. Rory’s double date isn’t quite as narratively fulfilling, but it does allow for a great conversation between Lorelai and Mrs. Kim about the way they should and shouldn’t raise their daughters.
"A Vineyard Valentine" puts Rory, Logan, Luke and Lorelai on vacation, and finds all of them behaving uncharacteristically. Among their unexplored facets: Lorelai’s love of romantic gestures, Luke’s extreme grumpiness and a version of Rory that cooks and goes to the gym. "A Vineyard Valentine" veers close to Luke once again not getting along with one of Rory’s boyfriends, but ultimately saves the plot from being a copy of his experience with Dean. It’s also great to see Rory pulling herself together after being lost in the first half of the season, as well as seeing Lorelai and Luke share a quiet moment laying in bed and discussing their future. Sometimes Gilmore Girls is at its best when it’s at its simplest.
Even with about half a season under his belt, Jess is still the Stars Hollow outsider, the troubled kid that makes most of the town uneasy. "Lost and Found" is the beginning of his transition into an ordinary inhabitant, as Lorelai warms up to him, Rory considers him a friend and things between he and Luke start to normalize. "Lost and Found" also shows us how Rory’s blinded by Jess’s charms, stressing out both Dean and Lorelai. This is toughest for the Lorelai, who sees her daughter on the cusp of a huge mistake but doesn’t want to suffocate her the way her own mother did.
On its surface, "Paris Is Burning" is about Lorelai’s relationship with Max and their decision to take a break from each other. But it’s the smaller moments in "Paris Is Burning" that have the bigger effect on future events. Paris and Rory have a kind moment with each other, as Rory offers to listen if Paris ever needs a friend during her parents’ contentious and public divorce. There’s some focus on Sookie as she asks out Jackson, starting the most solid relationship in all of Gilmore Girls.
When Lorelai went to her parents for money in the series’ pilot, her biggest fear was becoming indebted to her family. "Kill Me Now" presents Lorelai with a far worse possibility, as the more Rory engages with her grandparents, the more she becomes the daughter they always wanted. For Rory, that means being torn between her mother and best friend and the grandparents that offer new opportunities and similarly educated outlooks. Lorelai sees how she must’ve been a disappointment to her parents and watches as her daughter starts to break away from her. Before now, Lorelai had a partner in crime, but now she might drift away. Here, Season One creates the daughter-mother-grandmother dynamic that is one of the show’s most essential features.
Even when a fight—and an entire ocean—separated Lorelai and Rory in Season Five premiere, Lorelai made an effort to repair the relationship. At the start of Season Six, however, Lorelai washes her hands of Rory. Even though Gilmore Girls almost always takes Lorelai’s side in matters, "New and Improved Lorelai" lends credence to Rory’s argument, too. But Rory’s almost a MacGuffin in this episode: Even Luke and Lorelai’s engagement doesn’t hold a candle to Lorelai and her parents fighting over what to do about her.
Even though Lorelai, Rory and Emily don’t spent much time together in Season Six, "We’ve Got Magic to Do" excels when we see elements of one character in another. We can see Lorelai’s gift for event planning in Rory, as she plans a DAR function. In one of the episode’s best moments, we see the protective and aggressive nature of Lorelai in Emily, as she defends Rory against Shira Huntzberger. It’s not often that Emily and Richard act against societal expectations, but when it comes to Rory, it’s wonderful to see them fight for her in the season’s best episode so far.
Of the entire first season, "That Damn Donna Reed" has by far the strangest story for Rory, filled with cat sitting, 1950s sitcom fantasies and lost chicks. Rory dressing up like Donna Reed doesn’t have any actual purpose, and doesn’t quite make sense considering the argument she and Dean had about housewives. In spite of these choices, "That Damn Donna Reed" does put Lorelai and Luke’s relationship at the forefront, tying their stories in with the main plot for the first time. When it comes to the men in Lorelai’s life, the episode does an excellent job of presenting everything we need to know about them in simple scenes. We see the sweet, caring side of Luke as he tells Lorelai the history of his father’s store, and we can ascertain why Lorelai and Christopher didn’t work out almost immediately upon his return to town. "That Damn Donna Reed" is a testament to how much ground Gilmore Girls can cover in so few strokes.
If Season One ended with relationships getting a second chance, "Sadie, Sadie…" begins Season Two by poking holes them. After Lorelai’s engagement to Max, Luke brings her back down to Earth by asking a multitude of questions about the couple’s future together. Similarly, when Rory brings Dean to Friday dinner with her grandparents, Richard interrogates him about his lack of ambition. Both Luke and Richard make valid points, but both are also frustrated by their loved ones’ choices. If anything, these arguments make it clear that neither relationship is made to last, though "Sadie, Sadie…" lets the viewer believe they could.
Season Six wastes no time homing in on Lorelai and Rory’s flaws, and helping both women mature by addressing them. With Rory out of the picture, Lorelai discovers the importance of mutual decisions with Luke, who is now her fiancé. Rory has always been a little too precious, and her community service brings her face to face with the real world. "Fight Face" is most brutal when it shows how big the divide between Lorelai and Rory has become, with Lorelai not even telling Rory about her engagement and the two of them yelling on the side of the road. Like Rory, this relationship has been too precious for too long, so it’s exciting to see Gilmore Girls break her and Lorelai apart and allow them to grow independent of each other, before bringing them back together.
While most of "Come Home" is in line with the series we know and love, Emily’s story is borderline soapy. Her reconciliation with Richard is almost too neat, and her plan to sabotage Lorelai and Luke’s relationship, with Christopher’s help, turns her downright villainous. With the landmark 100th episode coming next, "Come Home" lets Lorelai and Rory’s stories spin their wheels, closing up some arcs and building drama in others almost out of nowhere.
Despite focusing on Rory’s coming out at a debutante ball (which Rory herself couldn’t care less about), "Presenting Lorelai Gilmore" is more about redefining the relationships around her. The fight between Emily and Richard is funny at first, but Lorelai soon realizes that Emily doesn’t have someone she can open up to. "Presenting Lorelai Gilmore" also reintroduces Christopher, living close by and a bit more reined in. These changes might make him more boring, but they also make him more reliable, and therefore more appealing to Lorelai. (Of course, Christopher is also seeing someone, which quietly disappoints Lorelai.) With Jess now in town, Christopher becoming an option for Lorelai, and Emily and Richard in a bad place, "Presenting Lorelai Gilmore" ends the first part of Season Two with some exciting complications.
As Lorelai says of watching bad movies without Rory, "It’s not the same," and indeed, when the pair reunites for Sookie and Jackson’s baby shower in "Always a Godmother, Never a God," their banter has no heart in it, with Lorelai’s nagging more motherly than friendly. Lane says that this is just a speed bump in the usually great relationship between Lorelai and Rory, but the episode does a fantastic job of showing their relationship at its lowest ebb, almost as if it’s irreparable—lifeless in a way we’ve never seen these two before.
At the beginning of "The Perfect Dress," Sookie talks about how she and Lorelai will finish all the wedding preparations that Luke won’t care about. Gilmore Girls takes the same approach, knocking out all the details off screen. The episode puts Rory and Lorelai in the positions they should’ve been since the beginning of the season, with Lorelai finally getting to her wedding plans and Rory going to a therapist. Neither of these matter going forward and don’t really have any lasting effects, but both are a long time coming.
The plot of "Like Mother, Like Daughter" is so silly that even the show’s characters start to mock its ridiculousness. Told that she’s too antisocial at Chilton, Rory she gets involved with one of Chilton’s sororities, The Puffs, only to get in trouble with the same people who told her to be more social. Rory clearly isn’t antisocial, and even for Chilton, this is too far. Lorelai also tries to become more involved in Chilton life, joining a club and organizing a fashion show. Season Two has set up a lot of potential plot lines for Rory and Lorelai, but the school material is often the least interesting part of the show. However, a few fine moments between Rory and Paris, as well as the hilarious catwalk moment with Lorelai and Emily, make "Like Mother, Like Daughter" worthwhile.
Considering that this is the first episode in which Rory returns home from college, it’s odd how little of "Chicken or Beef?" involves her and Lorelai together. Lorelai’s renovations of the Dragonfly Inn are halted by Taylor’s insane rules and regulations. Taylor is going full blast this episode, and it’s fantastic to see someone (Lorelai) finally grab hold of him, shake him and threaten physical violence over his obnoxious behavior. Even though Dean and Rory have moved out of Stars Hollow, they both happen to be home the weekend of Dean’s wedding. The show’s made it clear that Rory’s started a new chapter in her life, but as we see in "Chicken or Beef?" Rory and Dean still have some unresolved feelings for each other. Like the rest of Season Four so far, "Chicken or Beef?" is hinting at storylines to come, but this is an old one that just can’t stay dead—for better and for worse.
With Rory and Lorelai mad at Emily, "So… Good Talk" allows us to see the characters in an uncommon light. A pissed off Rory yelling at her grandmother is pretty shocking and cathartic, while Lorelai having drama-free conversations with her father is also a welcome change. "So… Good Talk" is also great in how it tempers relationships without breaking them—and even, in some cases, strengthening them. Zack doesn’t run when Lane says she has to wait until marriage for sex, and Luke and Lorelai get back together after Emily concedes her loss. "So… Good Talk" is one of those episodes of Gilmore Girls that doesn’t feel like it’s building to something, until the ending comes along and packs a wallop.
In its later seasons, Gilmore Girls struggles to keep Paris relevant amid the series’ other stories. For the most part, "It’s Just Like Riding a Bike" is the show’s send-off for her and Doyle, reminding us of the manic quality that always made Paris so much fun to watch. Much of "It’s Just Like Riding a Bike" is about saying goodbye to the old and embracing the new, as Paris starts a new path, Jackson destroys Lorelai’s dollhouse and Lorelai buys a new car. It’s that last story that returns Luke and Lorelai to the bantering, charming duo we first fell in love with, and hints that sometimes it’s worth embracing the old to get something new.
Airing a few months after the premiere of The O.C., "Girls in Bikinis, Boys Doin’ the Twist" is, in hindsight, like Gilmore Girls’s take on the show. Throwing two nerds like Rory and Paris into spring break and watching their inability to connect with this rite of passage is enjoyable, especially considering that they’re taking their cues from Louise and Madeline. With The Shins making an appearance and Luke ending up in jail after discovering his wife is having an affair, it really feels like The O.C.’s influence helped create this episode, and that show’s DNA is surprisingly effective in tandem with Gilmore Girls.
Huge life changes are on the way at the end of Season Five, so "To Live and Let Diorama" is a breezy and hilarious trip to Stars Hollow before all hell breaks loose. Lane, Rory and Paris getting drunk on Founder’s Punch and complaining about boys could easily be an entire episode’s focus. But it’s Taylor Doose’s vision for the Stars Hollow museum—complete with the town’s history since the cavemen in diorama form—that’s truly brilliant. Seeing this world through Taylor’s eyes is about as terrifying as one might imagine.
In the Season Four premiere, "Ballrooms & Biscotti," Lorelai wants to spend her final few days with Rory doing fun activities—plans that (of course) don’t work out. Just as Lorelai wants to enjoy some normalcy before everything changes, so does Gilmore Girls: "Ballrooms & Biscotti" mostly follows Rory and Lorelai as the series reintroduces the cast, relates what we’ve missed all summer, and prepares us for the big college move. Sookie is having a boy, Taylor’s caused Luke plenty of trouble and Luke has proposed to, married and divorced Nicole—all while on a cruise together. Season premieres of Gilmore Girls usually let the audience settle in before the big stories start, but "Ballrooms & Biscotti" is also bittersweet, as Rory’s departure looms over every moment along the way.
Gilmore Girls is no stranger to obscure references, but borrowing from Dig!—a documentary about The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre—is pretty esoteric, even for this show. Having BJM’s Joel Gion join Hep Alien is particularly entertaining for the small number of people at the center of the Venn Diagram of Gilmore Girls and Dig! fans. Beyond its allusions, "He’s Slippin’ Em Bread…Dig?" is excellent for finally returning to the Rory and Lorelai dynamic after almost half a season of separation. There’s a distracting overuse of the deus ex machina in this episode, from Christopher suddenly being rich and paying Rory’s tuition to Luke keeping his daughter from Lorelai, but the episode’s sense of fun is enough to overlook these flaws.
"Dear Emily and Richard" is the biggest format change for the show maybe ever, as Gilmore Girls flashes back to young Lorelai living at home with her parents and getting pregnant with Rory. On one hand, it’s great to see these moments we’ve heard talked about for years, especially Emily finding Lorelai’s letter saying she’s left home. On the other, these are moments that we already know all about. Not helping the flashbacks is Chelsea Brummet, who just doesn’t have the spark we’d imagine in a young Lorelai. These are juxtaposed with Christopher’s fiancée, Sherry, giving birth to their child. Lauren Graham’s silent performance in these moments is actually where the emotional heft of the episode resides, as we see her witnessing her dreams coming true years late, and for someone else.
While "It Should’ve Been Lorelai" is mostly about bringing Sherry into the fold, the episode is at its most interesting when it focuses on Lorelai’s selfishness and her longing for the life she might’ve had. Christopher has always been the possibility that never quite fits into Lorelai’s life in the right way. In "It Should’ve Been Lorelai," it looks as if he’s moved past her, even if Lorelai can’t let him go. Emily cuts to the core of who Lorelai is and helps Lorelai realize that she’s still pining over Christopher. The Lorelai/Christopher relationship is always one of convenience for the show, popping up before being forgotten again, but "It Should’ve Been Lorelai" gets to the core of Lorelai’s problematic romances and finally sees the likes of Emily and Christopher calling her out on her selfish ways.
After "A Family Matter" brings Liz and Jess Mariano back to Luke and Stars Hollow, "Nag Hammadi" features the Mariano family playing off each other in ways that deepen our understanding of all three. When Jess yells at Luke for always trying to fix everyone, for instance, we learn that he felt like a failure for not being exactly what Luke wanted him to be; there’s also a fantastic scene in which he finally tells Rory that he loves her. Jess is often a hard-to-like character, but in these moments “Nag Hammadi” does more to illuminate his point of view than most prior episodes. Despite being a real jerk to Luke, Jess hits a chord, and Luke gets drunk after the encounter, clearly upset that maybe Jess was right all along. Because of this, we see the true duality of Luke: He’s a guy who wants to help others, but doesn’t want to let too many people in and risk getting hurt himself.
As the penultimate episode with Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino still attached to the series, it’s sort of a shame how little most of the stories in "Driving Miss Gilmore" pop. Rory’s frustrations with Logan’s dad and Luke’s anger at TJ are solved simply by talking out the issue, while Lorelai drives her mother around and discovers her parents want to buy her and Luke a house. Emily and Richard often show their love through spending their money—which makes this their biggest show of affection in the entire series—and while the moment is incredibly sweet, it’s the high point in an otherwise middling episode.
Considering how important Lorelai’s parents are to Gilmore Girls, it’s unusual that it takes this long before we get an episode focused on Richard. Much like "Emily in Wonderland," "Richard in Stars Hollow" brings Richard to Stars Hollow to point out the flaws in his daughter’s life. Richard is far more critical, even as he’s aware of how much of a pain he’s been since retiring. Because of that, "Richard in Stars Hollow" is much bleaker than Emily’s trip to Lorelai’s home. He’s a man that feels irrelevant—first at his job, and now with his family—and though "Richard in Stars Hollow" features the titular character at his most irritating and judgmental, it also finds him at his most sympathetic, as we see his internal struggle for the first time.
"You Jump, I Jump, Jack" has two characters jumping right into big decisions, literally and figuratively. Rory spends time with Logan at the Life and Death Brigade event, pushing her away from Dean yet again, while Lorelai’s parents show their disapproval of their daughter’s relationship with Luke. Both romances were naturally heading in this direction anyway; "You Jump, I Jump, Jack" just gives them a shove to get things going faster.
In "Let the Games Begin," Rory, Lorelai, Emily and Richard are all getting along just fine when a stupid, misguided choice brings it all crashing down. This time, Richard’s determination for Rory to go to Yale turns everyone against him; his trickery has the desired effect, making Yale an actual option for Rory and Lorelai, but it still isn’t necessary for every interaction between mother and parents to end in an argument. In many ways, "Let the Games Begin" is about allowing one dream to end and another to take over. It starts to happen for Rory in her college decision, but it also occurs as she finds some closure with Dean and starts a relationship with Jess.
Season Five has many episodes that are mostly filler—still fun, but lacking in substance. "Blame Booze and Melville" feels like the earlier seasons of Gilmore Girls: Every choice has weight behind it, the jokes are incredible and the stories are packed with potential. "Blame Booze and Melville" depicts Lorelai’s fear of moving forward in her relationship with Luke and Rory’s lifelong dream threatened. Yet "Blame Booze and Melville" remains lighthearted; Sookie’s new child has an extraordinarily long name, for instance, and one of the best ongoing jokes of the series gets an incredible payoff, as Kirk’s 15,000 jobs have made him surprisingly rich. As the season winds up, it’s fantastic that "Blame Booze and Melville" gets back to what made the series so great in the first place.
It takes a while for the fourth season of Gilmore Girls to work out its kinks, but "The Festival of Living Art" gets back to good, old-fashioned Stars Hollow hijinks. The actual Festival of Living Pictures is a spectacular accomplishment, and the re-creations of famous paintings are spot-on. Watching Kirk dress as Jesus is great, as is the arrival of Jackson’s brother—played by Nick Offerman—for Sookie’s birth. But who would’ve thought one of the most charming guest characters would be Sebastian Bach, as the new lead guitarist of Lane’s band? Bach is shockingly good as a sandwich shop owner who just wants to rock and is far older than the rest of his band. And who better to replace Adam Brody?
By now in Season One, Gilmore Girls has done plenty to create a town and group of people that we’ve grown to care about. Then Christopher swings in like a wrecking ball, shaking everything he touches. In "Christopher Returns," Rory’s father causes Stars Hollow to become a gossip mill, screws with the potential love between Lorelai and Luke—and, hardest of all, gives Rory hope that her father who can’t stay in one place for long might stick around this time. Having not been much of a presence since "Forgiveness and Stuff," Richard and Emily are back in force, as the Gilmores plan a dinner with Christopher’s family. Rory’s parents are, in a sense, in high school again, while Richard’s defense of his daughter and the family name comes as a welcome surprise. "Christopher Returns" is all about the characters making the best of their past mistakes and trying to avoid new ones.
After the anticipation of Rory getting into Chilton in "Pilot," "The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton" gives us the disappointment of the new school. Chilton is, to an almost comic extent, an institution waiting for Rory to fail, a place where "the pressures are greater, the rules are stricter, and the expectations are higher." Despite the bad first impression the school makes on the Gilmores and vice versa, "The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton" does color in the world that "Pilot" creates. Rory meets Paris, rival and future friend. We’re introduced to more of the inhabitants of Stars Hollow, including Jackson, Babette and Kirk—who for some reason is called "Mick" in his first appearance. The episode also establishes important elements of the series’ formula: Here, we see both the overbearing and humorous sides of Emily Gilmore, and Lorelai first considers Luke as a romantic possibility, setting up the greatest "will-they-or-won’t-they?" scenario of the entire series.
Stars Hollow is an idyllic, perfect place where almost nothing goes wrong, which is what makes "A Tale of Poes and Fire" such a shock to the system. Tragedy and panic are almost alien to the town, but seeing Lorelai, Sookie and even Michel rising to the occasion when the Independence Inn burns down is actually pretty exciting. This is, of course, a convenient reason for Lorelai and Sookie to start their own inn sooner than expected, but it’s a smart way to jumpstart their future business. While the disaster pushes Lorelai forward, it’s Rory’s excitement about getting accepted by three Ivy League schools that moves her closer to the developments of Season Four. Harvard was always the plan, but Yale ends up looking better on paper. Plus, Yale is so close that Rory can come home more often. Like the inn, "A Tale of Poes and Fire" burns down the past to make way for the future, launching Gilmore Girls into the next season’s big stories.
"There’s The Rub" is an excellent episode of Gilmore Girls, blending a hilarious Lorelai plot with Rory’s more dramatic arc. Rory’s night home alone turns into her studying with Paris, inviting Jess for dinner and having a fight with and lying to Dean. While she’s trying to protect Dean, it’s also an intriguing evolution of her character: Rory would never have lied to her boyfriend, and “There’s the Rub” shows where her new loyalties lie. This is wonderfully balanced with Lorelai and her mother spending a day at the spa, during which an excited Emily bums out Lorelai. Their chemistry in these scenes shows why their dynamic may be the series’ best, and seeing them at least attempt the closeness that Lorelai and Rory share is legitimately sweet.
Many claim that Season Three is Gilmore Girls’s finest, and "Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days" starts it off by showing just how much the series has learned. What’s impressive about the episode is how well it balances so many characters and ideas. We get Lorelai dealing with losing Christopher again, her parents’ reaction to the news and her decision to patch things up with Luke—all handled extremely well. Meanwhile, Rory debates whether she wants Jess or Dean and chooses the latter. But the episode does a lot more without becoming bloated. Characters that are often sidelined, like Kirk, Taylor and especially Paris, have their own fun asides that aren’t out of place. "Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days" is mostly a way for viewers to catch up on what’s happening on Gilmore Girls, but it’s also a sign of how far the series has come.
"Say Goodnight, Gracie" has two of Season Three’s main romantic interests leave Stars Hollow. While it wouldn’t have made much sense for Jess to stick around with Rory off at college, his departure was also a way to set up a Jess-centered spinoff that never came to be. We’ll see him later, but "Say Goodnight, Gracie" is the very last of Lane’s boyfriend, Dave, and what a goodbye it is. Dave can take Lane to the prom, but only after he recites all of his best attributes in a brilliant monologue and reads the entire Bible in one night. Dave’s scenes are fantastic, and show signs of the nervous, love-struck Seth Cohen that Adam Brody would play only a few months later on The O.C.
Logan is Rory’s longest romantic relationship, with the two of them dating for the majority of the final three seasons. Because of that, it’s shocking that Rory has never brought Logan home to Stars Hollow prior to "Hay Bale Maze." By introducing Logan to Rory’s hometown, "Hay Bale Maze" gets back to a simpler time in Gilmore Girls, when every week there was a wild event and the town actually felt like a community. There’s some drama to Rory and Logan’s relationship, and Luke and Lorelai bury the hatchet over their engagement. Plus, the episode’s actual Hay Bale Maze is one of the series’ more impressive feats. As Gilmore Girls nears its end, it rediscovers itself by returning home.
In the first of back-to-back episodes about the budding Gilmore love lives, "Kiss and Tell" features Dean giving Rory her first kiss. Rory and Dean’s young love is adorable, and having Rory and Lorelai deal with this new aspect of their relationship is a fun development—even if Lorelai creates an awkward first date for her daughter during a Gilmore movie night. As the only episode written by Orange is the New Black and Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, though, the strength of "Kiss and Tell" is Lorelai’s screwball comedy-inflected dialogue with Luke and Rory.
Gilmore Girls doesn’t often deal with grief, but when it does, it almost always manages to have fun with the situation. In "The Reigning Lorelai," the death of Richard’s mother, Trix, wrecks Richard, while Emily finds a note Trix wrote to Richard on the eve of their wedding, telling Richard not to marry her. As such, "The Reigning Lorelai" is a fantastic showcase for the range of Edward Herrmann and Kelly Bishop’s talents. Their performances are at once more dramatic and more broadly comic than we usually see on Gilmore Girls, but the actors make it work.
The penultimate episode of Gilmore Girls, "Unto the Breach" does a fine job pulling together the series’ loose ends under the aegis of Rory’s graduation from Yale. Even though there’s been more buildup to this event, however, it’s not as effective as her graduation from Chilton. Instead, "Unto the Breach" is more interested in Logan’s proposal and the inevitable breakup. Logan is decent, but he’s a boring match for Rory, and letting him go before the end of the series is the right choice. "Unto the Breach" doesn’t hit quite as hard as one might expect, saving the emotional wallop for the finale.
From the moment Jess appears in Stars Hollow, it’s pretty obvious he’s going to interfere with Rory and Dean’s relationship. But it’s in "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" that we realize how much more she connects with the town’s bad boy and how she and Dean are slowly pulling apart. "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" handles Jess and Rory’s scenes superbly, showing substantial conversations about books and shared interests that Rory and Dean don’t have. And with Dean skulking around having a pity party, it’s easy to see why Rory would no longer want that in her life. Toss in Kirk explaining his family life, Jackson proposing to Sookie and Mrs. Lane’s fight with her daughter, and "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" is chock full of wonderful moments.
Gilmore Girls is primarily a show about mother-daughter relationships, those that work almost impossibly well (Lorelai and Rory) and those that are in a period of transition and growth (Lorelai and Emily). "In the Clamor and the Clangor" showcases the most stagnant of these mother-daughter combos, with a heartbreaking plot featuring Lane and Mrs. Kim. When Mrs. Kim finds all of Lane’s hidden secrets in her room, it seems like the two might finally come to some sort of agreement: They could both live their separate lives, free of lies and sneaking, and be happy and open with each other. Unfortunately, that just won’t work for Mrs. Kim, as she kicks Lane out of her home. The joy on Lane’s face that her mother finally knows who she is comes crashing down as she recognizes her mother’s disappointment. Four seasons in, there’s barely been any give from either character, but it’s that stubbornness and frustration that makes the gradual changes all the more rewarding when they do arrive.
After Rory’s first kiss in the previous episode, it’s Lorelai’s turn. It takes an act of God and Rory getting snowed in with the grandparents for Lorelai to finally go on a date with Max, but the event itself is an adorable, snow-covered jump back into the dating pool. Yet what really stands out in "Love & War & Snow" is the new focus on two characters that have mostly remained in the background thus far: Lane gets her own story, as she crushes on a boy in band and sneaks a feel of his hair, while we learn of Luke’s history with Stars Hollow and of his deceased father. Until now, we’ve seen flirting between Lorelai and Luke, but their one scene together here displays more chemistry than Lorelai has with Max, and Luke’s glimpse of Lorelai’s date makes it clear that the town grump has a soft spot in his heart for her.
From the very beginning of Gilmore Girls, money is an issue, even a plot device, but it’s rarely ever a problem. "Scene in a Mall" does finally show how tight things are getting, as Lorelai borrows $30,000 from Luke and Lorelai and Rory can only afford to window shop (even though they apparently buy one of everything at the food court). It’s great that Gilmore Girls grounds itself here, but to balance that, we have Emily losing her damn mind over the changes Richard’s been making to his life without her involvement. The episode’s final moments put us squarely on Emily’s side: Throughout the fourth season, we see bits and pieces of a rift between the two, but with "Scenes in a Mall," we understand that Emily’s outburst has been building for some time.
"A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving" follows Rory and Lorelai through Stars Hollow: We see the Kim family’s Thanksgiving and Lane’s attempts to win Mrs. Kim over with Dave, Sookie’s disdain for her husband’s attempt at frying a turkey and Human Kirk’s fear of his new pet, Cat Kirk. "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving" is thus an enjoyable jaunt, at least until the episode introduces unnecessary conflict. Lorelai’s shock that her daughter didn’t apply to only one college is ridiculous, and Dean’s verbal confrontation with Jess is quite silly. These moments don’t completely derail "A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving," but it’s strange that Gilmore Girls doesn’t take the peaceful approach more often.
"Luke Can See Her Face" teaches the episode’s eponymous character what the audience has known for four seasons, and though Luke’s story might come off as cheesy, it’s charming to watch him realize he’s lonely, listen to an audiobook to open himself up and discover that he actually likes Lorelai. "Luke Can See Her Face" pushes Jess in a similar direction, as the two begin to become more understanding of each other.
"Lorelai? Lorelai?" is an episode almost entirely about disappointments, a refreshing change of pace for Gilmore Girls. Rory can’t find a job. Luke doesn’t get to go on his vacation with his daughter. And Lane can’t go on a dream tour. Though it doesn’t last long, it’s novel to see Rory struggle for something in her life, and everyone in "Lorelai? Lorelai?" is let down by the recognition that reality doesn’t match their expectations. Still, there’s an underlying hopefulness to the episode, in which there are great opportunities for all just around the corner.
Season One of Gilmore Girls is a sublime introduction to this universe, breezy and quaint, but action packed it ain’t. With the season finale, "Love, Daisies and Troubadours," by contrast, the series aims to hit the ground running in Season Two. Luke is well aware of his feelings for Lorelai. Rory and Dean are back together. Rory and Paris are bigger rivals than ever before. And, out of nowhere, Max proposes to Lorelai. In retrospect, it’s almost charming to see how easy these characters had it in Season One, and "Love, Daisies and Troubadours" foreshadows the drama to come.
"The Big One" sets Season Three’s final batch of episodes in motion with life-changing moments for its characters. Rory gets into Harvard, while Paris has sex for the first time, doesn’t get into Harvard and has a breakdown on C-SPAN. Sookie gets pregnant and Lorelai runs into Max for the first time since calling off their engagement. The Rory/Paris story is a little wild, and it’s crazy it took this long for Gilmore Girls to discuss sex, but after three years it seems their friendship’s finally been cemented. On the other hand, Max’s return is a questionable choice, dramatically speaking. Yes, things between he and Lorelai ended poorly, but we’re almost two seasons away from their cancelled engagement. It doesn’t need resolving anymore.
What’s more unusual about "Keg! Max!"? The fact that the teenager of Stars Hollow don’t throw more parties, or the notion that, at the height of the WB’s teen dramas, Gilmore Girls didn’t feature a "wild" kegger for nearly three seasons? "Keg! Max!" is maybe the first episode of Gilmore Girls that feels like typical WB material, but it pulls it off, mainly because it uses its setting to bring its ongoing arcs to a head. Jess gets kicked out of school, tries to push Rory to have sex and finally gets in a fight with Dean. Lane comes clean to her mom about her rock desires and her feelings for Dave. Lorelai has some awkward meetings with Max at Chilton. With many of its male characters soon to depart, "Keg! Max!" has some fun with them before they’re gone, in an episode that uses the conventions of teen drama to fine effect.
"Twenty-One Is the Loneliest Number" is the first time in Season Six that all the Gilmores are under one roof. (It’s about time.) Now 21, Rory has become someone neither Lorelai nor her grandparents fully understand, lending the episode, and Rory’s birthday party, a melancholy atmosphere. There’s a lot of talk about change in "Twenty-One Is the Loneliest Number," especially for Rory—a good thing considering that much of her arc so far in Season Six has been about her inability to move forward.
On the surface, "The Road Trip to Harvard" is light-hearted, relying on Rory and Lorelai’s rapid-fire dialogue. It’s also one of the few episodes in which Lorelai and Rory seem to go too far in their mean-spirited opinions of others. But the subtle brilliance of "The Road Trip to Harvard" is that Lorelai acts exactly the same way Rory did—and Lorelai warned her against—after a breakup: She makes plans and tries to avoid the issue at hand, looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past. The episode never comments on it, but their reactions reveal a new layer of similarity between them, all as the trip revitalizes Lorelai’s interest in building her own inn and Rory visits the college of her dreams.
With her wedding only a week away, Lorelai finally starts contemplating the idea of bringing a husband into her family and all that entails. "Red Light on the Wedding Night" is painful to watch, as Lorelai and Max gradually realize what we’ve always known—the two of them are not meant for each other—and the episode brilliantly, subtly hints to both parties that things aren’t what they should be this close to their wedding. Dean still has to give Max the rundown of how to act around the Gilmores. Lorelai understands that her lack of butterflies is worrisome after hearing Emily’s story of pre-wedding jitters, and then immediately calls Christopher for support. Lorelai can’t even fathom having Max in the house for one night, or remember to give him a key to their home. It’s moments like these that make her unexpectedly unlikable in “Red Light on the Wedding Night,” but this time Lorelai running from a relationship turns out to be the right thing to do.
In many ways, "I’d Rather Be in Philadelphia" does much the same work in the seventh season that "Forgiveness and Stuff" did in the first, though it’s far more important this late in the game. The episode reinforces the series’ earlier choices, framing Luke as reliable and Christopher as irresponsible, while turning Emily’s rare panic at Richard’s hospitalization into a particularly moving moment.
As a mostly comic episode, "We Got Us a Pippi Virgin" presents one hilarious set piece after another. Emily buys a panic room. The Gilmore women ransack Richard’s pool house. There’s a double date to see The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking and an angry game of Bop It. All of these moments coalesce into an entertaining episode, but it’s the Pippi moments that stand out: Rory and Lorelai singing along to the film’s theme song is awfully winsome, and Luke’s fascination with Pippi—namely his comparisons between her and Rory—utilize his deadpan delivery in just the right way.
At this point in Season One, there’s little known about the early life of Rory and Lorelai, except that Lorelai ran away from Hartford and moved to Stars Hollow to work at an inn. As far as plot goes, "Emily In Wonderland" has almost none, but it does deepen our understanding of the characters’ pasts by giving us an extended tour of Stars Hollow. The notion that Lorelai raised Rory in a potter’s shed at the inn is unthinkable to Emily, and watching her encounter the likes of Michel and Mrs. Kim is as thoroughly enjoyable as you’d expect.
As the first episode without the Gilmore grandparents, "The Deer-Hunters" allows Gilmore Girls to build the relationship between Rory and Lorelai. "The Deer-Hunters" plays with the ever-shifting dynamic of who’s the more responsible Gilmore, while also showing how much these two rely on and support each other, and have since Rory’s birth. When Rory gets a D on a paper, we learn about Rory’s lofty college ambitions and see Lorelai’s determination to give her daughter the chances that she didn’t have. We knew that Rory and Lorelai were extremely close before now, but "The Deer-Hunters" shows just how much depth there is to their relationship, as well as how the roles of mother and daughter are often interchangeable.
Considering how much Lorelai and Rory take on in Season Four, Gilmore Girls is incredibly easy on them. But "The Incredible Sinking Lorelais" changes that by introducing the season’s biggest problems—Lorelai might not have money for the inn and Rory’s workload is becoming too much for her—then taking away their support system: each other. "The Incredible Sinking Lorelais" is also fascinating in the way it tells these two stories independently, yet suggests the parallels between them. Lorelai gets in a fight with Sookie over her irresponsibility, while Rory kicks Lane out of her dorm. When the pressure of failure overwhelms them, they both find solace in married men, Rory with Dean and Lorelai with Luke. Separating mother and daughter might seem like a simple idea, but "The Incredible Sinking Lorelais" handles it exceptionally well, heightening the drama and hinting at similar splits in the upcoming season.
In its "going away to college" episode, Gilmore Girls has a lot hanging in the balance. With the key relationship of the show being between mother and daughter, "The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale" has to be exciting, but it’s also a huge goodbye for the series. Gilmore Girls pulls it off by presenting the emotions of leaving home, the possibilities within the change and the fear of moving on. Lorelai kicks off Rory’s college experience by throwing an impromptu party and spends the night in the dorm. It’s sweet rather than sappy or pathetic. The episode even provides some nice Luke moments as he helps Rory move in—reinforcing his role as a surrogate father—and places Paris as Rory’s roommate, so that she won’t be entirely alone in this new environment. "The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale" might just be setting up the next step, but it does so in impressive fashion.
"Written in the Stars" shows us three relationships, each at a different stage. Rory meets Logan for the first time, while Emily and Richard are still navigating the rules of their separation. Not surprisingly, though, it’s Lorelai and Luke’s first date—and the town’s kerfuffle over them getting together—that elevates "Written in the Stars." Despite how much time we’ve spent with Luke, the episodes plumbs new depths in terms of how much he cares for Lorelai, and she responds by investing herself fully in the relationship. Gilmore Girls took four seasons to get Lorelai and Luke together, but "Written in the Stars" solidifies them almost immediately as the series’ best couple.
"Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting" features the phenomenal return of Friday night dinners, one of the best final acts in the series’ history. As Rory, Lorelai, Emily and Richard hash out every single fight they’ve had in their entire relationship, director Kenny Ortega handles the sequence masterfully, using POV shots, handheld cameras and some excellent framing to suggest the passage of time. Everything in the closing sequence is perfect, from the humor that arises from having heard the same arguments over and over to the unusual editing and directing, which reflect the influence of the stage. In a series’ that’s had its share of Friday night fights, "Friday Night’s Alright for Fighting" is the most epic of them all.
While it wasn’t a sure thing that Daniel Palladino and Amy Sherman-Palladino would be leaving Gilmore Girls after Season Six, "Partings" sure does feel like a goodbye. It’s almost as if Sherman-Palladino wants to get the series on track to start wrapping things up, or maybe burn the bridge just in case: She puts Lorelai in the middle of Luke and Christopher. Almost every season finale has had Luke or Christopher as a dramatic catalyst, so throwing them both in at the end of "Partings" is a huge move. Plus, the episode is filled with great musical acts, including Yo La Tengo, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Gilmore Girls’s composer, Sam Phillips. Sherman-Palladino orchestrates quite the concert to play her waltz into the sunset.
In the series premiere of Gilmore Girls, Sherman-Palladino faces a daunting task to complete in just 44 minutes: She has to make her audience fall in love with the relationship between Rory and Lorelai Gilmore, while simultaneously introducing us to the people of Stars Hollow. She succeeds, and more. In "Pilot," we meet more that a dozen central characters and catch glimpses of decades’ worth of pain and turmoil within the Gilmore family. Plots begun here will last several seasons. "Pilot" handles all of this elegantly, balancing the series’ quirkiness and sentimentality with narrative necessity, and by the end of the episode we already feel the warmth of Stars Hollow, not to mention the love between Rory and Lorelei. When they fight halfway through the hour, it’s already a seismic event: In "Pilot," Sherman-Palladino sets the table with such precision, even Emily Gilmore would approve.
Until now, Gilmore Girls has understandably painted its characters in broad strokes, but "Rory’s Birthday Parties" highlights the nuance and care that’s gone into their creation. The episode sees several characters play the fish-out-of-water: Lorelai, awkward in her interactions with people from her past; Rory, uncomfortable at the party Emily throws on her behalf; Emily, uneasy meeting the people of Stars Hollow. (It’s fascinating to see what we learn about all three when they’re put in situations they clearly loathe.) Still, the best moment in "Rory’s Birthday Parties" comes from Emily’s realization that, despite her recent efforts, she doesn’t know her own daughter. It’s an episode that chips away at the past and sets the Gilmores on a path toward a deeper understanding of each other.
Lane’s wedding is everything Lane is: joyful, musical, slightly strange, and hopeful for the future. "I Get a Sidekick Out of You" is a perfect showcase for her, and a fantastic melding of love and sorrow. The episode explains so much about her relationship with Mrs. Kim without being too on-the-nose about it, showing generations of familial cover-ups. Lane’s wedding is the culmination of her long-gestating desires and also manages to works in Lorelai’s fears of never getting married, with a drunken toast that somehow isn’t clichéd.
After she ends her engagement to Max, Season Two mostly puts Lorelai’s love life on hold. But it comes back with a vengeance in "I Can’t Get Started": In the span of the episode, Lorelai’s surprised by Christopher’s return, spends the night with him, plans a future with her baby daddy and then loses him to another woman he’s knocked up. The same is true of Rory, for whom Jess’s return means more conflicting emotions. In the moments before Rory and Lorelai walk down the aisle at Sookie’s wedding, we see both women realizing just how complicated their lives are about to become, which makes for an especially rich Season Three.
In "Star-Crossed Lovers and Other Strangers," Gilmore Girls begins barrelling toward the end of Season One. Rory and Dean’s three-month anniversary starts off great, but ends with Dean saying "I love you," Rory not being able to reciprocate, and the two breaking up. Dean’s abrupt change in demeanor and his near-anger at Rory is a sign of the temper simmering underneath his placid surface. Relationship-wise, we also see the return of Luke’s ex, Rachel, and Lorelai turning back to Max. The rest of Lorelai’s story is tied in with a hilariously bad dinner with the scummiest man on earth, Chase Bradford, which also subtly brings Lorelai and Richard together again after their rift in the previous episode, "Christopher Returns."
In many ways, the series’ fifth season is about flipping formerly sure things on their head, but never to the extent of the Season Five finale, "A House is Not a Home." Rory quits Yale, promising she’ll go back. Lorelai proposes to Luke. Most importantly, Rory has become the daughter Emily and Richard always wanted, and chooses to moves in with them and away from her mother. To this point, there’s been a lot of down time in Season Five, but "A House is Not a Home" brings off this season-long buildup in surprising ways. It’s a great way to end a middling season and get the next one on track.
Even though we’ve seen Lorelai break things off with several men in the past, we’ve never seen her on the receiving end of the blow—or as depressed as she is in "Say Something." As silly as the circumstances around the Lorelai and Luke’s parting may be—the whole town is splitting in half; Rory returns home in a limo—Lorelai’s pain is surprisingly stark. Behind the camera, Daniel Palladino typically adds unconventional flourishes, and Lorelai’s dream is a phenomenal way for the series to get inside her head. Gilmore Girls frequently turns on big speeches and gestures, but by focusing inward, on Lorelai’s heartbreak, "Say Something" becomes an affecting look at breakups and breakdowns.
After seeing the relationships among the Gilmores deepen over the course of the first season, only to be torn apart in the previous episode, "Forgiveness and Stuff" rebuilds these ties, and leaves the family even stronger. As the title suggests, Lorelai finds forgiveness with her mother and daughter, but even more compelling is the evolution of Lorelai’s relationships with the men in her life after Richard ends up in the hospital. In particular, it’s Edward Herrmann’s performance that captures the episode’s brilliance: Richard’s wordless interaction with Lorelai in the hospital is one of the most moving scenes in the entire series, and his discussion with Emily about what to do if he dies is truly heartbreaking—especially now, after Hermann’s own passing.
When the first season of Gilmore Girls aired in 2000-01, there were plenty of other teen dramas on television, filled with young love and the subsequent heartbreak. Though "The Breakup, Part 2" sees Rory deal with those emotions for the first time, after she and Dean call things off, the episode handles these moments with a level of care and emotional realism most series of its ilk aren’t capable of. Rory’s path from goal-oriented distractions to wallowing in her own sadness rings true for the young woman uncertain of how to face a kind of pain she’s never experienced before; for her part, Lorelai understands that only time can heal her daughter. "The Breakup, Part 2" is an example of one of Sherman-Palladino’s greatest gifts: No matter how tired the trope, she unearths the raw feelings therein, elevating the medium’s conventions into something special.
The superb "Teach Me Tonight" contains not only some of the most dramatic moments of the series’ first two seasons, but also the funniest, most absurd moment of the entire series. Of course, Jess’s faux bad boy attitude and actions lead to Rory getting hurt and, of course, this leads to Lorelai and Luke getting into their first huge fight. But these moments are deftly handled: We can see why Rory would still be drawn to Jess, while also understanding why the rest of the town is so frustrated by his presence. There’s no better symbol of the Rory/Jess/Dean triangle than Rory’s car, built by Dean and smashed to pieces because of Jess taking the wheel. "Teach Me Tonight" balances its rebel boys and car accidents with some very nice scenes focused on Christopher, as well as the fun subplot about Lorelai taking over the movie-in-the-square from Taylor. Yet the surprising star of "Teach Me Tonight" is Kirk, as his short film, appropriately titled a film by kirk is a David Lynch-style masterpiece so so wonderfully strange that it counts among the series’ finest moments.
With its 100th episode, "Wedding Bell Blues," Gilmore Girls sets off bomb after bomb, the effects of which last, in some cases, until the series finale. Lorelai and Luke break up. Rory and Logan hook up. And Emily plots against her daughter. All this isolates Lorelai, defiantly deciding that she’s done with her mother, realizing her relationship choices have been motivated by her mother’s actions, and coming to understand that Rory’s is following the affluent path Lorelai never wanted for her. In essence, the excellent "Wedding Bell Blues" divides the viewer’s loyalties, too. We’re happy that Emily is so overjoyed by her recommitment to Richard, but despise her for the way she treats Luke and brings Christopher into the mix. We’re happy that Rory has found someone she likes in Logan, but we’re wary of the way it will change her relationship with her mother. We want Lorelai to be open with Luke, but understand why she would keep her secrets. "Wedding Bell Blues" shows how well drawn these characters have become, allowing us to love them, be frustrated by them, and be entertained by them, all in a single episode.
Gilmore Girls is rarely as dark or as stylistically ambitious as it is in the Season Five premiere, "Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller." From the series’ best cold open, in which Dean listens in on the argument between Lorelai and Rory, the episode is immediately distinctive; relationships are crumbling all around, especially when we get our first glimpse of Dean and Lindsay’s bleak home life. What makes "Say Goodbye to Daisy Miller" so brilliant is the near-complete lack of humor: The season begins with a dramatic episode, yet there’s still hope for the future, as we see in Lorelai and Luke’s episode-ending phone call. It’s a daring move for a season premiere, and it works beautifully.
If "Luke Can See Her Face" begins to turn Luke and Jess into viable romantic options for Lorelai and Rory, respectively, "Last Week Fights, This Week Tights" solidifies their positions. The moment in which Luke finally asks Lorelai on a real date—after four seasons—is understated and simple, and their attendance at Liz’s wedding sweetly highlights their terrific chemistry. Somehow, though, Jess steals the show: "Last Week Fights, This Week Tights" displays his newfound maturity, setting aside his jerky persona and allowing his heart to take control. Between asking Rory to run away with him and beautifully telling Luke he appreciates him, Jess is finally likable, and that makes all the difference.
The Season Four finale combines elements of two of the series’ best episodes: the community unification of "The Bracebridge Dinner" and the unexpected mother-daughter fight of "Rory’s Dance." "Raincoats and Recipes" sees Lorelai soar, as she opens her inn and kisses Luke, but it knocks her right back down as she reels from the news of her parents’ split, the knowledge that Rory lost her virginity to a married Dean and an unexpected appearance from Jason. "Raincoats and Recipes" allows the audience to get huge moments they’ve waited years for, only to break their hearts moments later.
The first eight episodes of Gilmore Girls suggest only the slightest tension, with occasional romantic worries and asides about the past. "Rory’s Dance" is the series’ first attempt to add the sour to the sweet, first through the fight between Emily and Lorelai, and then the fight between Lorelai and Rory. The former dredges up long-dormant aspects of Lorelai and Emily’s relationship, including the fear that Rory—who falls asleep with Dean after a school dance, leaving her mother and grandmother terrified about what might have happened to her—might be going down the same road that Lorelai did. When Rory returns home, Lorelai is mad not only because Rory’s absence worried her, but also because Lorelai now looks like a fool in front of Emily. "Rory’s Dance" marks a sharp turn in the first season, yet it evinces empathy for each side of the argument.
We never got the Sherman-Palladino finale. We never got to hear the four words she wanted to end the series with, though we will soon, in the upcoming Netflix episodes. But considering how reviled the seventh season of Gilmore Girls was at the time, "Bon Voyage" is about as lovely a finale as could be expected. For fans who wanted the details of what was to come in the lives of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, sure, the answers might not be so clear. Do Lorelai and Luke end up together? How will Rory do covering Barack Obama on the campaign trail? But "Bon Voyage" still provides plenty of resolution after seven years with these characters, pausing for beautiful goodbyes to the series’ most resonant relationships. Despite feeling rushed, at times, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable sendoff for Gilmore Girls, other than the one that might’ve come from Sherman-Palladino herself.
There’s a single scene in "They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?" that encapsulates the best of Gilmore Girls. At the end of a 24-hour dance marathon, Dean breaks up with Rory, and Lorelai comes to console her. But only seconds later, the Rocky theme kicks in, as Kirk flies around the dance hall, trophy in hand, exuberant in his victory. It’s a moment of immense sadness, leavened by a ridiculous bit of comedy. It’s the type of moment that Gilmore Girls excels at. Fun and well orchestrated, "They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?" has so many exciting developments, it’s almost a sort of wish fulfillment. Paris and Lane both have potential relationships beginning, Lorelai and Luke have their first sweet moment of the season, Sookie and Jackson discuss having kids, and pretty much every supporting character gets some moment during the big dance.
Getting together all of the characters we’ve met so far in Stars Hollow—and a few from Hartford—could be an overwhelmingly quirky affair. Yet "The Bracebridge Dinner" is a charming, well-balanced episode, giving everyone his or her moment while pushing the plot forward into the second half of the season. With the entire town of Stars Hollow together for a giant dinner, Gilmore Girls uses the opportunity to bounce characters we rarely see together off one another, to sublime effect. At the dinner, Paris becomes more of a friend than a rival to Rory and Richard announces he’s quit his insurance job, while characters like Kirk and Rune are just great to have around for a few jokes. But most important is the true beginning of the Rory/Dean/Jess love triangle. Jess places the first seeds of doubt in Rory’s mind that she doesn’t really have anything in common with Dean, while presenting himself as someone who might actually get her. In a town full of celebrations, "The Bracebridge Dinner" is one of the all-time best.
“Lorelai’s Graduation Day” succeeds, oddly enough, because it separates Lorelai and Rory, creating tension that explodes when the two finally come back together. Moreover, when Rory misses Lorelai’s graduation, the series produces one of the most tender moments between Lorelai and her parents: Finally, we see in Richard and Emily’s faces that they’re proud of the woman they raised. Still, Rory’s absence also makes the whole ceremony melancholy for Lorelai, the sort of sadness, amid moments of joy, that Gilmore Girls always handles so well. What could make Rory miss such an important event? An out-of-character decision to skip school, hop on a bus and head to New York to see Jess. Now that Jess is out of Stars Hollow, we get to see him in his element, calmer, less frustrated and more human, and it’s in these moments between he and Rory that we realize Dean doesn’t stand a chance. When Rory and Lorelai get back together, we see Lorelai’s understandable disappointment in Rory—and Rory’s disappointment in herself. She’s missed a moment she can never make up, and it kills her.
"Those Are Strings, Pinocchio" marks the end of an era. With Rory out of Chilton and on her way to Yale, "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio" is the final episode in which Lorelai and Rory live in the same place, attached at the hip. While some things won’t change—Friday dinners with the grandparents are still on—it does feel like things won’t ever be the same again. "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio" ends with Lorelai being pushed more than ever, now that she owns her own inn, and Rory moves on from Jess and into the next stage of her life—college. We’ve seen all that these two can do in Stars Hollow. "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio" pushes both in fascinating and terrifying new directions. "Those Are Strings, Pinocchio" also features the most emotionally effective scene in the series’ seven seasons, as Rory, Chilton’s valedictorian, delivers her speech. It’s a wonderful moment, one in which Rory says goodbye to her past, thanks her grandparents for their support, sees how much Luke cares for her and praises her mother for all that she’s done for her. The speech is the first time Rory comes off as an adult: She’s mature, brilliant and powerful, and it’s time for her to make her way in the world.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.