In a world that feels like it makes less and less sense, the Gilmore girls are always there. The small town woes, the unusual, larger-than-life characters, and the heartwarming dramas of mother-daughter team Lorelai and Rory are always there to remind us of the simpler things. So, for fans of the original seven-season run that ended in 2007, the four-part Netflix revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, represented a chance to escape once again into the world of Stars Hollow.
While the four episodes look at each season of one year, A Year in the Life focuses on the personal journeys through loss for its lead women Rory, Lorelai, and Emily Gilmore — arguably the third Gilmore girl. Each woman is dealing with a different kind of loss in their lives but travel through it in search of hope at the other end. It also seems that the Palladinos — creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband/writer Daniel — have a thing or two to exorcise regarding loss and hope of their own too.
I’m Rory. I mean, I’m not really Rory. I’m not Yale-educated, I haven’t had the advantages that money afforded the granddaughter of a well-connected wealthy family, and when I go back to my hometown, I’m not showered with glowing compliments about how amazing I look and how smart and talented I am. But, I do know what it means to be lost, I know what it is to be rudderless. And one of the arcs that A Year in the Life builds itself on is Rory trying to find her feet.
In many ways, Rory’s had charmed life, and as an adult, she’s had it pretty lucky. Straight out of college she got a paid writing gig following the soon-to-be President of the United States of America on his first campaign trail. She became a journalist, has traveled the world (or at least London), and has some minor fame in writing for the New Yorker that leads to publications like GQ and an up-and-coming web start-up having an interest in Rory’s particular voice.
Then, as John Lennon put it, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. To some extent, this is where we find Rory. She’s always had a plan, a goal, something ahead on the horizon. In moments when the path has blurred, like in season six when she quits Yale, steals a boat with Logan, does community service, and drifts along with the spoilt rich trust fund kids aka Logan’s friends, she loses herself in her work with her grandmother’s DAR group. She uses her organizational prowess to build different goals — even if they are less satisfying than following her dreams.
What Happens After Your Dreams Come True?
In A Year in the Life, Rory finds herself adrift. This time, however, she’s on the other side of her dream. In some ways, she’s achieved her goal, so what’s next? At a loss for what life means, Rory returns to Stars Hollow to find something to fill that void of fulfilling her lifelong dream.
For Rory, it wasn’t giving up; it was more about finding what came next. She tried keeping on the same track she’d known. She tried forcing herself to write a not-well-thought-out pitch from the GQ editors, interviewing for a position with the web start-up who had been hounding her, or trying to keep up with a crazy British lady who wanted Rory to write her biography, but they no longer felt right. None of it did. She even struggled to settle into the volunteer role as the editor of the Stars Hollow Gazette.
A Voice From the Past
It wasn’t until a voice from Rory’s past goaded her into following a new path. Sometimes we all need an outside observer to see the things we can’t see that are right in front of our noses. In this case, it was the sane, unfiltered voice of Jess Mariano (squee!!!) who told her to write her own book about her and her mother. Suddenly, life starts making sense again, her life has purpose.
It plays out with beautiful subtlety from writers who clearly have trod this path before. Now, with a new goal before her, Rory’s story roars out of her, writing like she’d never been able to do before. And thankfully, we aren’t regaled with some writing montage, the frantic typing as day becomes night becomes day, and in the space of 30 seconds, a fully formed book arrives that magically requires no editing. Because anyone who’s attempted writing anything will know that that’s not how writing works. Instead, we see snippets of her writing between doing other things and a journey that takes her from the surreal return of the Life and Death Brigade to finding the perfect place for her to write: the study of her late and much-beloved grandfather. This is where the storylines of loss of life and the loss of direction meet. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
The Gilmore Girls
On the other side of this, Rory emerges with the first three chapters of her book. When Rory first told her mother she needed to write this book about her life and their relationship, Lorelai was adamantly against it. She’d built a life based on what she allowed people to know about her, so for her daughter to shed light on these things was the potential for this bubble she’d created to burst. Lorelai needs to go on her own journey to come to a point of acceptance. In the end, she decides not to read the opening chapters of her daughter’s book, currently titled The Gilmore Girls. Her only note is to drop the ‘The’ in the title.
Does this mean that the series that came before was based on the book that Rory writes in the future? That those first seven seasons, or eight if we include this one, were actually through the eyes of Rory viewing her mother and her life? There’s a beautiful prospect in this idea that has no clear answer, but makes a whole lot of sense.
The Last Four Words (No Spoilers)
As for the last four words, my lips are sealed. All I will say is that while it didn’t do a How I Met Your Mother finale, there was a part of me that felt a little disappointed. Everything up to that point had been perfect. Then to leave it on the note they did left me stunned. Not stunned in its revelation, nor was it exactly surprising, but I was hoping for something a little more in keeping with the tone and mood the revival had built up to that point.
Lorelai’s journey is quite different. She is settled into a life in her own home living with Luke and the pair have a synchronicity that just feels right. They’re comfortable and easy around each other and Lorelai is finally content.
The original seven seasons often focused on Lorelai being something of a mess. Her love life is a mess, her baby daddy is unreliable, her parents are controlling and unwavering, work has its highs and lows, and she’s in the middle of it all trying to forge her own path on her own terms. This doesn’t always turn out as she’d hope, but in everything she does, she always has her daughter’s best interests at heart.
Happiness Is Loss
Now we see a slightly different Lorelai. Sure, she’s still her quirky, bouncy, weird self, but she’s relaxed into who she is and stopped fighting her feelings for Luke that drove most of the original series. Despite her contentment with her home-life, Lorelai finds herself dealing with the loss of her father and the people she’d usually rely on drifting away into their own lives. Lorelai’s loss is the loss of her past.
Lorelai’s relationship with her father was never great. They had their moments and reconciled to a degree, but it was never particularly warm. Even in their better moments, they were always strained, as if holding each other at arm’s length. So when we see a flashback to a particularly awkward moment at Richard’s wake where Lorelai stammers through an unfeeling story about her father, the rift between her and her mother opens up again. Lorelai is still processing the loss of her father, and as she later mentions, she didn’t get her Lifetime movie moment where her father tells her he loves her and vice versa. Nuance like this is lost on her mother, and she takes Lorelai’s story to heart. You can’t blame Emily either. Even Rory tells her, “he liked books, you couldn’t just say he liked books?”
So begins Lorelai’s journey of letting go of the past. While Emily is clearly not dealing well with the loss of her husband, Lorelai advises her mother to see a therapist. Emily takes Lorelai’s advice, and so proud that her mother would listen to her, Emily tricks her into seeing the therapist too. Of course, this mother-daughter definitely need a good shrink, but the sessions don’t go well. Emily eventually stops coming, leaving Lorelai on her own. For each of them, it doesn’t seem like the best idea, but it turns out to be the best thing for them both. Lorelai talks through some things about Luke and her father’s death, while Emily tries to find who she is without her husband.
Friends Moving On
Lorelai feels her past slipping away, and it leaves her somewhat lost. Michel has been working under Lorelai for a very long time. He’s extremely experienced and undoubtedly underpaid. So, the restless Frenchman, frustrated at the lack of the Dragonfly’s ability to expand, finds himself a job at a fancy New York hotel. You can’t blame the man either. He’s 50 and has nowhere to go in his current career. Plus with his husband (yay they finally outed him!!) wanting them to have children, he’ll need to earn a good wage to raise the kids right.
On top of Michel leaving, we see a kitchen in disarray. After promising only to be away for a short sabbatical to come up with new ideas, Sookie has been missing for a year. They’re a bit vague about what exactly happened to her, but it seems she’s doing some experimental food work growing things or something. So, every season, a new celebrity chef takes residence in the kitchen as a pop up. None of these work and Lorelai kicks them all out. Lorelai is clearly grieving for her friend, not lost through death, but rather lost through life. These losses can be difficult to reconcile, and with all the other losses in her life, Lorelai doesn’t know her place anymore.
Getting Lost to Find a Place in Life
So, after a truly wonderful but utterly insane musical about Stars Hollow written by Taylor Doose, Lorelai finds herself on a metaphorical island, her opinions no longer jibing with her fellow townsfolk and she’s barely keeping herself together. Already feeling at loose ends, when Rory drops the news that she’s writing a book about their life followed by an argument with Luke about their relationship, Lorelai decides to do Wild (the book). It makes no real sense — Lorelai hates the outdoors, and hiking, and nature, and sleeping outside on the floor — but that’s why it makes complete sense. A book about getting lost in the wilderness and finding yourself speaks to her in this time of no longer knowing her place in life.
So Lorelai travels to California to hike the Pacific Crest trail. She meets a group of women all preparing to do the same thing; all lost and in search of clarity too. Sometimes just getting away helps us find clarity. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t.
Coffee Changes Lives (Again)
In Lorelai’s case, her clarity came in her search for coffee, because, of course it did. After two failed attempts at hitting the trail, she goes on a quest for coffee. Finding everything closed, she takes a little walk and stumbles across a spectacular scenic view. Here, she makes a call to her mother and tells a beautiful story remembering Richard as a strong, kind and loving father looking out for his daughter in the only way he knew how. I’m not crying, you’re crying! Lorelai’s epiphany seems to awaken her mother from her funk. It also gives some context as to Lorelai’s penchant for junk food and movies. It’s such a perfect moment in every way.
When Lorelai returns to Stars Hollow, she and Luke argue, ending with each of them professing their undying commitment to each other and (FINALLY!) agree to marry. Lorelai is renewed and stumbles across another location for a new inn she wants to start up, so she keeps Michel in her life, but his needs are also fulfilled. It also means she needs to strike up a new financial deal with her mother, thereby keeping their relationship intact. Then in a final, albeit obligatory, tying up of Lorelai’s past, Sookie returns to her old Dragonfly kitchen to make Lorelai and Luke’s wedding cake and promising they’re still BFFs.
Lorelai’s future looks bright and full of hope. She’s let go of her past leaving her with space in her heart to let love in. From Lorelai’s perspective, the final few scenes are stunningly perfect (except for the last four words, as mentioned above).
The writers truly honored Edward Herrmann‘s memory in the way they covered his character’s death. They could’ve brushed over it, said Richard died years ago and here are the people already moving on. Instead, they used his passing as the catalyst for the changes the three Gilmore girls needed to make in their lives while not making it the central event.
Who Am I?
After 50 years of marriage, it’s obvious that Emily is in complete shock following Richard’s death. As we saw in the original series, Emily made sacrifices and lived to serve her husband. So, when that pillar that’s holding the whole thing together is no longer there, Emily breaks. She exhibits many signs of depression and does many uncharacteristic things. But as she no longer knows who she is, so ‘uncharacteristic’ means very little.
As if the heartbreak of losing her husband wasn’t enough, Lorelai’s insensitive story at the memorial reawakens the disappointment and troubles Emily and Richard both had with their daughter. To Emily, Lorelai has kicked her while she’s down and at her most vulnerable. As an audience, I don’t think we’re meant to take sides on this one. Everyone is hurting and trying to deal, and Lorelai’s story wasn’t meant in any kind of malicious way. But it did highlight the things that Emily always tried to sweep under the rug.
Letting Go and Finding Joy
So, Emily’s journey of loss is clearly one of grief and trying to find what’s on the other side of it. Much like her daughter’s and granddaughter’s journey, it’s one of losing what she once believed about herself and discovering something new within.
Emily’s journey is beautiful. Finally we see Emily soften a little and open her heart. She keeps the same housekeeper through all four episodes, and every time we visit her house there are more and more people from her housekeeper’s family hanging around. None of them speak English, but Emily seems to enjoy having them in the house. It’s one of the first signs of Emily’s transformation in letting go of the strict tight holding of what was expected of her in that old life and realizing what she wants for herself.
This transformation leads Emily to see the vacuous true nature of the DAR, and she sheds that part of her life like the badass that she is. But it’s not until she receives some resolve with her relationship with Lorelai that she feels she’s ready to really move on. Lorelai’s story unlocked this blockage in her life. It leads her to selling the old house that no longer feels like home since Richard passed away and buying the seaside Nantucket property she and Richard used to spend summer at. I love Emily’s final scene, walking down the path of her new home at night, grabbing a candle lantern and sitting on her own with a glass of red and contentedly looking out at the sea. It’s not that Emily is suddenly over her grief, but she’s on the path to finding contentment in her new life.
Amy Sherman-Palladino and husband Daniel created Gilmore Girls, and it’s apparent they had a whole lot of fun recreating the world this time around. They clearly had few strings from Netflix, and they really ran away with it, paying a LOT of fan service and bringing pretty much everyone back for another (probably not last) hurrah. But it also seemed that the Palladinos were working through some losses of their own. Not only is it the loss of control of the Gilmore Girls after season six, but also of another great but short-lived show, Bunheads.
Gilmore Girls Meets Twin Peaks: The Musical
“Summer” is a little bit of a strange episode. After nicely setting up the story and main characters in the first two episodes, summer finds us with a lot of things in flux. In the middle of it all is a musical about Stars Hollow. Many people audition for the show — including Lorelai’s therapist, for some reason — but the lead role goes to Violet, played by Sutton Foster, the lead actress in Bunheads. She isn’t the only actress from Bunheads who makes an appearance in A Year in the Life either, with Julia Goldani Telles in a few key scenes of her own. Actors from Gilmore Girls also appeared in Bunheads, so the Palladinos definitely like to keep things in the family.
To say the musical is bizarre is an understatement. It’s much better than I would ever believe Taylor could write, but it’s Violet who steals the show with her incredible singing and dancing that really sells it. When Violet and Lorelai share a few lines together, it’s a bit strange, but knowing how these two characters are linked gives the whole thing some perspective.
Letting Go of Bunheads
In some ways, the musical’s placement in Gilmore Girls doesn’t make sense. However, if you look at it as the Palladinos working through their loss of Bunheads, then it makes complete sense. In a final song, Violet sings a heartbreaking song about not being unbreakable and already falling to pieces. It is a song sung to Lorelai and is the catalyst for her quest for clarity. But it’s also a song to the Palladinos. It’s about picking up the pieces and making sense of it all. To come full circle, their loss turns into hope with the Gilmore Girls revival and having the opportunity to give their past an airing before moving on.