The Legacy of the Gilmore Girls

The first time I met Lorelai, Rory and Emily Gilmore was well past midnight. I snuck out from my bedroom and turned on the television, almost muted in its quietness. I stealthily changed the channel to 27, Canada’s W or Women Channel, and fell into a trance over the goings on of the three women that defined an era of small town living. I was too young to understand what was really happening — that Lorelai had a child right as she exited her own childhood, that the love of her adolescence could not see eye-to-eye with her and eventually left, or that her parents had good intentions but knew nothing of what not to do with their only child — but still, I was enamoured. Gilmore Girls was then what it is to me now; a show of fast-talking, quick-thinking, complicated white women that served as a straightedge escape from my own life. They still do, often in the depths of the night, more than ten years later.

Even as a kid myself, the differences that separated the trajectory of my life from theirs were clear. Where Lorelai chose to leave luxury, I had aspirations of immigrant child riches, a house with a backyard to grow all of Mama’s desires. When Luke, a small-town diner owner, could casually loan $30, 000 to help Lorelai out of a financial block, I marveled at how a man whose entire wardrobe consists of flannels and baseball caps could have $30, 000 at his disposal. Where Rory had unrelenting loyalty to her Ivy League school, I would grow up to dread the final days of my university career, feeling defeated by the institution whose grip exhausted me over the course of three years. I identified most with Lane Kim, Rory’s childhood best friend, a Korean daughter of an uber-religious, uber-healthy and complex over-lover of an immigrant mother. Tropes aside, — of course, the only immigrant family mirrors society’s singular understanding of immigrant child woes, all overpowering and non-communicative — Lane was the only resident of Stars Hollow who lived a teenage life I could relate to. She studied hard, her mother knew her friends, and above all else, she understood that there were expectations of her. When questions of Mrs. Kim’s controlling nature arose often through the musings of the Gilmore Girls stars — the omnipresent gaze of whiteness, casually observing the town— I laughed as Lane emptied her hollowed book of its contraband snacks and CDs. Her flipped floorboards, lined with clothes and cosmetics and an extensive rock music collection, revealed not a different person, but a different facet of Lane Kim. Above all else, she was a child of remarkable self-awareness and compassion for comfort and limits of those around her, especially those of her mother, Mrs. Kim. In “In the Clamor and the Clangor”, Mrs. Kim finally discovers her daughter’s secret stash, and a standoff ensues as the climax of their tumultuous relationship finally erupts.

S4 E11 — Mrs. Kim unearths Lane’s belongings, lays them all out in the open after a panicked frenzy of a night when Lane sneaks out to play at a famous club with her band. They don’t get to play, and after a night away from home, Lane returns to this scene.

MRS. KIM: Is that all?

[Lane flips two more floorboards.]

LANE: That’s all. I’m sorry.

MRS. KIM: Sorry about what?

LANE: I’m sorry about last night. I don’t want to keep secrets from you.

MRS. KIM: You don’t?

LANE: My band had this amazing chance to play this really famous club last night, and I didn’t know how to tell you about it. I knew you wouldn’t approve: you wouldn’t approve of me being in the band, or the music we were playing, and I can’t even imagine what you would have said if I had asked you if I could stay out until 4:00 in the morning.

MRS. KIM: I would have said no.

LANE: Well. Then I guess I could have imagined it after all.

MRS. KIM: How long?

LANE: How long, what?

MRS. KIM: How long… this?

LANE: I started it when I was 6; the day you told me that the Cookie Monster was one of the seven deadly sins.

MRS. KIM: Gluttony.

LANE: Yes, gluttony.

MRS. KIM: So, I made you do this?

LANE: No, I just… I want to please you so badly but I can’t. I mean, look at you. Look at what happened last night. It’s not good. I don’t want anything like this to ever happen again. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, our situation, and I think I’ve figured out a way to make everything better. I don’t want to go to Seventh Day Adventist College anymore. I want to be able to play with my band. I want to be a drummer! I will happily go to community college and I will happily live and home and adhere to your curfew, except on days when the band plays or practices. This way, I can get what I want and I won’t be lying to you or sneaking around. This way, we can both be happy.

MRS. KIM: Children do not make the rules. You may move out and live like that somewhere else.

Throughout the course of the series, Lane regularly expresses envy over Lorelai and Rory’s intimate, open relationship. What she doesn’t understand is that the Gilmore girls have their own deeply insidious problems, ones that that haunt them in ways that Mrs. Kim would never knowingly inflict on her only child. Much of Lane’s narrative — and by extension, my own childlike worries — revolves around her fear of her mother’s repercussions, but her wrath rarely ever comes to fruition. It becomes clearer and clearer as the series progresses that Lane’s fear isn’t in her mother’s punishment, but in her mother’s disappointment. Where the interactions between the Gilmore women were full of tension and unsaid or overly crass words, Mrs. Kim and Lane were more preoccupied with attempting to reach a common ground, an understanding that steadied them both. The only other people of colour on the show — Michel, the inn’s receptionist who is both Black and French, and Gypsy with her vague accent, who despite having been in the show for all seven seasons has revealed little to no background story — are merely accessories to the lives of the Gilmores, glips in the bizarre world of Stars Hollow. This, though, is inconsistent throughout the show’s minor character roles: Patty, Babette, Taylor, Sookie and even resident town weirdo Kirk all live textured lives, revealing quirks and tidbits of personal histories that become integral to the show’s ultimate feel. The negligence of that same diligence in the developments of Lane, Michel and Gypsy’s storylines then lead to a larger conversation. How can shows like Gilmore Girls write characters of colour who aren’t the sum of their cultures, or perceived cultures, an accent and nothing more? And are they interested in doing so?

Perhaps the most obvious thesis of Gilmore Girls is that girlhood or womanhood are not easily definable journeys. Or that even in their individuality, they can often boil down to similar coming-of-age problems. Another could be that the only stories this kind of nuanced storytelling to belongs to white women, as wealthy as they are callous, often relating to no one but each other. This is true in the strange relationship that Lane and Rory have as they get older. Instead of remaining her peer, Lane becomes Rory’s student in all things intimacy and boys. Rory has the privilege of dating, floating from love interest to love interest. Even her one stereotypically ‘bad’ boyfriend, Jess, turned out to be the one most committed to reflection and self-enlightenment, even going so far as shaking Rory out of her own momentary aimlessness in the show’s final season. Rory then becomes an inspiration of potential, even in her weakest moment. Lane’s love life, in comparison, was not nearly as exciting. Her band mate-turned-friend-turned-boyfriend Zach was, without a doubt, the blandest character on the show. And she married him. Interestingly enough, Lane’s romantic pursuits were the few instances in which she and Mrs. Kim broke the monotony of their independent and combined narrative. First, there was Henry, her dream Korean-church-going-potential-doctor, victim of self-sabotage rooted in her anxiety alone. Then there was Dave, the persistent, cool-headed follower of Mrs. Kim’s every whim, and my personal favourite. Adam Brody’s character eventually left for a more appealing role as Seth Cohen in The O.C., leaving behind the potential for a real, adorable plotline for Lane Kim. Lastly, there was Zach who brought no real addition of value to Lane’s life or storyline. But it was Zach she ended up with. Whose children she was instantly impregnated by after an underwhelming first attempt at cliched sex on the beach. The love lives of the two girls are not, by any means, the summation of their stories, but a good indicator of how Lane and Rory were understood by the show’s writers and dedicated, engaged fan base. Lane and Rory were best friends, supporters of each other through thick and thin. And that’s what makes Lane’s careless ending so disappointing, especially so in contrast to Rory’s series finale send-off being a push for autonomy, every possible door of opportunity open and within her reach.

The awkward, unmatched character growth was just as apparent in the relationships between the mothers of the show. Lorelai is meant to be Mrs. Kim’s equal, but it is Emily Gilmore who most fits the bill. The two meet very briefly over the show’s seven seasons. Once, exactly, when Emily visited the small town for the first time and decided on an antique buy. In their one interaction, they assess each other, both trying to assert dominance before coming to a silent compromise of mutual respect. Eventually, Emily bought her goods, Mrs. Kim handed her some form of authentication of its antique status, and a knowing smile was exchanged between them. After all, it was Emily who did to Lorelai what Mrs. Kim did to Lane: imposed their morals on their daughters, worked tirelessly to ensure that their daughters would grow to be respectable women. Most importantly, both were faced head-on with the resistance of their daughters when they rejected all of the above.

All that changed with Rory. Where Emily and Mrs. Kim were perceived as reigning tyrants over Lorelai and Lane respectively, Rory had more space for variation and could decide her fate for herself. Where Lorelai interpreted the world of her parents as one that was plainly vile and frivolous, Rory looked to them as a means by which her life was made easier: reasonable, as they funded her education at both Chilton and Yale. Where Lorelai leapt away from any man who even mildly fit into her mother’s romantic hopes for her, Rory entertained all her romantic prospects, especially reaching a luxurious height during her season 5 to 7 romance with Logan Huntzberger. It is only then that Rory becomes fully immersed in her grandparents’ world, with a Birkin bag, renovated pool house and unrealistic probation sentencing following a literal extravagant robbery to match. The Gilmore name meant different things to all three Gilmore women: to Emily, it was prestige, an indicator of class and morale. To Lorelai, it was an impossible standard, a reminder of a world she could never fit into. For Rory, it began as an exaggeration of her mother’s childhood. Then it became a running anecdote. But as it became more and more accessible to the youngest Gilmore, she grew to fit the name.

S5 E3 — Rory and Lorelai discuss the Sheldrakes, a family that were bumped from a hall that Richard and Emily wanted for their reconciliation vow renewal as a drunk Lorelai rearranges their seating chart. Rory feels guilty about her grandparents’ power (read: money and name) but is negotiating it in her pursuit for Logan, her new crush.

RORY: It seems mean, getting them kicked out like that. It seems mean.

LORELAI: It seems Gilmore. Rory, this is how it works in my parents’ world. Trust me: the Sheldrakes are busy screwing someone at The Bluestone out of something as we speak.

RORY: If you say so.

LORELAI: These people live in a universe where they feel entitled to get what they want, when they want it, and they don’t care who’s in their way. I hate that world. Vapid. Selfish. It’s like that Life and Death Brigade you wrote about.

RORY: What do you mean?

LORELAI: You know, like a bunch of selfish, rich kids, the children of entitlement. Blowing off school, drinking for days, spending thousands on a stupid and potentially dangerous stunt knowing full well they’re not going to get in trouble ’cause daddy is important. They’re all the same.

RORY: They’re not all the same. You don’t even know them, and that’s not what I wrote. I didn’t say those things about them, you’re just reading what you want in it. Just because you have money, that doesn’t automatically make you a jerk.

LORELAI: I know, I didn’t mean it like that… So, new subject?

RORY: Yeah, new subject.

The most intriguing aspect of Gilmore Girls for me has always been its unbridled, unchecked audacity. In today’s television landscape — and my own more informed understandings of the world around me — it is nothing more than a snapshot of whiteness, specifically white womanhood. Even Lorelai, the presumed underdog, is a woman to whom money means very little, luck habitually follows, odds are faced with certainty that they will be beaten. In what other world would a teenage mother, raising a child alone, in a new town, be able to own both a gorgeous home and inn, afford take-out multiple times a day, be in perfect health, belong to a large network of friends who act as family? In what world would debts be miraculously paid off, with nary a second thought? Still, it is entertaining. Maybe it is because I never have, and know that I never will, be privy to worlds like that of the Gilmores. Where they attempt diversity — the bland Dean vs. Logan and Luke vs. Chris binaries of romantic prospects — wealth is still always a given. Textured, full narratives are always a given. But what happens when television like Gilmore Girls exists is that parallels are still found. I still have, and do, relate to the strained relationship between Lorelai and Emily. I still crave love like Lorelai, long-withstanding affection like Emily, exhilaration like Rory. But what stays with me most, an embarrassing number of Netflix binges later, is that Gilmore Girls, above all, is ridiculous. Just not in the way that they think it is.