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Gilmore Girls’ depressing, regressive ending: was it fine?

Netflix’s six-hour Gilmore Girls revival A Year In The Life has been out for five days, and everyone who cared enough to watch it is currently brimming with opinions. The newly produced episodes continued a story that went off the air back in 2007, when President Obama was still Senator Obama, and our favorite fictional reporter, Rory Gilmore, was headed out on his campaign bus. We lived without Rory and her mom, Lorelai Gilmore, for nearly 10 years, and suddenly they were back. Now the series has ended again, possibly for good, and we all have to sort through that as best as we can. So how do we feel about the drive-by that was Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Dazed? Confused? Happy? Drunk? All of it?

Kaitlyn Tiffany: The last words of the Gilmore Girls revival were intended to be the last words of the original series. At age 32, in the midst of a downward career spiral, Rory Gilmore tells her mother Lorelai, “I’m pregnant.” If Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino had stayed on to write the seventh season of the show’s original run, Rory Gilmore would have made the same proclamation to her mother at age 22. Instead, we saw her leaving her small town behind to start her first job as a reporter. These two different outcomes are dramatically at odds with each other, which means there’s a lot to parse.

So is this the most messed-up thing we’ve ever heard, or a moving conclusion to a complicated love story? What kind of haunting significance does this very weird piece of television writing have? Also: are you okay?

Loren Grush: I think it’s very telling that my initial reaction to Rory’s proclamation was that her career ambitions were finally at an end. Six years in journalism have shown me it’s not a career that’s conducive to motherhood. Especially for those who are not well-established — and let’s face it, Rory isn’t. She’s only got a handful of bylines in The New Yorker, Slate, and Atlantic, and she wasn’t able to hold down a paying gig at any point during the reboot.

And I’m wondering if that was the message the showrunners were trying to convey. For 22-year-old Rory, pregnancy probably would have ended her journalism goals. And that’s such a tragic story to tell. My understanding of this series was that it was meant to be a tale of generations of women trying to connect with their daughters, and / or guide them to a better life. Rory has always been a rallying point for both Lorelai and the Gilmores. Everyone in the family wants her to succeed. But in spite of Lorelai’s efforts, the Gilmores’ money, a fully paid-for Yale education, and unbelievably ample opportunities, Rory is fated to live the same life as her mother in the end.

At first, I thought I liked the ending because of how abrupt and unexpected it was. But after a while, it seemed to be more of an ending of hopelessness, suggesting we can’t change our stars, no matter how hard we try. Everything comes full circle, whether you want it to or not. It’s a bleak way to end a show that seemed to champion ambition.

Saeed Adyani / Netflix

Megan Farokhmanesh: The Gilmore Girls revival really pounds on this idea of coming full circle. It’s the idea it clings to in order to justify the end of its story, as though it’s a really beautiful and moving idea, not an utterly tragic one. In the final episode, Rory goes to visit her father. Christopher has always been a shitty dad for many reasons, but in this scene, he feels like a hot mouth-puppet for Sherman-Palladino’s grand message. Lorelai and Rory were always meant to grow together, the two of them against the world, everyone else be damned. This is Gilmore Girls’ core idea at its best: the show says a single mother can raise a strong, smart, ambitious daughter who will have all the joys and opportunities she never had. Lorelai sacrificed for Rory, as many parents do. But coming from Chris, as he surmises that Lorelai might finally be able to settle back, her work done, this is more of a bitter prediction for his own daughter.

Not everything has to have a happy ending, or should. But for a show based in the alarmingly cheerful, Pleasantville-like Stars Hollow, this seems like an oddly pessimistic place to leave your prized daughter — single, struggling, and knocked up. The entire thing plays like a really bad Greek tragedy.

Loren: It also seems strange to shift the focus so heavily onto Rory’s love life in the end, when Sherman-Palladino has admonished people for focusing too much on it. From her recent interview with Time: “It’s just such a small part of who Rory is. I don’t see people debating ‘What newspaper is Rory’s [sic] working for?’ ‘Did she win a Pulitzer yet?’ It’s all about Dean and Jess.”

But how can we be expected not to care about Rory’s boyfriends with an ending like that? I’m going to defend the ending of season seven, because at least our parting memories of Rory were of how she dumped an unworthy boyfriend in service of following her dreams. It was the perfect punctuation to the story I thought Sherman-Palladino was trying to portray. We were left wondering about all the ways Rory could succeed in the years ahead.

Saeed Adyani / Netflix

Fast-forward a decade later, and we’re left asking the most cliché question of all: “Who’s the father?” And what’s worse, this development occurs while Rory is still struggling to achieve the goals she’s had since she was a teenager. It’s a very different type of character summation that seems to completely alter Rory’s purpose, and also seems to clash with what I thought she was supposed to represent. To me, those last words seem to say: “No, Rory’s career and mind weren’t her most important aspects. It was always about her relationships.” It seems Rory can’t escape becoming her mother, and female characters can’t escape being defined by other people in their lives.

Kaitlyn: Bear with me, but as it exists, with Rory at 32, this ending doesn’t really bother me, aside from its obvious narrative laziness.

It’s lame, but the whole reboot was awkward and disappointing, and I will never watch it again. However, the idea that this was written to replace the series finale we originally saw in 2007 makes me livid. Dropping the pregnancy bomb instead of letting Rory go off to start her career as a political blogger is terrible writing that punishes Rory for the only good trait she ever had — her ambition. It’s also incredibly regressive. Rory’s life story isn’t a product of the real world and the uncontrollable events in it. They were written on purpose by a woman who seemed to be on Rory’s side (and ours) for many years. Why did she suddenly want to destroy her heroine’s ambitions with the most cliché reversal of fate imaginable?

And if the fade to black happens just after Rory makes the announcement, then what were we even going to be able to take from her experience? A fictional person approaching a hurdle like that is worth nothing if we don’t get to see how she handles it. Frankly, if Palladino were staying true to the character arc and personality traits she had put in place, I would assume 22-year-old Rory would get an abortion.

That would probably have been taboo for primetime network TV aimed at teenagers in 2007, but it would also have been close to revolutionary. We’re just now starting to see frank depictions of abortion on TV — ones that don’t involve tortured regret or emotional trauma. In flashbacks to Lorelai’s pregnancy as a 16-year-old, Christopher’s father broaches the idea of abortion in a scary whisper, and he’s quickly shouted down as a monster by everyone in the room. It’s a weird moment, tonally off for a series that confronts hypocrisy and judgment around just about every other major choice a woman can make. At the time, I considered it a plot device, a handy way to close up a hole in the show’s logic. But now I wonder if the series was meant to be culturally conservative this whole time.

Megan: There’s an unspoken assumption throughout Gilmore Girls that everyone wants to be a mother, planned or (usually) unplanned. We’ve seen this happen with Lorelai, Sherry, Lane, Paris, and now Rory. Gilmore Girls has always been about mothers and daughters, but women are not defined by motherhood. Nor should they be.

Does Rory even want to be a mother? Have we ever heard her talk about a family? Her focus has always been about schools and careers. It’s what made her so admirable. Sending her home because real life is hard is letting the character fail on a fundamental level. Rory was supposed to stumble and then get her ass back out on the road, not settle into the dusty desk chair of her local paper. Ugh! Rory, you’re a terrible role model. I’m sick of your whining, what with your special Conde Nast meetings and your free fancy education. Get a damn therapist and learn to blog like the rest of us.

Saeed Adyani / Netflix

Kaitlyn: I feel the frustration, but I’ll still defend Rory’s pregnancy as an end to this reboot (and only this reboot!) if only because I think it does help us go back through the preceding six hours and examine whether we were really listening to what Rory was saying she wanted.

It doesn’t seem like she loves journalism — she falls asleep while talking to sources, she doesn’t prepare for softball interviews, she puts basically no effort into coming up with ideas or looking for an interesting angle on a story. The memoir she wants to write is all about maternity, and maybe that’s what she’s interested in now. It’s not as if wanting a child is an objectively repugnant goal.

It is sort of rude for Palladino to write her this way after all we were promised, but I always saw Rory as a flawed role model. The only way to be truly inspired by Gilmore Girls is to watch it and want to be Rory, but better. She’s smart and loves to read, sure, but she doesn’t know how to put her nose to the grindstone. In the final seasons of the show, she’s wearing designer clothes and living in her rich boyfriend’s apartment, and she doesn’t have so much as a part-time campus job. Practically anyone can be a great student if they have no other demands on their time, and they never have to worry about money. Rory and her mother both like to paint themselves as working-class heroes who occasionally sacrifice their dignity to accept desperately needed money from the elder Gilmores, but they don’t know what real desperation or real loss of dignity looks like for people who don’t have that option. That’s why when Rory fails, she fails hard. We never saw her face a real challenge, like the one of being a parent. Maybe motherhood will help her get over her obviously deep-seated narcissism and self-absorption, and finally grow as a person.

Loren: I’m just confused now about what Rory’s arc is supposed to mean. Is it that women don’t truly know what we want for ourselves? Is her story really just a cautionary tale about predestination? Are we all stuck in a loop, a la Westworld?

To reiterate your point: it’s not that becoming a mother is awful. It’s a wonderful life-changing experience! But given Rory’s lack of maternal dialogue for the past, what, 16 years, it seems to be more of a negative instead of a positive here. So I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to feel. If that was the point, it worked.

Megan: I can’t get over Lorelai’s reaction in those final seconds. She looks horrified. I rewound that scene several times, and I can’t find a single ounce of joy there. We know eventually she’ll be happy and excited to be a grandma, but how painful must that be? Rory isn’t just writing the story of Lorelai’s pregnancy, she’s living it, as a reboot of Lorelai’s mistakes.

Kaitlyn: I’ll tell you one thing for sure — I now know what people are talking about when they whine about reboots retroactively messing with a beloved franchise. My deepest apologies to any Footloose fans I may have dismissed. (Ghostbusters fans, you are still wrong.)


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