To me growing up, Gilmore was not a word I had heard at all, it meant nothing to me. Yet now, whenever I am feeling good or happy, or feeling miserable or stressed, I turn to it for comfort, for joy and for a dose of motherhood. This and Jane the Virgin but that’s for another time. To give some context, the show started in 2000, when I was a one year old and ended when I was eight in 2007. All I was watching at that time was Teletubbies, Arthur and Balamory; Merlin was not to be released until a whole year after Gilmore Girls had finished – a tv show that undoubtedly shaped most of my young adolescence as I religiously watched every episode on live TV from the ages of nine to thirteen. But as soon as my family bought a Netflix account, my view on TV changed – as did so many others.
After Netflix picked up the series for the sequel series Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, the original Gilmore Girls series has become a firm cult favourite for many people who were either unaware of the show or, like me, were too young to know about it when it was on air. What I believe draws people to the show, since its first release up to today, is all the different relationships between characters on the show. Every single relationship, at their most basic or complex forms, are completely universal and timeless, making the show as such. These relationships – familial, romantic, sexual, platonic – are relatable and understandable, even if the viewer has not experienced anything like it themselves.
But what everyone can agree with, no matter how many love interests float in and out of the series, is that at the core of it is the mother-daughter relationship between the two Lorelais and that of Emily Gilmore, the third Gilmore girl. When Amy Sherman-Palladino pitched the show to Warner Brothers along with some other shows she had planned, she described it as a mother and a daughter who were also best friends, which almost immediately got an affirmative result from producers. The relationship between the two of them became the root of the series but it was the other motherly relationships that brought much needed layers of complexity and colour to the show.
As with real life, there are so many different facets and intricacies of motherhood; there is the close and intimate relationship between Lorelai and Rory, the seemingly incompatible relationship between Lorelai and Emily and the surrogate motherhood from Mia. There is even the motherhood displayed by Suki, Lane, Mrs Kim, and the mothers of various love interests but I fear if I write any more about them, this will turn into a thesis. The relationship with Mia is one we only see in the first and last seasons but the other two main relationships expand throughout the series and they develop and grow with the characters, especially of that between Emily and Lorelai. Amy Sherman-Palladino knew she had hit on something special when she wrote the dialogue between Lorelai and Emily at the dinner table: there was “a layer of conflict that allows you to do the comedy, but at the base of it, it’s almost a tragedy” Sherman-Palladino stated for Entertainment Weekly. Kelly Bishop, the actress portraying Emily Gilmore, also relayed to Entertainment Weekly, “the three generations is what brought it to a different level.”
Lorelai and Emily Gilmore are two of the most witty, intelligent, stubborn and loyal people on the show and yet they rarely ever seem to get along without the help of their mutual love for Rory or several martinis. I always thought that if Emily had been brought up in the same ‘modern woman’ era as her daughter in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with the same passion, drive and humour as she always had, she and Lorelai would not only get along incredibly well but would also be very similar. What made them fundamentally different was that Emily was brought up in a world where the woman’s job was to take care of her husband, family and household, and she not only thought that this was what she had to do in order to remain in polite society, but she also wanted it. The independence that Lorelai has is something Emily has too but was always so scared to use because it meant that she could live without the love of her life. Emily even said herself (in season seven episode fifteen, I’m A Kayak, Hear Me Roar (do not shoot me for quoting the ever hated last season), that she “was always going to be a wife” and the way she saw it was that “a woman’s job was to run a home, organise the social life of a family and bolster her husband while he earned a living.” But when her husband is not there “because he’s watching television in a dressing gown” she realises how “dependent” she is. She then goes on to express her admiration for her daughter because she can provide for herself, that she is not dependent on anyone, that she is “independent”.
Later in that episode, the morning after this alcohol induced yet very revealing conversation, Lorelai walks into the dining room expecting a warmer welcome from her mother but is once again shut out by Emily’s curt words and emotional wall. When I watch Lorelai walk away with that ‘I don’t know why I thought things had changed’ look and an emotionally tired sigh, my heart breaks a little. They had both reached out and Lorelai was willing to give more, to share more with her mother, but Emily had shut her out once more because she thought that Lorelai would do the same and she did not want to get hurt. This beautifully sums up most of their relationship in that one moment.
Emily’s dependency is tested twice in the original series with her husband’s two heart attacks but when Richard dies in Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life (as well as the wonderful actor who played him, Edward Herrmann), Emily understandably goes into a complete shock. She lets a large family who does not speak any English stay with her, tries to Marie Condo the whole house and then moves to Nantucket with the family that had unofficially adopted her. Yet later, in her last ever scene to date (in the episode Autumn), as she sits on her garden bench with a glass of red wine in hand, it is clear she has achieved a sense of calm in her newfound home, both surrounded by people but also by herself. She has come to understand, as most of us do at some point in our lives, that there is a difference between being alone and being by yourself. She had taught herself how to live without the love of her life, while also knowing that he is always with her. (Sorry if that was too cheesy, I could not help it) (Also, the part where she kisses her hand and then touches the lips of the portrait of Richard hits me right in the feels, every time)
Perhaps if Lorelai has been born in the same year as her mother, she might have turned out similar. But would she have had Rory? She would have almost certainly married Christopher, with or without the baby. She might have put all her energy and ambition into the household or the DAR… (a scary thought) Although, there are some aspects of Lorelai that I think show that she never would have turned into her mother, like her underlying self-absorption and her lack of communication in relationships. But her surprising need of companionship and utter loyalty to her daughter make me reconsider.
When Emily was introduced to Lorelai’s surrogate mother, Mia, old and painful memories are brought to the surface and the facade Emily had put up started to crack – this was the mask that she was fine that Lorelai had run away into the arms of another mother, that she was almost glad to be rid of her. She came off as – dare I say – a little jealous, and when she confronts Mia, she expresses her anger by simply stating that she “would have wanted [Lorelai] to find someone who would send her home” instead of taking her in. Even though Mia only appears in two episodes, on two separate occasions, played by two different women, we still see the residual connection she has to Lorelai and Rory. Mia, despite her brief appearances, show how much young people need steady, mother-like figures in their lives. After my mother died before I could turn sixteen, I have come to truly value the relationships I have with my friends, my friends mothers, the other women in my family and my god-mothers. They have all helped me in some way and I am always truly and utterly grateful to have them in my life. I can see this in Lorelai and Mia with the kindness and gentle, knowing looks they share. When Lorelai left home with her newborn daughter at sixteen, she was undoubtedly scared but she followed her gut and left the house she was brought up in to pave a way for herself and for Rory. She banged on Mia’s door at the Independence Inn and demanded a job, something that Mia clearly was drawn to, not only because of her drive but also her compassion for her daughter.
We can see all of the moments that lead her up to this decision in the season 3 episode Dear Emily and Richard, where flashbacks are shown of the fateful year Rory was born. Lorelai and Emily hadn’t gotten along well before that but this turning point was the last straw for the both of them. Sherman-Palladino relayed further to Entertainment Weekly, “Lorelai is made because of her experience with her family, and Emily is Emily because Lorelai left.” Emily had become so hostile of Lorelai because of this, that she assumed whenever she would come by to visit it was to borrow money; to see her grandchild more she had to resort to mild blackmail (the Friday night dinners). What was lovely to see in the last episode of season seven was Emily trying to persuade Lorelai to come to dinner under the ruse of lending more money when she didn’t want her daughter to disconnect again after her grand-daughter was leaving. Lorelai’s reply was simply “why don’t we just talk about it, Friday night, at dinner.” The surprised and sweet smile Emily tried to hide after that statement was, quite frankly, adorable.
By vast comparison, the connection between Rory and Lorelai is so strong, yet not unbreakable. The first nine episodes of season six we see the two of them have the worst fall out they have ever had. They had fights in the past, at least three every season, but this was different: in the penultimate episode of season five, Blame Booze and Melville, Rory had her hopes and dreams of a career in journalism shredded by her boyfriend’s bully of a father, then subsequently had a breakdown, stole a yacht and got arrested. Her grandparents then took her in for the time that she and her mother were apart until the season six episode The Prodigal Daughter Returns. But those were dark times that were awful to watch, so unbearable that I nearly always skip those episodes when re-watching the show.
As painful as those episodes were to watch, they were an important moment for all of the Gilmore girls’ lives as it put all the realms of motherhood to the test. It separated the strong mother-daughter connection between Lorelai and Rory and also that of Lorelai and Emily. It founded a new wave of motherhood from Emily, one where she tries to redo her past relationship with her daughter by enforcing all the rules and regulations that she had wished Lorelai would adhere to onto Rory; Rory is now acting exactly as she wished her daughter would have, in that she is dressing properly, working for the DAR and living under Emily’s roof under her instructions. When Rory starts rebelling after a moment of epiphany (arguably sparked by Jess Mariano, Rory’s ex, in the season six episode Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out), Emily lashes out by trying to ground her twenty-one year old daughter and calls Richard Rory’s “father”, thus subconsciously confusing her grand-daughter with her misbehaving daughter when she was younger. When Emily loses Rory to her mother, like she thought she did with Lorelai, Emily has a breakdown of her own as she starts acting “frivolous and shallow” (Emily’s own words) by “looking” at a plane share. Emily even says to Lorelai, “I lost her like a lost you” and Lorelai replies with “you didn’t lose me”; like all mothers, the love they both show for their daughters never wavers or dies no matter how they display it to the world or even to their own children.
It is these complexities that are reflected in everyday life: there are some families that are very affectionate, some that fight all the time, some that never say ‘I love you’, some estranged, some dispersed, some with gaps in their family tree and mostly with a mix of many. It is shows like Gilmore Girls that showcase the multiplicity of familial, and specifically motherly, love and bonds and prove that there are so many different types of mothers: there are the close, strong connections, the gradually estranged, the distant, the surrogate, the emotional replacement, the conflicting, the balanced and the amicable relations, even the daughter-who-is-more-like-the-mother relationship (to name but a few). Most of us are lucky enough to have not only come across or experienced at least one of these, while some cannot. Those who are fortunate enough to have their own unique motherly relationships have something I find infinitely beautiful and powerful.
The episode that I believe shows the specific and wonderful bond that Lorelai and Rory share would be the final episode of season three (Those Are Strings, Pinocchio), where we see Rory graduate from Chilton. Her valedictorian speech is one that brought actual tears to my eyes the first time I watched it. From the proud looks on her surrogate family’s faces, to the teary eyed Richard Gilmore when she called her grandparents “unfailingly generous people” and the “twin pillars, without whom [she] could not stand.” From the way she described her mother as not only her best friend but also her ultimate role model, to the muttered “not crying” promise of Suki followed by Luke’s usually bitter demeanour melting as he complains “I’m blubbering. You’re freaks!” The last scene of that season is between Rory and Lorelai discussing about whether to leave their mark permanently on the walls of Chilton School. Rory explains to her mother that they cannot carve their initials into the two hundred year old marble floor that Harriet Beecher Stowe walked on, or the banister donated by Robert Frost or the sconce that was ceremoniously first lit by Thomas Edison. It should be noted that less that one minute later they call the architecture around them “doodads and foofars and wingdings and tum-tums”. This scene, I think, perfectly emulates their whole relationship: that Rory is as much a mother to Lorelai as she is to Rory, that Lorelai will never grow out of her rebellious nature but Rory abides by the rules and so will often compromise and tone down her mother’s naughty behaviour, and despite their fundamental differences they still bounce off each other with the same whit and silliness that everyone arguably needs in their lives. Even if it is just a dose.