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Behind blue eyes

I finished the second season of Gilmore Girls this weekend, and feel relatively well-qualified to comment: to discuss. Lots to talk about. (Does that mean there’ll be more of these lengthy posts? Maybe! Obsessive now.)

But mostly… I’m thinking the Nip/Tuck boys need to stand down, and our favorite morticians should get accustomed to being second-best. Lorelei Gilmore (elder) has got to be the most messed up, fascinating, conflicted character on my television screen. (Vic Mackey lost his edge somewhere in the third season.) What a total piece of work she is.

And I can’t figure out if it’s intentional on the part of the writers or not. On the face of it, she’s a simple sympathetic character. There’s a DVD extra on the second season set, all about translating the show into other languages. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the show’s creator, throws a cute little fit about people messing up her precious jokes. Too cute by half, really — I kind of wondered why, if it was such a big deal, she didn’t look into the situation herself? The answer, of course, is that she knew full well that the rapid-fire pop culture references weren’t going to translate exactly, but thought it would be fun to throw a cute little fit on the DVD extra anyhow. So we all know how committed she is to her funnies. Um. I digress.

Anyhow, in the course of the extra, she says that she thinks the show has international appeal because it’s about the universal topic of the pure love of a mother for her daughter. Possibly that’s another thing she’s just saying for effect, but I kinda thought she believed it. I think she thinks she’s writing a show about the best mother-daughter relationship ever, and just about anything Lorelei does is justifed by the purity of her love for Rory (aka Lorelei younger).

Lauren Graham gets it, though. I’d bet on it. You can see it in her eyes every time Lorelei has to decide whether or not to rant. She puts the deliberation right out there on her face, each time, right before Lorelei goes into Luke’s diner or the headmaster’s office at Chilton. Lorelei knows that she’s beautiful and impressive and she knows — this is the thing that lifts her above the rest of television’s conflicted characters — that she is smart. She knows she can out-talk people. She uses her brilliance as a weapon.

Which is not to say she doesn’t use her brain for things other than banter. You know how — maybe in college, maybe in high school — you used to just blaze through term papers at the last minute, because you were smart enough to get a B+ or an A- even if you wrote the paper at 2 AM the morning it was due? Yeah, you, there in the back. Lorelei doesn’t do that. She’s going to business school, she runs an inn more or less by herself: all very impressive.

When it comes to human interactions, though, it’s all emotion and flattery and flirtation. She doesn’t much try to talk to people; she doesn’t much try to explain things. Even when she’s dealing with Rory, her putative best friend, it’s either whimsical back and forth or “I am your mother and that’s all there is to it.”

It’s a natural and unsurprising outgrowth of her relationship with her parents. Her mother has never been upfront with her once that I’ve noticed; it’s all games and emotional appeals and putdowns. (Hm. Maybe the writers know what’s going on after all.) Lorelei has clearly learned that lesson and uses her skills ruthlessly when interacting with others.

So OK; how does this make her more interesting than other flawed characters?

Welp, I’ve watched two seasons and I haven’t actually seen many signs of, you know, growth. Rory’s growing up and changing. Lorelei’s parents, Emily and Richard, they’re learning things about themselves. Or anyhow Richard is. Lorelei hasn’t yet been forced to confront her issues, because she’s so damned smart and attractive that she can dance circles around anyone who might press the issue. “Mom, Luke’s in love with you.” “Oh, you’re just my daughter, who I am not currently thinking of as my best friend because I don’t want to hear that.” (Not a direct quote.)

It’s a weird setup for a dramatic show, this basic lack of change. Two years in and she’s still single, still working at the same job, having the same issues with her parents. It works because she’s the axis around which everyone else revolves — she’s the Bronze, if you will, or perhaps more accurately she’s the basic cosmological fact that the Slayer is threatened by vampires. I’m gonna wind up watching third season and everything! Will! Change forever! — I’m sure of it — but right now, man, she’s got really solid walls protecting her from any alterations.

I don’t know that I’d want to hang out with her. It’d be an interesting ride, but I can’t imagine trusting deep emotional interactions with someone like that.


  1. Jeff Dougan Jeff Dougan

    My wife is a sufficiently fanatic Gilmore girls fan that I’ve seen most of the episodes, and I’ll follow up on the lack-of-growth bit:

    It evens out a little bit after Rory hits college. However, it seems to me that Emily’s equally immature, and has undergone even less growth. I have yet to see Emily really treat either Lorelei like a fully 3-dimensional human being.

    And, for what it’s worth, even at this point Lorelei elder is still single, and still has the same issues with her mother — even more so, after some of Emily’s recent actions. But yes, she is the unaltering point around which much of the show revolves.

  2. It’s true — as per the “at least Richard does” comment above. Come to think of it, the lack of change of the elder Gilmore girls really sharpens the tension for Rory. Will she get it? Will she wind up being another one in the line of smart manipulative women in that family?

    Which is perhaps why I liked the second season Jess/Dean plotline more than most. I see it as a study of whether or not Rory will take the easy way out. (And of course in the final episode she does; she decides to go away for the summer rather than try and resolve things.)

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