Notch up another win for 2016. Despite all of its initial promise, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life has tainted the rest of the series for the worse.
This article contains spoilers for Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
The responses to Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life have been mixed, and most have understandably focused on the long-awaited final four words of the show. Fans have been shocked and unsurprised, have loved them and hated them. I have seen many fans comment, “I loved everything about the revival — ignoring the final four words.” But how can you ignore the plot point that undoes so much of what you love so dearly about a show in the first place?
The final four words have long concerned me. Amy Sherman-Palladino’s insistence that she knew how the show was going to end meant when she left the show prior to season 7, fans had to navigate a final season that was not what the show’s creator envisioned. For this reason season 7 is both heavily criticized for being ‘different’ and ‘wrong,’ while also being forgiven as some alternate-universe ending that one day, hopefully, Sherman-Palladino would correct. It was okay if things didn’t end exactly how we hoped; after all, this wasn’t the ‘real’ ending.
There was no possible way for every fan’s hopes for this ‘real’ ending to be encapsulated within four words. Yet for many fans (and undoubtedly for Netflix), those final four words were the entire selling point of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. In contrast, while rewatching the entire series over the past few months, I did my best not to think about them. I assumed the words themselves would be anticlimactic, but I was okay with that. But after hearing the final four words in the revival, I wondered just what show I had been watching all of these years.
Sherman-Palladino claims she has never watched Gilmore Girls season 7, but clearly someone has filled her in on the details because the Netflix revival was nothing if not a rewrite of what could have been. With the exception of Emily’s plot arc, a result of Edward Herrmann’s unfortunate death, you can easily see how Lorelai and Rory’s stories could have played out over a final season or two. And while the will-they-won’t-they of Luke and Lorelai’s slow meander towards marriage might have been at times tiresome, it was Rory who suffered the most when revival storylines were dealt out.
That the revival ended with Rory announcing her pregnancy is not the issue. The desire to bring the show full circle is understandable, and even more so with the added dose of nostalgia that any revival must grapple with. But in order to get Rory to this place, her entire character had to be rewritten.
Counter opinion: Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life review: A messy, must-see for fans
We saw after Rory lost her virginity to Dean how troubling both Gilmores found infidelity, but that is long forgotten here. And rather than the Rory who stays up all night to plan and make lists for every eventuality, 2016 Rory doesn’t even have a single pitch prepared when she goes to a job interview. We are told that after scoring a dream job reporting on the Obama campaign, Rory is now essentially unemployable with only a few bylines to her name—and not because of the tenuous job market, but because she is demonstrably ill-equipped and unprepared to work as a freelancer.
This all makes sense when we remember that Sherman-Palladino had this ending planned for the end of the TV run, for a Rory aged 23. A Year in the Life does its best to undo all of Rory’s hard work and development, to essentially get her back to a quarter-life crisis moment. But what might have worked at 23 doesn’t at 32, and Rory’s behavior in her job interviews, her woeful attempts at interviewing people on the street for her article, and her inability to remember her own boyfriend’s name just aren’t cute or endearing at this age.
Still, Rory pregnant at 32 is different from pregnant at 23, especially within a show about the struggles of her mother, who gave birth at 16. If Sherman-Palladino had her way originally, Rory wouldn’t have been much older. Of course the circumstances of the situation may have been different than depicted in the revival. Rory may have been in a real relationship, and may have not been cheating on her boyfriend with an old college ex. But the parallels between Logan and Christopher are not new, and as Sherman-Palladino chose Logan as the (most likely) father to Rory’s unborn child, it’s safe to assume he would have also been the choice nine years ago.
Lorelai’s ability to build a life from scratch without assistance from her parents — a life she clearly loved, and did not feel was any kind of consolation prize — was one of her most admirable qualities. But Gilmore Girls spent seven seasons showing us that Rory was going to have more than this. Rory wanted to be a foreign correspondent, to travel, to make a difference. She would walk the line between her grandparents’ world of money and prestige, and her mother’s values of independence and honesty. She would be the one to have it all.
Except she wasn’t, because she was supposed to be pregnant at 23. And, as Gilmore Girls refuses to mention the “A”-word of abortion, she was almost certainly going to become a mother. Indeed, at 23 and back in Stars Hollow, she would essentially have become her mother.
We might argue that Rory could have had a child at 23 and pursued all of her career goals, but the context of Gilmore Girls tells us differently. This show tells us that when you have a child, you give something up. Lorelai gave up her family and financial security. Lane gave up her dreams. Sherry wasn’t happy with her sacrifice, but in order to get her freedom back she had to give up her child.
The unfortunate message that there is no way for a young woman to have it all continues in the Gilmore Girls revival. You can be Paris Gellar—successful at work, two adorable children, a beautiful home — but you’ll not only be plagued by a potent case of imposter syndrome, you’re divorced. You can be Lane Kim—an unfortunately ageing husband and kids you love—just remember you have to give up your rock and roll dreams on the way. Or you can be Rory—either 23, and repeating your mother’s mistakes, or 32, and back in your home town, working a job that doesn’t pay, homeless, planning a very niche memoir, and with an unplanned child on the way.
Attending Chilton, working at the Yale Daily News, her disappointments with Mitchum Huntzberger and with the New York Times didn’t matter. Her ambition didn’t matter. This was how it was always going to end, with Rory back in Stars Hollow and with a baby on the way. It is Ted standing under Robin’s window with a blue French horn all over again.
If Sherman-Palladino wanted to write a story of a thirty-something having a second quarter-life crisis, that would be fine. A change in career is nothing revolutionary, and it might have been refreshing to see Rory’s goals change. Even in the original show, Rory’s biggest character flaw was always her failure to recognize her own privilege, and watching her struggle with the realization that financial security can’t fix everything would have been incredibly satisfying. But while it is tempting to frame A Year in the Life through this lens, this is not the story that was told.
In season 7 I thought Lane was the outlier — the side character who suffered an ungenerous fate under a new show runner — a fate I assured myself would not have happened had Sherman-Palladino been steering the ship. But Lane was the mark of the future; she just happened to be the one to lose out first.
After seven seasons of a show that supposedly celebrates its female characters and their differences, in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life I watched six hours of young women being punished for daring to dream bigger than their circumstances. And if this is the story Amy Sherman-Palladino intended to tell all along — if this is what we were always working toward — then Gilmore Girls was never the show I thought it was. And that truly breaks my heart.