Gilmore Girls: Seasons Five & Six

Emily: “You are becoming more like your mother with every passing day.”
Rory: “And you're becoming more like my mother's mother with every passing day.”

Despite knowing the premise of Gilmore Girls, it is easy for me to forget that it is a show about mothers and motherhood. Perhaps because Lorelai says in Season One that she’s done with Rory, who turns out great (well… see below). Perhaps because her own relationship with her mother is more about conflict than maternal urges and advice. But Seasons Five and Six emphasize, for both primary and secondary characters, the way that our mothers loom large throughout our lives, for good and for ill.

Let’s start with Mrs. Kim. In the first few seasons, Lane’s mother is a parody of the Asian “tiger mom” combined with a hefty dose of evangelical Christianity. (Somehow, vegetarianism also figures in that equation.) But even in the clunky, vaguely racist early iterations of Mrs. Kim, actress Emily Kuroda always made me sympathetic to her, even as she forced Lane to hide so much of her life.

In the fifth and sixth seasons, Mrs. Kim really comes into her own as a mother. After Lane leaves her house—and Seventh-Day Adventist college—she realizes how much she needs her mother. And Mrs. Kim seems to realize how much she needs Lane. Her eventual support for Lane’s passion for music, and her love for Zach, is wonderfully endearing. It reminds of me how Buffy’s mom gradually warmed to the idea of her daughter being the Chosen One: both mothers acknowledge that it’s not the life they’d planned for their daughters, but it is the life the daughters want and have.

That dynamic continues to elude Emily Gilmore and Lorelai, though. Lorelai left her parents’ house not because she was pregnant, but because she couldn’t be herself—her pregnant, about-to-be-a-mom self—under their roof. Throughout the show, Emily can’t seem to see beyond her fixation with the world of the DAR, the country club, and perfectly coiffed hair.

There’s a deep irony there, since Lorelai is equally attached to her whimsical town and unpretentious life. Both women are so entrenched in their lifestyles that they refuse to acknowledge the similarity of their entrenchments. Seen from the outside, it’s clear that Lorelai gets her intelligence and wit from her mother. Seen from the inside, both women feel misunderstood and betrayed.

Lorelai has good reason to feel betrayed in these seasons, though. Whereas Mrs. Kim focused on forbidding Lane from numerous activities, Emily Gilmore is more manipulative—never more so than when she tries to encourage Christopher to resume a relationship with Lorelai, even though Lorelai is dating Luke.

It’s a scenario that makes Emily look terrible, especially on the heels of the plotline that made her the most sympathetic (her separation from Richard). Luke looks worse: he goes from being “all in” on the relationship to being utterly freaked out by the apparent complexity of Lorelai’s life. Egads, she has a mother and former lovers! For Luke, a near-hermit who thrives on routine and emotional simplicity, it quickly becomes too much.

And just when it seems Luke and Lorelai have dealt with those demons, another one pops up: April Nardini. Widely disliked by the fans, April’s biggest flaw is that she comes out of nowhere. Surprise! Luke has a daughter. Double Surprise! Luke keeps it from Lorelai.

I don’t really know what to make of that plot twist. It feels like an attempt to drum up drama, and I’m not sure Luke really would keep April’s existence from Lorelai. In fact, I’m not really sure what’s going on with Luke throughout these seasons—is he “all in” or not? He’s as bad as Jess sometimes, in terms of hoping that his best girl will guess the truth about the stuff he’s not telling her.

That Luke and Lorelai don’t get married is the catastrophe that ends Season Six. But it’s the catastrophe that start that season—Rory going off the rails and getting arrested for stealing a boat—that makes Season Six my least favorite season.

Why did Rory do it? Was the allure of the Life or Death Brigade—with their wealth and risky behavior—just too much? The pressure of success? A lifetime of being perfect? Is Logan so appealing that she wants to stop being herself and start being like him?

Part of Logan’s appeal is his similarity to Christopher, Rory’s father. In “You’ve Been Gilmored,” Logan and Chris have their first real conversation about all the prep schools they were kicked out of. Is Rory acting like an idiot in a complex attempt to win her father’s love through Logan, his proxy?

That Freudian complexity only gets stickier when we look at what Rory identifies as the crucible moment: Mitch Huntzberger, Logan’s dad. While interning for his company, she doesn’t speak up in a meeting. To Mr. Huntzberger, that means she doesn’t “have what it takes.” It’s a beautiful scene that perfectly portrays the double standard of being a woman, especially a young woman, trying to get ahead in business. Too pushy, and you get labeled a bitch. Not pushy enough, and you get told you’re weak and “don’t have what it takes.”

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But I also wonder how much Lorelai has to do with Rory’s rebellion. Because Rory does rebel—not just by stealing a boat and getting arrested. She rebels by moving into her grandparents’ pool house, working for the DAR, and generally doing exactly what her grandparents wanted Lorelai to do: leisurely prepare herself for becoming a society wife. Was Lorelai’s own approach to mothering, with the emphasis on friendship rather than a Mrs. Kim-esque discipline, somehow a contributing factor in Rory’s mistakes?

The mother/daughter tension—well, Lorelai’s and Rory’s tension—does get resolved halfway through Season Six, but it’s hard for me to love a season that spends so much time making its characters miserable. Why can’t everything just be perfect? I’d watch that show.

Highlights from Seasons Five and Six:

• Best Boyfriend: Zach, who becomes Lane’s husband.

• Best Relationship: Emily and Richard Gilmore. Especially when the stray dog brings them together.

• Funniest Relationship: Danny Strong (as Doyle) and Paris.

• Saddest Relationship: Rory and Lane seem so distant in these seasons, especially when—early in Season Six—they have the sort of awkward conversation you have with relatives you haven’t seen in ages. (I’ll talk more about female friendship in the next review.)

• Best Subplot: It was really silly at times, but I didn’t hate the stuff with re-doing Lorelai’s house.

• Best Stars Hollow Semi-Regular: Gil, played by Sebastian Bach of the band Skid Row. I’d forgotten how many episodes he was in. So many!

• Best Yale Semi-Regular: It’s a tie between two budding stars: Riki Lindhome as a member of the Life or Death Brigade, and a blink-and-you-miss-him Danny Pudi as a staffer on the Yale newspaper. Cool cool cool!

• Worst Moment: The entire first half of Season Six for the Lorelai/Rory drama.

• Best Episode: The return of Rory in “The Prodigal Daughter Returns,” thanks to Jess’s advice in “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out.” I grudgingly admit: Jess is good for something. Well, one thing. Just the one thing.

It’s hard to know how to rate these two seasons, especially taken together. How many Stars Hollows out of four?

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


morgan india said...

I have a love hate relationship with seasons five and six. I loved it because there was a lot more Christopher and for me that was never a bad thing. Hated three seasons because Luke just because really intolerable for me to watch on screen and just marred a lot of the scenes he had with Lorelei.

I feel bad for the actress who had to play April because of the hate her character got from the fans. Sure the whole plot was ridiculous and April was frustrating at the best of times, but still.

Oh well, I got more Christopher so I still liked seasons five and six enough.

Billie Doux said...

Hey, Morgan: the actress who played April is Vanessa Marano, who is currently the star of the show Switched at Birth. She also did an amazing job in a guest starring role on Dexter as the daughter of Trinity. So hopefully she recovered from the fans hating her on GG.

Lamounier said...

The scene on the screencap is ICONIC. Delicious family drama. Maybe the best scene of the entire series? It's the best dinner scene, at least.

I never watched this show religiously, but whenever I watched an episode, it was a treat.