Both Gilmore Girls Need to Dump Their Boyfriends
Megan Watches Episode 118: "The Prodigal Daughter Returns"
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What’s Wrong With Episode 118: “The Prodigal Daughter Returns”? We Need More Time with the Prodigal Daughter, Less with Loser Boyfriends
As Maggie and I get into the later seasons of Gilmore Girls, I often think about a podcast with a similar project, Sentimental Garbage, in which Dolly Alderton and Caroline O’Donoghue take a deep, cutting dive into every season of Sex and the City. While it’s tempting to tap out at the point a beloved franchise starts to go bad (like, say, before or after the first Sex and the City movie, or at the end of Gilmore Girls season 3), Alderton and O’Donoghue forge ahead. They discuss both Sex and the City movies, and, admirably, the hot mess express that is And Just Like That, the good-idea-on-paper that became a pretty horrendous follow-up to everything that was great about the show.
Why do we do this to ourselves? On Sentimental Garbage, it’s because continuing with the shows we love is superior to tapping out. “Our manifesto: We are not here to relentlessly slag off the show, because patchy Sex and the City is better than no Sex and the City,” says Alderton at the beginning of each episode covering And Just Like That.
As I watch season 6 of Gilmore Girls, I think about that manifesto a lot. Is patchy Gilmore Girls better than no Gilmore Girls at all?
In this episode, it is and it isn’t. In “The Prodigal Daughter Returns,” we get the satisfying emotional reunion of Rory and Lorelai, and Rory’s fiery effort to strong-arm her way back to Yale and a career in media, shitty media men be damned, complete with grumpy monologuing reminiscent of her teenage weird-girl self. We get a genuinely loving, though disconnected and sad exchange between Emily and Lorelai in, of all things, a (grounded) private jet.
I’m here for all of these things, which go firmly in the column of “Yes, patchy Gilmore Girls is better than no Gilmore Girls at all!”
And yet. This episode basically ruins Luke’s character for me. He explodes at Lorelai for… receiving a phone call from Christopher, and complains that Christopher is in Lorelai’s life. Well, yeah? This is deranged behavior, bordering on abusive. Christopher, as regrettable as he may be, is the father of Lorelai’s child, and it’s silly and selfish to suggest that she just cut him out of her life because it’ll make Luke feel more secure. Truly, what kind of nonsense is this, Luke?
I suppose there is some textual precedent for this horrible behavior. Luke isn’t exactly a cuddly, sunny person. But while he’s an early-onset grumpy old man in the early seasons of the show, he’s not cruel. He’s a pretty bad communicator, but he tries. Remember the self-help book? I’m trying to reconcile that Luke with this Luke—who basically accuses Lorelai of cheating on him BECAUSE SHE GOT A PHONE CALL, treats her terribly IN FRONT OF THEIR FRIENDS, and installs a haunted-looking bedroom set in her house without asking first—and I just can’t. If season 4 is the end of enjoyable Rory, season 6 is the end of decent Luke for me.
Like Logan in the previous episode, he is basically making me root for him to be dumped.
But neither men are going anywhere.
And there’s the rub. The love interests on this show are often objectively terrible. Some start out that way (Logan, Tristan), and some end up that way (Jess, Luke), and a very few seem to grow out of it (Jess through character development, Logan through season 7 retconning which I kind of don’t mind because at least it means he treats Rory better).
At a certain point, I just find myself asking why this show, which is called Gilmore Girls, subjects us to so much screen time featuring men who can’t handle their feelings. Lorelai and Rory are supposed to be smart, right? So why don’t they know that getting yelled at in a humiliating way and accused of cheating in front of your friends one time is wrong and absolutely grounds for dumping? Why don’t they know that when a person you’re dating is actively threatened by your romantic past and urges you to calm down and have a drink when you’re going through a personal crisis instead of digging in and offering real support, maybe it means that person has very different values than you, and, in the immortal worlds of Bridget Fonda in Singles, you can just break up with him?
Just break up! With Luke! With Logan! Shoot these losers into the sun!
It is pretty disappointing that when I watch this episode, the only male character I really enjoy is Rory’s dorky but supportive editor at the Stamford Eagle-Gazette, who gives her good advice about Mitchum, who it turns out has mistreated other employees, too. (They always do!) “It’s a pretty big club, actually,” he says. “Ignore him.”
I wish we could do the same for Lorelai and Rory’s horrible boyfriends. I wish we could ignore them until they go away. I wish we could spend more time with Lane and Sookie and the characters on this show who don’t treat our heroines like some grotesque combination of a best friend/therapist/personal assistant/drug counselor/mom/big feelings shepherd/bad trip babysitter. These behaviors are the setup for a cathartic breakup. They are not the foundations of an endgame partnership I can feel any investment in, and they distract from what should really be the emotional center of this episode: the reunion between Lorelai and Rory, whose relationship is supposedly the focus of this show. Is patchy Gilmore Girls better than no Gilmore Girls at all? Maybe in the grand scheme of things. But in this episode, it’s a no for me.
Other Things (Mostly) Wrong With This Episode
PLEASE PUT SOMETHING IN THE CUPS
Lorelai asks if Rory brought her books to Lane’s, which just reminds me that we don’t see Rory reading anymore. 😔
I hate that Colin and Finn are in this episode. Cancel Colin and Finn.
Zach’s complaints about Rory crashing without paying rent are supposed to be annoying, but IDK she’s been staying with her grandparents rent-free. Would it really be so horrible for her to chip in for utilities or buy them a pizza?
I often gripe about how badly this show depicts journalism but the gravelly-voiced receptionist at the Stamford Eagle-Gazette is so legit I feel like we’ve worked in the same newsroom before.
Alexis Bledel’s acting is really uneven in this episode. She really shines in her pushy newspaper monologuing and her reunion with Lorelai, but the stuff with Emily is so wooden. I really wonder what kind of direction she was getting here, because it seems she can be great when she works with a director who understands her range. It’s limited, but she can do a lot with it under the right circumstances. Which may not have been Gilmore Girls.
Emily and Rory fighting through the maid is rude. Grow up!
Lorelai keeps flirting with Luke in this way that makes child abuse a cute little joke. Horrifying!
Aw yes, April is here: an important reminder that some of the worst developments on this show precede season 7. (I will say this for April, though: I like that she’s specific about needing the hair “with the roots” because that is where you get the DNA. She may be a silly plot device, but Luke’s surprise daughter is committed to her science project. I support.)
Emily says she bought Rory clothes, which explains Rory’s wardrobe this season, and why she suddenly owns so many uggo blazers and skirt suits. (Sorry, Emily. The aesthetic works for an adult woman who often has cause to look presentable. It’s weird for a 21-year-old who only just started choosing her own clothes in college and hasn’t graduated yet from the Anthropologie sales rack.)
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The scene where Lorelai claps back at Zach is one of my favorite of the whole series! Lauren Graham’s delivery is hilarious and Zach’s passive aggressive cataloging is so believable. Don’t we all have a friend like that?