I Actually Don't Want to Hear Taylor's Take on Sex Workers
Megan Watches Episode 98: "Women of Questionable Morals"
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What’s Wrong With Episode 98: “Women of Questionable Morals”? It Tries to Have a Take on Sex Work
Last week, I interviewed a director and co-producer of a documentary dedicated to the lived experiences of heroin users and survival sex workers on Seattle’s notorious sex-trade corridor Aurora Avenue North. That’s a heavy place to begin, I know, but I need you to know where my head was at when I watched “Women of Questionable Morals,” which features a sex worker in its Revolutionary War reenactment. (But why?)
Sweetheart Deal, the film I wrote about and which premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival last month, is a humane project that shows with real honesty what sex work can look like for the people who perform it day in and day out. It’s not an easy film to watch, but I’m glad I saw it. And when I spoke to one of the filmmakers behind it, I understood what made the film different from other less respectful examinations of sex work: She said her objective with Sweetheart Deal was to make a movie that humanized the people at the film’s center.
This is an incredibly hard thing to do, but when you decide to include elements like sex work and drug use in a narrative or a reported project, I think you have to actively choose to bring your fullest empathy to the material, to be brave enough to see your humanity mirrored back to you in your subjects, and to understand that while you may be the one framing the stories you encounter, fundamentally they don’t belong to you.
You don’t have to do these things, but if you don’t you risk exploitation, or, at best, just looking really, really, really out of your depth.
“Women of Questionable Morals” was written by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen them this out their depth. The whole time I was watching this episode, about casting the role of a sex worker in the town’s historical reenactment, I found myself wishing they’d chosen anything else to write about. As it stands, this is a male gaze-laden catastrophe of an episode, in which it seems the entire male population of Stars Hollow has spent entirely too long in the darkest recesses of Reddit.
Here they are trying to decide what to call the sex worker in their little play:
TAYLOR: Too urban.
MAN #1: Concubine.
MAN #2: Seems hifalutin.
REVEREND: Anyone seen Farewell My Concubine? Beautiful film. Gorgeous cinematography.
TAYLOR: I'm surprised you see such adult fare, Reverend.
REVEREND: Well, do you picture me watching Sound of Music every night, Taylor? Gag me.
MAN #2: Scarlet woman.
TAYLOR: I like it.
ANDREW: Too Nathaniel Hawthorne.
ANDREW: Read a book.
MAN #1: Harlot.
This goes on for some time, but I think you get the gist. It’s framed like a bit but is desperately unfunny. The men of Stars Hollow get into this wild debate about casting the lady with the right look for the part — as if they could not have just asked Miss Patty, queen of feminine wiles and, honestly, the only person in Stars Hollow who exudes Big Madame Energy. Kirk gets uncomfortably invested in Lulu being cast in the role and says some rough things about her I would like to unhear. Other things happen — Emily and Richard bond over a lost dog; Lorelai, a lifelong Connecticut resident, realizes that snow isn’t always a blessing; and Christopher’s dad dies, so Rory yet again parents her parent, despite the bad blood between them, because Rory is always taking care of other people but no one takes care of Rory!
And then three atonal children narrate the story of the town being saved by a British general becoming too horny to do his job.
Except they don’t say that! They say:
This simple, common woman whose livelihood defied laws of morality but acting in a fashion which God would forgive her, led the British general to the warmth of her boudoir. She saved Stars Hollow.
This might work if it were at all campy or playful, but, um, Taylor plays the general. And he’s way too happy about it. I don’t know how the story of an incompetent general turns into children delivering a statement on whether God forgives sex workers, but somehow it does.
I think this may be the worst thing Amy Sherman-Palladino has ever written. And it shows why stories that treat sex workers as human beings rather than a punchline or a source of shame remain so important. Sex work is so stigma-laden that writing about it in a jokey way is a complex proposition in the best of situations. I think it can be done, and I think it could’ve been done on Gilmore Girls. What if Miss Patty were in charge of casting the mystery lady who saved Stars Hollow? What if the victory wasn’t all about a nameless sex worker with a heart of gold being forgiven by God, but about the general who was terrible at his job? What if the men weren’t involved? What if we didn’t have to find out that Taylor is not just a person harboring fascist tendencies, but is maybe also a creepy uncle? Help meeeeeeeee
I could get into more about how gross this plotline is, but while I normally am all for a close reading of even the most inane and/or lightweight material, I don’t think it really deserves that kind of close attention. In my latest Substack/podcast obsession, Rich Text (I was slowly indoctrinated through Bachelor recaps, please don’t tell anyone), Emma Gray says of the racist debacle that is Sex and the City 2: “It’s not even worth interrogating because it’s very obvious what’s wrong with that.”
And that’s exactly how I feel about this episode of Gilmore Girls. I’m not really interested in unpacking the sexism behind the dialogue or the power dynamics. Although Taylor’s horror at Kirk in drag is yet another reminder of the how much Gilmore Girls loves a gender binary (Kirk looks great in drag btw), I don’t really think it’s worth my time or yours getting into it. You know what’s wrong with this. So do I. The Palladinos are the ones who needed someone to slam the brakes on their surpassingly ill-conceived interest in writing a sex work plotline into Gilmore Girls, but no one did. So I’ll just say this now: Don’t watch this episode.
Sex work is work. It doesn’t defy the laws of morality. But writing this bad does.
Seven Other Things Wrong With This Episode
Though I enjoy the callback to Lorelai’s sense of snow in this episode, the way people respond to snow with terror and confusion makes no sense. In the Pacific Northwest, everyone panics and cancels plans when it snows because we have like, a snowplow, but the way everyone acts in this episode suggests that a small town in New England would have no infrastructure to deal with snow, which is absurd. Also if it were really that snowy, Lorelai would have on a real coat.
In all this chatter about Straub dying, no one seems to really recall that he and Francine were absolutely awful to Rory when they met her and never made any effort to be in her life. Straub was a bad person; that doesn’t mean Lorelai and Rory wouldn’t want to support Christopher, but it at least merits a mention beyond Christopher’s “I had a bad dad” monologue. (Also, Christopher is being comforted about his bad dad’s death by his estranged daughter, who takes on a parental role with him, because Christopher is also a bad dad. Discussion question: Does anyone on this show have a good dad?)
Rory’s Friday Night Dinner outfit is maybe one of the worst outfits we’ve ever seen her in. I don’t understand what’s happening here:
When Luke gives Lorelai the ice rink, Lorelai asks “You want to be Randy to my Tai?” It’s an obscure figure skating reference, but I think Lorelai would actually 100 percent make a jokey reference to The Cutting Edge here — “Toepick!” — and we all know it except the Palladinos. Huge missed opportunity!
When Rory recounts her visit with Christopher to Lorelai, she says, euphemistically as ever, “We had some stuff to figure out, and we've pretty much figured it out.” And I’m sorry but I’m not even sure years of therapy could allow you to “figure it out,” Rory. And what is Christopher doing on this show anymore anyway? We get it! He is a disappointing dad who always makes Lorelai and Rory feel like maybe he’s going to change and then he doesn’t, because he’s a disappointing dad who always—
Lorelai not telling Luke she was at Christopher’s is (a) pretty contrived — it’s not like Luke doesn’t know where Rory came from, (b) a pretty ridiculous move for a 30something woman in a committed relationship to make — lying will just make this seem bigger than it is, this is entry-level shit, and (c) why can’t they just be happy?
The kids narrating the offensive play were terrible at their group narration, and that may make them the most realistic child characters to ever appear on this show. But why were children involved in that at all? Again: This episode should not exist.
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