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Maggie watches episode 116: "Twenty-One is the Loneliest Number"
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What’s Wrong With Episode 116 “Twenty-One is The Loneliest Number”? We’re Not Even Halfway through Season 6
I’ll admit, this weekend I was pretty sure that Megan and I were nearly done with this awful season until she reminded me that we were still in the first half. However, this episode is a reminder why the previous six episodes felt soooo long: we’re finally back to the story!
The story of this show, in case you forgot amongst all the silly volunteering and DAR and town drama this season, is the story of Rory and Lorelai’s relationship. From the first scene of this episode, we see that the main characters are actually acting like themselves again! The drama is not drummed up, it’s just interpersonal — where this show thrives.
While, yes, we love that Richard finally shows up because he realized he made a mistake — he’s still acting like, well, himself. He’s not apologizing by any means, and he’s scheming to solve his Rory problem with the one thing he knows: money! Meanwhile, Lorelai is finally airing the truly troubling part of this whole stealing the boat/dropping out of Yale scenario: Rory is not acting like herself. So while Richard tries to concoct a new “plan” to con Rory into going back to college, Lorelai points out the reality, and actually sounds like a pretty good mom, who wants her kid to succeed, but also believes in boundaries, too.
LORELAI: No, I'm getting a little tired of this conversation. I'm not interested in your plan. I'm not going to bribe my daughter with cars and money, mainly because it wouldn't work, and if you'd ever met Rory, you would know it wouldn't work. Rory can't be bought, and I'm not gonna try and buy her. I want Rory to want to go back to school. She used to love to learn and read and study. And that was freakish, but it was her. And she's got to get herself back there.
LORELAI: No, when Rory wants help, she will ask for it. And the minute she does, I will fly in faster than the gulfstream I'm sure you're gonna offer to buy her next. But until then, I'm sorry, you're on your own.
I’d even argue this conversation — and episode as a whole — adds credence to Megan’s excellent theory that what happened with Rory and Mitchum was much more severe than just a talking to about not being cut out for journalism, given the height of everyone’s emotions here. There has been trauma, and in true Gilmore fashion, no one knows quite how to act appropriately, but damnit they’re all going to do what they do best in response!
So I love that here we get to see: Emily throwing a party, Richard drinking scotch in his office and grumbling at his wife, and Lorelai and Rory thinking about each other and their relationship as her birthday approaches. Logan, meanwhile, is trying to make things better by offering to stand in for Lorelai on the whole 21st birthday plan, and avoiding having serious conversations with Richard and Emily because they’ve *gasp* found out that these two adults in a committed relationship are having sex. Truly privileged white male shit.
During the crux of the drama — at Rory’s Emily-planned 21st birthday party, I reveled in the emotional complexity on display between the show’s main characters. Lorelai and Luke have arrived because Rory actually wanted her mom there, but they’re both super nervous about seeing Rory. Rory and Lorelai end up having a real, adult, conversation that both reveals how much they miss each other and how they have both grown more independent in the intervening months. (!) We also see Emily offending Lorelai by saying they won’t have failed with Rory until she “comes home pregnant.” (!!) And Richard won’t leave his office because he’s certain that Rory is going to become Emily and have a “frivolous and meaningless” life, offending Emily. (!!!) It’s all I could do but shout at my screen “We’re back, baby!”
The beautiful thing about this episode is that it all takes place on Rory’s birthday — the perfect opportunity for the seasoned viewer to draw lines back to season one, and Rory’s 16th birthday. (I love the Madeleine Albright dream cameo, OK?) At that time, Rory and Lorelai were in their own world, Emily and Richard were just getting to know them again, and the party Emily throws for Rory is extremely uncomfortable for her. Emily doesn’t even consult her on the guest list and just invites all the Chilton kids who don’t like Rory! Then when the grandparents show up at Rory’s party in Stars Hollow, the viewer can see how alien they are to Rory and Lorelai’s whole universe. Now, in season 6, we see that Rory has entered this other world of her grandparents wholly, she’s at ease at the party that Emily has planned, and Lorelai is the uncomfortable one, left out, mourning the loss of their close connection in Rory’s childhood.
But this excellent writing raised the question, why did we have to suffer through so many mediocre episodes with all this potential high tension in the air!? And what will we have to suffer through once we see this particular dramatic arc complete? We’ve talked before about how looooong network television seasons didn’t always lend themselves to great storytelling. I’m wondering now how this season might have played out if Gilmore Girls was made today, by, say Netflix, or HBO. I think that this particular drama between Lorelai and Rory might have worked a lot better in that format: we could have seen this very normal and necessary parental relationship break after a traumatic incident in Rory’s life (and we could have certainly actually had that trauma named). We wouldn’t have needed all the filler storylines of the past six episodes. We could have had one or two emotionally punched up episodes that delved more deeply into how Rory and Lorelai are actually feeling at this time. But as it was network television (and the WB/CW at that!), maybe this was just inevitable. And maybe it wasn’t so bad as it aired? TV watching was different back then. I remember the long wait between weekly episodes, wanting so badly for something to resolve during this season, only to be given some other teaser at the end of the episode for the titillating storyline that was “coming next week!” And there was almost something soothing knowing you’d get to see a new episode nearly every week for months, even if those episodes were less than perfect.
All that said, the growth evident in this episode in Lorelai and Rory is quite surprising given the previous six episodes. We haven’t really seen anything indicating this is happening on screen. The two characters have just been avoiding thinking or talking about each other as far as we know, except for random run-ins on the street (while Rory is picking up trash) and in a church (while they act as godparents to Sookie’s children). The disjointed-ness of this season continues!
So yes, I agree with Megan’s assessment last week: the Palladinos have run out of steam for these characters to get them through another 22 episode season, which is sad especially because this season’s storyline could have been really meaningful in challenging some of the enmeshment and parentification dynamics of the early seasons. But to do that, the writers would have had to have been really been invested in more emotional digging and fewer silly plot points required by filling in 22 episode-seasons for network television! But don’t worry, Megan and I are already preparing for how to deal with the remaining 15 episodes of this season… “Join us NEXT WEEK!”
12 Other Things Wrong With This Episode
Lorelai’s flippant “My Native American name” comment coming just one episode after the street names debacle also including a deeply ignorant line about Native American languages is pretty racist.
I am so bothered by the inclusion of the “thing with 21 guys” joke in the description of Rory and Lorelai’s 21st birthday celebration plan. First of all, Rory says they’ve been planning this birthday since she was in kindergarten! Secondly, even if this is a very chaste interpretation (kissing 21 guys?? I don’t know!) these are not activities to take part in with your mother. Sorry!!!!
The Maury and Babette fake gallows thing on Halloween also makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t think hanging people should be played for laughs!
Logan supposedly does not know that Rory’s 21st birthday is the following week. Sorry, what. This is the guy that just bought her a Birkin bag “just because”?!? They have been dating/interested in each other for many months and he hasn’t like… worked out her birthday or how old she is?
Emily says she’s inviting Rory’s “cousins from Bridgeport.” But Rory doesn’t have any cousins, Lorelai and Christopher are both only children. I guess she could mean second cousins, which, sure, but come on, if Rory has cousins let’s meet them!
The whole Richard and Emily discover that Rory and Logan have sex subplot of this episode feels very unbelievable to me? This is the first time any of this has crossed their mind? Logan is clearly at the pool house A LOT. He must spend the night sometimes? And Rory must spend the night at his place sometimes, too? Emily and Richard are very nosy!! Logan also wears blazers and drinks Scotch and talks business, etc. They can’t possibly think he’s not sexually active and this is all just old-timey courting, right? I do appreciate, however, that Rory is offended by the pastor’s very pro-virginity, misogynistic BS about her “virtue.” It’s maybe the most sex positive this show has ever been?
On that note, later Rory is telling Logan that her grandparents have found out they’re having sex and tells Logan that she had to tell the pastor, because: “he was going on and on about my virtue being a gift. And now you have it, so I'm gonna have to buy the next guy a sweater. I just wanted him to stop.” Except that … if virginity was not just a construct (which it is), Logan doesn’t have Rory’s “virtue”? Does Logan not know that Rory has slept with other people (OK, maybe just Dean) before?
This episode keeps repeating that Rory is just “so so busy,” and uh, what is she so busy with? I mean apparently she is now also volunteering at the Hartford Zoo maintenance division which is a volunteer job that comes with its own cute jumpsuit! (???) But she also says she’s done about 200 hours of her community service, which, if it’s almost Halloween, means she’s had about 4 months to do this…that’s like 10-15 hours a week of community service, plus her DAR job which I can’t imagine is more than that? I guess she has a lot of dinner reservations and car making out to do with Logan???
Addendum: She’s clearly not HANGING OUT WITH LANE during all this “busy busy” time because Lane has never even met Logan!!! Wtf.
Emily calls a couple tacky for arriving “early” to the party, but there are clearly a ton of guests already there, and more arrive just after them!?
The whole discourse around the Rory (the drink) being disgusting because it is pink is misogynistic and tired. Pink drinks, and sweet drinks can be delicious! Also, have you heard that LUKE ONLY LIKES BEER. (Just 8 million times, I know).
Luke says his sister’s neck was “too fat” for the necklace he gave Rory… mkay! Then, later when Rory first sees Lorelai, Lorelai tells Rory “You look great,” to which Rory responds, “You look skinny.” And none of this is a good way to speak to other people!
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