Richard Wants More For Rory. Why Don't the Palladinos?
Megan Watches Episode 115: "Welcome to the Dollhouse"
Welcome to Gilmore Women: Two journalists discuss everything that’s wrong with every episode of Gilmore Girls & why we still love it
What’s Wrong With Episode 115: “Welcome to the Dollhouse”? It’s Some of the Only Character Development We’ll Get All Season
The deeper we get into season six of Gilmore Girls, the more I understand how season seven happened. Season seven is widely regarded as the show’s worst, which I once blamed on the departure of Amy Sherman-Palladino, or even the broad, unconfirmed fan theory that she torpedoed the show on her way out on purpose after failed contract negotiations.
But I’m coming to a cold, uncomfortable, possibly even worse realization: Season seven isn’t actually as bad as I remember it, and its most problematic storylines were set up in season six. By the Palladinos themselves.
I don’t think Sherman-Palladino destroyed her creative baby, as rumor would suggest. But I do think that by the time season six and “Welcome to the Dollhouse” were written, the Palladinos were tired, low on imagination, and not doing their best work. As a result, it’s like the universe of Stars Hollow starts to glitch. Characters make decisions that don’t align with the people we’ve come to know. Important moments for continuity or character development go unexplored. Honestly, by the time David S. Rosenthal takes the reins in season seven, I’m almost a little relieved, because it might not be better than what came before, but at least it’s different. Among the most welcome changes: In season seven, Rory starts to seem like herself again.
Saying season six is worse than season seven is sacrilege among Gilmore Girls fans, but I stand by it. Truth hurts! Still, even amid the mess of season six, there’s good stuff here and there: in this case, one of my favorite Richard episodes.
All throughout “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” Richard is trying to figure out what’s going on with Rory. He’s a WASPy grandpa with poor communication skills, so he does this by asking Logan intrusive questions and furrowing his brow a lot, actively doing everything but the one thing he knows he has to if he wants to help Rory get out of her funk: talk to Lorelai, who it turns out was right all along about Mitchum Huntzberger.
After all the town renaming nonsense and the Saga of Sores and Boils Alley, the final moments of this episode, when Richard finally shows up outside Lorelai’s house, standing in front of her dollhouse, no less, ready to make things right, are among my favorites in the entire series. Maybe we all just want our parents to tell us we were right the first time. It’s a sweet gesture from a man who doesn’t often indulge them, and a moment of reconciliation that needs to happen before the one we’re really waiting for between Lorelai and Rory.
It’s about time! Rory’s college break may not be a tragedy in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly functions like one narratively. I actually find Rory’s entire arc from the end of season five into season six makes more sense if you interpret the criticism from Mitchum as an elaborate, network TV-friendly metaphor for something much worse. I don’t know anyone who dropped out of college due to criticism from a mentor. That was normal at Smith. The most common reason people took time off when I was in college was to seek mental health supports they couldn’t get at school, and data shows that students are also more likely to drop out of college in the wake of traumatic experiences like surviving a sexual assault.
These aren’t things I could see being written into Gilmore Girls without fundamentally changing the show, nor are they things I would want to see handled by the Palladinos and their limited capacity for sensitivity. Rachel Bloom they are not. I’m just saying the subtext is there and it’s worth observing, because Rory’s behavior does not align with that of a person who got yelled at one time. It aligns with someone who’s been through actual trauma, and it’s more understandable in that context.
Rory is, essentially, a shell of herself. She has panic attacks. She moves in with people who will take care of her every need. She’s adhering to her grandmother’s schedule, and when she perceives Richard as asking about Logan’s intentions with her, she wastes a lot of words that basically amount to “lol I have no expectations from you hahaha why would u think that haha do you still like me?” Her focus is on accommodating his fear of commitment rather than voicing any of her own desires.
This is out of character for Rory, a well-established relationship girl. Logan is her boyfriend. It’s disheartening and out of step with her previous characterization to see her let him set the terms of their relationship, and honestly pretty lucky that he’s nicer and a better partner than he initially seems.
As we revisit this season of Gilmore Girls, I find I actually like Logan a lot more than I expected to. He’s more sympathetically written than in seasons four and five, and when he’s not with his idiot friends, you can almost picture him growing up into Cary Agos, the far superior person also played by Matt Czuchry on The Good Wife.
But, uh, can we talk about the Birkin bag? Because to me it symbolizes a real disconnect between Logan and Rory. When I first watched this show, I thought Logan and Rory didn’t belong together because Logan sucked. But now I think they don’t belong together because they’re incompatible. They want different things. As much as Logan rails against his father, he loves the status and privilege that comes with his background. He likes private air travel and Birkin bags and ostentatious gestures and engage in stupid, life-threatening stunts with no concern about the cost of a hospital stay. He’s kind and well-meaning but he’s also showy and superficial.
In season six, Rory gets swept up in these things, too. But it’s temporary. She’ll eventually sour on the DAR and her grandparents’ lifestyle, and even before that happens, a Birkin bag means nothing to her. She may spend a lot of this season cosplaying as a socialite, but soon enough she’ll be back at Yale, flying her dork flag once again. And in season seven, we’ll finally get a break from the baby voice and flattened personality, too.
Sorry to say it, but I can’t wait! I hated Amy Sherman-Palladino’s character assassination of Rory when I first watched the series, and I hate that the Rory of the revival is more like season-six Rory than the self-possessed incarnation we’ll soon see turning down Logan’s marriage proposal and joining a presidential campaign press pool in season seven, which feels like both a corrective to the dour arc the Palladinos developed for her AND a callback to her younger, nerdier, more unruly self.
I’d like to see the future adventures of that Rory, and I’ve never understood why we didn’t get to. When it came time for the revival series on Netflix, the Palladinos seemingly scrapped this character development for Rory, sticking to an ancient and outdated story arc developed for the original series run, rather than being brave enough to try something new. At times, it seems like they just want to see Rory suffer. But I don’t.
And maybe that’s why I like this episode so much: Here, Richard is our audience surrogate. He may be emotionally clumsy, but he sets aside his pride to imagine more for Rory. If only the Palladinos had too.
9 Other Things Wrong With This Episode:
What a tragedy to scoop out the insides of a bagel.
Luke’s gay panic is starting to ruin his character for me.
A compliment, not a criticism: When Richard is reading the paper during breakfast with Emily “No Added Sugar” Gilmore, one of the headlines says “Bottle Throwing Melee Mars City Street Scene,” and I just love that.
There’s a reference to Emily’s “talk” with Shira, which wasn’t a talk so much as a litany of verbal abuse, and some very out-of-pocket comments about Shira’s body. Amy Sherman-Palladino wouldn’t be Amy Sherman-Palladino if her writing didn’t betray a grudge against blonde women and people who have weight fluctuations (which is everyone), but the cruelty of that scene is really over the top.
Logan says Rory’s arm is what’s drawing the attention of passersby, and not the Birkin bag on it, which isn’t something someone who paid for a Birkin bag would say.
There are cookies on baking sheets cooling on the counter at Luke’s. So he DOES do his own in-house baking. No wonder he’s always so stressed and grumpy.
Rory tells Emily Logan is “very nice,” which is definitely how adult women describe their partners they’ve known for over a year.
A joke on the wrong side of colonialism somehow gets built into the town’s renaming debate, a new low.
Sookie actually says “The South will rise again!” It feels like a hate crime just typing that, and I’m sorry.
Gilmore Women is a weekly newsletter from journalists Maggie Mertens and Megan Burbank examining everything that’s wrong with Gilmore Girls. All of our weekly episode issues are free, but paid subscribers get special BONUS newsletters — like our most recent, from Thulasi Seshan on the electoral politics of Stars Hollow.
Questions? Comments? We love to hear your thoughts. You can also reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet at us @gilmore_women, or follow us on Instagram @gilmore_women for all of your early-oughts pop culture needs.
Like this newsletter? Share it with someone whose integrity cannot be bought by Taylor Doose for $100.
Our banner art is by Sarah Mirk.
So agree that Season 6 is worse than 7! Completely kills all the affection I had for Luke for one.