Rory Gilmore's College Break is Not a Tragedy
Maggie watches episode 114: "We've Got Magic to Do" (Sorry that's stuck in your head now)
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 114: “We’ve Got Magic To Do”? Rory Doesn’t Need You to Project Your Gilmore Exceptionalism on Her Life, Richard!!
Being in college is hard. I say that as someone who capital L LOVED college — like I often wish I could go back and re-live it, or just go spend time on my campus, and I’m 35 years old. (I’m kind of a freak, I know). But recently I’ve been thinking back to my college years with a different lens. The first couple of years, especially, were really really hard. I went from a mediocre public high school to an elite private women’s college. The Pacific Northwest to small-town New England. I left all of my friends and family behind. I was going through a breakup. My family had a lot of instability at the time. I didn’t get visitors from home. I didn’t go home on every break. I was really indecisive about whether to become a journalist or fulfill pre-med requirements and become a doctor. I was taking out immense levels of student loans that I had no idea how I was going to pay back, and it felt like I should have some kind of plan to make all that worthwhile. I didn’t really have family members or mentors to talk to about any of this. I didn’t know how to write a “college level” paper. I didn’t even know many of the basic grammar rules that it seemed everyone else around me took for granted. I was in culture shock a lot of the time. Wow, that’s a lot for an 18-year-old to deal with!
These days I can’t believe the high-stakes of college in our country. There’s social pressure — these are the best parties of your lives! The friends who you’ll know forever! The grades pressure — are you gonna get those Latin Honors cords at graduation, or what? And then the immense pressure of, oh yeah, the expectation that you figure out your entire life and professional path when you are between 18 and 22 years old!
Of course, very few people actually do figure out their professional path at this time, but that doesn’t keep the pressure from mounting, and mixed up with all the other big huge life changes that tend to happen around that time can lead to instances where our mental health is less than stellar. Recently, I traded stories with a friend about how accessible mental health services were at our respective colleges, how common “leaves of absence” were, and what they were often due to. We figured that given the current cost of college, and the increase in mental health issues for young people, therapy should probably be available to all college students. Breaks should be encouraged! Pressure should be eased!
I say all of this because in thinking about “We’ve Got Magic to Do” (a curse on whoever named this episode and has gotten this inane song stuck in my head 100 times in the past week), I just feel haunted by the end of this episode. After Rory takes over a struggling D.A.R. event and makes it a fundraising and social success — plus gets to wear a period costume, which is always a styling yes on this show — Richard and Emily, finally, get confirmation that the Huntzbergers actually were awful to Rory and the reason that she stole the boat and dropped out of Yale. Ignoring for the moment that it’s still an absurd plot point that they just decided to not believe Lorelai on this matter and just encourage Rory’s decisions without asking any further questions … the episode ends with Richard and Emily both confronting the Huntzbergers. In the closing shot, Richard looks tragically on as Rory accepts congratulations for organizing the fundraiser, as though this, Rory planning an event, instead of working another internship at the Stamford Eagle-Gazette is some kind of horrible failure for his beloved, brilliant granddaughter.
Eventually, thanks to literally zero familial pressure on my life choices, I ditched my pre-med requirements, because I realized they didn’t make me as happy or excited as my English classes and my work on the student newspaper. I left my lovely, but small and pressure-filled, campus for the entirety of my junior year to study abroad in Florence, Italy. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d ended up taking a mental health leave. Things were rough and confusing, and I needed a break. I also heeded advice to study anything but journalism. And, out of necessity, I worked work study admin and dining hall jobs, and babysat for families near campus, and worked retail in the summers (on top of those unpaid journalism internships).
When I graduated, in the midst of the recession, and one of the worst journalism industry contractions — until, maybe, now, those other skills and experience literally saved me. It took me a full year of unpaid work mixed with retail and babysitting to get a real paid job in journalism. And that wasn’t a reporting job. In fact, I never got a reporting job. I worked in journalism doing web production, and newsletter formatting, and editing, and research, and (yes) event planning, and admin. Now I write as a freelancer (or as Megan and I like to say: independent journalist) because all of those skills allowed me to make the right connections, and learn enough about the business to figure out not just how to go it on my own, but also the kinds of things I really wanted to be writing about.
I actually kind of love this episode (one of VERY FEW this season I will say that about!), because Rory is thriving. She’s not a shell of her former self as she has been for the past season or two. We can see her quiet confidence and leadership here. She cares about more than just Logan at the moment. Her good ideas, and her knowledge of pop culture and love of history all come into play as she takes a boring sounding event and makes it something people actually want to attend. These are good skills to have! And a success is a success, let Rory figure out what she’s good at on her own and go from there! We also see Paris having to work a service job and that is kind of entertaining? (She says she rented “Working Girl” and the first season of “Just Shoot Me” to prepare small talk for the event, and starts spontaneously quoting Karl Marx, lol).
But, sorry, Richard, it is not a tragedy that Rory is planning an event. It is not even really a tragedy that Rory had a crappy experience with a boss in her first journalism internship (who didn’t!?!?), or, I guess, that she got upset and stole a yacht and now has to do a bunch of community service. It is a tragedy that you all didn’t believe that the Huntzbergers would ever possibly hurt her. It is a tragedy that she has so much pressure on her because of Gilmore Exceptionalism and your horribly misogynistic ideas about careers and societal value that she can’t just like… take a break for a little while without it being a giant thing that breaks up her entire family.
All of those skills Rory’s putting into practice, and hell, the knowledge of cultures like the New England WASPS and DAR and coming out parties, as a mostly outsider, would actually serve Rory well as a journalist someday. But on this trajectory it seems very unlikely that she’ll ever be able to find her own journalistic path. To do that she’d have to get out from under the high expectations of her family, the pressure from being at a place like Yale, and her own Gilmore exceptionalism that leads her to believe she’ll certainly succeed the first time she tries anything because, after all, she’s a Gilmore.
10 Other Things Wrong With This Episode:
A very, very unnecessary introductory scene, seemingly entirely written just to be fatphobic! How revolutionary!!
Why are both Jackson and Luke taking a look at the stove ventilation after Sookie’s kitchen catches on fire? As far as I can tell, Jackson is not the handy type. This feels like a Luke job and they are both here just as a plot device so they can bicker, which we are supposed to find funny because they’re men, I guess? Also I’m having flashbacks to Lorelai and Sookie objectifying Luke while he fixes the sink!
At dinner at Sookie and Jackson’s house Luke first goes out of his way to tell Sookie that he likes the vegetables. And then later he tells Jackson he doesn’t like the squash. And then Jackson is all “What was that vegetable I thought you liked?” And Luke is a very healthy eater always trying to get Lorelai and Rory to eat more vegetables (and what kind of veggie lover doesn’t like squash!?!?) This doesn’t track!
The supposed “slush table” at this event that the Huntzbergers end up at because they didn’t RSVP is right up front and by the stage, and is that not a good seat? And Emily says: “if we don't find better seating for the Huntzbergers, it'll be a major faux pas, and it may be the only thing people remember from this otherwise wonderful event.” Is that really how this kind of society function works? Man, I’m tired just thinking about all of the emotional labor here.
I get that they’re re-enacting a 1940’s style USO event — raise morale for the troops, etc. — but Rory and the others constantly repeating with a straight face that the fundraiser is “for our boys” is really gross to me! There are lots of women in the military today(and even 20 years ago)! And I know, I know, this is the DAR, but maybe fundraising for the best funded part of our government (during the IRAQ WAR) is not the best use of people’s time and money???
The slow drag out of Luke and Lorelai’s supposed “problems” continues. Yes, the whole, “you should keep doing the things you like doing even though we’re now together!” is a normal conversation most couples have at some point, but forcing Luke to go out camping by himself feels really silly, even for Lorelai. Also I know he’s like, a lone wolf type, but does Luke really not have even one friend? We couldn’t even write him a camping and fishing buddy, ASP? Normalize male friendships!!
We’ve been over this before, but the whole idea that Mitchum Huntzberger, a newspaper magnate, would imply that Rory, a 20 year old intern, who as far as we saw, never even wrote for the paper, would become a “drain on the company” because she “lacked maturity” (Rory Gilmore? The parentified, ultra-mature Rory Gilmore?) is absolutely absurd. In fact, the whole idea that she was “Mitchum’s intern” is absurd. He’d have passed her on as free labor to a news editor there and even if she was less than stellar, said editor would thank her kindly for her free service to his company and write her a recommendation letter, as unpaid interns are due.
I’m sorry, why does a DAR fundraiser that is already over budget come with a full time assistant??? Is this really what DAR events are like? It feels… uh… a bit hyperbolic!
While we’re on hyperbolic: Paris begging for $25 from Rory because her parents are now “broke” feels a bit over the top. Also her parents divorced a while ago? Did they both somehow get in tax trouble? Wouldn’t that have been found out during legal divorce proceedings? Supposedly Paris also speaks “Chinese, Farsi …and a smattering of ancient Aramaic,” but isn’t she pre-med? How many classes does Paris take? Also I am very concerned about the amount of prescription medication she has rattling around in her purse!
Ugh, the fat shaming in Emily’s tirade against Shira Huntzberger really ruins her otherwise very evilly entertaining monologue. But I guess it makes for a balanced episode in terms of starting and finishing with some good old fashioned fatphobia!!
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 who would happily attend the local dance recital with you.
Our banner art is by Sarah Mirk.