Shining Moments of Self-Awareness for Lorelai and Rory
We watch Ep. 117: "Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ring Out"
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 117: “Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ring Out”? We Hate Logan and Would Like Him to Be Gone Now, Thank You
by Maggie and Megan
A “Previously on Gilmore Girls…” montage gives us a deep dive on the end of Rory and Jess’s relationship, as well as his very strange decision to show up at Yale at the same time as Dean last season.
Maggie: We love a Jess episode RECAP.
Megan: Yes! In case you forgot about Jess. Which is impossible.
As the episode begins, we see Lorelai and Luke in her newly remodeled living room. Everything is draped in drop cloths as she goes through paint swatches. She cannot decide on a color for anything, and keeps coming up with excuses like “That white doesn’t go with Paul Anka!” Luke is understandably exasperated.
Megan: Aw yes, Lorelai spiraling over home improvement. We love a dysfunctional queen who channels her anxiety into paint colors.
Maggie: I think this is a really brilliant Lauren Graham performance. She has kind of this underlying depressed tone to her voice.
Megan: Yeah, it’s very “could a depressed person do this?” Big Cones of Dunshire energy. That Queer Eye line is cringe.
Maggie: Yup. Everything wrong and stereotype-y about the first iteration of that show! Which the revival has actually done a lot to address, IMHO.
Megan: It’s definitely an improvement. Although I think Bobby’s back must be tired from carrying that show on his shoulders.
Maggie: lol. He def does the most work. Karamo is like, hey can we take a walk and I’ll give you a pep talk real quick?
At Luke’s Diner the next morning, Lorelai is taking her obsession with her paint swatches and picking shades for EVERY OTHER SURFACE OF EVERYTHING, which, of course, is making Luke even more exasperated.
Maggie: Lorelai, why are you trying to pick new paint colors for Luke’s apartment?? Luke is MOVING INTO YOUR HOUSE.
Megan: I think she’s just hyperfixating to distract herself from her Rory angst. And now: Amy Sherman-Palladino tries to write dialogue for children.
Two young girls approach Luke, goaded by a parent figure (in an almost exact repetition of the scene when he was asked to build the sets for the school play), and ask if he would like to sponsor the jerseys for their soccer team.
Maggie: Oooooh no. Lorelai. Almost saying “He was caught at a motel with a … Transvestite?”
Megan: It’s so bad! Look at that pastry case—a reminder that Luke bakes in-house! I don’t know how he does it.
Maggie: Luke apparently can have it all!?!? Lol. OK, nm, I actually love Lorelai’s psychosis coming out in paint colors.
Megan: It’s very on-brand.
Cut to a phone call between Rory and Logan. Rory is at the Elder Gilmores’, where she is currently residing in the “big house” because Emily kicked her out of the pool house. So she is treating Emily like an overbearing RA, and not even making eye contact with her. Logan calls to say he wants to see her that night because POOR HIM, his father is jetting him off to Omaha the next morning to help prep him for taking over his media empire.
Megan: OH NO, it’s Logan’s artfully frayed blazer. Among his worst looks.
Maggie: It’s hideous! Why is intentional distress in clothing coming back. OMG. Rory, maybe MOVE OUT if you don’t want to hang out with your grandparents anymore!?! You are an adult!
Megan: Yeah, I really struggle to feel bad for her here. Also her bangs just changed direction. Bangs must be tricky for continuity.
Maggie: She’s being pretty rude after all they’ve done for her.
Megan: Yeah, I think we are far beyond Rory’s era of being an even mildly enjoyable character—and far from her rehabilitation in season 7. Which of course the revival totally ignores.
Maggie: I kind of feel like Logan’s influence is rubbing off. That complaining about being handed his father’s empire on a silver platter while still in undergrad is a bit tiring!
Cut to Lorelai’s house, where she has seemingly held Babette hostage to get her to decide on paint colors for her house. Babette is extremely flustered, and Luke is shouting down to them about letting her go.
Maggie: Why would you ask Babette for help in deciding anything!?
Megan: I think because Lorelai doesn’t really have many close friends besides Rory. Just quirky neighbors and colleagues. Or employees.
Cut to Lorelai’s kitchen, where Luke is on the phone with a soccer jersey company insisting ridiculous things like: “I want my girls to look good!” and “I want the nicest lettering! I don’t care the expense!”
Maggie: “I want my girls to look good.” Blegh. I already hate the Luke sponsorship of the girls’ soccer team!!
Megan: “Little bag ladies” seems like an over-reachingly nasty thing to say about kids playing sports.
Maggie: Definitely—good rule to just not comment on children’s appearances—ESPECIALLY young girls. And the whole calling him “my girls” falls into so many terrible problems with girls playing youth sports and men acting like they have MADE THEM and then this is how we get so much terrible abuse in these systems. OK. I’ll stop ranting now.
Megan: Yeah, Luke is written so paternalistically this season. He’s always been kind of angry and gruff but he’s becoming a chauvinist. And so is Rory! Hanging out with these drunk assholes mocking a folksinger.
Cut to Logan and Rory’s “date night,” which is actually just Logan, Finn, Colin, Rory and some other girl body-shaming herself at the pub, while the men get trashed and they mock the woman singing onstage.
Maggie: Oh my god, I hate Logan. I just hate him.
Megan: He is really insufferable.
Maggie: Now they are THROWING THINGS at the folksinger?!? How is Rory just staying with them? I have officially lost all ability to empathize with her.
Megan: Same. I mean, say what you want about the thin characterization of Lucy and Olivia but at least Rory finally ends up with friends superior to these dolts. At least they aren’t, like, casually violent.
Maggie: Also complaining to Rory about how he has to go to Omaha with his father, who is the one who Rory blames for ending her journalism career is like extra awful and insensitive. Wow, Rory, aren’t you glad you dropped out of Yale to be designated driver for Logan, Finn and Colin!?!?!
Megan: It is so depressing. Taking care of her drunk boyfriend because he’s having a tantrum over being TOO PRIVILEGED should be the rock bottom that breaks them up. Alas!
Rory is just parking at the elder Gilmore manse when WHO SHOULD APPEAR at the gate but…
Maggie: Ah, the chemistry is still all there. And important to note: he has traded the leather jacket for a denim.
Megan: I like that he instantly sees that something is off with her but he just asks gentle questions and doesn’t judge her. He is a better person than me!
Maggie: He showing up is also really proof that her character has changed, she is a different person right now than she was in the opening scene.
They sneak inside because Jess says he has something to show to Rory. In her bedroom, he reveals he is living in Philly, and working for a little independent book publisher, and oh hey, he has just published a short novel!
Maggie: “You wrote a book! I wanna see it in the store!” Oh, it’s so nice to hear her nerdily excited voice!!
Megan: This is the first time she’s seemed excited all season.
Maggie: What? He says they publish three books a month from a tiny press? That seems like a lot!
Megan: It is. Three books a year would be more realistic. Maybe they’re a vanity press lol.
Maggie: Baha. Oh that would be sad for Jess! It is lovely that Rory is going to feel like she is reminded of her old self because her friend wrote a book. Like, hello, a reminder that some people are out there who don’t care about just drinking and hitting on women and secret societies at Ivy League universities!
Megan: Yeah, it’s a side of her that Logan and his friends don’t really seem to care about. They like her because she’s a cute girl who tolerates their bullshit, which is so sad.
Cut to the soccer fields, where Luke and Lorelai have shown up in matching jackets, jerseys, and baseball hats to watch “their” soccer team play a game.
Maggie: Luke and Lorelai in those outfits look so ridiculous.
Megan: I hate them.
Maggie: I did like the “soccer mom” as a political demographic joke from Lorelai though.
Soon it becomes clear that not only is the team Luke has sponsored good, they are also very violent soccer players.
Megan: Based on my childhood experience, girls’ soccer can be brutal. Those girls are mean! In a way this is accurate.
Maggie: Lol. That’s true. One of the sports with the highest rate for concussions! And definitely my most violent athletic experience growing up. Also how did Lorelai know what a penalty was when she literally had no idea what a coin toss was or how points worked in soccer?
Megan: Maybe she paid attention and learned fast! Just kidding, it’s lazy writing.
Rory had agreed to meet Jess the following evening. He comes by and throws rocks at her window until she comes out the front door, ready to go.
Maggie: Ew, and now Rory is in her worst most DAR-ish jacket.
Of course, no sooner have Jess and Rory decided to go find a place to eat than Logan pulls his Porsche up into the driveway and immediately begins acting like he is Rory’s guard dog.
Maggie: AAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Logan coming on SO THREATENINGLY. I fucking hate this. And Rory is babbling about “sounding so grown up,” without realizing how terribly misogynistic her boyfriend is.
Megan: I think she’s aware of how territorial he’s being but her response is always to placate him immediately. It’s sad.
They decide, well, Logan decides that he will join Rory and Jess and that Rory and Logan will drive together to a place of Logan’s choosing: the same pub from the night of the folksinger… which is called “Rich Man’s Shoe” and we wish it were not.
Maggie: God. I hate this. It’s Marty at the Chinese restaurant redux.
Megan: Yeah, Logan has really devolved from a fun prospect for short-term dating and is now just the toxic boyfriend you continue to date even though you know all your friends hate him.
Cut to Luke’s Diner. Luke is hosting all of the soccer players for a dinner, and he is trying to suggest to them to play “more like girls.”
Maggie: Why is the girls’ soccer team having dinner with their jersey sponsor and no parents?? And then hello the worst writing I’ve ever heard for these children.
Megan: The Palladinos don’t really understand the mechanics of childhood, I don’t think.
Lorelai calls Luke at the diner, extremely upset that Paul Anka seems sick. Luke says he’ll be there soon after making a derogatory comment about the soccer players’ eating habits!
Megan: Aw, it is distressing when your pet is sick and you don’t know what’s wrong.
Back at the pub, Rory is trying to make dinner and drinks with her terrible boyfriend and ex who got away not awkward, meanwhile Logan is getting drunk and chastising Jess for, well, literally everything! First, he apparently does not know that Rory and Jess used to date.
Megan: Ewwwww, everything Logan says is so upsetting. He’s acting like a sociopath. Run away, Rory!
Maggie: I hate it so much. How could she stay with him after this? Also, have Logan and Rory never discussed their previous relationships???
Megan: Well, given what’s going to happen with the bridesmaids, it wouldn’t really surprise me. Rory seems really prudish about Logan having a romantic past at all, and since her whole deal is placating him I can’t imagine she’d bring up her history voluntarily.
Then Logan suggests that hey if Jess wrote a book, maybe Logan should just write down all of his random thoughts and he’d write a book, too! (Privilege is a helluva drug. Upsettingly, he’s probably correct.)
Maggie: Wow, Logan is so fucking rude. Implying Jess won’t recognize Proust or Tolstoy!?
Megan: He is awful. Jess is right. At this point I almost feel like Jess is too good for Rory.
Maggie: Yup. Here comes the iconic scene.
The indelible moment is here! Jess asks Rory the question we all want answered and this show stubbornly ignores:
Megan: “Why did you DROP out of Yay-ALE?” Ugh, the line-reading is incredible. Milo is maybe too talented to be on this show. Maybe that’s the real reason we’re stuck with Logan.
Maggie: It really, truly is. “We made fun of guys like this!” He read her like a book. And then he does realize he’s too good for her, and goes back to his gentle demeanor: “Maybe we’ll catch up another time.”
Meanwhile, at Rich Man’s Shoe (this really is the name of the bar), Logan defends his uncharitable behavior because it is very hard being rich.
Megan: “If Hemingway could take it, so could he”? Yikes, we should probably not ever use Hemingway as a model for anything but lovely spare prose.
Maggie: “Pugnacity is a vital part of literary life”?! OK, privileged white male who literally never attends class.
Rory finally starts making sense. What happened to her? she wonders. Why is she a gadabout fancy lady now? Why doesn’t she read anymore? Why did she drop out of Yale? It feels so wrong! Logan encourages her to relax by having a drink, because Logan has no emotional intelligence.
Megan: I love that Rory finally has this moment of self-awareness! And Jess is the caveat. It’s so gross that she’s raising these serious questions about the direction her life is taking and Logan’s response is to tell her to have a drink.
Maggie: Yeah, the drinking is pretty unhealthy in this group!
Megan: Yeah, they all seem to be problem drinkers.
Maggie: Aww Rory, standing up for herself for once. Why did she have to wear that terrible blazer while doing it!
Megan: Unfortunately she seems to be dressing like Emily now. I presume she’s getting all her clothes from her grandmother.
Back in Stars Hollow, Lorelai is spiraling (really about Rory but she’s pretending it’s about the dog), sitting in the chair in Rory’s room as Paul Anka suffers from a mystery illness.
Megan: Oh, I love this scene with Paul Anka when Lorelai finally expresses what she’s actually so worried about.
Maggie: Paul Anka passing out in Rory’s bed! :( Yes, totally. It’s the same upset voice from when she slept in there when Rory broke her arm. Once again: Lauren Graham’s Emmy when!?
Megan: When she says “I’m a bad mother” it’s such a gut-punch. You really see how she’s been working so hard to hold it together even though she’s so hurt by what’s going on with Rory.
Twist! Rory has escaped her grandparents’ chintz-laden Batman villain castle and is staying not with Batman villain Logan but with Lane. What an upgrade!
Megan: A Lane and Rory scene! A rare delight! I love that she crashes with Lane.
Maggie: I love it, too. Although I wish they would have SPOKEN about something. Also, Rory’s hair is somehow super styled even though she just crashed!
Megan: It is possible she’s like me and just avoids washing her hair as long as possible when it’s styled. But yeah, I miss the more realistic styling of the early seasons.
Maggie: Yes, a second or third day ponytail would be great!
Rory finally stands up to Emily in a face-off where both are wearing ugly skirt suits. Balalaikas play frantically in the background. Fin.
Megan: I do love the balalaikas at the end.
Maggie: It’s brilliant. Also that episode felt SO short! It went super fast. There’s a lot of good writing here. The many parallels are kind of brilliant: Jess and Logan. Rory and Paul Anka. Emily confusing Lorelai and Rory. And the costuming, much as I hate it, really plays into it: Rory’s jackets fusing into Emily’s. Jess’s denim vs. Logan’s weird fraying blazer.
Megan: Yes, it feels a lot more efficient than the earlier episodes in this season. And it’s actually rooted in continuity, which I wish happened more often on this show. The scene in Rory’s room is powerful because it’s reminiscent of the episode where she breaks her arm, as you pointed out. It feels more grounded in the world of the show than a lot of the later-seasons episodes. That subtext is what makes us understand what Lorelai’s conflict is really about, even as she claims the whole time that she’s stressed about something else—paint! Paul Anka! Soccer! It’s an accomplishment to be able to translate that kind of denial in a way that really hits without overexplaining or being too subtle.
Maggie: Totally! This is an episode where I feel like had the Palladinos not been trying to fill out 22-episode seasons, this arc could have been done well! Instead, we have to suffer through so much filler just to make the Lorelai-and-Rory reunion more dramatic, when none of it makes sense for Rory’s character. Even if she were going through a bit of a crack-up (don’t we all) I still don’t find it believable she’d drop out of Yale for so long unless something TRULY terrible had happened to her. She’s a whole different person for so long, which the Palladinos can see they’re doing purposefully, or they wouldn’t have brought Jess back to be the mirror to her former self.
Megan: Yeah, that’s why I have my whole theory that Mitchum’s feedback is just, like, a metaphor for something much darker. But also: I think the Palladinos were convinced that Rory was too perfect, so they gave her plot developments that challenged the idea that she was this perfect person. But what doesn’t work about this is that the choices are all really out of character, so they just seem to come out of nowhere and they’re never really explained in a satisfying way. To me it’s an overcorrection, which I think is even how Alexis Bledel has described it. And also: I don’t really see Rory as a perfect character. Even in the early seasons, she makes messy choices. But they’re believably messy.
Maggie: Mmmm, yes! This makes a lot of sense. It also makes me think of how terribly this show deals with BIG problems. I keep thinking of when Dean says “I love you” to her and she’s not ready and Lorelai’s advice for how to fix it is just like “WELL MAYBE YOU’RE JUST BEING TOO SHELTERED AND SHY AND NEED TO BE VULNERABLE,” instead of like, letting Rory know she does NOT HAVE TO SAY IT BACK.
Megan: Yeah, and I think if you were raised by a parent like Lorelai, it would make sense to kind of go off the rails at some point realizing the ways you were parentified and the way being held to such high standards reinforces things like anxiety and depression and perfectionism. I always thought this show would’ve been so much more interesting if Rory’s conflict with Lorelai was over THAT, and not tied to these bizarro external events that don’t make any sense. Instead we just get this big fight where Lorelai seems totally right and Rory seems totally unhinged, and it’s not terribly plausible or true to who the characters are. And interrogating the ways their relationship isn’t always healthy is RIGHT THERE!
Maggie: Oh man, that’s all such a good point. Like Rory’s rebellion against Lorelai actually shouldn’t have been to fall into the lap of privilege her grandparents can provide. It actually should have been something like dropping out of Yale to move to Philadelphia and work in a tiny press like Jess for a couple of years, because Lorelai so wants Rory to finish Yale because she wants her to have the Ivy League education she didn’t get.
Megan: Not incidentally that’s also a storyline I’d rather see than this one. It also would be so much more interesting to see them confront Lorelai’s parenting and how she might repair her relationship with Rory when they’re both adults. In a way it would take the appearance of closeness this show is famous for and make it something much more real.
Maggie: Right? And falls in line with other things we’d rather see Rory do in college, like care about her classes, or interrogate her own interests in literature and journalism in a way that’s more about what actually interests her in these things and not just doing them because she’s always liked them. Which kind of brings us back, too, to Jess’s (iconic) questions for Rory in this episode: “What’s going on with YOU, Rory?” At this point in the show, we still just don’t really know if Rory knows who she is away from her mother or grandmother.
Megan: Right, again Jess is one of the only characters genuinely interested in her. And it’s like she has no real sense of who she is outside of Lorelai and Rory, who project their own unmet needs onto her rather than seeing her for who she is. And it’s interesting because there’s that big moment where Lorelai says “I’m a bad mother” and I think the show wants us to have this reaction of, like, “No, you’re not!” But in a way, the show never really touches on the ways her parenting hasn’t been ideal for Rory, and how Rory might have been affected by being treated like a little adult for her entire childhood and adolescence. Imperfect parenting is just treated like this horrible thing Emily once did. Lorelai only interrogates her own parenting to the extent that it makes us feel bad for her.
Maggie: Mmm-hmm. Our constant problem with this show I think is that we just want more complexity from this initial setup that really works as a compelling narrative. And instead, the show has been fleshed out as some parable of good vs. bad. Rich vs. poor, etc., etc., which is pretty disappointing because it feels like there’s so much more potentially there! Although, on the other hand, I guess if it’s getting us to interrogate some of these questions, maybe it isn’t a complete failure?
Megan: I actually think that’s what’s so frustrating about it! Some TV shows really develop as they progress over the seasons, but I feel like there’s a sweet spot you hit, and after that, it’s diminishing returns. Sex and the City is a good example of this. The way the narrative and characters are developed over the original series run gets them to a conclusion that feels far removed from the beginning in a way that’s genuinely interesting. But then everything added to the story after that point is silly and weird. I think with Gilmore Girls, it hit that sweet spot really early on, and then I think the Palladinos started to treat the characters almost with contempt, and it sort of kept them from understanding areas for meaningful development for the show. So it’s kind of stunted in the later seasons. Season 7, I think, corrects this devolution somewhat, but it brings in its own issues with the change in management. (I am a season 7 apologist. It’s my most unpopular opinion!)
Maggie: Hahaha I can’t wait to get to Season 7!! But OMG, how are there SO MANY MORE episodes left in this season!?!
Megan: AND STILL SO MUCH SCREEN TIME BEFORE THE RORY-LORELAI REUNION. I think maybe the Palladinos just hate us. That’s not true, but it feels true.
Maggie: Onward, soldier.
Megan: We’re drinking wine next time we do this. Not to be a Logan about it.
Maggie: Roger that. We will not be “ordering our next drink before the present drink is done” about it, but some wine will probably be helpful.
Megan: Exactly. We’re like Emily with her bourbon and her smutty book-club read. We have standards.
Maggie: Long live the Emily Gilmore Book Club!
Megan: Here, here.
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Love your daydreaming about other possible Rory/Lorelai conflict that's more rooted in their characters and the earlier seasons. It would make sense that as Rory matured and had new experiences, she might view some aspects of her childhood and Lorelai's parenting differently. She could accept an internship that would require them to be apart for an important holiday, giving them an opportunity to talk about how heavily Lorelei relies on Rory. Or she could go home with a college friend for a holiday and witness some different (healthier?) family dynamics that spark reflection and conversation with Lorelai. She could consider pursuing a career in publishing or hospitality instead of journalism. Your thoughtful analysis is the most fun I’ve had with these rough later seasons, thank you!
Wasn’t the last time Jess saw Rory the infamous “run away with me” scene in S4? I believe she sees him as a platonic old friend, but does he see her that way? Seems like Rory’s often oblivious when guys are interested in her (Jess, Marty) and then chaos ensues. It’s also strange that Emily JUST contrived to move her into the big house so she couldn’t share a bedroom with her boyfriend - a boyfriend who was a welcome guest at the Gilmore house - but a guy her grandparents definitely wouldn’t welcome is snuck up to her bedroom in the middle of the night? And I contend that Logan’s just having a bad week and is mostly an excellent boyfriend. For sure, later episodes show him in a much better light than this one 😉.