Why Oh Why Does Rory Dress Up Like Donna Reed
We watch episode 14 (together!): "That Damn Donna Reed"
Welcome to Gilmore Women: Two journalists discuss everything that’s wrong with every episode of Gilmore Girls & why we still love it
We decided to watch this episode together (remotely!) and critique in conversation with each other because of this episode’s very juicy topic. Since these watch-party installments are longer than our usual write-ups, we’re running them one at a time.
We’ll be back to our double-header approach next Tuesday, but for now, just imagine you’re watching right along with us, raising an excessively large coffee mug and tuning out the fact that our government nearly burned to the ground last week. (Do you love this format? Hate it? Have other thoughts about Donna Reed? Please tell us in the comments.)
What’s Wrong with Episode 14: “That Damn Donna Reed”? Rory Caves to Dean’s Housewife Desire
By Maggie and Megan
The Donna Reed episode is one of the most troubling of the early seasons. Any Gilmore Girls fan remembers this one for the scene in which Rory cooks a steak dinner for Dean in a petticoat, pearls, and heels. Oh my. Megan and I had to dive into this one together to dissect the extremely thorny gender politics that occur when a teenage boy decides to pick a fight with his girlfriend about 1950s housewives. —Maggie
The episode opens as Lorelai and Rory are on the couch watching The Donna Reed Show, and mercilessly making fun of it. Dean walks in and does not understand why the concept is so troubling.
Maggie: DONNA REED TIME.
Megan: Oh man, here it comes. I DO love their plot descriptions.
Maggie: ME TOO. And their pretend dialogue. Oh my god. The pause after Dean says “I think it seems nice,” is so loaded. I love it. But this is why the rest of the episode becomes so troubling. Rory and Lorelai are staring daggers at him while he just digs himself deeper into a hole.
Megan: “Ours is better.” YES! And you’re right about that “it seems nice” line. Can’t they just make fun of this silly show without getting a lecture from Dean about how housewifery is “nice”?
Cut to Luke’s. Lorelai tells Luke the diner could use a fresh coat of paint and Taylor takes the opportunity to harass him about the need to keep the place nice so the town doesn’t go to hell. Rory has been studying.
Megan: “Can brains hurt?” is such a cute line. Sometimes my brain hurts, Rory.
Maggie: ALL. THE. TIME.
Megan: TAYLOR IS WEARING THE SAME SWEATER FROM LAST EPISODE. It really does look cozy. Also it sounds like he’s talking about white flight? Is Taylor a fascist?
Maggie: I think Taylor is a fascist. He’s also def mayor now, right? When did that happen???
Megan: The old mayor was really old. Maybe he died.
Cut to Friday Night Dinner. Emily and Richard are discussing how they were too late reserving their typical house on Martha’s Vineyard for their usual spring trip and refuse to consider going somewhere else.
Megan: Only going to Europe in the fall is peak WASP. “We have a rigid routine for no reason and WE WILL NOT deviate from it.”
Maggie: Yes, I love Lorelai’s sweet parent-poking here. “This is getting too Lewis Carroll for me.”
Megan: Totally! It’s a benign, cute version of the way they often clash.
Cut to Lorelai and Rory’s kitchen. Babette comes over in a panic to ask if Rory can kitten-sit while she and Morey go to New York for the evening. Rory obliges.
Maggie: For some reason Lorelai’s “I couldn’t help but notice how quickly you jumped at the chance to spend a night away from me,” is a line I really like? I think it’s funny. Maybe because Rory is being so surly and eye-rolly at it.
Megan: Yeah, it’s funny. “You know, Mom, when I go off to college, I’m going to be gone every night.” I think it works because they’re acting age-appropriate for once.
Dean meets Rory as she is getting off the bus from school. They discuss their plans for the evening and Dean makes a point of saying he has to go to work at 4:00 because Thursdays are especially busy. “Lots of oppressed housewives shopping for their husbands' dinners.” Rory calls him on this unnecessary barb referencing Donna Reed. An argument ensues.
Maggie: RORY IS SO IN THE RIGHT HERE AND DEAN IS JUST NOT LISTENING!!!!!!!!!!
Megan: Yeah, it’s bad: “A wife cooking dinner for her husband and family is nice, how is that not nice?” Dean talking about how his mom does all this cooking even though she works full-time stresses me out. That woman must be busy. “My mom does the second shift, why can’t you?” I guess Dean hasn’t read The Feminine Mystique.
Maggie: Yes, like, this is an actual problem facing society, which is all the fault of MEN LIKE DEAN who just think that’s what’s expected of women. Also he’s just such a jerk about it. “OPPRESSED” housewives, you can hear him fake air-quoting it. She’s totally right for yelling at him, and she makes such good points. She basically reads Betty Friedan for him! And he still doesn’t listen.
Megan: Completely. And why is this conversation even happening? They are TEENAGERS. Rory does not keep a HOUSEHOLD, so he just wants her to agree with him about something totally hypothetical because he likes the way his mom does things? I kind of think she should have broken up with him in this episode. They’re just really incompatible.
Maggie: Yes. When your bf says shit like that in high school and you are headed for an Ivy League and have big career dreams? Um. Bye Dean.
Megan: Yeah, this is actually a big red flag for me! They’ve never really made sense as a couple and they’re just going to diverge from here.
Maggie: It is a huge red flag!! And then she’s made to feel guilty because he got mad and so she does the whole Donna Reed bit? That is kinda verging on emotional manipulation.
Megan: It’s definitely a fucked-up dynamic. It’s OK for him to talk all about his housewife fixation but it’s not OK for her to disagree? The emotional labor of making it up to him through this whole performance is depressing. You can disagree with your partner without putting on A CRINOLINE to APOLOGIZE for having an opinion. This is… antifeminist? Ugh I hate it.
Maggie: Yeah. She should not be apologizing for anything. He should be apologizing for yelling at her on the street.
Cut to Luke’s Diner. Lorelai is helping Luke pick out paint colors while the diner is closed. They’re drinking beers and Luke is opening up about how the diner is a tribute to his dad so he’s had a hard time changing things much since he died.
Maggie: HOW DO LUKE AND LORELAI NOT MAKE OUT IN THIS EPISODE???? Honestly. It is the perfect moment.
Megan: Totally. I think we both agree that the Lorelai/Luke relationship should not have dragged out the way it did.
Maggie: No! 2 seasons, max. Maybe 3. The whole thing is a travesty of wasted on-screen chemistry.
Lorelai is back at her house and discovers the baby chick Rory is supposed to be watching for homework has escaped. She immediately calls Luke to help her find it and he rushes over.
Maggie: And then she calls him to help her find the chick?! This is just something you do when you like someone.
Megan: I mean she GRABS him by the COLLAR. COME ON.
Meanwhile, Rory (in the past hour? two?) has somehow found the time to dress up like Donna Reed at Babette’s house and cook Dean a full steak dinner, including dessert. Dean calls.
Megan: Ughhhh Dean calls from “right outside.” Hate it.
Maggie: OK. The ONLY situation where I could see this being “OK” is if Rory is just doing this to be like, “SEE HOW MESSED UP IT WOULD BE IF I ACTED LIKE THIS, AND NOT ME AT ALL?”
Megan: Yes, I strongly agree. I DO love the outfit though. It’s very well done.
Maggie: It is! And orange. But where did she get this dress?
Megan: No idea. Stars Hollow must have some good vintage shopping. It annoys me that Dean is so weird about this. It’s WHAT YOU ASKED FOR. Then I hate that Dean says he’s happy to have Rory make dinner for him. We get it! You want a housewife!
Maggie: I also don’t understand where she learned to cook? And how she threw together a steak dinner. What? Dean says: “I don’t expect you to be Donna Reed”???? You literally just YELLED at Rory in the street when she tried to point out rationally why expecting women to cook you dinner because you’re a man was problematic thinking.
Rory explained that she researched Donna Reed and found she was more involved in shaping the show than Lorelai and Rory have been giving her credit for.
Megan: “An uncredited producer and director” is such a sad phrase. Rory, she was UNCREDITED. This is not the point you think it is.
Maggie: Yes. It’s so ridiculous. To think that would be enough to convince Rory to then put on the whole dinner for Dean? I’d think her understanding of feminism would be far more nuanced than that. Her critique of the show earlier was certainly far more nuanced. That leaves me to think she was looking for any little reason to push her ideals aside and do something to make her boyfriend happy. That makes me sad.
Luke takes the trash out, as he broke a lamp in the hunt for the chick. At the same moment, Dean takes the trash out from Babette’s. They meet outside and seconds later, Lorelai and Rory both open their doors as well. Everyone is surprised to see each other. Lorelai is especially surprised at Rory’s outfit.
Maggie: HAHA! The Luke and Dean and then everyone running into each other scene is so hilarious and awkward and I love Lorelai just being all “WTF!”
Megan: Yes, I love that Lorelai makes fun of her outfit. “Oh, oh, oh, the shoes. I’m dying.” Yes, Lorelai, we feel the same way.
Cut to the Independence Inn. Lorelai tells Sookie about Luke coming over and how she’s somehow confused that Luke thought there was no chick loose in the house. Sookie tries to explain that it probably sounded like a booty call.
Megan: Sookie has a point here.
Maggie: She is 100% right. Everyone is always calling Lorelai on being in love with Luke and she won’t even ENTERTAIN the idea.
Megan: Sookie knows the truth!
Maggie: And then Lorelai gets offended!! (When she’s the one who told Sookie “You do have a bat in your attic!” Rude.)
Cut to Friday Night Dinner. Emily and Richard have pounced on an open Martha’s Vineyard house because a property owner they knew died, leaving the place vacant. Richard and Emily are enormously pleased with themselves.
Megan: “That canary you ate is going to spoil your dinner” is such a good mean-Emily line.
Maggie: Yeah. I like how totally blasé they were about this person dying and Lorelai calling them out on it.
Megan: “Joan and Melissa Rivers here think I’m being morbid.” SUCH A GOOD LINE
Maggie: Here it is again — Emily, just like Sookie, calling Lorelai on the fact that obviously she is into Luke. And still Lorelai is just a jerk about it.
Megan: Yep. Emily just wants to have what she already knows confirmed! Also Max is notably absent from this episode.
Maggie: AND THE PRIOR ONE! As if Lorelai’s big “heartbreak” is nothing. It’s truly as though the Max storyline just got cut up and scattered into this season. There is NO continuity.
Cut to Rory and Lorelai on the streets of Stars Hollow when a guy on a loud motorcycle parks near them.
Maggie: OH NO I FORGOT THAT CHRISTOPHER SHOWS UP AT THE END OF THIS ONE.
Megan: I DID TOO. Ugh he’s so needy and smarmy ALREADY. This is stressful. I do love the complication in Lauren Graham’s delivery of that final “Hop on.” Like she knows Christopher is a mess and this will not end well but she’s going along with what Rory wants to do.
Maggie: YES! And her last line to no one: “Christopher.” So sad. She is just so good at this role.
Megan: Christopher is what happens when you become permanently entangled with a person you should’ve broken up with after six months.
Maggie: Oh man, that’s such a good point. If only Rory had taken heed of this lesson.
Gilmore Women is a weekly newsletter from journalists Maggie Mertens and Megan Burbank examining everything that’s wrong with Gilmore Girls.
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-I love the convo between Rory and Lorelei about what will happen when she goes to college because this is precisely what happens, but at Rory’s request!
-As has been pointed out across numerous episodes, Lorelei is often manipulative and emotionally controlling of Rory. I likewise find her emotionally manipulative of Sookie in the way that she often gaslights her and sends Sookie into a panic of trying to make Lorelei feel better. It’s the same thing Dean does to Rory. I can’t stand it.
Love these articles! I’ve been rewatching GG for years and critiquing the show has become a favorite pastime as friends and I have grown more healthy and self-aware. Thank you for doing this!
I've been saving up posts to read as rewards, only to realize I'm two months behind. (Pandemic time is a bizarre thing . . . to say the least.)
Excellent analysis! I wonder if Rory got the outfit from Anna Nardini's shop without knowing her yet . . . Hmm.
My husband has started watching Supernatural, and after getting past the fact that Jared Padalecki plays Sam, the *brother* of Dean (which messes with my brain), I've realized that Sam is a much better character for him. All of the emotional outbursts of annoyance, jealousy, judgment, anger, and so much more work great--who would have guessed?--coming from a monster hunter rather than a high school boyfriend.
I'll never understand why Lorelai remains stuck on the idea that Dean was the ideal boyfriend. Not hardly. He was a color guard of waving red flags, and Rory should have kicked his sorry butt to the curb in season 1.