The Gilmore Girls Revival Rewrote Rory as a Truly Damaged Human Being

After over a year of anticipation (or a decade, depending on how you want to look at it), the Gilmore Girls revival is finally here. We’ll give you our full thoughts on Rory’s love life, Lorelai’s Wild adventure, Emily’s “bullshit,” and those final four words very soon, but until then, let’s talk about the best scene of the revival, which was–somewhat unexpectedly–between Rory and Chris. The scene only lasts four minutes, but it perfectly encapsulates the relationship between the two characters, and finally acknowledges what a broken little soul Rory really is.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

When we catch up with Chris in the revival, he’s welcoming Rory into his fancy new office, complete with dark wood and a Bond villain-esque desk with gold tchotchkes. He admits sheepishly that he “caved” by working for the family business, and implies that he is no longer a full-time parent to Gigi, who is now living in Paris with Sherry. Rory beats around the bush for a minute before asking the million-dollar question: “How did you feel about Mom raising me alone?”

Before you know the ending, it appears that Rory is simply doing research for her book, but also asking a question that should have been asked a long time ago. And, predictably and realistically, Chris doesn’t have any satisfactory answers for her. He passes the buck, he tries to blame Lorelai a little bit, and he feebly tells Rory that he really does love her, he’s just fallible. Rory, realizing that she’ll never get an explanation (because there isn’t one) or an apology (because he isn’t capable of one), gives him the most distant, awkward hug you can imagine, sadly tells him that she likes his new office, and leaves.

When I first watched this scene between Rory and Chris, my emotions ran the gamut. I felt sad for Rory that she has such a terrible father, indignant on behalf of Lorelai that he would try to blame her, angry at Chris for his inability to change, but most of all confused. Why was Rory acting like Lorelai pushed Chris away, when she knows that Lorelai always left the door open for Chris? Has Rory forgotten that Chris moved to Boston without even giving them his new number, or that he didn’t come to her high school graduation? Are we really supposed to believe that she sort of thought it was Lorelai’s fault that Chris wasn’t there? [Nerdy Spice: Yeah. “I would’ve not been a deadbeat dad if your mom weren’t so strong” is not the most logical explanation.] Are we supposed to buy Chris’ explanations for his weakness, or are we just supposed to think he’s weak?

Once it was over, I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be feeling, but I could tell that Alexis Bledel acted the shit out of that scene (she’s gotten so much better at emoting!), and that the scene was heavy with significance that wasn’t entirely clear. I attributed my confusion to the subtlety of the writing and the fact that we had woken up at 2:45am to watch the revival the moment it came out. I told myself I would further analyze it upon re-watch, and put it out of my mind to watch Luke and Lorelai finally get married.

And then the ending happened. I have as many problems with those final four words as the next person, but those final moments, combined with that sole scene between Rory and Chris, at long last revealed that Rory is a little bit broken. She’s not dysfunctional in a traditional, hackneyed way, but just a little bit damaged, in the way that anyone would be after growing up with a father like Chris. Many critics have noted that the ending implies that Rory seems fated to live out her mother’s romantic life, in which Logan is her version of Christopher and Jess is her version of Luke. I dislike this trite “full circle” ending immensely, but I like that the ending also implies that Rory has spent her entire adult life trying to gain the approval of a Chris-substitute.

The parallels between Chris and Logan have been obvious from the beginning; they’re both rich, handsome, charming, spoiled, and vaguely rebellious against their parents’ plans for them, but too weak to forge their own paths in life. Chris adored Logan from minute one because they had a similar “boys will be boys” mentality and were kicked out of the same private schools (probably wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process). Rory even made the first move on Logan back in season five after hearing the story of Chris and Lorelai’s first kiss.

But this final scene between Chris and Rory masterfully highlighted those similarities in almost every single detail. Chris buys Rory the “biggest coffee they had” just as Logan buys her a $300 bottle of wine (all with family money, of course). As was revealed over the course of the revival, Chris and Logan both spent years trying and failing to build their own businesses before “caving” and working for the family business. Chris laments that it’s a “knife to the heart” that he caved, even though he has “more money than he knows what to do with” and all the options in the world. Similarly, Logan brattily complains that he has to follow the “dynastic plan” when we already know his family will foot the bill whenever he wants to travel around the world and sink a yacht.

And most importantly, Chris and Logan are both seemingly generous–but only with their money, rather than with their time or emotions. When Logan hears that Rory is having trouble in her career, he offers her an expensive place to write and a maid to shop and cook for her (while Jess offers her encouragement and inspiration to fix her own life, just saying). When Chris hears that Rory’s lifelong dream–becoming a journalist–“didn’t pan out,” he immediately offers her money, before even asking her if she’s all right or if she wants to talk about it. Both Chris and Logan can only ever offer her financial support, because their emotional reserves are far more limited than their bank accounts.

It probably is accurate to say that Logan is to Rory what Chris was to Lorelai, because neither of them could ever be there when it counts. Just as Chris kept insisting Lorelai was his soulmate, but then couldn’t bring himself to leave Sherry when they had an opportunity to be together (because apparently he needs to be romantically involved with his child’s mother to be a good father), Logan can arrange an elaborate romantic gesture for Rory and give her a real-life “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” but can’t leave the French heiress to whom he’s betrothed (which, WTF, is he a Spanish prince or something?). And just as Chris was something of an addiction to Lorelai for decades even though he clearly wasn’t right for her, Logan isn’t portrayed as Rory’s soulmate, but as “the guy she just can’t quit.”

But even more tragically, Logan is to Rory what Chris was to Rory: a man who keeps saying he loves her, but can never act like it. Logan always talks about how “special” Rory is, but still makes her feel inadequate time and time again by refusing to completely commit to her. Similarly, when Rory was still in high school, Chris always waxed poetic about how much he wanted to be a part of Rory’s life, but wouldn’t move closer to her or see her more than a few times per year. Logan acted like it was a huge sacrifice and accomplishment to be Rory’s boyfriend (and then still managed to sleep with a bunch of bridesmaids [Nerdy Spice: But THEY WERE ON A BREAK!]), while Chris acted like he was Father of the Year when he went through a brief stretch of calling Rory once a week.

When I first watched Gilmore Girls (original flavor), I remember being surprised that Rory seemed, for the most part, well-adjusted. It would have been a little too pat for a show of Gilmore Girls‘ caliber to portray Rory as your typical rebellious “daddy never loved me” teenager, especially since there have been so many condescending, retrograde origin stories of “promiscuous” young women on television and in movies. But at times it felt like Gilmore Girls was overcorrecting for that cliché, because considering how shitty Chris was as a father (in addition to the fact that she lived in a garden shed for the better part of her childhood), it would be unrealistic if Rory weren’t at least a little psychologically damaged.

And although the show definitely acknowledged Chris’ shittiness at times, Rory really did seem, for the most part, unscathed. She was occasionally angry with Chris for being so absent, but always worked it out with minimal drama. Her overall behavior was often exasperating and/or selfish, but when she made mistakes, there was never a sense that she was acting out of some kind of inner pain or ongoing turmoil. And when she forged bonds with other people who were visibly scarred by absent parents (Jess, Paris, even Logan to an extent), she never seemed to connect with them on that shared experience. She always appeared to be emotionally stable on a very fundamental level, to an almost eerie degree. Yes, Lorelai was an amazing parent, but Rory still experienced constant and painful rejection from her father, which would likely have some sort of psychological consequence that the show never explored.

But the fact that Rory is still chasing after Logan, her college boyfriend whose proposal she smartly rejected, at thirty-two years old, makes me see the entire series differently. When Chris first comes to Stars Hollow in season one, and she sweetly insists that it “could be different this time,” we’re supposed to think that she spent her entire childhood getting her hopes up that he would change, and was constantly disappointed. Then, when she finally gets angry with him a couple of times in later seasons, she works it out with him by simply accepting that he will never change. And when she has her first adult relationship with Logan, his unwillingness to commit gives her the same feelings of inadequacy that she experienced when her father would tell her he loved her and then disappear for months at a time. She returns to Logan over and over partially because she’s infatuated with his charm and lifestyle, but also partially because she wants to reassure herself that she has the ability to be loved by an adult man of the opposite sex. If Logan was shitty and unreliable, but really loved her all along and eventually changed, then maybe Chris really loves her as well, and just doesn’t know how to express it.

I doubt that I will ever like the ending of the Gilmore Girls revival (unless it redeems itself with further seasons). The conclusion was far too neat while also raising too many questions, and heavily implied that Rory is doomed to live a life of unfulfilled potential like her mother (Vox does a good job of arguing that Stars Hollow is a place where women’s dreams go to die). But I like the ending far more when I read Rory’s predicament as a PTSD-like reenactment of her slightly traumatic childhood. Great revivals/sequels always rewrite the original in dynamic, interesting ways, so if the ending has one saving grace, it’s repainting Rory as a love-starved human who often seems selfish, but is in fact acting out of deep-seated psychological damage from a borderline abusive cycle of affection and neglect.

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3 Comments

  1. This was such an interesting insight into Rory as a character! Like a lot of teenage/young girls, I really identified with Rory season 1-4, and I felt very let down by the revival. I didn’t think they did her character justice and her ending pre-revival was one of the few things I was completely happy with in the final season. This post makes me feel a little better about the revival, partly because it makes me question whether the plot was simply bad writing or an intentional comment on Rory as a damaged person.

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I was disappointed as well, I always saw the original series as a tug-of-war for Rory’s soul between Lorelai and the grandparents–Lorelai was winning when Rory was in high school and she was a non-materialistic mini-me, the grandparents were winning in college when she acted like a rich snob and joined the DAR, and then the show ended with Rory splitting the difference and taking a low-paying job that was still prestigious and worthy of mainstream respect. Rory’s original ending was much better on that level, but this new ending could be an interesting, if pessimistic, character study. Thanks for reading!

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