The following are my spoilery thoughts on Gilmore Girls, with a segue into the old writing chestnut about killing your darlings.
…I warned you, I really did…
…Don’t read this if you haven’t watched the new 4 parter (either because you’re going to make a snide comment about not caring about Gilmore Girls or because you’ll get mad that I spoiled – either way, youuuuuu shall not paaaaaaassssss)
I have lots of thoughts. I loved parts of it, disliked others, enjoyed the range of characters they managed to fit in, couldn’t stop assessing how weird it was that some people looked exactly the same (Lane!) and others unrecognisable (Miss Patty? Is that really you?). It was really funny in places, a bit cringey in others, and hit a lot of good emotional notes.
My main thought, if I could distill it into one thing, was that Amy Sherman-Palladino shone when faced with entirely new material to work with (eg handling the fallout from Richard’s death on Emily and Lorelai), and struggled when she was trying to cram her intended ending from 10 years ago into this new work. Clearly, she had wanted to end the original GG with a just-finished-college Rory pregnant to a Christopher-like weak rich boy, coming full circle. But she really made a bunch of mistakes trying to force that ending in 10 years late.
Rory had made her mistakes over the course of the original series, but the whoppers we were most invested in, the seasons-long dramatic arcs, were:
- her relationship with Dean – including the initial bad treatment and eventual affair, and
- her falling in with Logan of the Life and Death Brigade* spoiled rich boys crowd, quitting Yale, etc.
This new season basically asked us to believe that despite all the fallout from those mistakes, she…just super casually repeated them 10 years later, because she had inexplicably regressed dramatically in maturity by age 32? She’s like Benjamin Button for emotional health? Still kicking around near her teenage boyfriends like there are no other options in the world? That would be OK if it was a character we didn’t get shown for 7 seasons as being essentially mature, grounded and emotionally intelligent, and capable of correctly diagnosing Lorelai’s problems with relationships. She’s now cheating on her boyfriend casually and without regard, treating him like forgettable dirt? (Yes, yes, I know we weren’t given a chance to see Paul/Peter as an actual human, only a joke, so we could laugh at everyone forgetting him, but still. Is Rory really that person?**) She’s having an affair with an engaged guy, without any consideration of his fiancee at all? Lorelai is essentially fine with both these things, despite how she reacted last time almost identical things happened? WOT? No. This stuff might have made sense in the context of an ASP s7, but they were hard to swallow as a 10-years-later prospect.
Likewise, though to a lesser extent, I would have been a lot happier with the Lorelai/Luke arc had it taken place in a fictional s 7. It was a bit odd to think they couldn’t have got things resolved with finality over 10 freaking years… but I’ll forgive that one because the revival never truly painted their relationship as being on the rocks, just poorly defined, and at least it led to a really nice emotional ending and a great speech from Luke that redeemed episode 4 after the Life and Death horror. And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Lorelai, at least, would still be struggling with her relationships, because the show always made a point of her screwing up and sabotaging herself and others over and over and over, so while I would prefer that she had grown emotionally, I can believe that she wasn’t there yet.
The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ gets used a lot, but to me where it resonates most is when you have an idea, or a line, or a scene, or a character – something, something that was great and powerful and moving or funny or super clever and you adore it, but when you actually finish the creative work, it doesn’t … fit anymore. But you LOVE IT. You know, either subconsciously or with klaxonesque clarity, that it doesn’t fit. But you are still in love with the feeling you had when you first devised it and you cannot bring yourself to take it out of the story. The GG revival was like seeing this play out right in front of me. Of course ASP is a wonderful writer who has made fantastic characters I still want to watch 16 years later. She is still funny, clever, and emotionally resonant. But she had an idea of what she wanted to do at the end of the original GG, and she loved it, and she was going to MAKE IT HAPPEN NO MATTER WHAT. She’d told people her magic last 4 words. It was her baby, her darling.
And she should have killed it.
The ideas didn’t belong any more. It’s like the end of How I Met Your Mother. (Do I have to say spoilers now? It’s pretty old. But still – SPOILERS SPOILERS ROTTEN MEAT AHEAD I don’t know why you would be watching an old sitcom now but just in case, SPOILERS be ahead, me hearties!) The writers had an idea back in s2 about the premise of the show, and it was clever, and it would have worked brilliantly if it had been a 3 or so season show, but the show was successful and it kept going and the characters grew and developed and moved on, and so when they forced that ending in in the final episode, it pissed people off, because it made mockery of all of the work they’d done in the other seasons. Don’t invest us in the sincerity of a relationship over the course of several years and literally devote an entire season to the wedding of those people then chuck it out in a couple of minute epilogue so you can put one of the people with someone else. Don’t show us over time how two people aren’t in fact right for each other for real and genuine reasons of incompatibility but then try to schmaltz us into a last minute happily ever after with no build up. No matter how great the idea started out, if the creative work has outgrown it, or moved somewhere else, you have to move with it no matter how much it hurts to drop it. It might hurt like tearing off a bandaid where the scab grew over the plaster, but it’s better than walking around with a foul half-bandaid permanently part of your skin.
So: don’t make Rory a dumb teenager at 32 when she was barely one at 18. Don’t spend 7 years teaching viewers to value the relationships and characters defined by loyalty and trustworthiness not pretty blond faces and fancy houses and throwing money at problems to paper over weak character, then ask us to believe that Rory was still charmed by the latter a decade later. We won’t buy it, and you’re better than that.
Like I said before, when given entirely new angles to work, the writing was spot on. The funeral and the circle of Lorelai’s stories about her father in ep 1 vs ep 4 were perfection. Emily’s recovery arc: the giant painting, wearing jeans and giving away dining room chairs, giving no fucks to the DAR, the entire family of miscellaneous-language-speaking staff taking over the Gilmore household, and Emily’s lovely last scenes. Rory dealing with the realities of the job market instead of being given a dumb fake super successful career (things aren’t easy for younguns these days, even Ivy Leaguers with loads of advantages). Every second Paris was on screen. The ideas are still there, and when she wasn’t constrained by the ghost of the season she never wrote, ASP was awesome. I’m not sure whether or not to be hopeful that the combination of the ending and Jess’s last scene iindicates there may be more coming (or perhaps we were just meant to visualise a future where Rory makes better choices?) In some ways it would be a real risk, because this revival was largely successful, despite the giant rant above, and was deeply satisfying in some aspects. Continuing it might be a mistake that would ruin the semi finality of some of the storylines. On the other hand, I still really enjoyed it, still adore the show, and would of course watch the hell out of new episodes.
TL;DR: kill your darlings doesn’t mean take out the best bits of your stuff that you love the most. It only means that you should be willing to listen to other people – or your own subconscious –when they don’t fit the work.
Now go watch GG and tell me all the cameos I missed. Sis the Younger had to point out Ann (who?) from Arrested Development, so I’m sure there were more.
* UGH. Jesus. The fucking Life and Death Brigade. Did they have to make the special? Really? They weren’t charming in their 20s and I just wanted to punch every one of them for every second of screen time in their 30s. I get 45 seconds of Melissa McCarthy but I have to sit through what felt like about 20 solid minutes of entitled narcissists dressing stupidly and loving themselves so hard I’m surprised they didn’t cause an injury, and being self-important and buying shit and being obnoxious to people? In 2016 are we still supposed to find rich white boys who contribute nothing to society but believe they’re entitled to everything funny and charming? It would have been OK if they’d been presented as a critique (as the series of blended-together blond rich boy Tristan/Logan/Christophers sometimes was in the original) but they weren’t – instead Rory gave them more affection than almost anyone else in the special.
** I am aware that one argument is that, indeed, Rory IS that person, she has always been that person, she’s a spoiled rich girl with a ridiculous crowd of doting admirers helping her every step of the way and handing her every opportunity. Yes, she treated some boys poorly as a teenager/young adult, and let herself be treated poorly in turn. Yes, she failed to respect other people’s relationships at times. She was definitely sometimes self centered. So you could read 32 year old Rory as presented as being the natural consequence of teenage Rory Girl Wonder. BUT… I don’t actually feel that way about her, though I can see why some would, and I don’t think the show really wanted to present her in that way. I think her mistakes were presented as those of a young person who was otherwise emotionally healthy and empathetic making some bad choices and getting stuck in some bad messes that took a long time to sort out. I believe that we were meant to think she would make better choices going forward.