On A Tangent

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Celebrating Paris Geller: The Unsung Hero of Gilmore Girls

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It probably goes without saying that every introverted pre-teen and teenage girl of the mid-2000s had a deep-seated camaraderie with the show Gilmore Girls, and a particular kindred spirit feeling for everyone’s introverted darling, Rory. (You’ll probably be seeing a lot more of Gilmore Girls from this blog in particular, as both of its authors share that kinship.) Rory was bookish, she was sweet, she was smart and driven; we got her and we loved her for being a different kind of leading lady from anything else on TV.

But, with full recognition of our love for Lorelei and Rory, our Worthy Women Wednesday blogs must take some time to focus on the zany characters that drove these two characters toward the very human perfection that was Gilmore Girls.

For many years, I have made a vocal argument that season 1 Rory could never have become season 7 Rory without one, single character: her foil, nemesis and ersatz friend, Paris Geller.

An oft-rehearsed debate between our sister bloggers, wherein Laney looks like she’s just come from the hair salon at all hours of the day or night, while Leah continually struggles to contain her curls. – Leah

Those of us who went to a private or advanced academic school all knew at least one Paris Geller. (Or maybe you WERE her.) They were loud. They were bold. Their drive for perfection drove everyone around them up a wall on group projects. Their ability to drop SAT-level vocabulary words at 6 am off of 3 hours of sleep was nothing short of astounding. And don’t get us started on their actual SAT scores. Which they probably took 4 times to score a perfect 800 on each section.  Half of our brain wanted to be them, the other half wanted to figure out how to make them disappear back to the planet from which they had sprung.

Rory and Paris are foils: both driven, both smart, both so hard-working it would make the Amish look lazy. They start out with identical goals: to be the top of their class, to make it into Harvard, to create waves in the world. In all of the Gilmore Girls universe, no one, not even Lorelei, can understand Rory at quite such a deep level as Paris can. Yet at the same time, they differ greatly.

In many ways, Paris is what Rory might have been if she had followed “The Gilmore Plan” to be raised by her grandparents instead of Lorelei raising Rory on her own. Rory is what Paris might have been if she was allowed to pause for two seconds and be appreciated for exactly who she already was. Where Rory ducks behind a book, Paris charges forward with confidence. Where Rory sidesteps conflict, Paris confronts. Where other characters worship Rory from a distance, they literally move out of Paris’ way. Both girls are, in their own way, isolated.

Paris is a character you love to hate. Her perpetual antagonism of Rory in the first two season of the show stems directly from these personality preferences on the part of the two characters. But what matters to the show, and to our deep appreciation of Paris Geller, is the results of their relationship: a stronger Rory, who realizes she is not a delicate princess to whom everything should be given, and a softened Paris, who can accept that someone might love her for herself and not her accomplishments.

The first turning point in their relationship comes in episode 13 of season one, “Concert Interruptus”, where Rory is forced to invite Paris and her sycophants to her house for a study group. In a twist of expectations, Madeline and Louise, the more sympathetic set of characters, end up breaking the rules at The Bangles’ concert and being distanced from Rory, while Paris drops her shell to admit that she actually had fun. This moment of humanity instantly breaks the ludicrous layers of Paris’ character and makes her real to the audience.

But my favorite scene in the entire show has to be the moment that Rory must “‘fess up” to Paris that she will not be returning to Yale in the fall (Season 6, episode 1 “New and Improved Lorelai”). No other moment so perfectly encapsulates Paris’ drive and at the same time, growth as a character (transcripts courtesy of Crazy-Internet-People.com):

RORY: It’s a nice offer Paris, but I can’t. I’m not going back to school.
PARIS: You’re pregnant.
RORY: NO!
PARIS: Sick? You look pasty.
RORY: I’m not sick.
PARIS: Well I know your National Guard unit didn’t get called up, so what’s the story.
RORY: I’m just taking some time off.
PARIS: No! You don’t take time off.
RORY: Did you find what you need, cause I have to finish getting ready. (Rory leaves, Paris follows her)
(CUT to pool house main room, continuous)
PARIS: What happened? Something must have happened!
RORY: Nothing happened. People take time off. Einstein took a year off.
PARIS: Yeah. After he discovered three laws of physics.
RORY: (pours herself a cup of coffee) I do not have to defend my life to you. I’m a grown up! I’m independent! I’m on my own!
PARIS: You have no furniture.
RORY: Well I’m redecorating. I want to individualize it, to my taste.
PARIS: Oh! I get it. I know what this is all about.
RORY: No you don’t!
PARIS: Sure I do.
RORY: Paris just take what you need and go, ok?
(Logan walks in the pool house)
LOGAN: Hey! Sorry I’m late (kisses her cheek)
RORY: It’s ok.
LOGAN: Paris.
PARIS: (looks at him in a funny way, and starts to walk out. As she’s passing by him) YOU! (exits)

For the previous 6 years, Paris has had Rory as her foil, her partner, the bar to which she measures herself. All of a sudden that gate is lifted and the floodwaters should begin pouring in. But in a moment where season 1-3 Paris would have had a monumental, selfish meltdown, Season 6 Paris is able to stop and take measure to know that something is seriously wrong with Rory. In a single moment, their paths have diverged and Paris needs to know why.

What is even more touching is that Paris’ first action is to run to Lorelei and demand that she “fix” Rory and this whole situation. She (like the viewers at home) can’t wrap her head around a world in which Rory does nothing.

PARIS: I need her to be at Yale. (Paris & Lorelai sit on the couch) Rory has been my only real competition since she showed up at Chilton. She’s the only one who’s ever challenged me. She’s my pace car. She’s my Bjorn Borg. Without her I’ll get lazy. I’ll fall apart. I’ll have frosted hair and dragon lady nails, I’ll achieve nothing. I’ll become my mother.

LORELAI: Paris, listen to me. You are a very smart, driven young lady. You can be anything you want. Except a diplomat. You don’t need Rory to push you.

PARIS: Rory is my only friend. She stays in the room until I’m completely done saying something. I need that.

Strong female characters are so often relegated to playing the part of controlling, manipulative ice-queens. Although Paris begins in that way, the plotline of the show allows her to evolve, to show change and growth. At the moment when our beloved heroine is falling to pieces, she is true to her center in a way that few female characters get to be. Paris does not go off the deep end because Rory has left. Paris, the strong female character, has evolved.

And that is a beautiful, unique media experience.

4 thoughts on “Celebrating Paris Geller: The Unsung Hero of Gilmore Girls

  1. I just started watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix. Well, I’m in Season 5. This is a wonderful description of Paris and Rory. I do enjoy watching them as examples of gifted young women and relationships between them. Some of the dialogue is wonderful. (i.e.. the quote above between Lorelai and Paris.) I’m so pleased that I came across your post! Thanks.

    Like

  2. i like Paris better than Rory. i think because i was a little too much like Rory and i admired (and still do admire) Paris’ directness and confidence (except, of course, in the episode where she loses her virginity right before giving a speech with Rory on CSPAN or whatever; she didn’t have much confidence then).

    Like

  3. Pingback: How Do You Solve A Problem Like Emily Gilmore? | On A Tangent

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