To say that Lorelei (Lauren Graham) and Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) have one of the most turbulent cinematic mother-daughter relationships would likely be an understatement. The dysfunction present throughout all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls between these two strongly willed ladies could likely fill years of psychological journals.
But for the purpose of this very brief, 1,000-word blog post, I want to focus on the ways that Emily Gilmore works, both as a character and a reflection of the strong-willed lady in all of us. (You too, gentleman readers!)
First of all, with only a few exceptions, Emily Gilmore, like so many ideologues and family matriarchs, never errs from her firm opinion that her actions are not only in the right, but are what is best for those around her. This habit is regularly exemplified in her dialogues with Lorelei, in which Lorelei says one thing and Emily steamrolls right over her.What I love about the beginning of the show is that it launches us immediately into the timeframe in which Lorelei has begun (with mixed success) to improve that relationship and force her mother to hear what she is saying.
I have often thought this is very reflective of real life, where we only allow those who have torn us down to see us when we have started the assent back up. Rory is thriving despite a rocky start to life. Lorelei is successfully managing a big business with dozens of employees. To some extent and despite all her attempts to rebel from their way of life, Lorelei is still craving her parents to say that she has done well. It’s a praise she never fully receives. But that’s a digression for another day.
The absolute best moments are those in which Lorelei and Emily are on the same side, for their equal measures of rarity and humor. One of my favorite episodes is Season 2, episode 6, “Presenting Lorelei Gilmore,” (for many reasons, including the chemistry between Lauren Graham and David Sutcliffe, who you can really believe have just known each other their whole lives and can dance like that!). Richard (the late Edward Hermann) is slowly dissolving in a pool of frustration and stress in the background, while the main plot revolves around Rory (Alexis Bledel) coming out into society at the D.A.R. debutante ball. (Side note on your humble blogger: among the many interesting things that I have done in life, I spent a number of years helping teach etiquette to a local debutante society, which I would highly recommend to any young lady moving into the business world. No, I was never a deb myself, but I have walked in their midst. Thankfully, my pupils were much more like Rory than the air-headed Libby.)
Emily lives in a world, albeit antiquated, where her main function is to be an extension of Richard; to help him navigate the barbs of society, to scope out important tidbits of news, to share his social burden to enhance their place in the world. As a not particularly social man, this has suited Richard quite well, but to some extent, it has left Emily entirely dependent upon another person for every bit of her existence. Without Richard wanting to attend these functions and leaving Emily out of the reasoning behind it, she is champing to understand. It all unravels when Richard admits he is being phased out and he doesn’t like it. He turns on Emily and leave, who then turns on Lorelei (per the usual pecking order). But the episode ends on a sweet note, when Lorelei realizes that her mother lacks what she and Rory have: a person with whom you can share your true self. Their scene in the garden is truly touching, a hint at the pride Emily really has in the person that Lorelei has become. For one brief moment, they are united. These moments grow as the show progresses, but never without that perpetual underlying tension.
Throughout the series, Richard doesn’t see the role that Emily plays for him. This patronization is brought to a head by his condemnation of Rory in season 6 (which an equal number of fans are also willing to deride) for being like Emily:
RICHARD: Running around with Logan, joining the D.A.R., planning parties…
EMILY: What’s wrong with joining the D.A.R.? We both agreed she needed a job.
RICHARD: Fundraisers and tea parties? It’s frivolous and meaningless. She has more to do, more to be! I don’t want that life for her!
EMILY: You mean my life. You don’t want her to be me.
I cringe every time that I watch that episode because to me, despite being admittedly uncomfortable with Emily’s conformity to all sorts of stereotypes, what Emily does for their family is NOT, in fact, frivolous in any way. Her connections help ensure Rory’s admittance and continued good graces at Chilton. She is often the first person to get to the bottom of what is happening with Rory, who is often incapable of putting to words what is bothering her. Her putdown of Logan’s mother at the D.A.R. fundraiser is a spot-on commentary of exactly what is hypocritical about the society which she continues to successfully navigate. And, like with my thoughts on who Rory would have been without Paris, who would Lorelei have been without the challenge of her mother? In life, challenges are what make us who we are.
Emily’s final lines of dialogue in the last episode of theshow, so perfectly sum up how far she has come, as an individual and her relationship with her daughter and granddaughter:
LORELAI: Mom, why don’t we just talk about it Friday night at dinner?
EMILY: Oh, so our Friday-night dinners are going to continue, then?
LORELAI: Well, we might as well. I’ve kind of gotten used to it.
EMILY: All right. That sounds fine. But don’t be late and don’t wear jeans.
LORELAI: When have I ever worn jeans to dinner?
EMILY: Well I don’t know, it could very well be Rory who enforces the dress code. I’m just saying I don’t think that jeans are appropriate.
LORELAI: Fine, spandex and a tube top it is…
EMILY: Oh, thank you. Now, listen, you keep in touch, and not just postcards — phone calls as well.
RORY: Of course.
EMILY: It’s an honor to be your grandmother, Rory Gilmore.
RORY: Well, thank you, I… thank you for everything.
EMILY: Oh, dear.
So how do you solve a problem like Emily Gilmore? General consensus: you don’t. You appreciate what she is, and recognize what she isn’t.
To all my Gilmore Girls fans out there, how do you feel about Emily? Is she a character of sympathy, or a character you simply have to hate?