First of all, if you haven’t watched the Gilmore Girls: A Year In the Life revival on Netflix yet, please stop right here and go binge for about 6 hours like the rest of us.
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.
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.
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.