“Christopher Returns” (season one, episode 15; originally aired 3/1/2001)
Ah, Christopher. I don’t think there’s a more polarizing Gilmore Girls character out there. He is extremely difficult to love from the get-go—like many a Gilmore Girls character, he is set up as a bit of a monster, but when he arrives, he’s much more gentle (Luke’s sister Liz is the other obvious example, although we won’t see her for years). What we know about him before his arrival is that he’s from the same blue-blood background as Lorelai, that he was willing to marry her as her parents wished, but since Rory’s birth he’s been a very occasional presence in her life. Not exactly a sparkling résumé.
David Sutcliffe is perfectly cast as Christopher. He has the right look—maybe my mind’s just playing tricks on me, but it’s believable that he and Lauren Graham would make a baby that looks like Alexis Bledel. He still reeks of preppy Connecticut boy, and all his accoutrements fail at throwing off that scent—the stubble, the motorcycle, etc. This is the first time (though it will not be the last) that Amy Sherman-Palladino tries to invest us in a character who’s from money and has a difficult time dealing with that. Seriously, that’s Christopher’s biggest issue (it’s Logan’s, too—again, more on him in a few years), and it makes it tough to get behind him.
At the same time, Sutcliffe does a good job to invest Christopher with easygoing charm so we buy it that Lorelai finds him irresistible (their high-school past plays into that quite a bit, of course). Everyone in Stars Hollow thinks he’s beautiful, comparing him to George Clooney and Billy Crudup, Dean briefly talks motorcycles with him, and Rory can’t help but hope that her dad is going to stick around this time. Implausibly, this is his first visit to Stars Hollow.
This is quite an impressively constructed episode taking place over two nights. Christopher arrives, he walks around the town causing a stir for the first half. The second half is just a reunion of his family and Lorelai’s at the Gilmore compound, a miserable night for all involved that just doesn’t seem to end. Christopher’s parents (the wonderfully named Straub and Francine, played by Peter Michael Goetz and Cristine Rose) are 10,000 times more pinched and horrible than the Gilmores, showing no interest in their granddaughter and outward contempt for Lorelai, who has a “blue-collar job” according to Straub and wrecked their son’s promising future with her harlot ways.
Richard does the right thing and tosses them out of the house, and Lorelai is moved, but swiftly gets a dressing down from her miserable father, before the whole thing starts to feel like a real heroic moment for him. To Gilmore Girls’ credit, the progress Lorelai makes with her parents is always by the slimmest of margins. Richard still wishes she’d just sucked it up and gotten married at 16 to save face, a ridiculous thing to think if he knows his daughter at all, and Lorelai’s miserable to realize he really doesn’t.
Much sweeter is Emily assuring Rory that no one has any regrets that she exists, because it comes across as completely genuine. She is, of course, one to put a rosy tint on the past, but Rory requires no rosy tint in the present—the Gilmores went through misery, but the end product was as good as they could have hoped for.
There’s also a real sense of continuity to this episode from the one before and into the ones following, as Lorelai and Luke’s budding flirtation gets disrupted by all the insanity and she forgets to paint the diner with him. Everything is smoothed over of course, but this is probably the most plausible distraction that the show throws up between them. The Luke/Lorelai situation gets more and more ridiculous as the years drag on, but right now, they’re both just struggling to find the right moment to strike.
“Star-Crossed Lovers And Other Strangers” (season one, episode 16; originally aired 3/8/01)
Oh, this is a fun, action-packed thrill-ride of a Gilmore Girls episode. At least by season-one standards, this one just reeks of sweeps-week mania (although it did not air during a sweeps period). Luke’s mysterious ex-girlfriend Rachel reappears, just walking into his diner from the Middle East. Lorelai gets set up with the most horrible pond scum man in existence by her excited mother. And Rory and Dean celebrate their three-month anniversary and break up when he says he loves her and she can’t return the favor. It’s a real barnburner, guys.
Dean and Rory’s little anniversary celebration is achingly juvenile and adorable—they go to a fancy restaurant, he wears a dorky turtleneck, he’s building her a car in a scrapyard like the fake greaser he is. My roommate delighted in the probably unintended visual of their Cokes on the restaurant table, both drained to equal levels. It’s exactly what a three-month anniversary between a couple of sophomores in high school should look like.
Then Dean goes and tells Rory he loves her, because of course he does! She’s so loveable and he’s already realizing he probably won’t do any better for the rest of his life. Rory reacts with her usual level head and explains that it’s a big deal for her to be tossing around that word, especially considering her family history, and well, Dean takes it poorly. Has his reaction been set up properly? There’s a hint of animosity from him about Rory’s closeness with Lorelai, and I wish there had been a little more time to layer that in, because it’s very plausible that he’d resent it, but also comes a little out of nowhere. Either way, they break up. It’s exactly as adorable as them getting together and them dating, really.
Lorelai’s horrible dinner with Chase Bradford, whose very name sounds like an LLP, is just pure comedy. As Chase, Paul Cassell really dials up the slimeball factor to 1,000. My favorite moment is when he orders Scotch neat and Emily asks, “Glenfiddich?” “Fine,” he shoots back, barely looking up. God, he’s just perfectly disgusting, and Richard reacts with equal horror, almost like he’s Mr. Bennett from Pride And Prejudice. After having such an awful, awkward time with Lorelai in the last episode, him letting her escape out the window at the end of the episode is a very sweet moment indeed.
Finally, Rachel, the Elle Macpherson beauty played by Lisa Ann Hadley. She’s very pretty, obviously a little cool, and really, just there to cause trouble. She doesn’t get much to do in this episode except establish that she’s all breezy and beautiful, walking around taking pictures of everyone and getting Luke to at least admit he’s confused about his relationship with Lorelai. But Hadley (who, beyond a stint on General Hospital and its Port Charles spin-off, hasn’t appeared in much else) isn’t a particularly interesting actress and doesn’t have an immediate spark with Scott Patterson. She’ll have more to do, of course. But she’s already very obviously doomed.
- Lorelai manages to paint Luke’s diner in the morning without him noticing, which makes no sense since he lives upstairs, but I guess the show hasn’t established that yet so it just about gets away with it.
- Kirk is too aggressive with Luke in that softball scene (although “I’m getting a page, I’ve gotta go” is much more in line with his character). I forgot that Sean Gunn doesn’t really become a part of the cast until season two.
- Rory explains the roving cuisine of Al’s Pancake World to Christopher. “He kinda hops around. Last month it was his salute to Paraguay.” “Anyone salute back?” “Not really.”
- Lorelai is shocked that her dad liked Chuck Berry. “So we’re talking pre-‘My Ding-A-Ling’?” “I believe I am.”
- Lorelai says she can’t marry Christopher (which, duh). “The Offspring is your favorite band!” “What! You like Metallica!”
- Miss Patty explains the twee history of Stars Hollow to her students. “Now, we still have a little time in our story hour. Who wants to hear about the time I danced in a cage for Tito Puente?”
- Rory tries to help Lorelai cook. “I need a… pan.” “And a fire extinguisher.”