“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy” (season two, episode five; originally aired 10/30/2001)
The other day as I was watching this episode, I casually tweeted that I had finally reached Jess’ first appearance on the show, the first real indicator of a shift into slightly soapier territory. I am not bragging when I say that my mentions column immediately filled up with opinions on Jess Mariano, played by Milo Ventimiglia, who is immediately presented as someone Rory’s going to be interested in, even if she doesn’t fully know it yet.
Everyone has an opinion on Jess! Whether it’s just how he contrasts with Dean, or whether he’s Rory’s dream guy or her nightmare, whether he’s a problem for the show or he basically saves it, it’s on and on. I’d say he’s the most divisive aspect of Gilmore Girls and I suppose I should out myself as basically being a Jess fan, although perhaps not a rabid one. After a season of Dean, I’m ready for new blood (and so are many others), and Jess presents a lot of interesting dilemmas for Lorelai that Dean just doesn’t.
The concept of Jess as a romantic interest isn’t really ventured in “Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy” except for in the final scene, where the sullen, rebellious kid who’s been making mischief all episode reveals himself to be an avid reader (at least of the Beats, as one might expect) who was paying more attention than it seemed when he visited the Gilmore abode.
Most viewers will watch Rory and Jess’ episode-ending exchange and think: Dean better watch out. Already Jess has done half a dozen things more interesting than anything Dean has ever done. All Dean has going for him is that he’s nice to Rory. Which is not nothing! But he doesn’t have much to offer intellectually, and their scenes together are very settled-down and quiet. Jess isn’t quite a sex bomb—in his final scene with Rory, he does a magic trick, for god’s sake. A MAGIC TRICK. But there’s immediately more of a spark.
I keep getting sidetracked. “Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy” is more about Luke being presented with the problem of Jess, his wayward sister’s wayward kid who’s been getting in trouble in New York and needs the strong male Danes influence to settle him down. Luke is both up to the task and in completely over his head, and their scenes together are just wonderful. Jess is a cartoonish rebel (a problem for his character in early episodes that takes a while to settle down) and he does bad things right out of the 1950s, stealing lawn gnomes and the like, perhaps suiting his new Stars Hollow milieu.
Luke doesn’t know what to make of Jess and understandably goes to Lorelai for help, and for the first time we see Lorelai acting high and mighty—perhaps too high and mighty. She’s full of parenting advice, much of it sound, but there’s a know-it-all edge to her that Luke rightly calls her on. She just got lucky with Rory, he charges, and has no idea how to deal with an actual problem child, which is utterly true. Sure, Lorelai’s good mothering gets plenty of credit for Rory’s lovely disposition, but she never had to deal with a rebel teen just being dropped in her lap.
The most crucial scene of the episode comes as Lorelai finds Jess sneaking a beer on her porch and tries to empathize, saying she was young once too. Jess is hostile and mean, saying she must be sleeping with Luke to take such an interest in him, but he also quite rightly points out that no one is particularly empathetic to the situation they’re witnessing—this kid was recently abandoned by his father and just abandoned by his mother. Stars Hollow is viewing him as a visitor, but he’s been dumped on the town and has every right to be prickly about it.
Lorelai’s empathy can only go so far, and as tough as her teenage situation might have been, she was always provided for. This is not the last time that Jess is going to bring out the worst in her—her self-righteousness—but it is one of the few times he’s not bringing it out of her by posing a romantic threat to Rory’s settled life. It’s a whirlwind of an episode for one where not very much happens (Jess arrives, there’s a dinner party, that’s about it) and it bodes very nicely for the coming season two dramatics.
“Presenting Lorelai Gilmore” (season two, episode six; originally aired 11/6/2001)
Not quite yet, though, because we have to check in with the elder Gilmores, who we haven’t seen much of amid all the Max Medina fuss. Richard is melting down because he’s getting too old for his business (we’ve had hints about this in the past) and Emily doesn’t know what to do about it, and it’s at first amusing for Lorelai to watch, then genuinely shocking.
“Presenting Lorelai Gilmore” is mostly Gilmore Girls having some silly fun, with Rory agreeing to attend a debutante ball to make her grandmother happy while not giving one shit about the whole thing. The stakes are so low in this episode it’s hilarious. Will Rory do well at the ball? Will she meet a nice boy? Who cares, she already has a boyfriend and she doesn’t know any of these people. Compare it to the hysterics in The O.C.’s Cotillion episode. I’m pretty sure a Ponzi scheme is revealed in that one and several people are punched in the face.
Richard and Emily are fighting, yes, but the most that happens is that Richard raises his voice in public and says “to hell with society!” Scandalous maybe, but it’s more of an ill wind for his future and a chance for Lorelai to empathize with her mother in a way that she hasn’t for a while. After being kind of a pain in the last episode, she’s just lovely in this one, recognizing her gift of a daughter and trying to step up and provide the same comfort to her own mother. The final scene, where she quietly “hangs” with Emily as she gardens, is the best of the episode.
“Presenting Lorelai Gilmore” also serves to re-introduce Christopher as a plausible romantic option for Lorelai (he was much more of a fanciful one in season one). Lorelai is quietly heartbroken about Max and enjoys seeing the first love of her life again, especially now that he’s gone on the straight and narrow. He owns a Volvo, he wears sweaters, he’s living in Boston and working in an office—it’s something to behold, at least for Lorelai.
To me, he’s still a charming fellow, but making him more boring isn’t really the way to spice him up as a romantic prospect. Christopher exists less as a character and more as a big question mark floating over Lorelai’s shoulder. But just as she’s really entertaining the possibility of him re-entering her life, he reveals that he’s dating someone in Boston, and it’s serious (they live together). Ooh, drama—yet again, drama. Two episodes, two love interests, both much more complicated. Season two is off to the races now.
- Luke is lovely with a local Boy Scout trying to take a donut. “Put that down.” “Why?” “Because otherwise you’re going under it.” “I won’t fit.” “Yes you will.”
- Paris is still mean in the episode with The Franklin. Just ignoring that until it fixes itself. We do get to see Max for a goodbye, though, which is nice (BUT MAX IS BORING).
- Luke doesn’t like kids. “I have no patience for jam hands.”
- Luke lays down the law with Jess, says he can only do pre-approved after-school activities. “I.e. Kabbalah studies, highway beautification projects.”
- Lorelai gets rescued by Christopher at the ball. “You saved me, I love you, I wanna have your baby! Oops, too late.”