“Cinnamon’s Wake” (season one, episode five, originally aired 11/2/2000)
(Available on Amazon Instant Video.)
In my review of the pilot episode, I noted that “Cinnamon’s Wake” is where truly Gilmore Girls gets cooking. I’d like to retract that statement. Not that this is a bad episode per se, and it certainly does give us the first concentrated hit of small-town Stars Hollow wackiness, but this wasn’t as memorable upon rewatch. It’s still notable for quite a few reasons, though: This is the first episode written by Daniel Palladino, the show’s most prolific writer after his wife Amy Sherman-Palladino, and it’s the first to really nudge forward the show’s first two romances, between Lorelai and Max Medina and Rory and Dean.
Dean has been mentioned since the pilot, but this is the first time we see lanky ol’ Jared Padalecki since he briefly threw Rory’s mind off the Chilton/college path by making pretty eyes at her. Having not seen these episodes in a while, I was surprised at how aggressive he is, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been since he told Rory in the pilot that he had been watching her every day. Sure, it came off as cute (kind of), but that’s pretty intense stuff. Then, he’s following her onto the bus, bringing soda to her house, finally apologizing for coming on so strong because Rory’s giving him nothing in return.
But no, of course, she likes him plenty, mostly because he’s cute and he’s paying attention to her, one imagines. It’s kind of a specific set of circumstances—he’s nice and not very threatening, but persistent enough that Rory has to acknowledge him when she’s happily ignored any other suitor (like Tristan, who she bats away because she has more important things to worry about). Dean isn’t mentioned much in the next episode, but at the end he gives Rory a spectacularly lame, cute gift (a medallion bracelet thing he made himself) and it’s obvious their fate is sealed (Lorelai looks on in horror).
Funnily enough, the circumstances required for Rory to get a boyfriend are pretty similar for Lorelai—she tells Sookie she’s had nothing serious since Rory’s been born and only now that she’s growing up can Lorelai even consider bending the rules. And here’s Max Medina, played by the handsome Jew Scott Cohen, who won’t stop asking her out even though they both know it’s an insane idea. It totally makes sense that Lorelai made an impression on him, but dating a student’s parent? Pretty tacky, buddy. Still, he’s incredibly persistent and manages to wear Lorelai down. Their coffee date is too intense (the dialogue comes thick and fast and Cohen is just starting to get a handle on it) and Max comes off a little full of himself. I dunno why, but this bad first impression always stuck with me—I’m interested to see if that remains the case this time around.
What’s the actual plot of “Cinnamon’s Wake”? The date gets interrupted by the death of Babette’s cat and a whole funeral is thrown—and even though Lorelai and Rory and others plainly know the whole thing is a little ridiculous, they throw themselves into it. So we get a lot of Babette and her husband, a fair amount of Miss Patty, who has a terse interaction with Kirk (his first appearance under that name), and an effort to link the death of Cinnamon to Lorelai’s fears of Rory growing up that doesn’t really work. It’s funny that Babette’s the first townsperson to get a lot of play since she doesn’t go on to be one of the show’s breakout background characters, but I guess the writers figured they had Sally Struthers, so why not use her?
“Rory’s Birthday Parties” (season one, episode six, originally aired 11/9/2000)
So this is the first fantastic episode of Gilmore Girls. Unsurprisingly, it focuses on the relationships between Lorelai/Rory and Emily/Richard, which is are two facets the show has fleshed out at this point. “Rory’s Birthday Parties” has big emotional flashpoints but it also has winning, small, quiet moments. It’s also the first time there’s a real hint of romantic tension between Lorelai and Luke (the writers were probably just starting to figure that out), and the first time Paris gets to have a really human interaction with Rory.
The crucial thing about Emily and Lorelai’s relationship is that they both love each other and have absolutely no idea how to communicate it. The gulf between the grandparents and Rory is easier to bridge because there’s way less bad blood and Rory has a slightly meeker personality. But Emily and Lorelai have so much to wade through even during a simple dinner or a shopping trip to buy a gift for Rory, every interaction is so fraught, and Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop play this dynamic so beautifully.
During “Rory’s Birthday Parties,” Emily is making an effort to be cooler. She gets pudding for dessert one Friday night. She manages to pick out a birthday gift for Rory’s 16th that isn’t a string of pearls or a fountain pen (“to put on the desk in the law firm?” Lorelai mocks). But she also can’t help but treat her granddaughter’s birthday as a pitched battle with her daughter. Lorelai tries to move family dinner because it falls on Rory’s birthday, but Emily insists, and throws the most Emily Gilmore party possible, making sure to invite all of Rory’s school friends who can’t stand her.
To Lorelai’s credit, she doesn’t really rise to all of this—she encourages Emily with the gift-buying and when she’s upset with Emily, it’s because she’s genuinely sad. Rory pitches a tiny fit during the party but then invites Emily to her real party, and Emily responds frostily, as if she’s been snubbed by a peer, rather than understanding the mindset of a 16-year-old. Then she and Richard show up at said party, a move that flabbergasts Lorelai since they’ve never been in her house before.
What we’re seeing here is that Emily’s relationship with Rory is almost a second shot at her relationship with Lorelai. It’s probably too harsh to say she failed as a mother, but with Rory she’s certainly learning from her mistakes. One gets the impression that she wouldn’t have come down from the ivory tower with Lorelai 16 years ago, but now she realizes that’s what she has to do.
A note on the second birthday party, though. As annoying as it is that Emily invited all of Rory’s classmates without figuring out whether she liked any of them, it is probably safe to say that there are more teenagers at the Hartford Party than there are at the Stars Hollow one, which seems to be basically a gathering of townspeople like Miss Patty and Babette and Sookie and all the rest. Sure, there’s some nominal faceless teens, but Rory only has one friend her age, and that’s Lane. She’s a happy, smart, supported kid, for sure, but it is weird how she almost comes off as socially stunted.
There’s a lot of individual moments at the party that I just love. The show wisely doesn’t make a big, corny deal about Rory happily displaying Emily’s gift to her, and it lands perfectly as a result. Emily picks up on chemistry between Lorelai and Luke immediately, referring to him as the “iceman” and saying he “looked at you like a porterhouse steak.” Richard retires to the porch and engrosses himself in one of Rory’s sillier magazines. Most importantly, Emily realizes that she doesn’t know her daughter at all, and that’s something that makes her sad (the latter part seems like the truly crucial revelation).
At this point, the show has settled into its groove. The Gilmore family lines have been firmly drawn, Dean is about to become a major part of the framework, the townspeople are becoming recognizable background characters, and the idea of Luke as a romantic option and not just a curmudgeonly coffee jockey is firmly cemented.
- Dean’s a little much on that bus ride, but Alexis Bledel plays Rory’s awkwardness very well. “Are you always this serious?” he asks. “No,” she responds, gravely.
- Some French businessmen come to see Michel. He refuses to speak French. “I’m just a simple country boy from Texas, I don’t understand this Francais business you’re blabbering about.” But Lorelai makes him indulge them. “I shall be French, but I shall not be happy.” “Then you shall be yourself.”
- Lorelai defends hiding Max from Rory. She says she was guarding “information that would have eventually come out, like the Iran-Contra scandal.” “So you’re Oliver North?” “No, I’m Fawn Hall.” “Mom.” “Well, she’s much prettier.”
- First sighting of Nora Zehetner as one of the Chilton mean girls in “Rory’s Birthday Parties.” I forgot she was in this.
- Lorelai asks Rory for birthday wishes. “I’d like that whole humidity thing to go away.” “Okay, I’ll work on that.”
- So, we now understand that Paris wants to go to Harvard (duh) and that she likes Tristan (sure) and that she’s a very awkward soul indeed.
- “You know what people say about assuming things.” “What do they say?” “That…you shouldn’t.” “Very clever.”