“Emily In Wonderland” (season one, episode 19, originally aired 4/26/01)
This is quite a dull episode of Gilmore Girls, if a necessary one, featuring stellar work from Kelly Bishop and some vital backstory to Lorelai and Rory’s early life. But, even though it’s the antepenultimate episode of the first season, it’s sparse plot-wise, serving to nudge Rachel toward Luke and introduce the concept of the Dragonfly Inn (more on that much later), but nothing else really. The big arcs of season one are gentle enough to not demand much more, I suppose.
The crux of “Emily In Wonderland” is the revelation of where Rory and Lorelai first lived after Lorelai ran away from home. We still know next to nothing about this period, just that Lorelai dropped out of school and refused to marry Christopher. Then she magically runs an inn and owns a home; the specifics of in-between are still unclear at this point, but we know she worked at the inn and lived in a potter’s shed on the grounds, a place that is (understandably) close to both Lorelai and Rory’s heart, so Lorelai is horrified when Rune has to live there as a favor to Sookie and Jackson, and Rory is interested in showing it to Emily when she visits Stars Hollow to go antiquing.
It’s a classic Gilmore Girls episode arc: Emily gets drawn into some aspect of Lorelai or Rory’s life, loosening up a little and showing how fun her forceful personality can be, but then it goes too far and she shrinks back, shutting down whatever progress was made. Emily’s reaction is played well: It’s a genuine surprise to the audience how totally shocked she is by the potter’s shed, but once she explains herself to Lorelai (she can’t believe that she left her family home for that), it makes some sense.
Bishop and Lauren Graham do stellar work in that scene, even though it’s a short one and it’s not touched upon again. “I was very young and I was very unhappy and I needed to be someplace that wasn’t here,” Lorelai says, as calmly as she can—but Emily can’t process it. It’s nice that this isn’t played as another fight: It’s just a moment where Emily can’t really hope to understand her daughter’s mindset. No need to go big in that scene, since the depth of feeling is so strong.
But what else happens in this episode? A whole lot of nothing. Rachel petitions Lorelai for help in convincing Luke that she’s for real this time; Luke tells Lorelai she’s made such overtures before, but Lorelai gives it her best anyway and succeeds, possibly to convince herself that there’s nothing romantic about her friendship with Luke. As they always are, the Rachel scenes are just a bit too flat and her chemistry with Luke is non-existent, confirming her status as temporary obstacle. We do get our first glimpse of Luke’s upstairs apartment, though.
Oh, and Emily gives Rory a room to call her own in the house, 98 Degrees posters and all, partly as a backlash to Lorelai and partly to set up the events of the next episode. It’s a nice thought, though, and executed just as you’d imagine from a grandmother like Emily—she gets the teen-girl notes right, but a bit too right; it’s all very classy and precise.
“P.S. I Lo…” (season one, episode 20, originally aired 5/3/01)
Another somewhat dull affair, but at least this one moves the plot forward. I love the first season of Gilmore Girls, but more for its utter lack of drama and world-building; it’s just nice to see everyone all young and fresh-faced and with few cares in the world. “P.S. I Lo…” is focused on every dramatic romantic storyline season one had to offer.
First, Luke and Rachel, after making so much progress in the last episode, are already doomed. Lorelai behaves like a crazy person in this episode, and it works within the parameters of her character, but it’s obviously designed to hit home that she’s way more compatible with him than Rachel, and it comes across a little forced. This all comes about when Lorelai helps Luke buy a birthday gift for Rachel, but soon enough she’s going on a shopping spree for cool-dude clothes for Luke, and is dressing him in the diner. It’s awkward to watch just because you know it’s a little over the line, and indeed, once Rachel sees it happening, Lorelai realizes her error.
It’s especially uncool seeing as she’s rekindling things with Max at the same time. In typical Gilmore Girls fashion, the episode picks up in the middle (apparently they’ve been talking on the phone for weeks) and things rush headlong into something more serious. Max makes the bonehead call of talking to Rory about her breakup like some concerned dad; later in the episode he wants Lorelai to be telling everyone in town about their rekindled relationship. But they’re just talking on the phone! His wild swings of passion are too much for me to handle, I’ll tell you that much.
Max’s presence feels contrived too. It’s used as an excuse to push Rory over the edge when she goes nuclear (for Rory, going nuclear is being mean to Lorelai and Lane and spending the night at her grandparents’ house) and, as you’ll see, it’s an excuse for the big “cliffhanger” of next week’s season finale, which would have come out of nowhere without Max’s appearance here. As it is, it still comes out of nowhere—but hey, whatever.
Rory’s meltdown is much more logical and well-handled. The breakup with Dean has been largely forgotten for the last couple of episodes, but that’s all right. “P.S. I Lo…” realizes it was time to revisit the aftermath, which is the plot element of the episode that doesn’t seem to come out of nowhere. I especially like how it’s introduced, as Lorelai and Rory play a marriage game with the people walking by the window at Luke’s, and Dean suddenly stalks by.
Rory’s actual tantrum is less interesting because it’s a fit of sadness by a 16-year-old and we know her and Dean aren’t going to be broken up for much longer. (Even if you haven’t seen the show before, you have to know what’s coming.) Her “running away” from home is a surprisingly callous move given that she’s know Lorelai’s feelings about such things, but it’s nice to see Emily try (and largely fail) not to gloat over the fact that Rory came to her. Watching Lorelai lose the battle to get her on the phone is an especially wrenching moment; Emily thinks she finally has one over her daughter, and Lorelai is rattled enough to fail at fighting back.
- Those final developments of “P.S. I Lo…” buildup to the season finale, which I’ll cover next week (along with an overview of season one). I can’t believe we’ve made it this far this quickly, folks, and I’m so glad the reaction to these reviews has been so strong. See you next week!
- Lorelai’s giant baby head is discussed at dinner. “My first complete sentence was ‘bighead want dolly.’”
- Luke fails at praising Lorelai’s eyes in a picture. “They’re, you know, placed good. Symmetrical. I’m gonna get some more coffee.”
- Emily and Mrs. Kim’s meeting is something to behold. “It’s like watching the Williams sisters.”
- Rune’s first meeting with Michel is similarly wonderful. “Get out of here, teeny-tiny man.”
- Lorelai and Luke’s conversation in the storeroom is sexier than any scene involving Rachel. “Can I use the fun cutter thingy?” “Not if you call it the fun cutter thingy.” “Please?” “Cut the box, not your hands.” “Good tip! You should teach!”
- Luke bought meowing cat pot holders. “It’s a present.” “For somebody you hate?”
- Lorelai convinces Luke to keep some of his new clothes. “See this blazer? It was 175,000 percent off!” She says his look is fine. “But just for once wouldn’t it be nice not to look like an extra from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers?”
- Crucially, Lorelai finds out that Dean was not the reason for the breakup in this episode. Well, I say crucially—it’s at least interesting for her!
- Mrs. Kim meeting Dean is a wonderful moment too. “I see ALL.”