“Face-Off” (season 3, episode 15, originally aired 2/18/2003)
Remember when I was freaking out last week about Jess suddenly being the biggest jerk in the world now that he’s Rory’s boyfriend? Well, that episode is nothing compared to “Face-Off.” When Jess is weird and passive aggressive about having dinner with Rory’s grandmother and his black eye, it almost makes sense. Rory is just as passive aggressive at him, and he knows she won’t believe his ridiculous swan story, so he’s already mad about her assumption that Dean is to blame.
“Face-Off” is harder to watch if you’re a Jess fan. It’s also hard to watch if you’ve ever been waiting by the phone for your significant other/the person you’re seeing/the person you’re kinda-sorta flirting with to text you back. It’s Gilmore Girls and this is 2003 so it’s more that Jess isn’t calling Rory and making plans. Same thing. He’s behaving irrationally and it’s annoying, even though Rory’s reaction is nicely portrayed. A lot of shows would have an out-of-nowhere plot development (Jess is an isolating jerk) lead to a similarly out-of-nowhere twist (Rory makes out with Dean, or something). But “Face-Off” is genuinely exploring how a girl like Rory, for whom things generally have gone well so far, would deal with rejection.
The best moment of the episode comes at the end, as Jess shows up with not much of an excuse and Distillers tickets for Rory (ugh, I remember them, give that show a miss, Rory!). She goes along with it partly out of relief and partly out of embarrassment that she’s letting him treat her this way. She doesn’t want to be “that girl,” but it’s hard not to be. It’s a bummer episode to watch, honestly, even when you take away the fact that Jess, a character I generally like, is being written so horribly.
Or is he? Lorelai chews him out for his behavior, but maybe Jess just doesn’t know what to do with a girl who isn’t Shane (his makeout buddy from earlier in the season). And maybe Rory doesn’t know what to do with a guy who isn’t a friendly lapdog who calls a zillion times a day. If I didn’t know what was around the corner, I might just praise this as an interesting speed-bump in their relationship.
“Face-Off” is otherwise great fun. You’ve got the hockey game with Kirk announcing to everyone that they’re going to die. You’ve got Trix’s romantic dalliance with a man in a purple tracksuit, which means Emily acts like a child and calls her out like a scarlet woman, which is truly a sight to behold. And we meet Dean’s new girlfriend for the first time, played by Arielle Kebbel (who has bounced from CW show to CW show since). I’m sure she won’t amount to anything.
“The Big One” (season 3, episode 16, originally aired 2/25/2003)
Oh, this is a big one! Jesus Christ. Rory gets into college! All the colleges! Paris has sex with Jamie (offscreen, much-discussed). Rory reveals her virginity to a shocked audience (or not, but at least to a revealed, eavesdropping Lorelai). Max Medina comes back to freak Lorelai out with his general relaxedness. Sookie discovers that she’s pregnant. Brad comes back from a successful run on Into The Woods. Luke takes the Monte Cristo sandwich off his menu and adds several salads to honor Nicole. It’s an episode of earth-shaking revelations.
“The Big One” is Gilmore Girls’ first engagement with teenagers having sex. We’re some 60 episodes into a show about teenagers that aired on the WB and this is the first time it’s really come up. Sure, Rory fell asleep with Dean once but that’s about it. Unsurprisingly, Rory is not the first to toss her maidenhood to the wind. What I like about Paris’ experience is that it’s pretty routine, she initially treats it pretty routinely (when two people who like each other see each other enough, sex is bound to happen, she says) and the show isn’t really hectoring about it in the slightest.
At the same time, of course, Paris has to suffer the humiliation of not getting into Harvard and having a nervous breakdown onstage, where she announces that she had sex and blames everything on that. Liza Weil is a very, very funny actress and she does a great job with the scene, but it’s maybe a little too broad for this show’s first venture into this subject matter. The worst part, however, is when Lorelai hugs Rory and says “I’ve got the good kid.” It’s a creepy statement and it’s dumb. Who cares if Paris has sex with her boyfriend? Who, frankly, cares if Rory has sex with Jess? They’re young and beautiful, as long as they’re safe about it they should do whatever they want. I understand Lorelai’s hangups about teenager intercourse, it’s just a bit much to take.
Then Rory gets into all the schools. Alright, Rory. I know you had a bad time last week, but jeez, spread a little love around, why don’t you.
The return of Max Medina is somewhat groan-inducing but probably necessary. Everyone is now happy to tell Lorelai that she treated him terribly, which to me is weird. He’s the one who made the huge overture and proposed way before they should have been getting married. She rebuffed him badly, of course, but her rebuffing was rooted in common sense. Still, it makes sense that Max would be shellshocked and his lame assurances that he’s over her are quickly put to pasture with a kiss. We’ll check in with this bullshit later.
Sookie’s pregnancy is undeniably joyful stuff. The way it’s revealed is just lovely—most of the audience probably gets it before Lorelai and Sookie do, but they payoff of them jumping around in the inn is terrific. What’s less terrific is that it’s used for a lame joke where Jackson is immediately freaked out and cautious and obsessed with their coming bills. Jackson’s a sweet bearded friendly soul. He’d be immediately overjoyed by the news. The bit ain’t funny enough to be worth it, even though it’s mostly rescued by the end of the episode.
- Lane and Rory take to the eating side of competitive sports very well. “There’s something deeply satisfying about watching other people exercise while eating junk food.”
- “Good plan. Bay of Pigs, was that yours too?”
- “After all the trouble this sex thing has caused me, I had better have been good.”
- Brad (who really had been in Into The Woods) is full of Broadway stories. “Nathan Lane is a very bitter man.”