“Here Comes The Son” (season 3, episode 21, originally aired 5/13/2003)
I think the most telling thing about this Jess spin-off episode is that there isn’t enough material in it to fill a whole episode. Now, in all likelihood, the WB or Amy Sherman-Palladino thought it best to cut between his adventures in California and the goings-on at Stars Hollow, just to keep the viewing audience from being completely bewildered, or bored. And the Jess portions of “Here Comes The Son” are not quite disastrous. There’s some potential there. But the core premise feels inherently flawed, and there’s a sense that plotting would be thin on the ground, even by Gilmore Girls standards.
I’ll deal with the Jess portion first. So, let me pitch you a show. Jess Mariano, already a fish out of water in Stars Hollow, Connecticut, moves across the country to Venice, California, where he’ll be a different kind of fish out of water! He’s got a leather jacket on the beach! He grumbles about hippies eating alfalfa sprouts! This show is ready to convince you that 2003 Venice is just like Woodstock and Burning Man had a baby and barfed it onto the beach. Look, I’ve been to Venice—there’s beach bums wandering around, there’s hot dog stands, but it also feels like Amy Sherman-Palladino is forcing the issue a little bit.
Whatever. The real problem with Windward Circle would have been its main cast, or lack thereof. You’ve got Jess, a very reactive character who specializes in sulking around and making sarcastic comments. You’ve got his dad Jimmy (Rob Estes) who is prone to babbling nonsensically and also to hiding his feelings. These two bounce off each other in a way that gets tiring quickly. It’s like watching two very lazy cats circle each other and then decide not to do anything and lie down instead.
With him is Sasha (Sherilyn Fenn, who would later recur in a similarly awful role in season 6). Sasha has a bunch of cats and stuff! And she’s sure tough. She’ll keep Jimmy in line! I guess? Fenn plays her as a weird mix of laid-back hippie and hard-ass ball-and-chain (with a heart of gold), and neither tone really works. She grates by the end of the episode, which is too bad. The father-son reunion concept, mixed in with the fish out of water stuff, is too thin. But there’s something there. I don’t know if the development process was rushed, or if the studio just tried to smooth things out too much, but it feels like half an idea got lost in production. It’s probably a good thing Windward Circle never went anywhere, but it makes watching this episode a bit of a chore.
The rest of the action mostly centers around Lorelai and Emily beginning their reconciliation. The whole financial snafu means that the Gilmores are going to need help again when it comes to Yale. The status quo will soon resume, but first the air needs to be cleared, and only after a couple scenes with one of the more tiresome comedic characters in the Gilmore Girls universe, the absurd Miss Celine, a thousand-year-old costumer played by Alex Borstein who thinks Rory and Lorelai are the reincarnations of Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood. The meat of the action comes in the finale, though.
“Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” (season 3, episode 22, originally aired 5/20/2003)
I think for some Gilmore Girls fans (although not myself), this marks the end of an era for the show, perhaps its most distinctive era. This is pretty much the last time Rory lives in Stars Hollow with her mom, bouncing between Jess and Dean, her two best-known love interests, having adventures in the town, going to family dinners. The tone of the show never radically shifted, but once she goes to college, it’s undoubtedly a little different. Gilmore Girls was doing okay in its ratings but season four would see a sharp decline that almost got the show canceled. Some fans definitely departed after this point.
That said, “Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” re-establishes the family dinners tradition after some finagling by Rory. Realizing the financial strife her mother is suffering to avoid obligation to her parents (including the potential loss of the Dragonfly Inn), she convinces the grandparents to loan her the money in return for weekly dinner. It doesn’t take much convincing, obviously. There’s a mild détente between Lorelai and Emily, but Lorelai still has feelings she needs to get over, and Emily has control issues she needs to set aside. As Lorelai puts it, “Just once, just once, I want you to get exactly what you want, and me to get exactly what I want, and them to get nothing.” As childish a thought as that might be, all Lorelai is really asking for there is independence. She may never quite have it, but she knows the sacrifice is worthwhile.
Aside from tying up that loose end and beginning the arc of the Dragonfly’s acquisition and construction, “Those Are Strings, Pinocchio” largely serves as a lovely coda to Rory’s time at Chilton and a fond farewell to the status quo Gilmore Girls has enjoyed for the last three years. For any die-hard fan, I imagine it’s hard not to choke up, a struggle Lorelai, Sookie, Luke, the grandparents et al grapple with during her graduation ceremony.
Paris gets to square off one last time with Headmaster Charleston and give Rory a hard time about being valedictorian (a cursed position, she assures her). Brad gets a final flourish, reciting the song “Cherish” by The Association, complete with “bong, bong”s. I will miss Madeline and Louise terribly (although they make one last return appearance in season 4, where they are the same as ever, so I look forward to that). Rory gives the kind of thoughtful speech one might expect, and bids goodbye to a school that once terrified her but doesn’t look so scary anymore. Oh, shut up, there’s just something in my eye.
There’s plenty to look forward to in season four. Luke has a parallel dream to Lorelai’s season-opener, imagining her telling him not to get engaged on his summer trip with Nicole. Yale is on the horizon, posing the first real challenge Rory will face in quite a while that’s disconnected with boys. Dean is lingering around planning his wedding, and Jess is on the other end of the line for a silent phone call where Rory (rightly) harangues him. But they’ll both be out of the opening credits for season four. A brave new world awaits (it also happens to be my favorite season, which most consider absolute blasphemy).
- Lorelai thinks Luke might propose. “A cruise is a good spot to get down on one knee.” “And do my ventriloquist act?”
- Michel regrets his career path. “I should have been a dancer. My mother put me in dance school and I rebelled, I wanted to kick the football. I should not have.”
- Sookie says when he dances, he jumps around like a duck. “You know, I'm getting mighty sick of you.”
- Kirk proposes unleashing a pack of wolves to deal with Stars Hollow's deer problem. “You release a pack of wolves, they eat the deer, problem solved. Of course, then you'll have to deal with your wolf problem.”
- Paris prepares her final speech for Chilton—the pledge of allegiance. “As his parting shot to me, Charleston never responded to the three aspects of the pledge that I had an objection to and considered rewriting. That's not going to stop me from using air quotes.”
- Her final encounter with Charleston is magnificent. “Congratulations, Paris.” “No hard feelings.” “Okay.”