“Lorelai’s Graduation Day” (season 2, episode 21, originally aired 5/14/2002)
This isn’t actually the best episode of Gilmore Girls. It’s kind of a wacky one, all told, mostly preoccupied with Emily being annoying (she hires a professional filmmaker to shoot her daughter’s graduation from business school at the local community college) and Rory being insane (she cuts school and takes a bus to New York to walk around with a bemused Jess for a few hours). A lot of what’s going on here is almost intentionally light, to lull you into a false sense of security, because there’s a gut-punch coming that works all the better if it’s out of the blue.
Lorelai spends the whole episode complaining that the graduation is not a big deal, and sure, it’s not really. She already has a good job, this is just burnishing her credentials for future endeavors, like opening her own inn. The ceremony itself is pretty low-rent, run by someone who’d rather be anywhere else and populated with people Lorelai barely knows, like the bickering Liza and Zach (Alicia Bergman and a surprise cameo by Seth MacFarlane, of all people). Emily is certainly taking things way too far in trying to document the whole thing with the director of Welcome To Scabland (“it was disgusting, but beautifully shot” she tells Lorelai).
But the moment her daughter gets on stage, wearing a mortarboard, and locks eyes with her parents in the audience is an unforgettable one. I think writer Daniel Palladino clogged the episode full of largely forgettable, silly distraction intentionally—it all melts away instantly when Lorelai’s on the stage and her parents get, at least for a moment, to just be proud of her, and she gets to be proud of herself. It’s a little island of normalcy in their weird relationship, and it’s well-earned after two seasons exploring all those dynamics.
The impact is really just in those few shots: Lorelai triumphantly moving her tassel across her mortarboard, Emily choking up. It lingers for a little while, with Lorelai for once getting to play the proud daughter, taking a picture with her parents and accepting an envelope from Richard, saying, “Thank you, Daddy!” That line maybe hits it on the nose a little too hard, but at that point you’re so emotionally wrecked it doesn’t matter. The achievement that is this episode rests mostly on the shoulders of Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop, who are handed a heck of an opportunity and do just a murderously good job with it.
Now, the moment works partly because Rory isn’t in the room. If she was there, Lorelai’s attention would be diverted, it just wouldn’t have the same punch. So she has to be somewhere else, which is quite a tall order in terms of plausibility. So the show presents it as almost a psychotic break. Rory’s been on her best behavior since the last Jess incident, but she marches out of school and to New York with breathtaking confidence, even though all she knows is that Jess hangs out in Washington Square Park sometimes.
I should complain about how lame Jess’ activities are: reading in Washington Square Park? He couldn’t at least go to Tompkins Square Park? What kind of a punk is he supposed to be? Oh, whatever. What is refreshing about Jess is how relaxed he seems to be in the city. What he’s doing exactly isn’t clear—this may be 10+ years ago, but even then it still wasn’t easy to live there for free, and if Jess has a job, it’s wandering around eating hot dogs and going to record stores. But he’s definitely happier free of Stars Hollow.
His city banter with Rory is very cute—she’s rarely such a fish out of water but she’s in her school uniform just in case you didn’t get it. “Lorelai’s Graduation Day” is just another argument for what an improvement Alexis Bledel and Milo Ventimiglia are in terms of chemistry. Her scenes with Dean are so much more stilted and awkward, which was the point at first, but only at first. Of course, it’s worth nothing that Bledel and Ventimiglia dated in real life for a long time, so I’m sure that helped.
“Lorelai’s Graduation Day” definitely presents one of the biggest acting challenges for Bledel so far, especially in her big monologue to her mother apologizing for not coming to the graduation. She does a good job, maybe not quite at the level of Lauren Graham (who crazily rants like nobody’s business) but she’s just adorable enough to sell it.
“I Can’t Get Started” (season 2, episode 22, originally aired 5/21/2002)
After the soaring heights of “Lorelai’s Graduation Day,” it’s perhaps understandable that “I Can’t Get Started” lands with a bit of a dull thud. It’s a mild bummer of an episode, setting up romantic discombobulation for the third season, especially on Lorelai’s end. Just as she thinks Christopher is in her grasp, free of Sherry and finally the responsible adult he needs to be, there’s a nasty twist—Sherry is pregnant, and he’s gotta go. Aww.
Rory, meanwhile, is satisfied with Dean, having gotten closure with Jess. Right? HA! No, Jess swoops back in, making good with Luke, showing his pretty face at Rory, and she goes right ahead and kisses it. “Don’t say a word!” she barks, before running off. Plus, she’s not even going to see Dean this summer because Paris has hornswoggled her into a Washington D.C. program via student government. Oh, turmoil lies ahead, folks.
There’s just so much melancholy in the air! Sookie and Jackson’s wedding is a nice affair, of course (we don’t actually see the ceremony) but everything else just has an eye on next season, leaving everything dangling with a vague sense of incompleteness. Christopher’s going to settle down with Lorelai…oh, no he won’t. Lorelai’s going to make up with Luke…well, no, not really.
Lorelai’s final scene with Christopher, right before she has to walk down the aisle with her daughter, isn’t quite wrenching, but it’s certainly sad. There’s the added knife-twist that Lorelai just hinted at a bright future to her mother, so that disappointment lurks around the corner. Christopher wisely notes that he blew it last time he knocked someone up, and this time he has to be the responsible dad, which is a nice evolution for his character, but quite a gut-punch for Lorelai.
What’s to look forward to? Well, I’ll be back with season three reviews next week. But back in 2002, that would have been quite a long summer. “I think I'm going to Washington.” “Oh. Okay.” It’s not exactly the kind of cliffhanger that leaves viewers tantalized.
- For its flaws, “I Can’t Get Started” has one of the great all-time Gilmore Girls quotes in “oy with the poodles already!” which is just tremendous.
- The girls for the life of them cannot understand skeet shooting. “When you hit them, does blood come out?”
- Rory’s super-adult conference with her grandparents is adorable. “I had a school thing once. And I wasn’t sure that mom would want to go, so I didn’t invite her. It was my kindergarten salute to vegetables, and I was playing broccoli and I did a tap-dance with a guy playing beets. And the entire number, I was just thinking, ‘Mom’s not here.’”
- Even better? Paris’ monologue about traumatizing a teacher. “I look down in her trashcan and I see there’s a half-eaten banana, nothing else. And I pictured her sitting in this shoebox of an office, eating a banana all by herself, and I almost felt sorry for her. And then she questioned my judgment about Berkeley, so I eviscerated her. I mean, she was welling up at the end, but she had the decency to hold it in until I was gone. I have enough faculty recommendations to run for student council, so I don’t need her anyway. My locker is this way.”
- Michel’s graduation was dignified, “as most French ceremonies are. Poetry was read, a string quartet played, a ballerina performed.” “You drank some Boone’s Farm out of a boat bag and knocked a beach ball around?” “I don’t understand half of what you say.” “That’s why we work.”
- Seth MacFarlane is such an odd cameo. It must be because Daniel Palladino worked on the early seasons of Family Guy.