“Love, Daisies And Troubadours” (season one, episode 21, originally aired 5/10/01)
Gilmore Girls was never a blockbuster show (it was on The WB and all that) but it’s important to remember that as its first season drew to a close, it was still seriously under the radar. It had been airing in a tough Thursday 8pm timeslot, against Friends, Survivor and, uh, Whose Line Is It Anyway? (those were the days, right?) and only really came into its own next year when it got moved to Tuesdays and saw a huge ratings bump.
I mention this just because the season one finale feels like the show trying to make an effort to make some waves. Gilmore Girls is always very watchable, of course, but the drama is usually small-scale and emotional, surprising plot twists are few and far between—things just move at a very human pace, especially in the first season, which is notable for its relative calm compared to later years. So, in the finale, everyone’s romantic situation shakes up a bit. Rachel leaves Luke, saying Lorelai is the problem. Rory fights off Tristan to reunite with Dean—and say she loves him in the process. And Lorelai, just inching back into her relationship with Max, gets a dramatic proposal at the end of the episode.
Rachel’s farewell is unsurprising and the most welcome development, although the way it’s played out feels a little forced. She says Luke is obviously in love with Lorelai, which, sure, despite his protestations, this is a guy carrying a torch. But I like seeing it come out when he bristles interacting with Max, and less with nonsense like him breaking into the house to fix something, or just constantly being away from the diner (he’s the proprietor and he’s always been there for the first half of the season) to loiter around the Gilmores’.
This is nitpicking really. It’s really just that the show didn’t quite know what it had in Scott Patterson until the back nine episodes. Before then he’s just the flirty diner owner save for rare jaunts outside, like when he takes Lorelai to the hospital. After then, he’s evolving into the male lead of the show who’s going to get a certain amount of screentime every episode, and the transition is a little jarring, if welcome. Anyway, his denials to Rachel understandably fall on deaf ears, but I won’t miss her character, who never evolves beyond being a plot device.
Rory and Dean’s reunion is, of course, the most predictable, seeing as the obstacles between them are paper thin. Rory can’t say she loves Dean, but of course she does, at least in a teenage girl admiring her perfect boyfriend kind of way. She had to be prompted into action, taking heart from the town’s dueling troubadours (Grant Lee-Phillips, the official one, and Dave “Gruber” Allen dropping in) and Tristan’s outrageous behavior. Tristan, after a brief chance at something more, is back to being a troublemaker, stirring up fake chaos with Paris by claiming he’s going on a date with Rory and prompting her grand romantic overture to prove to Dean that he has nothing to fear. Tristan is not my favorite character, largely because of how he’s used, and there’s a much-improved thorn in Dean’s side coming round the mountain next year.
What’s really unusual about this episode is Max’s proposal. Mostly because, probably just for timing reasons, we don’t get an appearance by Emily and Richard this week. I do not know for sure if Gilmore Girls knew it was picked up for season two at this point, but I’m going to assume it was, because it’d otherwise be a surprising move to end the first season without some nod to the core conflict that began it, and instead devote fanfare to a plot development that is lovely in the moment, but doomed when you think about it.
Lorelai can’t marry Max Medina, for a whole host of reasons. He’s not a dramatically compelling character at all—the source of all conflict between them is circumstantial, mostly him being Rory’s teacher. When he has nothing to fear, then there’s nothing to see—the brief glimpse of him in happy husband mode at the town meeting confirms what a dead weight he’d be for the show long term. No offense to Scott Cohen, who’s always been a charmer, there’s just no room for him to grow.
Why does he propose? Well, I think of Arrested Development and Michael Bluth’s knowing approval of Alan Tudyk and Ione Skye’s marriage at a young age in “Meat The Veals.” “You gotta lock that down,” Michael says sagely, and that’s what Max is trying to do (not in a creepy way). It’s a plausible move, which is why I’m not completely irritated by it, but it’s just to achieve boring union with Lorelai, who is hard to pin down. He first proposes rashly, trying to end an argument with what he feels is the obvious solution. Lorelai understandably objects, and so at the end of the episode, he tries again, remotely, speaking mellifluously on the phone of his love as Max Medina is so good at doing, and delivering 1,000 yellow daisies to the Independence Inn as Lorelai requested (off the top of her head).
It’s a sweet moment and Lauren Graham completely sells it. She can sell the most implausible things on this show, and Lorelai’s reaction is just perfectly, perfectly pitched. She’s bowled over, to the extent that she can’t really contemplate the reality of his proposal. That comes later, in season two, and boy am I looking forward to it.
Season two (reviews of which begin next week) is really when the show starts cooking with gas. Not that season one isn’t an absolute delight to watch, but there’s definitely a sleepiness to everything that we won’t see again. Nothing’s that fraught, no decision is too critical, and everything’s going to be okay. It’s what makes it such an enduring pleasure.
- Michel announces that he has ennui. “So, you’re sleepy?” “It’s a metaphysical angst.” “You need to go beddy-bye?” “When you make light, it increases my ennui.”
- Rory is perturbed that Dean has moved on and is no longer working Thursdays. “Obviously he’s met one of those Thursday-afternoon girls.”
- Luke defends his fear of Rachel. “Some people are happy being loners.” “Yes. Lonely people,” Lorelai snarks.
- Rory meets (and terrifies) Dean’s little sister Clara for the first time.
- Two great music cues to end the episode: PJ Harvey when Rory kisses Dean, and Yo La Tengo when Rory and Lorelai find each other in the town square (a lovely moment in general).