“Rory’s Dance” (season one, episode nine; originally aired 12/20/2000)
Oh man. This pair of episodes is probably the most crucial to Gilmore Girls thus far. They’re almost entirely focused on family dynamics and have moments of wrenching drama rooted in somewhat surprising plot twists but mostly in these characters, and boy do you feel it. The twist of “Rory’s Dance” is that nothing really happens. There’s really only four main characters in it: Lorelai, Rory, Emily and Dean (Sookie and Lane make very brief appearances) and it’s the fullest, most understandable exploration of Lorelai and Emily’s fears about Rory dating and what it says about their own relationship.
Again, the plot is very simple. Rory goes to a Chilton dance, a formal affair, with Dean. She wears a nice dress that her mother makes (Emily initially refuses to believe it isn’t store-bought), she has an altercation with Paris and Dean has a more macho one with Tristan, but generally she has a very pleasant time with her brand new boyfriend (it’s all made official in this episode if that wasn’t clear already). I find Dean a little insufferable (“I’m not much of a joiner” is his initial excuse for not wanting to take Rory to the dance) but he’s basically continuing his role as a lovely, non-threatening but non-wussy boyfriend for Rory to have. There’s nothing in him for Lorelai to fear except that he’s a nice boy her daughter likes. There’s the slightest tinge of bad boy, but my god, the very slightest.
At the same time, Lorelai is paralyzed with a back spasm and thus cannot resist her mother’s offer to stay in the house after Rory is taken to her dance. So, when Rory doesn’t come home that night, they wake up in a terrified panic and start throwing every horrible insult and irrational thought at each other, and you really have nothing but sympathy for both of them. Emily is reliving every nightmare night she had when Lorelai was young, and Lorelai is fearing that despite all the differences in her parental style, the Gilmores are just genetically cursed to be wild and stupid.
Of course, Rory is neither of those things; this show isn’t dramatic enough for that, and it wouldn’t really make sense. She falls contentedly asleep with Dean at her side in Miss Patty’s studio, a perfect end to a successful night except that it means next morning they’re woken up by an army of Stars Hollow biddies and Rory is greeted at home by an understandably crazed Lorelai.
God, what I love about this episode is that you see every side of every fight, the big ones and the little ones. Rory is mad that Lorelai is exacting her mommy issues on her again, Lorelai can’t stand that her daughter let her down in front of her mom but also just in front of her, Emily is having every terrible fear confirmed. When Lorelai spitefully tells Rory, “you are going on the pill,” you wince, but not because it’s a hacky line in a fight that feels staged. You get where she’s coming from even if, at the same time, you think Rory’s a young woman who should be able to spend the night with her nice boyfriend without fear of terrible recrimination. I’m sure I’d have some of the same insecurities and anxieties as Lorelai though.
What makes everything hurt that much more is that Emily and Lorelai are doing so well before dumb ol’ Rory screws everything up. Emily gets to mother the incapacitated Lorelai for the first time in decades; they have an especially sweet moment around a dish of mashed bananas on toast, which Emily remembers as a childhood favorite but both eventually agree is utterly disgusting. Even the first time you see this episode, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it’s beautiful to see these two calm down.
Not that it isn’t just as compelling to watch them heat up. This episode is a real confirmation of Lauren Graham and Kelly Bishop’s talents as comedic and dramatic actresses in a show that demands very much from both columns. Their interplay for most of the episode is hilarious, and then when it switches to nasty arguing, they handle the transition with aplomb. Bishop doesn’t overplay her reaction even when Lorelai is throwing truly terrible shit at her about feeling “strangled” during her childhood; that Emily Gilmore forcefield is always going to be there, at least a little bit.
“Forgiveness And Stuff” (season 1, episode 10; originally aired 12/21/2000)
So these two episodes aired within a day of each other, huh? Weird WB scheduling, I guess. This is the real Gilmore Girls Christmas episode, the only one it ever did (“The Bracebridge Dinner” is kind of one, but only kind of) and I already wrote about it here for our TV Club Advent Calendar in 2011. Hell, the success of that article is why you’re finally getting Gilmore Girls recaps.
So I don’t have a lot more to say about this episode except that it again, takes a TV-dramatic situation (Richard in the hospital, everyone running around like headless chickens) and makes it feel very authentic because it’s rooted in authentic characters. There’s lots of lovely moments, but nothing tops Lorelai’s silent encounter with her father near the end of the episode. That look she gives him is worth a thousand words—they both know they love each other and they have absolutely no idea how to express it.
This is also the first episode to really display Lorelai and Luke’s chemistry for a sustained period of time. Mostly Luke is just a solid dude in this episode, immediately stepping up to the plate when Lorelai’s in trouble and driving her to the hospital, staying there past when he’s needed even though he hates the place, just a gallant man all around, earning his iconic blue baseball cap at the end of everything. Their Santa burger moment is the most fun in the episode, but there’s tons of bits that really lay the groundwork for him as a romantic option (something Emily picks up on first, as she demonstrates once again).
But read my old piece for more on that, and on how Gilmore Girls has so much to say about the awkwardness/loveliness of family dynamics. If you want more on that, also, just keep reading these reviews. That well is never going to run dry.
- Lorelai claims she read her Chilton newsletter. “What was the picture on the front?” “A really rich kid wearing plaid.”
- Lane and Rory discuss whether Dean is her boyfriend yet. “He’s my…gentleman caller.” “Okay, Blanche.”
- Emily insists on staying to help an injured Lorelai. “What if you have to go to the bathroom?” “I don’t go anymore, I gave it up cold turkey!”
- Emily is horrified by Lorelai’s “semi-pornographic,” “slightly sinister” monkey lamp. “Oh my God, they’re holding coconuts and leering!”
- Dean and Tristan’s fight is hilariously pathetic even from Dean’s side (Tristan is undoubtedly lamer). Dean is very anti-suit, that’s for sure. “I’ll kill you, you idiot!”