Gilmore Girls: “Run Away, Little Boy”/“The Bracebridge Dinner”
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Gilmore Girls: “Run Away, Little Boy”/“The Bracebridge Dinner”

“Run Away, Little Boy” (season 2, episode 9, originally aired 11/27/01)

Sure, Jess is in the mix now, and we’ll see plenty of him in the next episode, but props to Gilmore Girls for not totally forgetting about Tristan, Dean’s supposed love-rival in season one. He didn’t make for much of a rival, prompting tears of guilt and regret after his one kiss with Rory, but he was played by Chad Michael Murray and he deserved a half-assed sendoff, god dammit! So he gets one here, awkwardly reappearing with two goofy idiots in tow and a new reputation as a bad boy and a prankster.

Gilmore Girls remains so charming with the pranks. This is 2001, but in the Gilmore Girls universe, bad kids don’t just stay out late and drink and do drugs and get girls pregnant and whatever you like. No, they do elaborate tricks that would require hours of work and planning and early rising, like Jess’ business with the chalk outline, or something Tristan did with disassembling and reassembling a car. It’s ridiculous, it’s the least threatening thing in the world, but it’s pretty lovable all the same.

Only Madeline and Louise realize how harmless Tristan’s antics are, mocking him and his gang of bros. “They’re practically dressing the same. It’s very On The Town.” The joke about Madeline and Louise (especially Louise) is that they’re much more worldly than anyone else at Chilton, and I like to imagine they’re off having ridiculous adventures we never hear anything about, mostly because Paris and Rory could care less.

Anyway, within the Gilmore Girls world, Tristan is bad news, and by the end of the episode, he’s being shipped off to military school. In fact, Chad Michael Murray had already started appearing on Dawson’s Creek and would get his own TV show in One Tree Hill a couple years later. I have read that Gilmore Girls was interested in expanding his role and he declined, but I don’t really know to what extent that is true. It’s hard to imagine Tristan as a permanent character on the show—he has the smarm down, but there’s not enough hidden depth, no matter how many times Rory informs us that really he’s very smart.

The main plot of “Run Away, Little Boy” is concerned with Tristan, Rory, Paris, Madeline, Louise, and a nervous lad called Brad (one of my favorite little recurring characters, played by Adam Wylie) being roped together to perform the last act of Romeo & Juliet. Tristan is cast as Romeo, Rory as Juliet, and Paris slips comfortably into the role of director, bracingly refusing to do anything but a traditional Elizabethan adaptation and earning even more of my respect as a result. Yes, I’m mostly interested in Paris’ choice of staging because this episode also revives the Tristan-Dean rivalry.

Hoo boy. That sure is the most boring rivalry on the planet. It consists of Tristan being a cartoon dick, literally dropping dollar bills on Dean’s shoes at Doose’s Market, and Dean making a poopy little face and saying “why I oughta!” as Rory attempts to calm him down. There’s some added tension over whether Tristan will reveal that he kissed Rory, but the show knows that this would be a non-event because Tristan is an outgoing character, so it all just mercifully fizzles out.

There’s also some business with Lorelai mulling a wedding gift for her and Max with no return address, a symbol of the closure she seeks, or something like that. It’s another season one relic that doesn’t really belong in season two, but if you’re gonna have that business somewhere, you might as well lump it into the Tristan episode. I do enjoy Lorelai’s date with Paul (Bryce Johnson, who I remember from Popular) more for Rory and Luke’s put-downs once he comes to the diner in all his youth, and Lorelai and Luke’s subsequent interaction (Luke is disappointed in her for dating such a fool) was an appropriately terse expression of his underlying jealousy.

“The Bracebridge Dinner” (season 2, episode 10, originally aired 12/11/01)

When I first pitched Gilmore Girls for the Christmas episode column a year or so back, I had to pick between the show’s two Christmas episodes, and I went with season one’s “Forgiveness And Stuff” because it’s more of an emotional, heartfelt deal and speaks to a lot of the show’s core themes. But still, “The Bracebridge Dinner” is a hell of a fun time. The show has spent the last two seasons building up the town ensemble, from gossips Miss Patty and Babette to fussbudget Taylor Doose to Luke the grump, the terrifying Mrs. Kim, the contrarian Bootsie, and other assorted weirdoes like Kirk and Rune.

Under some very specific circumstances (the Independence Inn prepares a sumptuous period-piece banquet for a business group that never comes, so they just throw a party for the town instead) everyone gets together at the inn for a warm, delightful meal, complete with costumes, Jackson assuming the role of “the squire of Bracebridge,” and room at the table for Paris, the Gilmores, and even Dean’s little sister Clara (getting an expanded role after her first season cameo).

My favorite thing about the episode is just watching everyone interact with each other. It’s a high-concept episode, but the town actually feels a lot less heightened than usual and more like a bunch of friends hanging out. It’s nice to see Paris behave somewhat normally (this pretty much signals the end of her friction with Rory, I think) and watch Richard and Emily mingle with the Stars Hollow folks without a hint of awkwardness.

There’s a couple twists and turns just to keep this within the bounds of television. Richard, bummed out for weeks by his job, has retired, unbeknownst to anyone, and he reveals it at the dinner table, prompting a brief freak-out from Emily (who relents when she remembers how miserable he was and how happy he can be now). Christopher calls Lorelai asking for a few days of Rory’s winter break, which irks Lorelai even though she knows it shouldn’t. Neither of these developments are given that much room to breathe before they are dealt with, but I liked Lorelai’s dilemma, sympathizing with her selfish desire to hold on to Rory as long as she can even though Christopher’s finally doing the right thing.

“The Bracebridge Dinner” also marks the official beginning of the whole Dean/Jess thing. Really, of the Dean/Jess/Rory love triangle, if we can call it that. First, Jess takes a swing at Dean when Mr. Do-Gooder tries to break up a schoolyard fight (a schoolyard fight? What is this, West Side Story?). Then, Jess steals a ride in a sleigh with Rory and informs her that she has a lame, boring boyfriend who shares none of her tastes. Rory sticks up for him, but a bomb has gone off, for sure. It’s an aggressive move by the largely passive Jess, and his interactions with Rory can barely be called flirty at this point, but hell, it’s something, and he’s speaking truth to power.

Even though it’s obvious stuff, I also liked Luke explaining his surrogate-father genius to Lorelai—he lied to Jess about his mother ignoring him on Christmas, pretending like it was all his idea. Bullshit, Lorelai replies, and she’s right—of course Jess gets it. There’s the depth and sympathy that Tristan could never muster, and it’s relayed without it sounding like a melodramatic sob story. Milo Ventimiglia does that material a lot better than his brooding speech to Lorelai in “Nick & Nora/Sid And Nancy,” and when you watch Rory’s reaction, you realize we’re off to the races.

Stray observations:

  • “I didn’t know there was someone in our family called Bunny.” “No, cross that off the list.” “Poor Bunny.”
  • Lane and Henry's budding romance remains budding, since they have to talk on the phone, and Lane calls him Rory to confuse her mom. “I’ve grown fond of my cage, Rory.”
  • Paris puts a sword on the table to begin rehearsal. “Tell me you didn’t just have that lying around.”
  • Man, I love Brad. He's so scared of Paris. “How are you at speaking in front of a lot of people?” “I tend to throw up.”
  • Lorelai, as Dean, asks if her hair is cool. “Some days I wake up and I’m like, cool. Other days I’m like, could be cooler.”
  • Rory wants “a certain depressed man and his wife” to stay at the inn. “Woody and Soon-Yi?”
  • Sookie is freaking out about the dinner. “This needs something, and I can’t think of what it is. It’s that tart, kind of spicy, white…salt!”

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