“They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” (season 3, episode 7, originally aired 11/12/2002)
It’s crucial, in retrospect, that Dean is the one who has to break up with Rory, even though that’s all she’s after. Exactly how long she’s been sick of him is up for debate—and it’s not even a malicious thing, or something she’s totally conscious of. It’s easy to rationalize any kind of apathy about your relationship as a temporary problem that will be overcome by all the things you have in common and that you’ve done together. On previous watches of Gilmore Girls, I thought the breakup with Dean was so stretched out, to the detriment of Rory’s character. Now I think it has to be that way.
Does it have to occur during hour 23 of a 24-hour dance marathon, in front of the town, with Rory barely conscious and trying to keep on her feet to win her mother a big trophy? Maybe Dean could have picked a quieter moment. But it makes for great television, and this is undoubtedly one of Gilmore Girls’ best, most memorable episodes, blending small-town insanity with personal romantic drama perfectly. The ridiculous, over-the-top Lynchian spectacle of the dance marathon, which features a swing band, everyone in period costumes, and a sleepy Taylor at one point shouting “Guards! Guards!” should drown everything else out. But somehow Amy Sherman-Palladino (who wrote this one) manages to keep everything balanced.
There’s a lot of setup for the marathon—Lorelai’s rivalry with Kirk is explained, she finds a dance partner but then he pulls out because of his wife’s objections, etc. It’s all just pleasant preamble to the event itself, a chaotic spectacular that’s fantastically staged by Kenny Ortega (the Newsies/High School Musical director who helmed twelve episodes of the show, this being his first). Smartly, not much time is spent on the actual dancing. We’re told everyone has to stay on the floor, moving around, for 24 hours, although they take breaks and have a yellow card for emergencies.
The Dean/Jess/Rory cataclysm isn’t even at the crux of things—that throwdown comes quickly and surprisingly near the end of the episode without much buildup. No, for most of the hour Lorelai has to fend off lesser problems, like Jackson’s desire to put four babies inside Sookie within four years and his subsequent outrage at Lorelai calling that crazy. Luke’s floating around being a coffee-dispensing curmudgeon, but then makes it clear to Lorelai that he’s not so afraid of children, because we were due a touching Lorelai/Luke conversation.
We also get lovely romantic developments in for two of our best side-characters. Paris is visited by Jamie at Chilton, who can’t get her out of his head, to her utter surprise, mellowing Paris out to levels previously thought unthinkable by her teachers and friends. Even better, Lane’s courtship with Dave kinda-sorta-officially begins, as he adopts a do-gooder Christian persona to impress Mrs. Kim, all of his own volition. It’s always hilarious to me that Adam Brody was cast in such a role because he oozes Jewishness, but he’s got spirit, and Mrs. Kim likes it. Gilmore Girls is never a show with much interest in complicating the love lives of its supporting cast. Jackson, Paris, and Lane are all in good hands.
But what of Rory? There’s been plenty of hinting this season that she’s still totally hung up on Jess, whether she likes it or not. She’s hostile to his new girlfriend Shane, she’s pretty bored by Dean (he is, after all, pretty boring), she’s generally a little apathetic. But after the car crash in season two and Rory’s apology, Dean accepted her back willingly and gave the impression that was the end of it. Even though Rory can’t totally hide her indifference, it’s almost believable just because Dean is not the most complicated person.
So it’s a bit of a surprise when he suddenly abandons her on the dance floor. Rory’s excessive ranting about Jess and Shane (who sit and watch the marathon in silence, Jess’ most extreme act of emotional agit-prop) is enough evidence for Dean to proclaim the whole experiment over. Staging the breakup at the dance marathon is very on the nose—Rory is suddenly, literally, without a leg to stand on. She has been leaning on Dean, relying on him, using him as an easy support without giving much in return. When he departs, everything collapses around her.
So it’s an obvious metaphor. It’s still splendid television. After all the fun goofy absurdity of the episode, Lorelai returns (she was fixing a broken heel) to find Rory crying on the dance floor (it’s a memorable image, later included in the opening credits). As she and the audience begin to collect themselves from all the drama, the Rocky theme sounds over the auditorium speakers and Kirk, holding his “shiny temple of silver importance” aloft, begins his victory lap. It’d be utterly tragic if it weren’t so hilarious. It’s a moment that crystalizes how perfect, beguiling, and deft a show Gilmore Girls can be. I applaud with glee every time I see it.
“Let The Games Begin” (season 3, episode 8, originally aired 11/19/2002)
Soooooooo what next? After such a spectacular episode, how can Gilmore Girls possibly come down to earth? Are Rory and Jess just going to be in a relationship now? Will we have an episode where he comes over, eats pizza, and watches movies with Lorelai and Rory? Seems unlikely, right? Even Luke, who is at first thrilled to hear the news (thinking Rory can reform Jess) admits later on that he’s as terrified as everyone else. “What is she, a miracle worker? Come on, Lorelai. Wake up! The guy is trouble!” he yelps.
Rory and Jess get off to a slow start—a couple abortive attempts at making out finally culminate in some on-the-street necking (which already has a little more raunch to it than anything Dean and Rory ever got up to) before Rory, good girl that she is, visits Dean’s bedroom (via a tree) to deliver a formal apology for being a junky girlfriend. It’s a necessary moment given the angry cloud Dean exited under last week, but it’s hardly scintillating stuff.
The main plot in “Let The Games Begin” follows a classic Gilmore Girls story arc that at this point is getting a little old—Lorelai and Rory do something with Richard and Emily, they get closer and understand each other better, then someone does something stupid and they’re all kind of upset by the end of it. This arc doesn’t always involve all four family members—in fact, that’s pretty rare. But otherwise it’s well-worn territory.
Richard invites Rory up to Yale just to have a look around at his alma mater, and even a suspicious Lorelai is charmed by parents’ tales of early courtship on the quad. There’s a nice little mother-daughter bonding moment where Lorelai fixes Emily’s button. Then Richard messes it all up by springing a surprise interview on Rory. She nails it (of course), but Lorelai sees it all as an evil scheme to suck Rory to the dark side, and Rory is mad she had no time to prepare. Richard is a buffoon here, but Lorelai is also infuriating in her childish obsession with having her kid go to Harvard as if it’s really that different from her going to Yale, which represents everything she dislikes about her upbringing.
More on all that later. “Let The Games Begin” is mostly a pleasant diversion, a nice relaxing comedown after the madness of “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” But it’s hardly a super-memorable episode given what has just passed.
- Luke dismisses Taylor’s concept of giving dancers free coffee. “You would kick Tiny Tim’s crutch out from under him, wouldn’t you?” “If he asked for a free cup of coffee, Gimpy’s going down.”
- Paris is shocked to see Jamie return. “I already wrote his name in my revenge notebook.”
- Rory asks Paris if she can skip a Saturday Franklin session for a big event in town. “Pig race?” “Dance marathon.” “I was close.”
- Lorelai describes early-morning Stars Hollow to her daughter. “There’s nothing to see. Kirk’s in a speedo, Taylor’s in a skirt. Al’s in assless chaps.”
- Taylor’s sleepy muttering about life as a magician is one of his finest moments in this show’s history.
- A little creepy how Jess says he’ll “take care” of the Shane situation when Rory says she likes him.
- Rory tells Dean she’s scared of his mom and sister post-breakup. “Too bad, Rory, somebody doesn’t like you for once.” YA BURNT