Welcome to our “Binge Watch” coverage of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, where Myles McNutt will be covering the entirety of the Netflix revival over the course of Friday, November 25. Starting on Monday, Gwen Ihnat will be offering some more in-depth reviews of each episode—posting every other day—for those operating at a more moderate pace.
The mythology of the “final four words” is such a bizarre thing, when you think about it. It’s not uncommon for the creator of a show to leave before it concludes its run—Supernatural, for example, has gone on seven seasons after its original creator left to pursue other creative opportunities. But when Eric Kripke left that show, he didn’t give an exit interview where he self-mythologized his own canon for the series, knowing full well that it would likely never come to pass. In her 2006 interview with TV Guide, Amy Sherman-Palladino was gracious to incoming showrunner David S. Rosenthal, telling fans to “Give these new guys a shot. It’s a hard show. I’m sure they’ll be just as dedicated and care just as much about it as we did. It could be the best year ever.” However, she also doubled down on the idea that she had always known the final words of the series, clarifying that there were in fact four words that had been in her head for some time, and forever splitting the narrative: there was going to be the Gilmore Girls ending that came on the CW, and then there was going to be the Gilmore Girls ending locked away in Amy’s brain.
When A Year In The Life was announced, this was for many the big selling point: not only would this revival be more of a show that fans wanted to revisit (and had been rediscovering or discovering for the first time on Netflix), but it would also be a chance to finally see Amy’s ending after all these years. We were going to finally find out the “final four words,” over a decade after we first learned they existed, and after years of speculation. Who would say them? What would they be about? How do you bring such a complicated journey to an end in so few words?
The answer, it appears, is something hundreds if not thousands of people had predicted, to the point that I wondered watching screeners if Amy was punking the press to protect against spoilers (she wasn’t). I attended a live taping of the Gilmore Guys podcast in Austin earlier this fall, and they played a game of “What are the final four words?” with their audience, and by that point in the show’s run they had officially banned any and all guesses related to pregnancy. It had become the cliché, so on-the-nose in its parallels between Rory and Lorelai that it seemed too played out to be true. However, by the time “Fall” comes to a close, and Rory and Lorelai are sitting at the gazebo (where they also started the season), and Rory turns to her mother, it just all flows out.
I yelled at the screen. I was mad that it was something so obvious, and something so deeply unresolvable. This was how Amy always intended on ending this show? These are the final four words? Really? We’re not going to come back after the credits with “Just kidding?” This is what we waited a decade for?
But as I started thinking on it a bit more, I realized something: these may have always been the final four words, but they weren’t always in this context. Obviously, Amy always intended that Rory would end the series pregnant, but what’s less clear is what that pregnancy was supposed to mean. If she had gotten pregnant at 23, or 24, or whatever age she would have been when Amy might have ended Gilmore Girls on her own terms, this would play very differently. Would the baby have had the same father? Would that father have been engaged to be married to another woman? Would there be another potential love interest lurking nearby? Or, put another way: would there have been a version of these “final four words” that felt final, instead of feeling like a cliffhanger for another series to follow?
“Fall” does not feel final. It feels final for Lorelai, I suppose: Lorelai goes on her Wild journey (book, not movie), although she doesn’t make it past the park rangers, eventually finding her epiphany in a clearing behind a coffee shop. It’s striking to see Lorelai in an environment other than Stars Hollow, and one that clearly isn’t on the Warner Bros. backlot, and that landscape feels as transformative as it’s intended to. It’s important that her call is to Emily, and not to Luke, as she tells the story she wishes she had told when Emily prompted her at the reception after Richard’s funeral. Her conversation with Luke is better suited to their kitchen, as he can express his absolute belief in their relationship in ways that Lorelai can see, and laugh at a little as she tries to tell him that she thinks it’s time they get married.
For the most part, A Year In The Life never actually suggests that Luke and Lorelai’s relationship has been in jeopardy: they had just put off making the decisions that would solidify the bond they shared, as if they were afraid that having those conversations would lead to a blowup like they’d had before. It’s why Luke reads Lorelai’s return as an ending instead of a beginning, and why their marriage feels equally anti-climactic and resonant—delaying it until nine years after their reconciliation was a cheap tactic to create tension in the revival, but there’s a deep catharsis in being able to see it happen, and watch as Lorelai, Luke, and Rory travel through the wonderland Kirk created for them in the town square. The intimate affair may have been necessary due to the logistics of the returning cast members—although it makes zero sense that only Michel and Lane would be at the secret late night wedding if Sookie was actually back in town—but it taps into the core of the “will they, won’t they” and provides resolution The CW finale couldn’t have delivered.
“Fall” also offers resolution for Emily, with A Year In The Life gradually giving her the confidence to walk away from the life she’d led with Richard into something new. However, in the spirit of the show, that “something new” isn’t a new boyfriend, with Ray Wise shown the door with haste the second he bails on her before a planned visit to the whaling museum. Instead, Emily takes control of her life, burning down her old world ties—the blaze of glory DAR exit was so satisfying—and spending time with Berta and her family on Nantucket. That shot of Emily picking up the lantern and walking out to watch the water is elegant in a way we expect from Emily, but also simple—she has learned how to live without Richard by following a less extreme version of the decluttering advice she was given earlier in the season. While she’s not purging everything that doesn’t bring her joy in one fell swoop, she has gradually trimmed from her life the things that don’t make her satisfied, She’s spent this year quietly learning how she wants to spend her days, and she landed on terrifying kids in a whaling museum and co-habitating with her maid and her family, and she seems very happy, and that makes me very happy. It’s not that her life has dramatically changed, but rather has been scaled back, as best represented by the newly shrunken portrait of Richard, which Emily kisses goodnight amidst the final montage right before Rory walks her mother down the aisle as Richard would have done.
There is obviously still a future for Lorelai and Luke and Emily. “Fall” gives us a glimpse of this, as Lorelai makes plans to buy the old age home to serve as a second location to keep Michel in Stars Hollow, and Emily gives her the money on the condition that she and Luke spend three weeks a year with her in Nantucket. In an episode very invested in “full circle,” it clearly echoes the Friday Night Dinners, but without any of the resentment: Emily doesn’t really seem like she feels she has to blackmail her daughter to visit her, and Lorelai doesn’t resent Emily for making the request. Their story may not be over, but there’s a sense that this “Act” of their relationship has come to a close, allowing us to fill-in the rest of their lives without feeling like everything could fall apart at any minute.
This is not the case with Rory. Rory’s story has elements of finality to it, especially in her book: right down to Lorelai’s Sean Parker-esque advice to drop the “the” from her title, there’s a meta dimension to Rory documenting her life story, as though the show we just finished watching was the adaptation of the book she’ll finish writing in the future. And until those final four words, it seems like the show is laying out a clear path for us to follow: Rory will finish her book, Jess will publish it, and his longing look into the window will be the happy ending Team Jess always imagined. It’s all there, right up until those final four words, at which point we realize that Rory’s life is anything but certain, and I’m immensely curious to know how it all turns out.
But before we dive into how we could move forward from Rory’s pregnancy, let’s think backwards for a second. As much as the reveal felt a bit cheap to me at first glance, I quickly realized how it dramatically changes a scene we witness earlier in the episode. The episode is designed to make you think that Rory’s call that flusters her is about her pending visit with her father, who is obviously central to the narrative she’s telling in her book. Their meeting reads like her trying to puzzle out the truth of her past, wondering if Christopher regrets having not been there to raise Rory, and if he wishes he would have fought for her. It seems like research for the book, but when you piece together that that phone call was potentially from a doctor’s office, and that Rory could be dropping in on her father afterwards, you realize she is asking him for advice on what to do about having Logan’s baby. She’s trying to figure out if Logan will even want to be involved, or if she should allow him to be involved, or what any of this means. Much as the book is intended to unlock a future career path, her return to her past is also about trying to find the answers for an uncertain future, and that adds depth to the cliffhanger that isn’t necessarily there on first glance.
But even on twelfth glance, it all boils down to this: is Amy Sherman-Palladino interested in continuing Rory’s story, perhaps telling another year in her life? In interviews ahead of the premiere, Amy and Daniel never speak in absolutes, suggesting characters who don’t appear in A Year In The Life could show up “in the future,” and using phrases like “for now, at least” as though the door is open. While Amy had always imagined these words to be the end of this story, does the same hold true in an environment where they can do shortened seasons through an outlet like Netflix? And doesn’t the way the episode plants the seeds of Rory’s situation—in particular that longing look from Jess—suggest that Amy is, at the very least, hedging her bets?
I don’t know what I want to have happen. There’s part of me who feels A Year In The Life is catching lightning in a bottle, dependent on our emotional investment in seeing the show brought back to life, and using our nostalgia in order to bring us back into this world successfully. But if you’re simply “continuing” a revival, that novelty would be gone: are Rory’s baby daddy problems enough to sustain another season on its own, without a similarly compelling narrative for Lorelai or Emily? Would it work without the emotional weight of Richard’s death anchoring the characters’ sense of turmoil and self-discovery? Would another season stretch thin the challenge of bringing back familiar characters when those actors are still going to be busy with other shows and blockbuster movies?
A Year In The Life works. It taps into the emotional core of the show, recaptures its distinctive rhythms, and manages not to overstay its welcome with the quirkiness that could sometimes be a bit too much to handle in large doses. This was a successful revival, one that made me cry, and made me laugh, and generally made me extremely pleased to be able to revisit these characters and this town. But would Another Year In The Life work as well? Is this something that can or should be replicated, turning the final four words into the first four words of another stage in the Gilmore Girls journey? Or are we meant to be satisfied to know that Rory is walking in her mother’s footsteps, making tough decisions about her future as she prepares to be a mother for the first time?
We don’t have those answers, but I imagine we’ll be having this conversation until Amy and Netflix give us a definitive answer.
- Or, Rory could have an abortion? The revival shed its early 2000s WB roots in some ways—Emily’s “bullshit” run embraced the lack of standards and practices—but we didn’t get far enough to learn whether or not Rory would be willing to take that step. Although this TV season has demonstrated how frank and honest TV can be about abortion—see: Jane The Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—I question whether it would come up here if only because it feels like the “full circle” argument tracks better if she actually chooses to become a mother.
- So after all that drama with Melissa McCarthy, she comes back for a lovely little scene, true to the characters and as well-justified by the explanation for her absence as they could manage. It’s absurd to think Sookie would exist only in her kitchen during the wedding, but McCarthy was very charming, and it almost redeemed the awful celebrity chef stuff.
- It makes sense that Dean would be the least served of the boyfriends, given that Padalecki would have likely been the busiest with his other projects during this period—the quick run-in at Doose’s doesn’t offer a lot of substance, but we learn he’s married, has three kids with one on the way, and seems less dumb than the last time we met him. Man, Dean turned dumb, right?
- Glad we finally got some Carole King—sort of sad we don’t have formal credits to go along with it, and that I was too flummoxed over the final four words to sing along, but I’ll take it.
- As I sort of anticipated, we don’t get any resolution on Paris and Doyle, and I’m going to need Amy to justify their divorce for me—yes, they’re both big personalities, and Doyle is going through a crisis, but this just doesn’t track. I needed more story to explain that.
- I may well be the only person who noticed that Emily’s DAR interview was a General Hospital reunion for Carolyn Hennesy (who played the head of the DAR) and Julie Berman (who played the trophy wife), but notice I did. Thanks, Mom.
- Not showing Luke and Lorelai’s “fake wedding” gets them out of having to do a large crowd scene, which means that A Year In The Life was not really able to recapture the closure of seeing the entire town gathered together for Rory’s farewell party in “Bon Voyage,” which still resonates with me.
- I appreciated having some “surprise” cameos in theory, but I actually found them more distracting than the ones I knew. I knew Stacy Oristano (Bunheads, Friday Night Lights) was going to be there, but Jason Ritter being a surprise made me think “It’s Jason Ritter,” and the whole Peter Krause situation was more than a bit distracting given his relationship with Lauren Graham. I’m on “Team Cameos Are Bad,” but maybe y’all feel differently.
- Thanks for joining along for this “binge watch,” and I hope these reviews provided some meaningful points of engagement as you worked your way through the series. As noted, Gwen Ihnat will be taking a somewhat deeper, more reflective—rather than reactive—dive into the episodes starting on Monday, but we can use this space to discuss the revival as a whole in the interim..