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Do the Last Four Words Make Gilmore Girls a Tragedy?

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The foundational story of Gilmore Girls begins with a woman who overcomes adversity. A 16-year-old pregnant runaway who is able to build a life for herself and her daughter. It’s a triumphant beginning. And in many ways Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life exists as a triumphant story as well. While the original focuses on the struggles between mothers and daughters, relationships at its core, A Year in the Life ended up being much more intrapersonal. It’s about internal strife, specifically how the three generations of Gilmore girls successfully deal with change.

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

We had Emily Gilmore who has been hit with an ocean liner of change with Richard’s death. She has no choice but to rush headfirst into change, and after half a century of living one life, shifting to another is harrowing to say the least. But of our three leads, she’s the one who’s most adept at dealing, or at least attempting to deal. Sure, the “Art of Tidying Up” wasn’t the panacea she was looking for, but Emily was actively attempting to embrace change, whether it was by moving TV into the living room or quitting the D.A.R.

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

In contrast, Lorelai was stagnant as change happens all around of her, her feet rooted into the ground as the land around her is bulldozed. And frankly, it’s at least partially by choice. She’s been burned in the past, so she keeps steady, maintaining a comfortable balance with Luke in an attempt at self-preservation, but to the point where they feel stuck, listless. Luke and Lorelai never got married, and they never even broached the topic of having another child in fear of rocking the boat. Luke shares some of the blame, but throughout Gilmore Girls there are suggestions that Lorelai wants more than small-town life with Luke. She’s the one who should be wanting change. Instead, Lorelai’s lost Sookie and is in the process of losing Michel, and never did sell The Dragonfly, or get that consulting job. She has avoided change and it’s backfired.

On the other hand, Rory is actively pursuing change in A Year in the Life, but change isn’t having her. She can’t get anything started. Jobs fall through, stories end up being duds, and interviews are bombed. And when change won’t come, her current holdings wither away, leaving her moving back home with her mother at 32—a major regression—virtually the opposite of positive change. And when times are tough, Rory likes to turn to safe havens from her past. It was Dean when she had difficulty in Yale. And now Rory turns to Logan, another unavailable man from her past, a man that can’t give her a future. Regression again.

But they all triumph over their internal struggle to deal with change. Emily comes to terms with Richard’s death and sheds the pieces of her former life were holding her down. Lorelai figures out how to take the next step in with The Dragonfly and to fix her relationships. Rory is able to find a new career path and find the strength to start relying on herself instead of asking to be saved. These successes match the tonal notes of the original Gilmore Girls beautifully. A Year in the Life is unabashedly victorious.

That is, until those final four words. My gut reaction to Rory’s pregnancy is despair. It feels like a tragedy. This is a woman who has no job, no income, no permanent home. Logan, the presumed father of her child, is engaged to another woman, with no sign of leaving. And a huge part of Rory’s triumph is finally being able to separate from Logan, who she relied on as a sort of security blanket for the better part of a decade. To tie her to him just as she feels free is cruel. The knee jerk distress I felt is so different from what I expected. And I think it has the possibility of rewriting the legacy of Gilmore Girls as a show as something much darker and more complex than is obvious from the original series. Amy Sherman-Palladino stated in interviews that she always had a different path in mind for Rory, and now we can see that this is what she was planning.

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

Photo Credit: Saeed Adyani/Netflix

The ending of “Fall” is so overwhelmingly happy, it’s jarring for the final four words to feels so sad. I can’t fight the feeling that this is terrible news. But the symmetry between Lorelai’s story and Rory’s is undeniable. And that’s the only thought that’s keeping me from completely disparaging the ending of this revival. We see Rory’s pregnancy as a tragedy, just like Richard and Emily saw Lorelai’s. But Lorelai’s tragedy gave birth to the triumph that is Gilmore Girls. And I think that’s how we are supposed to be seeing Rory’s situation. It may feel dire, but it never is. For one, Rory is an adult. She can take care of a child. Although she doesn’t have the most stable of careers, she has a support system. Her life with the child she will have (if only because she would look to Lorelai’s example) is set to be even more likely to succeed than her own life was. And if history repeats itself, this will end up in triumph. As hard as it is to shake the disappointment, it’s clear that we’re supposed to feel that gut punch of pain. But after we digest the pain, the possibility becomes apparent. Is A Year in the Life a tragedy. Yes, kind of. But it’s also not the end of a story. And the end of the story maybe has lovely and triumphant as the beginning. As Lorelai says to Emily, “Full freakin’ circle.”

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is streaming on Netflix now.

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