The False Gods of Rory Gilmore
***This article may contain spoilers for the show Gilmore Girls.***
Unless you’ve been hiding under the bed since Thanksgiving, you’re probably aware of the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix. The four-episode return of the beloved show about single mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her daughter, Rory (Alexis Bledel), sparked an explosion of reactions on social media. One of the most frequent reactions went something like this: “What the heck happened to Rory?”
In the new episodes, the former golden girl of Stars Hollow, Connecticut—prep school valedictorian, Yale graduate, voracious reader, aspiring journalist—is looking a lot less golden. Drifting from freelance gig to job interview to freelance gig (and somehow botching them all); unable to break up with either her regular boyfriend or her secret on-the-side boyfriend; and somewhat homeless, with all her belongings in boxes stashed at friends’ and relatives’ houses, Rory was a mess.
After nine years, the Gilmore girls are back, and it turns out Rory still hasn’t grown up.In every conversation I’ve heard and participated in about the revival, dismay and disappointment in Rory has come to the forefront. Although the disappointment is legitimate, I would argue that the seeds of Rory’s situation were planted way back in the series’ original run. In other words, we should have seen this coming.
In the original show, Lorelai raised her daughter on her own and tried to ensure she wouldn’t be enslaved by the gods of wealth and luxury that were part of her own parents’ world. But she ended up raising Rory with other gods instead—things that were good in themselves, but were never meant to be worshiped. Like all false gods, they led her astray.
Independence. I’ve written elsewhere that one of the show’s great strengths is its emphasis on the value of community, as demonstrated by the support Lorelai and Rory received from their town and from Lorelai’s parents. But one of its great weaknesses is that they didn’t always understand or appreciate just how crucial that support was. Even while leaning on others, they served the false god of independence—the belief that true strength consists of braving the world all alone, on one’s own terms. It gave them a distorted picture of themselves and their lives. It let them hold others, including love interests, at arm’s length instead of inviting them in. Moreover, it allowed them to use others without admitting they were doing it.
Rory’s love life is the perfect example. She ended season 7 by turning down boyfriend Logan’s proposal, even though she loved him and they had long been living as if they were married. The show’s writers made the case that she had to be free to go wherever her career would take her, that marriage would keep her on the ground when she wanted to fly. Now, after nine years, her career has taken her nowhere in particular, and she acts very much like a person who could use some grounding.
Not everyone needs to get married, of course—as a single woman, I would never argue that—and marriage is hardly the solution to all life’s problems. But the reasons Rory rejected marriage are telling. Contrary to the popular narrative, marriage even at a young age can be good for people; as Karen Swallow Prior has argued, it can work as a “cornerstone” rather than a “capstone.” But shows like Gilmore Girls often obscure this truth when they suggest that marriage is the direct opposite of female empowerment and independence—or, at the very least, that it’s something you do when you’ve exhausted all other options.
Put another way, living in relationship with others—being available for them and letting them be available for you—can bring benefits as well as burdens. But Rory, and the show, were so committed to the version of independence she’d been taught, that she couldn’t see it that way.
Which ultimately led to her still seeing Logan, only illicitly and expensively—she had to keep flying to London to see him, behind the backs of her boyfriend and of his fiancée. There were still strong feelings on both sides, and she still kept instinctively calling him for emotional support, until her friend Lane finally had to take her phone away.
And at the end, in the show’s now-famous final words, Rory announced she was pregnant, presumably with Logan’s baby. But hey, at least she wasn’t tied down by marriage! The god of independence still reigned—and appeared to be condemning her child to the same fatherlessness that Rory herself had known.
The Future. This second god works in tandem with the first. We got a hint of how it operates way back in season 1, when Lorelai claimed that she and Rory’s father, by not getting married young, got to keep their bright futures. The way she described it, then and afterward, made it sound as if the future were some perfect, shining idol that must be appeased and served at all costs. Even things that might look like good and reasonable options in the present must be sacrificed to it.
This god of the future was glorified for Rory all her life. She was told again and again that the perfect future was all but guaranteed her, that her intelligence and talent meant there was no limit to how far she could go. That idol was just waiting to fold her in its embrace.
But that vision of the future paralyzed her. Watching her flub interviews, turn down good job offers, and fail to deliver promised articles was both comical and painful. She actually turned up at one interview without a single idea to offer about what she’d like to do at the company, so convinced was she that (1) the job was hers for the taking and (2) it was beneath her anyway.
Rory was so committed to that perfect imaginary future, so convinced she deserved it, that she forgot to live in the present. And she ended up sabotaging nearly every opportunity she got.
Self. Just why didn’t Rory have any ideas to offer at that job interview, anyway? What kind of writer doesn’t have ideas? This was once a girl passionate about ideas and committed to all kinds of causes. But somewhere along the way she lost the drive to make a difference in the world.
This is no coincidence—it results from the worship of the final false god, the god of self. Told her whole life by a doting mother, grandparents, and neighbors that she was a sweet, adorable, brilliant girl who could do anything, Rory unfortunately took that message far too seriously. Instead of being someone working for a reason or a cause or a goal, she became someone whose goal was her own self-fulfillment—who believed, as my pastor puts it, that “personal happiness is the goal, even the duty, of every person.” No job or relationship was going to work for her unless its first and foremost function was to bring her that happiness.
It was no coincidence, either, that the big idea she latched onto as her salvation was a memoir. That sound you heard when Rory decided to write that book? That was the sound of writers all over the world groaning. Anyone who thinks that contributing yet another memoir to the already oversaturated market is the answer to life’s difficulties has not been paying attention.
(And it wasn’t even her own idea. It was given to her by ex-boyfriend Jess, who has always popped up at every crisis in her life to tell her what she should do. Again, this is independence?)
But if the god of self must be worshiped and served above all others, then it makes sense that a book about oneself would be the ultimate goal. And dropping everything else, including efforts to find a steady job, to focus on that book, signified that Rory still hadn’t learned a thing.
As a show, Gilmore Girls always had many strengths: fun and interesting characters, witty dialogue, and a lot of heart. But in these last four episodes, the weaknesses that had always been there, beneath the surface, became impossible to ignore. And none were more glaring than the once-golden girl, left with the false promises and broken dreams that come from following the wrong gods.
Amy Sherman Pallidino is elitist.
And she’s 35 in real life. Sorry doesn’t pass the reality test
Excellent insights into a obviously troubled character who faults, for better or worse, were covered up by the very people who meant to enabled and protect her.
It’s always interesting to see the mental underpinnings of an Author’s work and their motivations, by viewing the Tags in the form of a secondary closing statement.
…except for the fact that the author didn’t choose the tags. The editor did.
Excellent analysis. Thank you!
The show—and I’ve seen every episode—reminded me of Mary Kassian’s categories of Feminist thought: naming self, naming world, naming God. It permeated every episode, every relationship, and you captured that well.
I remember seeing a breathless EW article reviewing the new pilot and ending with, “We need more of Gilmore Girls, right now.” And i remember thinking to myself, WHY??!! Why do we need to see more of this? Why can’t we have some positive, grounded role models showing how success and maturity are actually achieved? Is that just not entertaining enough?
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