I stopped watching the seventh season of Gilmore Girls about two thirds of the way through it. I’d seen, and loved, the previous six seasons, but the departure of the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino robbed the show of its soul. A lot of people had issues with the sixth season, but I loved what she had done with the characters, and was eager to see her finish the story.
Midway through this season, there’s a plot development so bad, it pretty much knocked me off the show. The incredibly tight character focus that the Palladinos had developed over the course of the series was neglected for sensational soap opera plotting. The show had drifted so far from what I liked that I didn’t have any particular desire to see the end.
But then the season came out on DVD, so I figured I might as well finish it up. Watching the final six episodes, I was actually pretty impressed. It was still not near what the Palladinos were doing, but it was competent enough to be a satisfying finale to the series.
The series always had two great strengths, Palladino’s writing and Lauren Graham’s performance. Even though the writing isn’t there, Lauren Graham is still amazing. Lorelai Gilmore is one of the most likable and complex characters in the history of television. A lot of TV characters go through a litany of really awful stuff. Look at Nate on Six Feet Under, he’s a regular guy, but suffers through so much, it’s hard to relate to his troubles on an everyday level. Lorelai’s problems are the sort of things that real people face, and her constant refusal to really engage with those problems is how a lot of real people deal with the stuff they face. With the exception of the amazing drunk confession scene at Lane’s wedding, we generally watch her suffer in silence, claiming to be fine even as she feels increasingly worried about her impending loneliness.
That loneliness is magnified as she starts to realize that Rory will soon be leaving her forever. Even before Rory graduates, you can see her starting to worry about her potentially lonely future. The Christopher arc earlier in the season was a big mistake because it filled plot without allowing for real character development. It was a brash, hard to believe decision, and from the moment it happened, it was clear that it would eventually be undone. Once it’s undone, we can view Lorelai not as part of a romantic unit, but just as herself. The show usually worked best when Lorelai was isolated, her relationships with Max or Digger were low points for the show because her participation in the relationship numbs her individuality.
In the background of the season, we get her gradual move towards reconciliation with Luke, but that’s not the focus, it happens naturally. Luke is the character who comes out of the last season the best. We get a better understanding of his behavior at the end of the sixth season, and can watch him and Lorelai struggle to return to what they were after the schism at the end of last year.
The other storyline that works really well is the bonding between Luke and Zach/Lane. They adopt him as a father figure, and his experience with April gives them a template for dealing with future developments in their storyline. That was a great use of supporting characters for a successful plot line.
However, I still have huge issues with the major Lane storyline of the season, and the way it’s handled doesn’t make things better. Without getting into spoilers, the Lane of yore basically dies in this season, in the service of another sensational, uninteresting plot. On this show in particular, crazy big events don’t have to happen, much of the joy is in just watching the characters.
While I absolutely loved parts of these episodes, the things that always bothered me about the show were still there. The townspeople are almost always just annoying. I think Twin Peaks did the definitive wacky townsfolk, and countless other shows have presented similar one-note, quirky characters. The show always pulled in a number of directions, and the town direction usually didn’t work so well.
The last episodes combine the annoying townspeople with the other thing that really bothers me about the show, and that’s the overly effusive praise of Rory. I think she’s okay in her own storylines, but I hate how the characters of the show constantly praise her. It’s one thing when her grandparents do it, but I’d hope that the townspeople would have better things to do than want to go to Rory’s graduation at Yale, and I certainly don’t think they would be distraught when they find out they can’t get tickets. I suppose it’s not meant to be realistic, but it just bothers me when they do stories talking about how great Rory is.
That’s one of the reasons that the show plays better when watched in bulk than week by week. The bad town stuff just sort of blends into the background, and the stronger stories remain in the fore. I think the show would have been very different, and probably better, if there was less focus on the quirkiness of the town and things were centered more around the three generations of Gilmores. The stories about Richard and Emily almost always work well, particularly the slightly on the nose but still successful trip to North Carolina episode.
But ultimately, it’s Lauren Graham who makes the show so good. She is the center of everything, and is able to skillfully navigate between comedy and drama, frequently using her comedy as mask for the sadness underneath.
The show ends on a slightly predictable, but still satisfying note. This isn’t a Six Feet Under-style perfect ending, or a Sopranos-style controversial statement. It’s just the story resolving itself for now, the characters going on, growing and changing, but keeping the relationships they had.
This last season still lacks some of the magic that the Palladinos brought to the show. The camera work is more conventional, and the characters frequently are subsumed to overarching plot machinations. But the performances are still strong and the show goes out on a good note.Powered by Sidelines