Thursday, March 02, 2006

Gilmore Girls - Brideshead Revisited (6x16)

This week's episode of Gilmore Girls was the last until April, at which point they'll presumably build things up to the season finale. Last season was the show's best, and the opening of this year was carrying a lot of the tension over from that year, however I think there were two big mistakes made in the middle of the season.

One was the ease with which Lorelai and Rory reconciled. It felt like they all of a sudden felt that storyline wasn't working, and as a result got them back together way too quick. I don't think they would have ever been in conflict for so long, but if it was going to be played that way, the resolution was much too quick. I think part of what made it not work was the subplot in that episode, in which Rory pesters the editor of the newspaper she used to work for, annoying him for an entire day, until ultimately he offers a job. It just made no sense, particularly in light of the fact that considering Rory is now editor of the Yale Daily News, she wouldn't have time to work for another newspaper anyway.

I think one of the problems the show has is the fact that the creators clearly really love the characters, a bit too much. I don't know much about Amy Sherman Palladino, but it seems like she's split her personality into these two people, and as a result, is reluctant to really play on their flaws in the way that Joss Whedon or Alan Ball do to their characters. This means that the Rory/Lorelai relationship is completely smoothed over, with no lingering consequences of her actions. This is true to character as written for most of the series, but at the same time, from a narrative point of view, it's difficult to take.

And this love of the characters can be bothersome in scenes like the one in this most recent episode where Rory speaks on an editors panel. The scene serves the purpose of bonding Lorelai and Christopher, but it's primarily about showing off how smart Rory is, and I'm not really interested in seeing a character presented like this. There's no sense that she earned her place there, it's something that she inherently has, and this means that we get no satisfaction out of seeing her succeed. Read on a metatextual level, the scene is just Palladino marvelling at how smart her creation is.

In fact, the whole second half of the season seems to be concerned with elevating Rory and Lorelai, generally by dejecting the other characters. This was present in the business with Logan here, the guy who last episode was the perfect boyfriend is now dumped. I like the way the show presents the situation with him and Rory as open enough that you can sympathize with both of them. On the one hand, Logan was obviously at fault for sleeping with these women when he was trying to get Rory back, but at the same time, Rory knew what kind of guy he was, so she shouldn't have been shocked. And also, if she thought they were still together, maybe she should have reached out to Logan, rather than just waiting for him to come to her. The whole storyline seems weird because Rory is the one who was reluctant to get back into a relationship with him, which implies that they were actually broken up, not on a break. Of course, she believes that Logan broke up with her indirectly through Honor. It's such a convoluted situation, it's tough for her to take such a strong moral high ground.

Over with Lorelai, there's similar conflict between her and Luke. The first chunk of the season presents Luke as this flawless guy, fixing her house, agreeing to put off the wedding, putting up with all her problems with Rory, and then in the more recent episodes, Luke seems to be getting turned into a rather dislikable guy. Despite actually being together, there's less affection between Lorelai and Luke in this season than in any other.

And the big reason for this is Luke's daughter. I'm surprised they would come up with this plot because it seems to be right out of the book of stock plots to mix up a long running show, and it usually doesn't go well. The biggest issue I have with the April storyline is that it seems to exist solely becuase the Palladinos feel like just having Lorelai and Luke together won't be interesting. It's conventional wisdom that when your long flirting couple finally gets together, all the tension is gone, but good writers can avoid this. While Spike's pursuit of Buffy is some of my favorite stuff on the show, the twisted relationship they finallly have is infinitely more interesting. Similarly, Nate and Brenda are much more interesting when they're actually together than during their awkward courting period in season four.

Of course, citing examples from two of the best shows of all time doesn't really prove anything, and these are two relationships that are rather unhappy, even though there's real love there. And, unless Lorelai befriends a prostitute, I really don't see their relationship going down the dark path, nor do I necessarily want it to. Lorelai and Luke are more of a David and Keith type couple, where you really do want to see them succeed.

I think you can do interesting stories about Luke and Lorelai learning to function together without going the extreme dark route, and without creating these artificial barriers to separate them, and that's what April feels like, a completely artificial barrier. She literally comes out of nowhere. April seems designed to give Lorelai the upperhand over Luke in their relationship. He put up with a lot from her over the beginning of the season, and it made Luke look like a perfect, flawless guy. So, this business brings him down, while at the same time making Lorelai more sympathetic, through her suffering.

It's frustrating that neither Luke or Lorelai will talk about the April issue. They've become so distanced, something that was particularly notable in last week's episode about the trip to Martha's Vineyard. They could clear up most of the issues if they just talked things over, if Lorelai told Luke that she wants to get to know April, or if Luke realized that he needs to share this part of his life with her.

A recent episode that I did really like was the Friday Night dinner confrontation. It was shot and paced completely differently from anything else that's ever been done on the show, and it was fun to see all the issues that had been brewing for most of the season come to the surface. The stuff that's been going on with the elder Gilmores has been really interesting this year, particularly the feelings of resentment that Emily has about being rejected by Rory, reliving her failings with Lorelai.

A storyline I really liked in this new episode was Zach's attempt to get the band back together and subsequent proposal to Lane. In some respects, Lane's whole storyline feels like a different show, since none of the characters ever cross over with Lorelai and Rory. At this point, Rory and Lane don't even feel like friends, let alone best friends. But, I'm a big fan of what's happening with her. The whole band storyline is really interesting, and Zach's breakdown a few episodes back was frustrating. One thing I loved in this most recent episode was the return of Zach's tambourine buddy, and the use of Lane's extreme happiness at her relationship as a contrast to Lorelai, Rory and Paris's troubles was well done. I'd like to see them get married and reform the band.

So, looking to the future, there seems to be a triangle between Lorelai, Luke and Christopher. I'm not sure if this Gigi storyline was a one off, or laying the ground work for a storyline in which Lorelai takes a larger hand in caring for Gigi as a way of showing up Luke's commitment to April. This would draw her closer to Christopher, and could set off jealousy in Luke that would drive Lorelai to Christopher. I think one of the most important things to do as a writer of serial fiction is to consider the plots you keep coming back to, and turn them into character flaws. So, rather than Christopher messing up a potential Lorelai marriage being a retread of what happened in season one, it could be examined more a character flaw, that she's continually drawn to Christopher at the worst times, and then this would lead to the question of whether or not she actually should be with Christopher.

I think the most critical thing for the show to do is to bring the issues with Luke and Lorelai to the fore, and either have them recommit to each other or break off, becuase right now they're trapped in a stasis that is holding both characters back from moving on.

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