Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gilmore Girls: The End

I stopped watching the seventh season of Gilmore Girls about two thirds of the way. The awful Lorelai marries Christopher plot was so bad, it pretty much knocked me off the show. The incredibly tight character focus that the Palladinos had over the course of the series was neglected for sensationalistic 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, I got a review copy of the season box, 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 gets the Obama job, 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 reunion 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 tentatively move back together. The scene where he’s sewing together the tarps for Rory’s party in the last episode is really amazing, as is the moment where Lorelai realizes it was Luke who did everything for the party. When they actually kiss, it’s an anticlimax, it’s that moment of recognition between them that’s really powerful. I don’t think the tarp thing makes much sense on a literal level, but as a metaphor, it’s beautiful.

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 their own children. That was a great use of supporting characters for a successful plot line.

However, I still have huge issues with the Lane children storyline, and the way it’s handled doesn’t make things better. Why does she decide not to go on the road with Zach at the end? I suppose on a logical level, it makes sense, but from a character point of view, I want to see her out on the road. Now, the message seems to be, have kids and lose everything else in your life. For a show that prides itself on feminism, that seems like an awful message. The Lane of yore basically dies in this season and is replaced by a Lane who can only be a mother.

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. I hadn’t watched the show since reading Grant Morrison’s Zatanna miniseries, but now I see the characters as almost one. They look exactly alike, as do Rory and Misty, but beyond that, there’s the same issue at the center. Both fear getting older and being alone, but mask it in cynical jokes and smart aleck repartee. In the end of Zatanna, she finds out her father really loved her, and seems to come to terms with things. Here, Lorelai gets that same reassurance, and is able to give something back to them, when she offers to continue the Friday night dinners.

I think reading both works deepens my appreciation of them. Reading Zatanna, I implicitly assigned her much of the Lorelai backstory, and that gave me a deeper understanding than just what’s in the miniseries itself. Grant gives me the opening, and I bring that something else to it. Similarly, the grand struggle of Zatanna makes me understand Lorelai’s problems in a different way. Both are fantastic works, and I don’t think I’d have loved Zatanna in the same way if I hadn’t seen Gilmore Girls.

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 remaining at their core, the same, a family in a diner, enjoying one last meal together before the child leaves the nest. Hey, so maybe it’s the exact same ending as The Sopranos.

This last season still lacks some of the magic that Palladinos brought to the show. The camerawork 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.

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