Throughout the course of the original Gilmore Girls series, Lorelai Gilmore had one parenting goal: to give her a kid a better life than her own. Lorelai gave Rory a loving and supportive home, free from the criticism she received as a child. Then, when necessary, she allowed said critical family members back into her life to pay for Rory’s education despite her reservations. She did everything in power to make sure that Rory wouldn’t ever end up in her situation: pregnant, scared, and alone.
Yet where do we find Rory at the end of her journey? Dumped by her forgettable but decent boyfriend, jobless and living at home at thirty-two, and pregnant with an engaged man’s baby. Her (fairly realistic) goal of being a successful professional journalist seem further away than ever. It’s a bleak ending, especially contrasted to the peace that Lorelai and Emily have found by the end of the four episodes, and it sends viewers Rory’s age a strong message: don’t get your hopes up.
If it was just Rory who ended up following her mom’s footsteps into deep trouble, though, I might have been able to look past it. After all, she’s not without blame – she chose to cheat on Paul with Logan, a decision that had many of us yelling at our TV screens. And there has long been speculation that Rory will repeat Lorelai’s patterns, Jess standing in for Luke and Logan for Christopher. But it’s not just she who gets stuck in trap of turning into her parents, losing out on her dreams – it’s every single member of the show’s younger generation.
Lane is perhaps the most obvious example, given that her ending in the original series was already disappointing. After minding the children while her husband toured the country, I was hoping to see that she was now pursuing her dreams of being a rock star. She isn’t, unless playing smooth jazz at Stars Hollow’s speakeasy counts. Instead, she’s working with her parents and raising the kids she gave birth to before even getting a chance to go to college. The parallels between her and Mrs. Kim are particularly clear in the scene where we see her minding the Korean barbecue booth at the town food fair while her mom leads her own version of a rock band, the new church choir – once upon a time, this scene would have been reversed.
Paris has been more successful, at least having fulfilled her dream of being a doctor. But when we finished the series, she was also happily coupled with Doyle, having finally found someone whose weirdness jived with her own. Now, she’s putting her kids through a bitter divorce, fighting with Doyle in front of them like her own parents did. Plus, she’s leaving them with another Spanish-speaking maid like the one who raised her rather than spending time with them.
Logan had originally wanted to escape his father’s grasp and carve out a life of his own. Instead, he appears to have moved to London to take on the family business with Mitchum, who apparently shows up at his dinner dates without invitation. That’s all before even mentioning the whole cheating-on-his-fiancée thing. And then there’s Jess, who, while avoiding turning into his cult-joining mother, has emulated Luke instead. He’s done well for himself business-wise, building something from nothing just like his uncle, but he’s still glowering in other people’s living room windows, pining after a Gilmore girl.
Weirdly, the only exception to the rule of unhappiness is Dean – he has still ended up just like his parents, but unlike the others, it’s actually what he wanted. He has fully regressed into his 1950s fantasies, complete with a housewife who probably dresses up like Donna Reed and 3.5 kids. The writers shipped him off to Scranton, Pennsylvania, presumably to work at Dunder-Mifflin, or something equally ridiculous.
The real question I have about this collection of tragic children who all started off pretty darn privileged and still managed to fail is why? What has changed since the original series to make their lives go downhill? When we last left Rory, she was off to follow Obama’s campaign (a fact that becomes even more inspiring if you watched the show after he became president, as I did), her dreams well on the way to being realized. She was alone, but on good terms with her exes, with all of whom she had had happy, fulfilling relationships (for the most part).
The return of the Sherman-Palladinos to the writing room partly explains this switch; they didn’t determine the endings of the original series, after all. But it’s more likely due to the general changing climate of life for twenty-and-thirtysomethings. It was only a year after the show ended that the country fell into the worst recession since the 1930s. We still haven’t totally bounced back yet, and neither has Stars Hollow, as is shown by Taylor Doose’s desperate campaign to draw A-list celebrities from the hotels of neighboring towns.
This job crisis gets satirized in the revival in the form of the thirty-something group, the gaggle of kids who have had to move back in with their parents and befriend each other to stay sane. Their main purpose is to reflect Rory’s career issues, as we see their parents trading resume tips between each other at the diner.
But there’s more to Rory’s unhappiness than just her journalism woes and her disastrous love life, and thus more to this problem than economics. The revival has a deeper sense of emptiness that permeates every comment on contemporary culture. It is most evident in the scenes where Rory is interviewing The People Of The Lines, who tell her how they spend their whole lives chasing the next, new thing. Rory seems incredible dissatisfied by them, which makes sense given her history – her past relationships have been substantial, even in high school. Her relationship with Jess, in particular – sorry, I had to get partisan at some point – was one of kindred spirits. Beyond that, she was always working towards something more, always striving to be better. But now, we’re shown a world of precarity, where everything and everyone is shallow, and nothing lasts, nothing is guaranteed. And we’re shown a Rory who is utterly lost.
The original ending to the series suggested hope, for Rory, and more generally for her generation. I, and I’d bet many others, expected the same type of uplifting ending from the revival. Now, it feels like we’ve had the rug pulled out from under us, much as I’d imagine many other millennials do every day. Our world has changed since 2007, and Gilmore Girls has changed with it, and not for the better. Which then begs the question: if Rory Gilmore, Yale graduate and trust-fund kid, who is smart, beautiful, kind, and – I still believe, even after the revival – a good person, cannot succeed in today’s world, than who can?