Once of the great enduring strengths of the Gilmore Girls is the way in which it beautifully balanced the quirky joys of small town life, and specifically the BFF bubble within that inhabited by Lorelai and Rory (Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel respectively) with the reality that life is not always easy, straightforward or enjoyable as we would like it to be.
While it’s all too easy for the show’s detractors to dismiss it as froth and bubblegum, it had a dramatic backbone of steel, all too aware that even in the most charmed of circumstances that fractured family relationships, unrequited or disappointing love and major transitions could stick their often unwelcome nose in and make their unpalatable presence felt.
A perfect example of the ability of Gilmore Girls to balance this yin and yang of life is found in “Those Are Strings, Pinnochio”, a line uttered by Lorelai after Rory admits to her that the twosome’s financial ties to Lorelai’s invasive parents Emily and Richard (Emily Bishop and Edward Herrmann) will not end with Rory’s graduation from Chilton.
Faced with redundancy following the first at the Independence Inn, an establishment that functioned as both employer and an early home, Lorelai realises that her plans to buy the home that would become the Dragonfly Inn, in partnership with Sookie (Melissa McCarthy) , simply can’t happen if she hopes to pay for Rory’s Harvard education.
It pains her to do that, of course, since opening her own inn is a lifelong dream and not one easily put aside, but Rory always comes first and so the money she borrowed from her father to get the inn off the ground must be re-purposed so that Rory can become the journalist she has always dreamed of being.
It’s both an easy and agonisingly-hard decision to make, but there’s no question that Lorelai will do what’s best for her daughter and defer her dreams till the odds are more favourable.
Rory, naturally enough, being every bit as headstrong as her mother, is having none of this and secretly goes to Richard and Emily to stitch up a deal to get the money to go to Harvard in exchange for the reattachment of the strings Lorelai thought snipped with her daughter’s graduation from Chilton.
The strings in this case are the good old Friday night dinners, in and of themselves not a horrible burden on the surface but are representative of the way in which Lorelai’s parents, and particularly her mother, have always attempted to exert more than their fair share of control.
Rory accepts the re-imposition of the dinners as a reasonable price for both Gilmore Girls to have their dreams fulfilled at the same time and offers herself up as the sole attendee which Richard and Emily, to her face at least, agree to with Cheshire Cat smiles.
The reality, of course, and Lorelai is all too painfully aware of this, is that she will be roped into the new deal and so it is when after telling her parents the date on which she and Rory would return from backpacking in Europe – the source of a delightful visual gag when the two women stumble exhausted into Luke’s dinner and dramatically announce they can go no further – that Emily artfully slips in a reminder that both of them are expected to dinner on their return.
Game, set and match to Emily Gilmore who knows she has won and Lorelai, once again, has lost; still you can’t help but feel that Lorelai will make her peace with it since Rory comes first and nothing even remotely comes close to that and likely never will.
Rory is the centrepiece of “Those Are Strings Pinocchio”, with her graduation from Chilton for which Lorelai has sacrificed so much, mostly in peace of mind and freedom from existential angst.
Everyone that really matters is at the graduation ceremony with Luke (Scott Patterson), Sookie and Jackson (Jackson Douglas), and yes Emily and Richard sitting together as Rory delivers a heartfelt Valedictorian speech that emotionally praises her grandparents and most especially her mother.
No one stays dry-eyed with a delightful sequence playing out where Lorelai, Sookie, Luke and Jackson all try and fail not to blubber like babies.
It’s a lovely tribute to the pivotal role they have all played in Rory’s life, a young woman who was raised by Hilary Clinton’s famous village and is all the richer and more accomplished for it.
There are some delightfully quirky flourishes of course, mostly relating to Rory and Lorelai’s Europe trip, Kirk’s (Sean Gunn) strange new career as mould inspector, and a typically chaotic town meeting, and some romantic disappointments and realisation as Rory grapples with the end of her relationship to Jess (Milo Ventimiglia) and Luke wonders if he really wants new girlfriend Nicole (Tricia O’Kelley) or Lorelai (which plays out through a dream sequence).
But the final episode of season 3 is essentially a farewell to one life and a hello to another, tinged with a sinking understanding by Lorelai that Emily and Richard bestride these two phases.
There’s no getting away from it, even in somewhere as lovably kooky as Stars Hollow and Gilmore Girls once again acknowledges that even the sweetest of lives can come with the occasional, or let’s be honest, long-running bitter aftertaste, especially where family is concerned.
Pop culture is never far from proceedings however, with references to film (The Money Pit – Lorelai worries the Dragonfly Inn will become one), literature (among many look-ins, references are made to Herman Melville, Mark Twain and William Faulkner as Rory talks in her speech about her bookish influences), music in the form of Huey Lewis and the News, Patti Smith and Credence Clearwater Revival, and yes even The Love Boat (part of Lorelai’s teasing of a clearly-uncomfortable Luke over his plans to cruise Alaska over summer with Nicole.
It’s all there, as it should be in any Gilmore Girls episode worth its Amy Sherman-Palladino salt, a touching, melancholic reminder that the more things change, the more Emily and Richard will make sure they stay the same.