Let us now discuss the singular season of television that I would take with me if I was expecting to be stranded upon a deserted island:
Gilmore Girls season 2, for reasons that will soon become clear to you.
Previously on Gilmore Girls…
Max proposed to Lorelai with a thousand yellow daisies, but she has not yet given him an answer.
Sadie, Sadie (2.01)
Luke says that it “took [his dad] ten years to find the [coupon drawer]. Used a coffee can the whole time…I don’t care what anybody says, a coupon can is not as good as a coupon drawer.” Is Luke the coupon drawer to Max’s coupon can?
Lorelai says yes to Max about halfway through the episode, and in the closing scene her engagement ring is too big. Because that’s always a fortuitous sign in story.
Red Light on the Wedding Night (2.03)
The way that Lorelai, Rory, and Max are situated as they watch the Billy Jack movie is not coincidental. Lorelai and Rory are seated together on the floor of their house, connected and attached to it, while Max reclines on the couch above with his body curving away from them.
Yeah, no, that scene of Lorelai and Luke under the huppah in the traditional wedding pose isn’t foreshadowing at all. Nothing to see here. No overt foreshadowing whatsoever. Whatchu talkin bout, Willis?
Like Mother, Like Daughter (2.07)
In a series that so rarely employs the use of parallel stories within a singular episode, it seems significant that it would do so here. Both Lorelai and Rory prove that they can and do naturally fit into the high society world. The kicker is that they both just have no desire to.
The Bracebridge Dinner (2.10)
Jess says to Rory in the sleigh that “In the brief non-pugilistic time I’ve spent with [Dean] in class, he just doesn’t seem like your kind of guy.” I would have loved to have seen scenes of Dean and Jess in class together. Imagine Jess realizing that clever, open-minded, well-read Rory has a boyfriend who’s as average as they come.
It’s unclear whether or not Rory helped Jess destroy the ringer snowman. I’ve seen both assumptions/arguments be made, and they seem equally plausible to me. Rory does seem mischievous when she tells Lorelai that she has “no idea” what happened to it, and it’s strange that we never get a scene of Rory acknowledging Jess’ gesture otherwise.
Richard in Stars Hollow (2.12)
Richard wearing tan when he comes to visit Lorelai and Rory emphasizes his outsider status in the colorful world of Stars Hollow.
A-Tisket, A-Tasket (2.13)
Rory drops the bracelet that Dean made for her, a symbol of their relationship, during her lunch with Jess who picks it up without her noticing. Gilmore Girls isn’t known for its subtle symbolism, guys.
It Should’ve Been Lorelai (2.14)
Picking up the thread from last season, Rory tells Lane that Dean is “saving up for a new motorcycle” right in front of Lorelai!!! I swear Dean slipped some kind of blind love potion into Lorelai’s groceries sometime around “Red Light on the Wedding Night.” The real reason she left Max finally decrypted.
Lost and Found (2.15)
Growing up means realizing that when Jess has been in the bathroom for two hours, he probably wasn’t actually doing his hair like he says.
There’s a tragic backstory waiting to be told about why Jess can’t sleep without loud music.
This episode’s treatment of the Lorelai and Jess relationship is similar in structure as last season’s “Rory’s Dance” episode treated the Lorelai and Emily relationship. Always one step forward, two steps back. The difference lies in while Lorelai and Emily have several more opportunities to bond and repair the damage done than that episode, Lorelai and Jess will only have this one-and it was foiled by Jess’ desire to be considerate. He could have easily allowed the issue of the disappearing bracelet to wear away at Dean and Rory’s relationship, but he didn’t because he knew how important it was to Rory.
There’s the Rub (2.16)
Hey Dean, you are not “a saint” for promising to let your girlfriend have the night to herself that she requested. The bar literally could not be lower and yet you still fail to clear it.
Lorelai and Jess’ shared “Planning on burning down the house after [the Indian food]? It’s the only way to get rid of the smell” sentiment is really the closest we come to an acknowledgement of how similar they are.
I will never not be bitter that in 153 episodes-157 after the revival-we only got this one scene of Jess and Paris directly interacting. I still think about whether or not Jane Austen would have liked Bukowski.
Dean in the kitchen towering over Rory, yelling in her face, causing her to stammer and fidget as she tries to explain is straight out of a short film about domestic abuse. Thank God Paris jumps in and covers for her, but at the same time Paris shouldn’t have to jump in and cover for her.
I love the closing scene of this episode. Lorelai and Dean both say that “Rory would never lie,” but they both know deep down that who she’s lying to first and foremost about her feelings towards Jess is herself. Also, Rory and Jess are adorable as they casually lean across the counter to talk to and tease each other. I’m pretty sure Jess smiles the widest we ever see him here. Sometimes I’m shallow.
Dead Uncles and Vegetables (2.17)
I had never put together before that Rory in this episode is literally pushing Jess to be a better man. It doesn’t get more textual than that.
I have, however, always found it strange that Lorelai says that the dream wedding Emily comes up with (“Snow white roses, trees with white lights and candles, snow everywhere, you arriving in a silver sleigh with white horses”) doesn’t sound like her. Albeit it’s more upscale than Lorelai would wish for, it has been established that she loves snow and horse-drawn sleighs. Emily’s vision is not far off-base.
Back in the Saddle Again (2.18)
Though I love the concept, there is no way Rory-or anyone for that matter-would be able to recognize Jess’ handwriting from that special’s board. The “Luke’s” is written in the same style as the diner’s sign/menu, and the rest of it is done in block letters.
Let me get this straight. Lorelai gives Dean some good advice to give Rory some space, which he takes to heart by limiting himself to one page over the next two days, and then when Rory doesn’t immediately answer his page he’s like, “Well, it’s fair game to show up at her house now!!!”
I wish we could have gotten a closing “Meanwhile, at the diner…” scene akin to the end of There’s The Rub but sadly we can’t have everything.
Help Wanted (2.20)
When one expects their boyfriend to “yell and scream” as a reaction to telling them something…yeah, you get it by now.
Lorelai’s Graduation Day (2.21)
Just as Jess and Lorelai are more alike than first meets the eye, so are Jess and Luke. When Luke and Lorelai run into each other at Doose’s, Luke’s reply to Lorelai’s inquiry of how the diner is sounds very Jess-like: “It’s still there.”
I was upset on Lorelai’s behalf about Rory missing her graduation until I learned to look at it this way-if Rory had been there, Lorelai wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate this milestone with her parents as she was always meant to.
Worst Episode: Secrets and Loans (2.11)
Unlike last season’s worst episode, “That Damn Donna Reed,” “Secrets and Loans” is not problematic or infuriating. It’s not even particularly bad-the only thing it suffers from is by comparison and, perhaps, by placement. Season 2 is an exceptional season, and the worst offense this episode causes is an obstruction of momentum and building tension. None of the story lines carry over or have long-lasting consequences. One could easily just not watch it.
Best Character of the Season: Jess Mariano
Jess is, arguably, the character to have the most development over the course of the series, and he begins that classic journey of redemption here in this season. He still has a long way to go before he can lose the chip on his shoulder created from years of neglect and abandonment done to him by his parents, make something productive out of his potential, and be happy, but choosing for himself to come back to Stars Hollow under Luke’s guardianship as he does in the season finale is the first step towards getting there. Jess is a sharp, perceptive, selectively caring, mischievous, damaged, angry teenage boy throughout season 2, but by the end of it we see hints of him becoming a good man under the right influences.
Best episode(s): Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy (2.05) and Teach Me Tonight (2.19)
After reading up to this point, you may get the impression that I really love Jess Mariano and his relationship with Rory. These two episodes mark what I believe to be the most meaningful development of that relationship, but I could have easily picked another two episodes as favorites if I allowed myself.
I Can’t Get Started and There’s The Rub are a very close third and fourth.
Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy is the episode in which Jess is first introduced. Although they seem to crank up all of Jess’ worst “bad boy” characteristics to 11 (with the exception of the close up magic) in this episode and then immediately tone it down in the following one, the different ways he bounces off Luke, Lorelai, and Rory are each uniquely entertaining.
Jess is completely justified in his anger at having been yanked away from his home city of New York and forced to come to such a small, strange town as Stars Hollow- even if he’s taking it out on the wrong people. As a New Yorker myself, I can’t say that I would be much better. Lorelai, though I love her dearly, steps out of bounds here as Luke says. It may have been stifling to her, but Lorelai grew up in a sheltered, priviliged environment with two parents who may have been misguided, but did what they genuinely believed was best for her. By the time she and Jess have their talk on the patio, it has been made clear to the audience that Jess has not been that lucky, and for Lorelai to assume that they have similar backgrounds/experiences and that therefore she can impart wisdom is incredibly condescending.
I especially enjoy the use of music in this episode. When Jess walks out of the diner and onto the square, part of an Elvis Costello song plays, “This is hell, This is hell. I am sorry to tell you. It never gets better or worse. But you get used to it after a spell. For heaven is hell in reverse.” These few lines foreshadow Jess’ entire season-long arc. Later, when Rory and Jess both make the momentous, soul-melding realization that they share a unique love for reading, a line equally as prophetic plays: “I still love you girl from Mars.” Stars Hollow might as well be Mars to Jess in how alien it is, which will be the biggest obstacle to Rory and Jess’ relationship.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Luke pushing Jess into the lake is one of the most underrated scenes in television history.
Teach Me Tonight, meanwhile, is one of the episodes which I believe holds the most significant development for Rory and Jess in the series as a whole-both as individual characters and as a relationship. Rory needs someone who is able to raise the question of whether her life-long dream is truly right for her, without emitting pressure or disappointment, while still being supportive and encouraging. Jess, in turn, needs someone who knows that he’s not striving towards his full potential-someone who cheers him on, who stands by him, who is respectful of his intellect- but lets him make his own decisions. In short, someone who simply believes that he “could do more.”
When Jess asks Rory if he should drive straight towards Luke’s, or turn right and drive around for a while, there’s a much greater meaning there. Going straight towards Luke’s represents returning to Rory’s comfort zone, to her ideals of normalcy, and to doing what is expected of her by her family and the town. Turning right, meanwhile, represents adventure, rebellion, and being true to herself. Its a metaphorical turning point made literal. That metaphor extends to when making the choice to turn right causes Jess to crash Dean’s car, symbolizing the irreparable destruction done to Dean and Rory’s relationship.
Lorelai’s fight with Luke following the crash is uncomfortable to watch for a myriad of reasons, but if one looks deeper it explains her behavior towards both Jess and Dean this entire season. Ever since Jess came to town, both Luke and Rory-the two most important people in Lorelai’s life-have been put into situations where they have taken his side over hers. Her place in their lives has been threatened, and thus subconsciously she has treated him the way one does a threat-with scorn, defensiveness, and apathy. Contrast this with her treatment of Dean. Lorelai knows how superficial his and Rory’s relationship is. She’s implied it numerous times with comments such as, “As soon as they both get tired of saying ‘No, you’re prettier’ to each other, then the night’s over.” He doesn’t pose a threat to her place in Rory’s life, so therefore she favors him.
Let us now take this opportunity to return to our ongoing tally of Every Time Dean Forrester Was the Worst:
5. Being an immature baby about Rory wanting to commit time to getting into Harvard in “Hammers and Veils.”
6. Steadily becoming more and more jealous and possessive of Rory as the season progresses, first with Tristan in “Run Away Little Boy” then with Jess from “The Bracebridge Dinner” onwards.
7. Being an emotionally manipulative piece of shit to Rory in the aftermath of Jess outbidding him, then going to Lorelai on a jealous tirade under the guise of being “concerned” in “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
8. If you are kicking one of your friends out of your house to avoid your boyfriend’s wrath, as Rory does in “There’s the Rub,” chances are your boyfriend is not a good dude and you should escape that relationship immediately.
9. Calling the house 14 times in a three hour period in “Back in the Saddle Again.” Can you say excessive?
10. Once again betraying his anger issues by kicking his duffel bag when Rory tells him about the car accident in “Help Wanted.”
Best lines (in chronological order):
“Sat and forever am at work here.”- Rory in The Cheshire Cat’s room book, in an attempt to change it from Lorelai’s “Satanic forces are at work here.” (“The Road Trip to Harvard”)
“I just wanted to put some notes in the margins for you.”-Jess to Rory (“Nick & Nora/Sid & Nancy”)
“I’m sorry. I thought this [plaid shirt and backwards baseball cap] was the uniform.”-Jess to Luke (“Presenting Lorelai Gilmore”)
“Reverend Nichols. What is that like Dr. Feelgood?”-Paris (“Richard in Stars Hollow”)
“You know, Ernest only has lovely things to say about you.”-Jess to Rory (“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”)
“As long as everything is exactly the way I want it, I’m totally flexible.”-Lorelai (“A-Tisket, A-Tasket”)
“Hey, I’ve read Jane Austen…And I think she would have liked Bukowksi.”-Jess, the only person able to one-up Paris (“There’s the Rub”)
“Rory and I are best friends, Mom. We are best friends first and mother and daughter second and you and I are mother and daughter always.”-Lorelai (“There’s the Rub”)
“Yes, I hope I’m not pregnant.”-Lorelai, responding to Taylor’s “Late again, are we?” (“Dead Uncles and Vegetables”)
“I hate crossword puzzles, they make me feel stupid…But if you don’t do them, you’re not only stupid. You’re also a coward.”-Lorelai (“Teach Me Tonight”)
“I didn’t mean to freak you out. I’m sorry, I’m sure you’ll do it. You will. I promise. I’ll help you practice, okay? Tomorrow, you’ll stand in the middle of the street, and I will drive straight at you, screaming in a foreign language.”-Jess, encouraging Rory like only he can (“Teach Me Tonight”)
“Oy with the poodles already.”-Lorelai (“I Can’t Get Started”)
“You look like little birds help you get dressed in the morning.”-Paris to Rory (“I Can’t Get Started”)
RANKING OF GILMORE GIRLS SEASONS:
- Season 2
- Season 1