Spin-offs and reboots of much-loved series are often targets of meticulous criticism, especially when so much rests on their endings. Not only are they expected to provide the answers to questions left untouched by the original, but also to dish out unexpected twists and turns, ensuring that all clichés are evaded. For this reason, it’s easy to see why a lot was resting on the shoulders of the the Gilmore Girls in their final appearances of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
The two concluding episodes of the spin-off certainly strive to do the latter, and “Fall,” the final episode in particular, lives up to its seasonal theme of change, turbulence, and new beginnings.
Viewers were abandoned for a decade after the original seven seasons ended. Left imagining the perfect lives for Rory and Lorelai, it is disheartening for fans when some aspects of the revival fail to live up to our expectations. Whilst the four episode ‘season’ concept means we can catch only a transient glimpse of their lives throughout one year, too much is left by the wayside to excuse. The dispute between Doyle and Paris, Lorelai’s therapy sessions and the “letter” Emily accuses Lorelai of having written are all portrayed as important plot vehicles at first, only to be dropped and forgotten.
The familiar witty dialogue (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?) keeps the most of Summer and Fall engaging and comedic, but some of it seems too try-hard. The Stars Hollow musical, an overdone air-conditioning farce and a frankly out-dated and offensive “fat joke” scene by the pool in Summer (not to mention April’s ‘hilarious’ anxiety attack) taint the overall good nature of the show. Furthermore, the potential for nostalgic cameos from old-time favourite characters turn into bizarre, rushed encounters. Dean’s awkward appearance and Jess’s brief stint as a Fairy Godmother, full of wise advice, felt like forced name drops.
Coupled with somewhat tedious repetition of themes covered in the former two episodes, one could wonder upon reflection if it was enjoyable at all. Rory continues to angst over her affair with Logan (where’s our grounded, sensible girl gone?), and unimaginably continues to forget her boyfriend of three years. In a show that always handled the grave and serious alongside the uplifting and trivial, one could question why the spin-off has so much froth. Why make four long episodes when the plots can only fill two? At least Emily’s bereavement storyline is buyable: we are satisfied to embrace her story of development and self-sufficiency come the end credits.
Yet upon Rory’s move back into her grandparents’ house, and Logan using his wealth to save the day, we are left willing her to pick herself back up and snap out of it. From a series formerly based on ambition, empowerment, and a refusal of being defined by others, it felt like a slap in the face. What is thirty-two-year-old Rory doing?
And here lies the solid defence against swathes of criticism that the show’s ending faces – because what Rory is doing, in fact, is facing her thirties in the knowledge that her life is not yet perfected and ideal, despite her education, intelligence, opportunities and “potential”. The gasp-inducing final line and viewers’ overall image of Rory does not necessarily inspire in the way we may have predicted for the golden girl, but rather points towards the real world. In her thirties and back home after the reality of journalism spits her back out, seemingly content only with a man who is about to marry another woman, it is undoubtedly frustrating that our beloved Rory seems denied a “happy” ending – but this is what feels so right about it.
“What is thirty-two-year-old Rory doing?”
Claims that Fall’s turbulent ending shows how Rory “is condemned to the same old cycle as her mother and her mother before that” lack imagination. If Emily and Lorelai – like every person – have faced hardship but find some contentment, so might Rory one day, albeit under different circumstances.
Rory’s tale ending on a note of unpredictability and imperfection does not, as suggested, seem bleak or untrue to her character, nor to the show’s pivotal, long-standing message of empowerment and hard work. It could instead be seen as a much more important message for the generation that grew up watching and idolising Rory Gilmore. Sure – try to be her if you want; work hard, value intelligence and be true to yourself (and painfully earnest at times). But try as well to learn from her, because life really will throw you plot twists either way – and A Year in the Life shows that more than ever.