Critic's Notebook: 'Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life' Spoiler Talk — The Last 4 Words and More

Gilmore Girls A year in the life - Netflix-H 2016
Courtesy of Netflix
[This article contains spoilers for the totality of Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, which premiered on Friday. If you've completed all four segments, read on. If you haven't ... stop reading. Please?]
Due to sleep, or possibly camping out for an oversized flat-screen TV, I missed lurking on Twitter from 12:01 a.m. PT on Friday morning to see who the first moron was to click on the "Fall" episode of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, fast-forward through more than 95 minutes, transcribe the "last four words" creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has been teasing for a decade and start tweeting them at any fan naive enough not to be offline or at least monitoring "mentions" carefully. And I missed seeing who the first reporter was to post a story with the headline, "The Last 4 Words of Gilmore Girls Are ..." just to get the SEO juice. [If it was THR, kudos to us!]
The funny thing is that the last four words are actually only spoiler-y as what they are. Telling you the words before you start the six-plus hours of A Year In The Life viewership might cause you to watch certain things with a more jaundiced eye, but it's not like telling you the killer in a murder mystery before you pick up the book. The purpose in watching remains and the ramifications and meaning of the last four words are meant to carry beyond what is presumably (but not necessarily) the end of the show.

When I reviewed Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, I did it without revealing any plot details outside of the first 15 minutes, but now seems like a good time to talk about some more spoiler-y aspects, especially those concluding four words.

Let's get to them, shall we?
This is your last warning ...
Rory: Mom?
Lorelai: Yeah?
Rory: I'm pregnant.
I mentioned The Words to a couple colleagues who don't watch the show — they begged me, I wasn't just randomly blurting them — and the consensus was "snorts of derision," but as a viewer and a fan, my own response was something closer to, "Yeah, seems about right."
Sherman-Palladino's story was one about three generations of women — Gilmore-by-marriage Emily (Kelly Bishop), Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) — and leaving the series on the cusp of a new Gilmore is surely appropriate. I'd add that Rory is almost certain to have a girl, because Rory couldn't possibly have a boy, but Netflix has made a fair amount of hay from reversing many of the gender roles in Full House on Fuller House.  Who would be surprised if we somehow found ourselves in 10 years with Gilmore Boys, a story about Rory raising her son — named "Richard," surely — with the help of Logan (Matt Czuchry), Dean (Jared Padalecki) and Jess (Milo Ventimiglia)? If you claim you'd be surprised, you don't pay enough attention to the churn of television. Probably Gilmore Boys would feature Lorelai as an occasional visitor, but Luke (Scott Patterson) would probably be a regular, perhaps as the blue-collar counterpoint for whatever life of affluence Rory and Young Richard would somehow be living in, the salt-of-the-earth perspective Rory might want her son, newly forced into public school, to experience. The more I type, the more horrifyingly real Gilmore Boys feels to me, so I should probably stop.
Rory's pregnancy, which played more like closing a circle to me than pushing for new episodes, raised a couple clear questions.
First: Who's the father? We assume Logan, but does that require you to be one of the people who inexplicably likes the idea of Rory either ending up with or being permanently tethered to a condescending rich boy who thinks literally nothing of cheating on his fiancée with Rory, among myriad flaws? We know Rory has been too busy to break up with amusingly forgettable boyfriend Paul, but do we really think that the one time we saw him was the only time Rory saw him during this year, or might they have had periodic, forgettable nookie during the nooks and crannies between seasons? Certainly Rory's one-night stand with the New York City wookie happened early enough in the season that Chewbacca couldn't be the father, unless Rory had follow-up bouts of wookie nookie because, again, a lot could have happened in between seasons that Sherman-Palladino didn't tell us about.
A conversation with frequent sounding board Alan Sepinwall led to the idea that Rory, and not Lorelai, might have decided to enlist in Paris' fertility clinic services, which led me to think of the provocative idea that Rory might be serving as Lorelai and Luke's surrogate, because what more ouroboros thing could Sherman-Palladino devise than a circumstance in which this mother-daughter pair that was really more like sisters somehow became so intertwined that the daughter ended up birthing her own sister? The only way things could loop more aggressively would be if in 20 years, that daughter somehow married Christopher, thereby allowing Rory to have birthed her own stepmother and ... again, I'll stop now, mostly because there's enough circumstantial evidence that Rory is surprised and nervous and unprepared enough for this pregnancy that it probably couldn't be Paris-related or Lorelai-related. The last two lines would have been "We're pregnant" if my outlandish scenario had been what was being implied. I like to think about it, but I know I'm wrong. So that brings me to ...
Second: How does this ending play differently when it's being delivered in A Year in the Life than it would have played at the end of a Sherman-Palladino-charted seventh season of Gilmore Girls nearly a decade ago?
That's where things get interesting. Before MTV made teen moms into a trashy thing to sensationalize, Gilmore Girls had the most positive spin on putting your life on hold to raise a daughter you weren't prepared for and eschewing the support system your life might otherwise have had. Lorelai and Rory were sisters or best friends and as the series began, Lorelai was on the cusp of finally getting to pursue her own dreams and to put Rory in a position to pursue dreams of her own. The big choices Lorelai made — leaving her parents, not letting Christopher support her, moving to a new town — may have been hard in their moment, but we saw mostly the positives. We saw Lorelai's confident independence, her bond with her daughter and her pivotal role in her community. 
If Rory had gotten pregnant at the end of her senior year at Yale, it already wouldn't have been the same, wouldn't have been history repeating itself. She'd have been young, but through high school and college and with several generations of support in place. She'd have been young, but she'd be becoming a mother at the start of her chosen career, whatever that may have been.
The Rory here isn't young, though Alexis Bledel is remarkably unchanged by the passage of time. As Sherman-Palladino hinted at, but refused to commit to, with the presence of the 30-Something Gang in Stars Hollow, Rory's actually a generational cliche. She's a boomerang kid living with her parents after not quite making it in the real world. Sherman-Palladino tries to soft-peddle the state of Rory's career, but she's been out of college long enough that a few memorable bylines wouldn't really cut it and certainly wouldn't be enough for a trendy HelloGiggles-style website to be wooing her as the voice of her generation. It's interesting that Rory's failure with SandeeSays is made to look like a mockery of them at least as much as a mockery of her, even though she takes the job for granted and thinks she's too good for that sort of workplace, when she obviously isn't. You can believe that Rory deciding to tell her story and appropriate her mother's story in the end is proof that she's turned a successful corner, but I don't know that we have the evidence for that.
Best-case scenario: Rory Gilmore is about to become a successful novelist, a job she can do while raising her baby. Good for her. But she's not preternaturally successful, preternaturally wise and preternaturally advanced anymore. She's hitting motherhood a bit behind the curve, if you trust Lane or Paris or several of her other contemporaries in the series. If Lorelai decides that she and Luke actually do want a baby of their own, mother and daughter could be raising their babies simultaneously now in Gilmore Girlses. Or something. (I'd prefer Gilmore Boys to Gilmore Girlses, I think.)
A Day in the Life confirms my long-held sense that Rory is/was a problem and exposes the show's odd subtext, which I've always felt was, "Sure, it's cute and witty to be best friends with your kid, but sometimes kids need parenting." Rory has made a TV series-worth of bad decisions, and her decisions have only gotten worse as she's gone along. She has questionable career motivation and even more questionable relationship motivation. I always used to argue that I didn't want Rory to end the series with Dean, Jess or Logan because none of them seemed worthy of her, that they all seemed like training-wheel boyfriends, but I think they just might not have been worthy of Sherman-Palladino's idealized conception of Rory and I might have believed that.
The Rory-in-execution has been adrift and making poor choices for years. She was a prodigy when we met her, but she's barely advanced. Rory is, unlike her mother, a young adult of a fair amount of privilege. Lorelai gave up everything and raised Rory on her own terms and on her own limited income. In the "Fall" episode, Rory went and talked with Christopher presumably to get something resembling the perspective she'd expect Logan to have when she tells him she's raising the kid without his help, but she can safely guarantee that she has many safety nets her mother didn't have. She can raise the child we assume was conceived as part of her cheating on a boyfriend she was too wishy-washy to break up with with a putz who was cheating on the fiancée he was never going to leave. Logan is and always has been scuzzy, but at this point Rory is his near-equal in scuzziness, only she still thinks of herself as being 22 (or possibly 16) and innocent, because Sherman-Palladino still thinks of her that way. The things many people think they don't like about Bledel's performance have almost always been things they can't bring themselves to admit they don't like about Rory.
Or so I figure. I view Rory as much more of a cautionary tale that I bet Sherman-Palladino does and I don't necessarily take that as a negative. If Gilmore Girls is a story of a woman who overcame adversity to become a well-settled woman, who raised a well-settled child who somehow created adversity through her own uncertainty ... well, what's wrong with that? It doesn't undermine the series at all if I just accept that Rory has flaws, does dumb things and that's how it goes. Some people do that.
A Year in the Life definitely doesn't do much to help Rory/Bledel. The character is being aimed at a manuscript and at a pregnancy for the better part of four episodes and thus everything she does is intentionally misdirection. The book she was planning with Alex Kingston's character? WHAT WAS THAT? The detour at the Stars Hollow Gazette in which she learns that people like their seasonal poems? WHAT WAS THAT? The stupid Conde Nast interview with the stupid feature about people standing in lines? WHAT WAS THAT? (And don't get me started on Dan Bucatinsky's editor comparing Rory to David Foster Wallace. What a load of crap.) Rory's adrift and her plotlines reflect that. She's also a third wheel when it comes to grieving Edward Herrmann's Richard. The best scenes in the miniseries are between Emily and Lorelai as they cope with Richard's death. They're beautiful and raw and marvelously acted, especially by Bishop. But Rory's sadness is muted. Rory and Richard had a relationship that was crucial to the show, especially in its later years, and it wouldn't have been untoward to have Rory experiencing sadness commensurate with her mother and grandmother, but she doesn't. Even when she's the vehicle through which we see flashbacks to Herrmann and to the original series, Rory is contemplative, but placid. I can accept that's how Rory would mourn, but she could have been given more. Is that because of Bledel's limitations or because of the limitations of what Sherman-Palladino gives her to play? I'll let you decide. 
I'll also let you determine if the three episodes worth of chemistry-free interactions between Lorelai and Luke are intentional to show the rut they're in as a couple or if Graham and Patterson have lost all acting spark between them. I get that Luke and Lorelai are supposed to be a little on auto-pilot, but we're still supposed to see the love there and ... there's nothing. Also, Luke being essentially the same hat-backwards grump all these years later after presumably a long period of happiness with Lorelai is more regressive than Sherman-Palladino wants to pretend it is.
When I reviewed the miniseries, I praised the last episode — I've watched it twice now and it's really satisfying — but also noted the wheel-spinning through the first three installments, as if Sherman-Palladino might have been satisfied with a two-hour concluding movie, probably set immediately after the series, but had to find a way to justify Netflix's investment and this was a compromise between a 13-episode new season and that stand-alone movie. 
But in the name of wheel-spinning, we get:
— A first episode that's almost non-stop "Hey Gypsy! Hey Miss Patty! Hey Taylor! Hey Kirk!" drop-in cameos.
— A second episode that's a ton of barely motivated filler storylines. Taylor is obsessed with the lack of A-list stars from a movie filming nearby? Does that go anywhere? Rory and Paris speaking at Chilton and Rory getting offered a job she isn't qualified for? To what end? (And why was Tristan at Chilton on that day if Chad Michael Murray wasn't going to guest star? Was having a Faux Tristan a joke about C-M-Squared? Or was he supposed to show up and then he bailed at the last minute, and they'd already written in his presence? But how weird to have that almost whip-pan past Tristan in the hallway in the hopes that nobody would pause and recognize the fraud?) Was there any purpose to the line-standing other than Mae Whitman dropping in for a pointless cameo that didn't take any advantage at all of Lauren Graham choosing between her two onscreen daughters?
— A third episode dominated by Stars Hollow: The Musical. Given any excuse to watch Christian Borle and Sutton Foster sing and dance, I'll take it. If you just watch the musical scenes and take it as a Waiting for Guffman-style parody, it works OK. The songs are kinda funny, the commentary from the panel of locals was kinda funny and the concluding number with Foster's performance and with Lorelai's reaction to it worked nicely. But man, oh man, did that musical storyline grind the season's plot to a halt. I guess that it pointed Lorelai toward her Wild-style wilderness exploration, but the same thing could have been accomplished in a third of the time. 
Basically the first three episodes felt like they had the required plot of a 43-minute network episode and then Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino vamped. None of the three episodes actually feels like a movie with a beginning, middle and end. They're just things we have to watch to get to the last episode. There are glorious conversations, superior sight gags and fine cameos along the way, but it's that last episode in which you can feel Sherman-Palladino exhaling and saying, "This is what I came here for."
The finale is sweet and satisfying and even full of strangeness. That wedding? So lovely, but once Sookie was in town making wedding cakes for Lorelai, why was Michel standing with her at the altar and Sookie was nowhere to be seen? I know that the reason was Melissa McCarthy's busy schedule and you know that the reason was her schedule, but that's not a good answer narratively. Was Bishop also unavailable? Because I love the idea that Emily's story here ends with her finding independence in a home of her own, but I also know how grumpy Emily is going to be when she learns that she missed the actual wedding ceremony, and why would anybody want to perpetuate that grumpiness? That wedding without Sookie and Emily was meant to feel like, "Let's do this spontaneously with the people we can get spur-of-the-moment," and instead it felt like, "Let's do this spontaneously with the actors who are available." 
But I'll let that slide.
A few other things I'm letting slide:
— I get why we wanted a brief return from Finn and the Life and Death Brigade, but did we need THAT MUCH of Finn and the Life and Death Brigade?
— Boy, Lorelai's brief jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail was a reminder of why the show has rarely spent much time outside in locations beyond that block of Stars Hollow on the Warner Bros. lot. 
— Was the stuff with Emily's new all-purpose housekeeper Berta and her even-more-all-purpose family really worth it? Stop and think of how much time we spent with those characters versus ... almost anybody from the original series. Was that worth it?
— How many chortles did you get out of the celebrity chef replacements for Sookie? I'm as big a Rachael Ray fan as there is, but Ray isn't really even a celebrity chef. She cooks some, but you wouldn't go to a pop-up restaurant because you heard she was working the kitchen.
— How was there not a Kiefer Sutherland cameo near the end? Don't introduce a "Luke is friends with Kiefer Sutherland" joke if you aren't going to give me "Kiefer Sutherland arriving in Stars Hollow" joke!
I could go on, but a lot of missteps were forgiven when Carole King started playing over the closing credits.
Welcome back, Gilmore Girls
Now about that Bunheads miniseries, Amy Sherman-Palladino!