Forget Lorelai & Rory —Emily Gilmore Is The Best Character In A Year In The Life

Photo: Saeed Adyani/Netflix.
Watching Gilmore Girls as a teenager, I always identified with Rory. She was smart and driven, loved books, and made being maniacally organized look charming. She wasn't perfect, of course (let's not forget that time she dropped out of school after stealing a boat), and ultimately, she had pretty bad taste in men, but she was someone I could look at and think, Look, she met Christiane Amanpour in her pajamas. My goals aren't so crazy.

But after revisiting Stars Hollow through Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life over the weekend (okay, in one day), I've realized that, although I'm definitely not a Lorelai, I'm no Rory, either. That's because there's a third Gilmore Girl who somehow always gets overlooked. And in a series full of stand-stills and ruts, Emily Gilmore stands out as the only one who truly comes into her own.

We first catch up with the Gilmore matriarch in the first installment of the revival, "Winter." She has just lost her husband of 50 years and is coming to terms with what it means to be alone. In Emily's case, that means hiring one consistent maid, Berta, and inviting her entire extended family to come and live in her now-empty house.

Richard's absence looms large in Emily's life in the first half of the series — literally. The painting she commissions from her favorite photo of him ends up being larger than the wall it's meant to hang on. But rather than give up, Emily puts on an impeccable designer suit and heads to therapy. She finds a companion (and then drops him when he turns out to be disappointing), she moves, she starts drinking sherry in the afternoon (like a vicious trollop!), she tells her DAR buddies to go to hell, and she finds a hobby (God help those children at the Whaling Museum). After sharing her life for half a century, it's finally her own, to do with as she pleases.

Lorelai and Rory are ego-monsters. There's no room for anyone else when they're around.

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Gilmore Girls has always been about independence. You know the story: Lorelai runs away from her cushy life to start anew in a quirky Connecticut town where she pulls herself up by her bootstraps and eventually starts her own successful business. Rory dreams of being a jet-setting journalist, and in the 2007 finale, she spreads her wings and flies off to cover an obscure senator from Illinois named Barack Obama who's running for president. It's a strong tale of strong women.

But when we catch up with our two protagonists, they're stuck. After a dramatic reunion at Rory's goodbye party, Luke and Lorelai have yet to get married. The Dragonfly has peaked, and Lorelai's friends and business partners are leaving. Her relationship with her parents, which seemed so promising when the show ended, is the same as ever — and this time, it's entirely Lorelai's fault. Even her father's funeral isn't enough to make Lorelai Gilmore put down her so-called childhood trauma baggage for one second and comfort her grieving mother. (Her post-funeral dramatic retelling of her dad walking in on her having sex in the garden cabana is so awful, I can't even describe it here.)

Rory, the golden child on whom all the Gilmore hopes were pinned, is aimless. Her career has stalled, she has no clean underwear, and she's gone back to cheating on her unremarkable boyfriend with former flame Logan Huntzburger, whose marriage proposal she turned down almost a decade earlier. And even more disappointing, she's lost her drive. The same girl who stormed out of Yale when her grandfather set her up with a surprise admissions interview she wasn't prepared for shows up fully unprepared to a job interview at an internet news start-up, confident that they'll offer her the job anyway. She's spoiled, entitled, and can't fathom why life hasn't gone her way.

Emily has her flaws: She's a total snob, she's controlling, she's manipulative, and she's difficult. And yes, her financial independence is a huge factor in her ability to shed her old life in favor of a "simpler" one in a Nantucket mansion by the sea. But she's always been the most stable, caring character on this show. It has to be said: Lorelai and Rory are ego-monsters. There's no room for anyone else when they're around. A decade ago, it was charming. Today, less so.

The six-hour gag about not knowing what language Berta and her family speak might be tired — and a bit racist — but it does bring forward a quality that we rarely associated with Emily: compassion. (Remember that this is a woman who previously had her maid deported for clomping too loudly through the house.) She's always cared about her girls — Friday night dinner blackmail was just her way of showing it.

The series ends in upheaval. Rory is about to face one of her biggest challenges yet, and we don't yet know how Lorelai will feel about it. But one thing's for sure: Emily has found her place in life. No one can terrorize tourists with more flair.
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