Where You Lead

In Defense of Revival Rory

Before I start, I should mention that this is not an unequivocal exoneration of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Netflix’s reboot of the beloved, small-town mother-daughter dramedy I can easily call my favorite show.  I’ve still got too many feelings, not all of them good, about the whole endeavor, but I’m waiting on a phone call from Colorado to hash them out with my best friend, who watched it all in a single day, and thus, might provide a different perspective.  Instead, I’m going to defend Rory, because uncharacteristically altered though she may seem to many fans in all of her cheating, lying, self-serving anxieties, she might be the most honest part of the whole revival.

Much of the criticism aimed at A Year in the Life deals with the supposed changes to Rory’s character.  In the original series, she was a high-achieving, fast-talking teenager with aspirations to become a journalist, a Christiane Amanpour from Connecticut.  Sure, there was her brief yacht-stealing detour in Season 5, after which followed a succession of episodes centered on her dropping out of college and joining the D.A.R. But the point is, all of that was short-lived.  Rory ultimately graduated from Yale, and by the time the show ended, was poised to cover the 2008 Obama campaign like the passionate, brilliant young woman we first fell in love with, over Pop-Tarts, coffee, and an ever inspiring reading list.

Rory revived is different.  She’s still a journalist, but after a single success piece in the New Yorker, she’s starting to crumble.  She has sold her Brooklyn apartment, ready to crash on whichever friends’ couches beckon, has maintained a transatlantic relationship with a now-engaged Logan, and has started receiving rejection emails.  And this is just in the first episode.  As the series continues, so too does Rory’s downfall, prompting her to exclaim, “I have no job. I have no credit. I have no underwear!” to a mildly taken-aback Jess in episode three.  However disingenuous it might seem to longtime fans who wanted to see Rory’s glamorous ascent into literary stardom, having no job, no credit, and no underwear is exactly where she is, and where most of us fear we too will end up.

I’m one of those die-hard Rory devotees, you see, and now that neither of us are bookish high school students anymore, her grown-up trials and tribulations mirror my worries about my own future.  I also want to be a journalist, so much so that I texted my mom after the first ten minutes of episode one, after Rory mentioned her New Yorker article, and declared “SHE’S STILL ME!”  Or at least, still who I think I’d like to be.  The revival came out after my own weeks of worry surrounding potential concentration decisions, which dug so deep at times that I considered switching a fiction seminar for CHEM 330 because being pre-med would at least give me the possibility of job security after eight more years of training.  Hearing about Rory’s success, however fleeting, reignited my passion for writing and re-cemented my belief in myself.  That probably sounds narcissistic, or overdramatic, but sitting in my childhood bedroom the day after Thanksgiving, I can tell you, what I felt was real.  It became even more true the more I watched because, like all young adults, Rory is struggling.  Like all “extraordinary” teenagers, Rory became an ordinary adult, sometimes spectacular and almost as often, absolutely disappointing.

I like revival Rory because she’s flailing, because she doesn’t know what to do, or where to go, or who to be.  Her high-school self, even her college self, is gone.  Whatever those around her expect from her, given her history, becomes almost irrelevant because she’s a different person now.  Like all of us, she’s changed.  She’s finally cracked.  And that’s okay.  There’s this myth that certain people, the Rory Gilmores of the world per se, have everything together.  They’re good students, they’ve got great friends, fantastic family, a cracking sense of humor, and a whole village of support.  They’re people like me, like a lot of the people I think who go to Brown.  We’ve all made it here because, at one point, we made it seem like we had it all together.  And for many of us, that’s true.  But for the vast majority, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  I know I fall into the latter category, whatever my carefully planned outfits and meticulous class notes might lead one to believe.  

Before writing this article, I spent a good ten minutes pacing the square of rug separating my side of the room from my roommates, popping chocolate covered cranberries into my mouth, and trying to convince myself I knew how to string sentences together.  That I was good at it, even, that it was worth it to start writing.  Like Rory, I worry every time I send an article out that maybe it will be my last good one, that after I finish the last round of edits, I’ll never write anything good again, and that once I hit send, my future is ruined.  If I make it far enough to get a job as a journalist one day, who’s to say whether it will stick?  Who’s to say whether I won’t be the one sleeping on couches, or tap-dancing late at night to relieve stress before counteracting the whole affair with a pot of coffee?  Who’s to say I won’t end up as self-centered as Rory appears in her meeting with Condé Nast?  Like Rory, I’m unsure about my place in the world, about what others expect from me, and about what I expect from myself.  And I’m not sure that I’ll have it all figured out by the time I’m thirty-two either.

Maybe the biggest lesson to take from Rory’s aimlessness during the revival comes during a scene from the bloated, unnecessary, frankly weird town staging of Stars Hollow: The Musical.  In it, the glorious guest star Sutton Foster sings a song that, though somewhat cheesy, did make me cry and that I think displays the ultimate message of the series.  “I am not unbreakable.  I am breaking right now,” she belts, upending expectations about the conflict-free ideal some fans wished to see in the revived characters.  Despite appearances, no one in the Gilmore universe is immune to the daily strife of life, least of all Rory, the show’s golden girl.  She fails, she makes bad choices, she might be an awful journalist (according to one Atlantic article), and yet, she’s almost more relatable to former nerdy adolescents than she was when she declared, famously, “Who cares if I’m pretty if I fail my finals?”  She’s turned into the kind of person many of us fear we might grow up to be. We worry because, however much we criticize her negative development, we see elements of ourselves in her, still.  I certainly do.  And somehow, despite those final four words, I get the sense that someday, we’re going to be okay.