Turns Out Richard Was The Glue That Held Gilmore Girls Together
Jordan isn't a crackpot; he just thinks that, without the patriarch, the reboot and its characters are the worse for wear.
"Your father was a lion. You know that, right?" Jason "Digger" Stiles asks Lorelai as he pays his respects at her father's memorial service. Richard's presence is felt throughout Netflix's Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life, as is the presence of the late Edward Herrmann. It's hard to say how much Herrmann's death affected the means to creator Amy Sherman-Palladino's four-word end. Nonetheless, it's a fitting entry point back into these character's lives and adds a new layer of texture to an emotional undercurrent generally masked by caffeine highs and witty repartee. Try as they might, there's no more hiding this time around.
Though it's his death which sets the events into motion, Richard's somehow been left behind -- at least in terms of criticism. For lack of a better word, his role in the titular Girls' lives has been buried beneath an avalanche of content, the vast majority of which has wondered how Rory became so awful, whether she always was, and, of course, whether those four words were worth the wait. That's to be expected. However, they're not mutually exclusive from his memory.
If we're going to talk about Rory's transition from golden child to stunted thirtysomething, Lorelai's reoccurring scatological nightmare and last-ditch effort to have a baby, or finally recognize the brilliance of Emily Gilmore, we have to do it in the context of the man at the center of it all: the glue holding everything together, so to speak. It might seem wrong to contextualize the show and its complex female relationships via a man, and a flawed one at that, but Richard was always the show's relative voice of reason and quietly beating heart, even if it wasn't always apparent. In other words, if we can argue that Rory's a failure -- and make no mistake, she is -- we can also argue that Richard died of a broken heart specifically because of that failure.
I am not a crackpot.
A shrewd man on paper, Richard is a slow deconstruction of the patriarchy. Introduced as an antiquated mode of masculinity (read: "cold, successful businessman"), his arc ends as someone who's learned, and is still learning through trial and error, how best to support the women around him, even when he doesn't fully understand or agree with them. In the case of Rory, this is his biggest mistake -- and he knows it. It's something that extends its reach from the Palladinos' final season to their current one, but that, for whatever reason, has gone largely unexplored. Though Rory eventually graduates from Yale, it's the bumps along the way that highlight my own misgivings with other people's readings of the decidedly "fine" reboot.
Back in Season 6, Richard's confronted with the reality that Lorelai knew better than her parents how to navigate Rory dropping out of Yale. Later, he's disturbed seeing his bright, formerly ambitious granddaughter perfectly content to live in his pool house and plan DAR meetings. He respects the boundaries and confines of his wife's world, but Rory was supposed to follow in his footsteps, not hers. There's a lot to be said about Richard's quiet apology to the daughter he betrayed in that season.
He shows up on Lorelai's doorstep one night with the dollhouse -- the only thing Lorelai truly loved about her childhood -- Emily wants to throw away, and probably would have had he not intervened. He uses it as his version of a white flag, and a way to reenter Lorelai's life and get Rory back in school and on the right track, whatever that is. It doesn't work. Rory graduates Yale and ends the series on a high note, but it's those troubling in-between years left unexplained that lead me to believe Richard wasn't really happy with the status quo. An article here, an article there, but on balance Rory lived off the trust fund she got when she turned 25 and was a disappointment to him.
People have been quick to highlight the full-circle terms under which the new season operates, but Lorelai's rags-to-riches story is a far cry from Rory's, which feels like another self-sabotaging step in a long line of many, and lazy by comparison. Think-piece catnip, it almost feels as if the Palladinos are daring us to judge Rory for, like her mother, not "living up to expectations." Or as Richard would say, not following "protocol." It might not be progressive; hell, it might downright wrong, but I'm judging her. And as many strides as Richard made both as a man and as a father and grandfather over the course of the series, I think he would too, and I think he would be justified in doing so.
There's a shot where Herrmann as Richard is briefly recreated and seen sitting at the desk in his study before Rory sits down to write the novel that will become Gilmore Girls. He smiles at her before disappearing. It's a nice moment, but it's not exactly a realistic one; it's from Rory's POV, and we've already established that she's an unreliable narrator. Lorelai might have accepted Rory's decision to write a roman à clef, but I hardly think Richard would appreciate her climbing the bestseller charts with a self-gratifying beach read. Had he not died, this surely would have killed him. Or maybe it's only killing me.
If anyone's to have learned from Richard's life and its loss, it's Emily and Lorelai. As his widow, Emily gets the best storyline by default, and Kelly Bishop beautifully translates those seven stages of grief. The rift opened between mother and daughter after Lorelai can't tell a fond story about him at his memorial anchors the season; that storyline comes to an emotional end when Lorelai, literally taking a page from Cheryl Strayed, calls her mother, finally giving her the acknowledgement she wants and needs to move on. It's a gorgeous set piece in which she stands on a hill looking ahead at a sweeping expanse of land and delivers a powerful monologue.
Some have speculated that the story she tells her mother is a fiction, invented purely as a means of catharsis and moving on with life. Coincidentally, this harkens back to something Richard once told Lorelai in private while grieving his mother, which Lorelai might be remembering and putting into play now: "Life is a battle and you either enter it armed, or you surrender immediately. That's what she told me on my tenth birthday, and I never forgot it… You only have one set of parents, Lorelai, remember that. I forgot and now I have to live with that for the rest of my life."
Fiction or not, it's a heartwarming note, and hill, to end on -- even if everything else doesn't quite live up to expectations.