[This is a review of the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
For seven years, the original run of Gilmore Girls followed the lives of Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), her daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) and their various relationships with family, friends, coworkers, significant others, and the residents of their small Connecticut town of Stars Hollow. However, the show’s creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, and her producing partner/husband Dan Palladino, did not return for the series’ seventh and final season, leaving fans wondering how Gilmore Girls would have concluded if not for the behind-the-scenes reshuffling.
For many years, ASP teased the final four words she had intended to be included in the Gilmore Girls series finale, words that she refused to reveal even in the years since the show went off the air. Now, with television enjoying a period of impermanent death where series can be revived by their original networks, new networks, or streaming services, a beloved family dramedy such as Gilmore Girls was bound to receive the revival treatment — and it did, in the form of the Netflix series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Structured as four extended episodes running roughly 90 minutes each, the series follows the seasons of the year beginning with ‘Winter’ and concluding in ‘Fall’. Throughout the revival, the stars of Gilmore Girls are revisited roughly ten years after the conclusion of the original show following Lorelai as she tries to figure out her next step forward both with her long-time partner Luke (Scott Patterson) and her business, The Dragonfly Inn. Meanwhile, Rory is at a similar crossroads with her journalism career and her lovelife at a standstill. Although certain conclusions to these arcs in ‘Fall’ are more successful than others, Lorelai’s mother Emily (Kelly Bishop) receives perhaps the most satisfactory ending of the three Gilmore women in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.
Lorelai Does Wild
Of the two main Gilmore girls, Lorelai’s arc in ‘Fall’ feels the most true to her character from the original series. She and Luke have hit a rut in their relationship and she needs space to figure out what she wants — so she decides to do Wild (the book, not the movie, that’s important). However, after two failed attempts to get out on the trail, and one night spent discussing her life with a group of ladies over plastic cups of boxed wine, Lorelai finds the clarity she was looking for by walking up a hill on the side of a highway.
Lorelai’s monologue in ‘Fall’, as she relays the story of her 13th birthday with her father Richard (the late Edward Herrmann) to her mother, is by far Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’s most standout moment. It represents everything that made Gilmore Girls the beloved series that had fans clamoring for more — the writing of an incredibly detailed story involving the mall and a pretzel representing the complex, and often strained, relationship between Lorelai and her father; the long winded monologue carried perfectly by Graham who has fallen near-effortlessly back into the role; and the moment of everything left unsaid when Emily thanks her daughter for the story.
The monologue is funny and quippy in the way Gilmore Girls is on the surface, while offering a nuanced look into the Gilmore family — which, through seven seasons, was always the heart of the series. It is the moment of greatness that reaffirms Gilmore Girls as one of the best television series in recent memory to pull off a balance of comedy and drama that nails both tones perfectly. It is, as well, a cathartic moment for Lorelai (and, as a result, the viewers) to see her truly confront her grief for Richard.
Then, with the clarity Lorelai gained in California, coupled with her finally reconciling her father’s passing, she heads home to Stars Hollow and proposes to Luke (again). Much of the lead-up to the wedding is glossed over, with the only real time focused on them tying the knot arriving in the form of a surrealist sequence referencing Alice in Wonderland as the pair elope (sort of) in the gazebo the night before their ceremony. It’s a sweet, if strange, ending to their love story.
While Lorelai’s arc in ‘Fall’ is full of earned story and character moments (both in terms of the revival and the larger franchise as a whole), Rory’s arc is where A Year in the Life both falls apart and actively undoes much of the character development from Gilmore Girls. Throughout the first two episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Rory struggles to continue her career as a journalist — one that, so far as the audience is told, consists of a few articles capped off by one in The New Yorker (despite 10 years in the industry). So, when ‘Fall’ arrives, Rory is instead writing a novel based on her life with Lorelai while working — for free — at the Stars Hollow Gazette.
By the end of ‘Fall’, when Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life reveals the final four words to be “Mom.” “Yeah?” “I’m pregnant.” it’s unclear whether Rory has officially given up her dream to be a war correspondent in the vein of Christiane Amanpour, but it’s certainly implied she has. With those final four words, A Year in the Life concludes a story that fans may not have even realized they were watching.
Rather than a story following three generations of women finding empowerment in discovering and actualizing their dreams, Gilmore Girls is a story reinforcing the idea that women can only find happiness and a sense of completeness in motherhood. Rather than a series featuring women learning from their mothers and forging a new path, Rory follows nearly the exact same path as Lorelai, albeit somewhat later in life — winding up a single mother living in Stars Hollow raising a child from an unplanned pregnancy.
Throughout the seven years of Gilmore Girls’ original run, emphasis was placed (both by the show and Lorelai herself) on Rory growing up from a teenager who would follow her mother’s every move to an adult that would forge her own path. But, though ‘Fall’ may ostensibly bring the characters of Lorelai and Rory “full freaking circle” as Lorelai mutters in an earlier episode of the revival, A Year in the Life only achieves this loose thematic conclusion by rewriting the entirety of Rory’s character through ‘Winter’, ‘Spring’, ‘Summer’, and ‘Fall’.
As such, the final four words — and Rory’s arc as a whole — feel cheap and unearned. They color the entirety of Gilmore Girls, shining a new light on the series for viewers and highlighting, once and for all, that the show has always been about the always-dysfunctional relationships between mother and daughter. Yes, including Lorelai and Rory. The four words are, at best, insight into the story ASP truly had in mind for the series and, at worst, a corner into which she had forced herself — one that required nearly six hours of reworking a character in order to make even a little bit of sense within the larger Gilmore Girls storyline.
Emily Builds A New Life
Meanwhile, almost entirely separate from Lorelai and Rory, Emily Gilmore finds some peace by metaphorically burning down the life she had built with Richard and building a new home for herself — complete with a new family and job. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life sees Emily deal with her grief over Richard, in ‘Winter’ this entailed getting rid of most of her possessions; in ‘Fall’ it meant buying the house in Nantucket she and Richard loved, moving in with her longest-lasting maid Berta (played by Rose Abdoo, who additionally portrays the Stars Hollow mechanic Gypsy) and Berta’s extended family, and taking a job at the local whaling museum.
In fact, ‘Fall’ features one of Emily’s most standout scenes in the revival, when she is fed up with her fellow DAR members and goes on a tirade worthy of the Gilmore name. It’s a moment both satisfying in that it allows Emily to swear in the way viewers likely always knew she could and entertaining while Emily voices her thoughts now that she has no need to fear the consequences. Then, with a house in Nantucket, as well as Lorelai and Luke expected to visit two weeks during the summer and one at Christmas due to a new arrangement (in exchange for money to expand the inn with an annex in town), Emily concludes the series living her life on her own terms.
Although Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life had its ups and downs, it’s a largely satisfactory return to the original series. The Netflix revival managed to capture much of what was so beloved in the show’s first seven seasons, likely helped by the returning cast and creative team. And, with the final four words proving to be divisive among fans, it’s likely TV viewers will continue talking about the finale for some time — though it may not all be positive. Still, it’s a revival worthy of its predecessor and a must-watch for all Gilmore Girls fans.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life season 1 is available in its entirety on Netflix.