Rory Gilmore: A Character Study
Updated: Jun 4, 2020
Rory Gilmore is one of the most beloved (up until five days ago, that is) characters on television. She’s the epitome of Little Miss Perfect in most people’s eyes, and the debates about her love life have raged constantly for the last sixteen years since her show debuted.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life changed a lot of that public sentiment. People were furious that she hadn’t conquered the entire world by age 32, that she didn’t have her life “together”, and the “I Hate Rory Gilmore” thinkpieces have been churned out at an alarming rate.
(Honestly? Lots of us don’t have our lives together by 32. Especially on TV. TV is full of 30-somethings trying to get their lives together.)
All those people, though? They weren’t paying attention.
Rory Gilmore was always awful. She’s the character we should hate to love (I’ll admit it – I root for her a lot. I also root for her mother, who is also awful, but in different – albeit related – ways).
Let’s go through the list, shall we?
Rory Gilmore gets into a prestigious private school that her mother cannot afford. She does not qualify for a scholarship, and even at sixteen in a household where ends had to be in constant danger of not meeting, she didn’t think once about how to pay for Chilton. Her mother grovels and gets the grandparents to pay for school. Fine. I’ve got no problem with people accepting help, especially when it is for something as important as an education.
But then? Rory decides she doesn’t want to go to the prep school (for which she surely put in a lengthy application, did interviews for, paid a hefty application fee, etc) because a boy talked to her.
A boy that just moved to town talked to her. They aren’t dating. They aren’t in love. She doesn’t even know his last name. But she wants to throw away this thing she’s obviously been working towards for a long time. (Oh, and btw, she lives in a town the size of a postage stamp – school is NOT the only way to talk to a boy)
That’s all in the FIRST EPISODE. So our dear, perfect Rory has displayed a shocking amount of immaturity, selfishness, and misplaced priorities all in the first episode.
But, she’s pretty and she’s smart, and she’s sixteen and we assume she’s still learning how to human, so all is forgiven.
Over the course of the next seven years she will:
– Cheat on her boyfriend emotionally
– Cheat on her boyfriend for real
– Do some typical teenager stuff that no one ever seems to think is normal because Rory is special (ditch school and go to NYC, yes?)
– Have sex with her married ex-boyfriend. Repeatedly.
– When that marriage ends, and that guy decides to be with Rory, she will lead him on and treat him badly and ignore him
– Hook up with a guy who made it clear he does not want to be her boyfriend, leading another guy on in the process
– Try really hard to cheat on her long-term boyfriend
– Turn down a marriage proposal, but expect the boyfriend to hang around anyway
That’s just her love life. The show’s creators have long complained that everyone is so emotionally invested in Rory’s love life, so maybe it would be more fair to focus on her scholastic and career performance, yes? Okay, so over the course of seven seasons, this is Rory’s scholastic and work record:
– She gets into the private school, starts to fail immediately, but gets to stay because she is given a boatload of extra chances and privileges that everyone claims are impossible and no one is ever given
– She writes for the school paper and does a good job of it, so far as we can tell (Yay, a good thing!)
– She runs for student government, even though she has total disdain for it
– She gets into Ivy League schools (after her grandfather pulled strings to get her an interview and hinted at bribing the admissions committee, after her headmaster pulled strings to get her a special meeting with an alumnus, and after her grandparents agree to give her the money to pay for all this)
– She writes for the paper and does a mediocre job of it (her pieces don’t get picked up, she almost doesn’t make it into the freshman group of writers, her pieces get cut or panned, etc)
– She starts failing her classes and has to drop at least one during her freshman year
– During her three college summers, she doesn’t do real internships or work-study or part-time freelance writing. Instead, she galavants around Europe with her grandmother, plans a bunch of parties, and then sits around and mopes that she isn’t in Asia with her boyfriend (he has a Real Job and she’s pissed about it)
– She gets an internship (after her boyfriend’s daddy pulled some strings) at a local paper and spends her time making coffee and setting out notepads, rather than writing or reporting or learning anything genuinely useful in her chosen field
– When she is told that she didn’t do well in her internship, she quit school, quit writing, committed a felony, ran away from home, and committed herself to being a very dedicated underage drinker
– She gets back into school somehow, gets back on the paper somehow, and then is given the editor job because of Plot Reasons (she’s unqualified, she doesn’t have proper seniority, and everyone sort of murmurs that it makes sense because they’re sick of thinking about it)
– She does save the paper one night, but that’s actually her boyfriend’s hard work and know-how (probably picked up at an internship that his father helped him get, now that I think of it) that she takes credit for
– She turns down a good job because she thinks she’s too good for it
– She skips grad school applications because she doesn’t think she needs it
– She writes for an online “zine” (because this is 2007 and we were still using the word “zine”) about how everyone else is rich and privileged and then she is given a job as an on-the-road reporter for a senator (who turns out to be Barack Obama, but that’s not something the show’s creators could have predicted)
So, in her professional life, she’s handed a ton of extra privileges, favors, and advantages and yet she quits and gives up and squanders every opportunity she’s given. She is offended when someone has the audacity to call her less-than-perfect and doesn’t drop her dream job at her feet.
New Rory Gilmore, in the Netflix revival, is exactly like Old Rory Gilmore.
New Rory isn’t job-hunting. She’s waiting for her dream job to drop into her lap.
New Rory isn’t in a relationship. She’s galavanting around and content to be a weekday mistress (flying back and forth on his dime, most likely) (if not, then she’s living off the trust fund her grandparents had mature on her 25th birthday)
New Rory isn’t any different than Old Rory. This is what makes good TV – we see her potential, and we want her to live up to it. We connect with something in her: her pop culture obsession, her dreams, her “plucky spirit and can-do attitude”. We want that to blossom into something more. We want her to see what she has – a family that loves her and will support her no matter what, a man who knows what she needs and will push her to get there, friends who allow her to be human, and a talent for writing something she’s passionate about – and be grateful for those things. Be grateful and then turn them into something more.
We want character growth.
And this is where people were disappointed in New Rory. She didn’t grow as much as we wanted her to. But here’s the thing: If all that growth happened off-screen, during the intervening years, then we wouldn’t have a chance to watch it. We would be watching boring old married people settled into their lives. That’s a different show altogether.
I argue that we finally see Rory make changes. The final four words (which weren’t really surprising, right? We didn’t need all the spoiler warnings, did we?) have forced her to be more pragmatic, and we watched that happen all along the way.
She’s still a terrible journalist (The Atlantic did a fantastic rundown on this), but everyone has admitted that she’s a talented writer. She needs to be grateful for what she’s got and take it and run with it.