Death and the Gilmore Girls
One of my favorite shows for years was Gilmore Girls. Snappy patter, pop culture references galore, a brilliant woman chef for me to identify with, and a close mother-daughter relationship contrasted with sharp conflict between the mother and her own parents. What’s not for me to like?
When the show ended almost ten years ago, it was on an upbeat note. Rory, the youngest generation of the Gilmores, was off to cover the first Obama campaign for a newspaper, pursuing her dream of being a great journalist. Lorelei, Rory’s mother, got back together with Luke, the man she was obviously meant to be with. She even made a kind of peace with her own mother, Emily, and with her father Richard.
When Netflix announced that they would be producing a revival miniseries, many fans wondered how the show would handle the death of Edward Herrmann, who had played the role of Richard Gilmore, Lorelei’s father and Rory’s grandfather. As it turned out, Richard’s death was the prime mover for much of the series.
They could not, of course, show the death. Herrmann died on December 31, 2014. Even the funeral was shown primarily in flashbacks. Instead, what we see is three women in mourning. Emily, her world shattered by the loss of her husband of so many years, trying desperately to cope with life without him. Lorelei, mourning the loss of the relationship she never had as much as the father she did, while trying to deal with chaos as work and uncertainty in her personal life. Rory, caught in the Millenial’s dilemma, and never having had to deal with grief like this before, finds her life spinning out of control.
Each of them is mourning in her own way, but all of them have trouble mourning together. Emily and Lorelei are driven farther apart than ever by something Lorelei did after her father’s funeral. Lorelei and Rory have one of their vanishingly rare huge fights, and do not communicate for months. Emily and Rory barely see each other.
In many ways, the miniseries shows what’s wrong with our society’s handling of death. No cultural structure for mourning. An expectation that one should simply be done mourning at some points only a few months after the death. Little or no planning for one’s own future death, unless the idea is brought home to one by tragedy, and a resistance by family members to discussing the matter. The burdens that we place on one another.
It is, in many ways, a very dark little series. It faces up to death and mourning in a way not much in pop culture does, and many fans have been distressed or disappointed by that.