If there’s one family that isn’t belting out a rousing rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time” with brio and eggnog-enhanced joy, it is the Gilmores of Stars Hollow and Hartford, Connecticut.
Fresh from Rory’s (Alexis Bledel) innocent misadventure post-formal Chilton dance (“Rory’s Dance”), where she and Dean (Jared Padalecki) ended up sleeping the night away in Miss Patty’s dance studio in a most chaste and non-early pregnancy causing fashion, only to have Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Emily (Kelly Bishop) act as if the very opposite has happened, things are strained in the Gilmore family.
And by strained, I mean Cold War at its height frosty with the typically-chatty mother and daughter combo of Rory and Lorelai not speaking and Emily dis-inviting her daughter to her annual Christmas dinner at which apple tarts, a Lorelai favourite (she composed songs about them), will be served.
This is a bog deal, my friends, and much of the episode is devoted to how un-Christmassy the collective Gilmores are in the lead up to a typically quirky and adorably heartwarmingly lovely Stars Hollow Christmas.
In every other respect, Christmas is in full swing with the town decked out in lights, decorations and every other last warm-and-fuzzy trapping of the season including preparations, overseen by Taylor Doose (Michael Winters), for the seasonal parade through the town and the nativity scene where, the plastic Jesus baby is missing an arm (look at the dog behind you guys!).
Miss Patty (Liz Torres) is desperately looking for a new “before Mary” when the actor charged with bringing her to expectant life ceases to be expecting, Taylor is dashing hither-and-yon with clipboard in hand – it’s permanently super glued to him right? – and everyone else is a hive of activity, lost in the magic of the holidays.
Everyone that is but Lorelai and Rory who are physically present but distracted by their uncharacteristic stoush.
Lorelai keeps sticking pins in Joseph, being played by the hilarious idiosyncratic Kirk (Sean Gunn), her mind not on her tailoring efforts, and Rory isn’t all that enthused with trying to find Jesus’s missing limb. (Again, the dog, people, the dog! Why will no one look at the sweet dog?)
It’s an unusual situation to have everything this tense between Lorelai and Rory, with the mother half of the two best friends fearful her daughter will reenact her mistakes, and reacting out of emotion and counter-reaction to her own mother Emily, with neither party enjoying the unusually-charged state of affairs.
Of course, tension so thick you could carve it like a Christmas turkey is business as usual for Lorelai and Emily but even their usual level of animosity is given an extra frisson of angst by the assumption by the elder Gilmore that history is repeating itself.
It isn’t naturally – this doesn’t happen until the Gilmore Girls revival in 2016 – but the idea that it could creates all sorts of unwelcome implications for Lorelai and Emily and in typical Gilmore fashion, no one is actually talking things through.
That changes, and in spectacular fashion, when family patriarch Richard (Edward Herrmann) has an angina attack mid-Christmas dinner – Emily refuses to let him loosen his bowtie mid-main course, something that haunts her later – and everyone drops everything to go to the hospital.
As you might expect, this puts the Gilmore Girls civil war, which has already thawed a little with Lorelai’s rapprochement with Dean at Rory’s window (yeah he was trying to sneak in but again, oh so chastely), into perspective, and over the rest of the episode, everyone finds it themselves to sort their respective argy-bargy.
Some directly, some not so directly – Lorelai and Emily’s peace deal near the close of the episode is sweetly indirect but effective; the upper echelon of the Gilmore clan is not a place where you speak you mind, no matter the situation – but in the end, everyone is reconciled, Richard is OK and Christmas is saved with Luke (Scott Patterson), who drove Lorelai to the hospital and is a rock of “good looking” support, letting her switch off the lights in the cafe to watch the Christmas parade rehearsal go past.
The particularly lovely part about “Forgiveness and Stuff” is that it doesn’t attempt to overly-sugarcoat the emotional demands of either’s Richard’s hospitalisation or Christmas generally.
In stark contrast to the idea from some quarters that Gilmore Girls is all candy gloss-confection and rose-tinted, inconsequential nostalgia – sure those elements are there but they are hardly the whole story – this episode lets the agonised resentful quiet linger, lets the mother-daughter stoushes have real emotional consequences, and let’s Richard’s situation feel starkly real, all without rushing to some overly-convenient sitcom ending.
Granted it’s not The Wire or Breaking Bad but then it’s not supposed to be; Gilmore Girls is just real people leading real lives (Lorelai can’t even get a pizza delivered at one point people!) with a bit of loveliness added onto the frosted rims.
It’s a great recipe and it works a treat in this episode, throwing some festive warmth and happiness into the
sort of realness that many people encounter at Christmas.
It would be wonderful if life was exactly like a Frank Sinatra song or a holiday TV special but it really is and all of the pretty lights, festive traditions and garlands in the world can’t compensate for dysfuntional family dynamics.
The truthfulness of the episode’s neatly-balanced narrative, which further explores the relationships between all the three generations of the Gilmore family and advances ever so slightly the URST between Lorelai and Luke, is characteristic of the Gilmore Girls as a whole, giving a nod to how exquisitely warm and wonderful Christmas can be but how life doesn’t just stop because 25 December is on the horizon.