On the surface, “Raincoats and Recipes”, which finished off a busy and sometimes tumultuous fourth season for Gilmore Girls, was all about Lorelai (Lauren Graham) finally opening her own inn, a 20 year old dream that finally found fruition in concert with close friend Sookie (Melissa McCarthy).
But it becomes obvious during the dry-run weekend that’s staged to sort out what works and what doesn’t work with the close-to-opening cosy inn, during which various townspeople like Miss Patty (Liz Torres), Babette (Sally Struthers) and Taylor Doose (Michael Winters) – who, naturally enough, has an extensive list of complaints within minutes of arriving – are invited to test things out, that the real theme of the episode is love and the many ways it can twist and turn on you.
Take Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) for instance.
Following her break-up with her dad’s old partner Jason (Chris Eigeman), who rather unromantically went on to sue Lorelai’s father Richard (Edward Herrmann) – a terminal buzz kill for Cupid’s arrows in anyone’s books but Jason’s it appears – Lorelai suddenly realise she has inadvertently started dating Luke. To her alarm, and Rory’s bemused befuddlement, she rattles off a list of times when Luke has either walked her home, or brought her flowers or shown an unexpected attention and courtesy to her (he actually offers her coffee at the diner one day in a scarily solicitous manner, something which is way out of character)and the conclusion is damn near inescapable.
She and Luke have finally stared that great big mound of quivering U.R.S.T. in the face, embraced it and crossed the line into a … GASP! … relationship. Well Luke has anyway; so under-the-radar has he been that Lorelai doesn’t really fully connect the dots until Jason shows up at the inn, declared that they are meant to be together and tells Luke as much.
Challenging Lorelai, who clearly doesn’t want the distraction Jason brings with him – the doors are still going on the rooms as the guests arrive; leading to the merry sight of everyone being asked to follow their actual door up to their assigned room – Luke is mighty unhappy that he has, completely discreetly and almost to the point where his intended missed it completely, nailed his colours to the mast and Lorelai is carrying on with someone else.
Only she isn’t, and after some conversation at cross-purposes – pretty much the last thing you want when love comes a-calling but pretty much de rigeur for a Stars Hollow romance if you think about it – Luke and Lorelai finally kiss, the world sighs and lets out an almighty “awwww” and life as we know it changes a lot.
Of course as Rory points out, you don’t want it to change too much since if everything goes pear tart-shaped – a nod to Luke’s Diner and Lorelai’s predilection for sweet things – then that could make the consumption of coffee, a need not a want for the new inn owner, a problematic undertaking indeed.
Alas that happy ending doesn’t spread its good cheer and karma to everyone in the episode, save for Kirk (Sean Gunn) who has found sweet love, very cute sweet love if you must know, with Lulu (Rini Bell) and has just realised he is, in fact, in love with her.
Yes good old Kirk, the most quirky of the Stars Hollow populace who are as quirky as they come and yet delightfully down to earth and human thanks to creator Amy Sherman Palladino’s beautifully-nuanced charactersiations and writing, is in a relationship!
The only catch? He has night terrors which play out with him usually running naked, at high volume, from his room, something he thinks may threaten his newfound romantic bliss, an outcome the socially-unsuccessful man is anxious to avoid.
He enlists Luke to help him deal with the possibility of things going way off the rails – quite how isn’t clear since (a) Luke is, characteristically not that thrilled by the idea of helping him out and (b) uncertain how he can do so – and while that doesn’t quite work, you get the feeling Kirk will be fine, even if he does create an unintended highlight to the weekend, one Lorelai actually takes great delight in, contrary to expectations.
Not so lucky in love, although it looks that way at first, is Rory who finally gets together with Dean (Jared Padalecki), in the Biblical sense at least.
The big snag, of course – gigantic one really when you think about it – is that Dean is still married and even though he says the marriage is over and it isn’t working out, the usual prelude to adultery speech by a married man, Lorelai makes it clear to Rory when she catches them post coital bliss at home, that unless he has definitely moved out that her daughter has essentially just become “The Other Woman”.
Uh-oh – not what Rory had in mind for her first sexual experience and certainly not what Lorelai, who has fallen into the same trap with her ex Christopher, did either.
So in the space of one episode, Rory flies high, falls to earth and realises, as every person growing up must, that love is a great deal more complicated than it looks at first blush.
Lest you think love messiness was the sole preserve of the two younger Gilmores, think again.
Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Richard are having ISSUES and after some passive-aggressive – OK mostly aggressive, let’s be honest, sniping at Friday night dinner where a discussion over whether the sauce is duck or rabbit turns toxic between Lorelai’s parents – the great hope is that staying in the bungalow at the Dragonfly Inn during the shakedown weekend will work wonders.
Not so fast Lorelai! (Though your heart was in the right place.)
In the midst of dealing with Jason – who is the last person either Richard or Emily want to see – and working out if she’s dating Luke and sorting out Rory, Lorelai is accused by her parents of making merry with their situation, an odd accusation given that they hadn’t officially told her they were separated (she knew, of course but as is the way of the Gilmores couldn’t actually come out and say it).
So Cupid nice try but in the usually-storied world of the Gilmore Girls, he’s 1-3 Gilmore-wise with no guarantees there will be any kind of happily ever after.
Once again this kind of episode is proof that Sherman-Palladino is a master storyteller, never afraid of telling it exactly like it is in the service of a realistic storyline and well able to balance the more quirky, fey elements of the show, which were its hallmark with the less than lighthearted realities of life.
Rather than characters like Lorelai, Rory, Emily and Luke, and even Sookie and Kirk existing simply as humorous caricatures, which they never did, Sherman-Paladino gives them complicated, messy, all-too-human lives than just happen to take place in an idyllic Connecticut town.
Sure the setting and its quirky inhabitants are a large part of the appeal of Gilmore Girls, but without the fine characterisation, sparkling dialogue and ear for life’s unpredictability provided by its creator, the show would have been nothing more than a cartoonish melodrama.
That it isn’t, and “Raincoats and Recipes” is a fine example of what makes it work, is testament to how much thought and care went into this very clever and wholly-affecting show that is far more substantial than people give it credit for.
- And as always there were pop culture references aplenty with films (Pretty in Pink, Heathers, The Parent Trap and The Bad Seed), and music (“Satellite of Love” by Lou Reed and “Lily-a-Passion” by Grant-Lee Phillips) all getting a much-deserved look-in.