Twenty years ago, actor Keiko Agena did what I’d never seen done on TV before. Playing Lane Kim on Gilmore Girls, she broke the been-done-a-million-times-before mold of the trite Asian girl. The teen landscape in the early 2000s offered mostly uninspired clichés of the studious, well-behaved Asian girl, but Lane diverged from those tropes in all her rock-and-roll-loving, drum-set-playing, purple-hair-dyeing glory. It was quietly revolutionary. But as Gilmore Girls celebrates its 20th anniversary this October, I can’t help but think about all the ways the show did Lane dirty in the second half of the series. She deserved better, and I’m here to talk about that.
Ambitious and quick-witted, Lane had a substantial arc during the first few seasons. When she discovered her affinity for the drums, Lane dropped out of college and forged her own path rather than the one her mother set out for her, which was a huge deal considering all the cultural implications. (“Eternal damnation is what I’m risking for my rock and roll!”) As a teen, she orchestrated ingenious schemes with great precision to shield her conservative mother from distress—from hiding CDs and makeup under the floorboards to having her boyfriend Dave pretend to be a Christian guitarist so they could spend the holidays together. Then, toward the end of the series, her arc experienced an abrupt, disappointing transition. All before age 25, Lane settled down with a mediocre husband (sorry, Zack) and weathered a surprise pregnancy after she had sex (lackluster sex, at that) for the first time, which forced her to put her music on hold.
Here’s the thing: It was formative for me to witness someone like Lane take up space in such a beloved, mainstream series, which is why it’s disheartening that the show eventually shortchanged her. The whiteness of the series has already been dissected in op-eds aplenty, so I won’t wade too much into the representation discourse. But it remains that—along with Emily Kuroda’s Mrs. Kim, Yanic Truesdale’s Michel, Rose Abdoo’s Gypsy, Liz Torres’ Miss Patty, and Aris Alvarado’s Caesar—Agena was one of the few actors of color on the show. Given this and her stereotype-clashing role, Lane deserved a better and more fully thought-out transition into adulthood. Rory got to go to Yale and graduated with an exciting journalism career in the city, while Lane hit pause and remained in her hometown. I’m not here to knock anyone who chooses that lifestyle, but it was hard to watch Lane go down that road when she’d previously had dreams of becoming a rock star and traveling the world. (In the Netflix revival, her arc remained relatively the same.)
A rebel swimming against the currents of cultural expectations and societal stereotypes, Lane was one of the few Asian girls on TV with a personality that actually felt reflective of mine—not to mention, all the other charismatic Asian girls in my life. For Lane to eventually be pushed aside felt like the ultimate betrayal. I’ve come to take it quite personally, especially when you think about all the lackluster onscreen treatment of Asian girls at the time. We were wronged! And watching the series now—which, for the record, I do still enjoy—it’s one of the biggest and most obvious flaws.
Agena herself feels Lane got the short end of the stick too. In an interview with Us Weekly in 2018, she reflected on her storyline and said she wished Lane had done more with music. “Everything that happened in Lane’s life, especially at the very end, was really quick,” Agena said. “She’s fighting with Zack and then all of a sudden she’s engaged to Zack, and in an instant she gets pregnant after having sex for the first time during their honeymoon.” She added, “I wish she was able to do more with music.” This is a popular sentiment among fans of the show—one that I, too, would love to shout from the rooftops of Luke’s Diner.
The 2000s were a much different time in pop culture. There were no Lana Condors or Maitreyi Ramakrishnans to make up for the mistreatment of Lane Kim. Compared to our white counterparts, pop-culture-obsessed Asian girls such as myself didn’t have as many role models. That’s why this one still stings to this day. Lane Kim was mine—and she deserved better, damnit.
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