Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Recap: 'Winter' Is a Fan's Wonderland

Kimberly Roots
TVLine.com

Warning: This recap will tell you what happens in the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life‘s first episode, “Winter.” If you don’t want to know, click elsewhere.

It seems sacrilegious to say so, but the finest exchange in Gilmore Girls‘ triumphant revival isn’t a bit of supersonic, pop culture-reference-laden, upbeat banter between Lorelai and Rory — at least, not in the first episode, “Winter.”

Yeah, yeah — I know: That thought is as surprising as the existence of a kale salad on the menu at Luke’s. Don’t worry. There are plenty of smart, touching, funny, eminently quotable moments between Rory and her mom in A Year in the Life‘s first 90 minutes. But after the credits roll, the scene that’ll stay with you is a nasty fight between Lorelai and her mother, Emily.

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The argument, as usual, stems from Emily refusing to cut her kid any slack for doing something kinda dumb. But it takes place after Richard’s funeral. And both women are at an emotional nadir at the end of a very long day. So when they rip into each other, Emily in particular, goes for blood. The so-harsh-it’s-good dialogue is a reminder that underneath all of the series’ quippy repartee and zany townies, one of Gilmore‘s guiding themes is all the ways we disappoint those we love.

That may seem like an odd compliment to pay the revival; let me be the first to assure you that the miniseries is an altogether sunny, funny, heartwarming return to the show we cherish. But it’s also aware that time — and age — can make you start thinking about the big questions, and Gilmore is unafraid to toss Lorelai, Emily and Rory into that tumult and see how they come out the other side.

So let’s recap the highlights, shall we?

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WELCOME BACK! | Confession up front: I was a big Gilmore fan back in the day. So from the moment that “Winter” opens with audio callbacks to the original series, I’m like Luke when it comes to Lorelai: All in. We open on Lorelai sitting in the Stars Hollow gazebo, wearing a baby pink peacoat that is going on my Christmas list right… now and sipping on — what else? — a coffee. Rory meets her mother there; she’s just flown in from London and can only stay a day, because her new career path as a freelance journalist allows — nay, demands! — her to flit about the globe with abandon. She’s had a Talk of the Town piece published in The New Yorker, she’s got a meeting with Condé Nast. As she later tells Lorelai, “This is my time to be rootless and see where life takes me.” Lorelai seems OK with that agenda. (Rory’s zero-to-Susan Orlean career trajectory seems a little suspect to me, but we can discuss that later. Or in another recap, because we’ve got three more to go!)

The pair’s opening dialogue, in which Lorelai accuses her kid of looking far too glam for having just disembarked a transatlantic flight (“You’ve been Goop’d!”) is pure Gilmore: It comes flying out of their mouths at two miles a minute and includes references to Les Misérables, Zoolander 2, and New York’s Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery. At the end, Rory laughs at how winded she is. “Haven’t done that in a while,” she says. “Felt good,” her mom responds, smiling. AW, GUYS!

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AROUND THE TOWN | As Rory tries to find a place where she has service on one of her multiple cells phones, we get a brief walk through/update on the town. The highlights: Taylor wants everyone to switch from septic systems to sewers. Lane somehow looks younger than she did in the original run. Kirk has a pig named Petal and a taxi service called Öööber. And Luke has added “No man buns” to his list of Don’ts at the diner.

Speaking of Luke, he’s at home at the house, making dinner. He’s very proud of Rory’s New Yorker gig, but not so proud that he’ll sanction pre-meal junk-food bingeing. (#TheMoreThingsChange) A guy named Paul shows up at the front door, and if you don’t remember him, don’t worry: No one in the house does, either… which is a pity, because he’s Rory’s current boyfriend. Luke and Lorelai have met him before, but they can’t recall a thing about him. The forgetting-Paul gag, which runs throughout the episode, is a funny one. But for real, though: Why is the amazing, gorgeous, smart, funny, savvy Rory with this human equivalent of a beige paint swatch?

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I’D TAP THAT | Later, upstairs, we get the Lorelai-and-Luke-getting-ready-for-bed-together scene for which my heart has longed for for many years. When she realizes that he’s folded her balled-up pajamas and put them back in the drawer, she calls him “Felix.” He immediately shoots back, “Oscar,” and something about how easily he responds with a pop culture reference makes me more verklempt than half of the Richard stuff in this episode. It just speaks to how much Luke has allowed himself to soak up Lorelai’s life and ways; I find it oddly touching. They get into bed, kiss and prepare for sleep; it is so decidedly unsexy, yet somehow REALLY sexy.

Lorelai wakes up from a nightmare about dirty bathrooms to find Rory “stress tap-dancing” in the kitchen. Here’s where stuff starts getting real. Rory’s a little anxious about her future; “I have a lot of irons in the fire,” she reassures her mom, but a planned Atlantic Monthly article fell through. (Do magazines still do kill fees?) Lorelai in turn offers that she’s been “feeling my mortality lately,” and if there’s a better line reading in the world than the one Lauren Graham gives on “and then I broke a hip!,” I haven’t heard it.

And then, 20 minutes into the episode, Rory quietly asks, “Do you think it’s because of Grandpa?” NOT YET, PALLADINOS. I AM NOT PREPARED TO LOSE IT YET. Thankfully, the conversation turns toward caffeine, which is a totally appropriate drug to consume in the wee hours of the morning.

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SOOKIE UPDATE | Edward’s absence isn’t the only one that is sorely felt: Sookie took off for a six-month sabbatical but hasn’t been back for a year. “She abandoned us,” Michel sniffs, causing Lorelai to defend her pal’s decision to run off and spend time at Blue Hill Farm. (I have so many questions. Is Jackson with her? The kids? Also, isn’t she a partner in the Dragonfly? Can she just do that?)

GRIEF MAKES PEOPLE DO STRANGE THINGS | Our first Friday Night Dinner of the revival doesn’t go great. It starts with Lorelai mocking Emily for the wall-size portrait of Richard she commissioned, then riding her for refusing to admit that she got the dimensions wrong. “Fine, I made a mistake!” Emily finally relents, and the hurt in her voice makes me feel bad that I laughed hard at Rory’s near-snarfing of her martini when Lorelai goes all Gandalf and shouts, “WIZARD, YOU SHALL NOT PASS!” at the giant work of art.

Emily storms out. Lorelai lets on that Grandma is still really mad about something that happened after Richard’s funeral. In a flashback, we see the terrible day unfold. First, the graveside service, set to Tom Waits’ “Time.” Nearly unbearable. Then much later, after Luke has chauffeured Rory to the airport, Lorelai falls asleep while her mom and some of Richard’s friends are reminiscing about him. Emily asks for everyone’s favorite story of the man; when it’s Lorelai’s turn, she twists herself into a pretzel — literally — trying to get out of saying anything, then word-vomits up some unflattering memories about his absence during her childhood and his catching her having sex when she was 15.

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BRACE YOURSELF | In the kitchen afterwards, Lorelai apologizes, but Emily’s WASP phaser is set on “icy contempt.” “You have nothing but contempt for this family,” she says, tossing off Lorelai’s assertion that she’s unbearably upset. There are a few laughs in there, but mostly the whole scene is just Kelly Bishop and Graham going for the jugular, and It. Is. So. Painfully. Good.
Emily lands the coup d’grace by saying that her daughter could not care less that Richard is gone. “That’s horrible. You’re horrible,” a shocked Lorelai responds. Back in the present, “You couldn’t just have said he was well-read?” Rory asks. (Heh.)

Dinner proceeds, with Kirk (who Öööber’d Lorelai to Hartford) coming inside to eat and Luke showing up to awkwardly stand at the table rather than sitting in Richard’s old chair. Emily seems oddly unfazed by all of this and is more focused on Rory’s leap-and-the-net-will-appear approach to life. “So, you’re homeless,” she says, succinctly summing up her granddaughter’s living situation. I write in my notes: ” WHY DO I IDENTIFY WITH EMILY MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE NOW AM I OLD THIS IS TERRIBLE.”

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BABY BRAIN | Update on April: She’s at MIT. (Note to A Year in the Life: It’s cool if that is the only update on April we get this whole time.) Talking about Luke’s daughter makes Lorelai ask her man if he ever wanted “a fresh kid.” He replies he’s all set; he has April, and “I’ve always considered Rory to be a little bit mine.” Props to Scott Patterson for the pride he infuses into every word of that line. When Lorelai presses, bringing up their talk at the Twickham House back in the day, he replies with the most Luke-ian thing ever: “Well, nobody gets everything they want in life. All in all, I think I did pretty good.”

Still, pretty soon they’re at a fertility office called… wait, Dynasty Makers? What the heck is this insanity? Oh wait, Paris runs it? Yeah, that tracks. Rory’s old friend is now someone who arranges surrogates for couples wanting children; don’t worry, she’s still horrifyingly inappropriate. She visually assesses Luke’s junk through his pants. She brags about handling Neil Patrick Harris’ surrogacy. And the moment Lorelai and Luke leave her office, he’s got a firm answer: “No.”

ACROSS THE POND | In London, Rory meets with a kooky woman named Naomi Shropshire whose autobiography she’s going to co-author. (Hi, Alex Kingston!) Naomi is crazy-in-a-fun-way, but the way she too-easily dismisses Rory’s questions about payment makes me worry she’ll turn out to be crazy-in-a-truly-crazy way.

Rory stays with Logan while she’s in town. They have some kind of arrangement that allows them to be together when she’s around but with other people when she’s not. Rory, I know you’re all continental and sophisticated now, with your Condé Nast meeting and your frequent flier miles, but I also know that at heart, you’re still the girl who cried her eyes out at the Dance Marathon after Dean dumped her. Don’t fall for Logan’s cocky, pretty, indescribably rich schtick.

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THE HEPPEST OF ALIENS | Seemingly 10 minutes later, Rory is back in Stars Hollow, a visit that coincides with Paris’ apology tour of Luke’s… which turns into hanging out with Rory while she does a few errands before taking off again. (Side note: Who is bankrolling all these flights?) How are Rory’s longtime pals doing? Quick update! Paris and Doyle have kids and are divorcing (noooo!) because he’s changed so much since becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. (Nice Danny Strong meta burn there.) Lane and Zack are doing great, Hep Alien sounds awesome and Steve and Kwan are so big!

One more thing: Rory is lying to her mom about where she stays while she’s in London, aka Lorelai doesn’t know about Logan. Interesting

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SPARK JOY | Over at Emily’s, Lorelai is astounded to see her mother wearing a T-shirt and ripped jeans. If ever there were a time for the revival to make good use of Netflix’s relaxed language standards, it’s now: “Holy s—t,” Lorelai says. Turns out, Emily has read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and is Marie Kondo-ing most of her possessions right out the door. (The clothes she’s wearing are Lorelai’s, and they were basically the only things left.)

“Mom, nothing is going to bring you joy right now,” Lorelai sadly informs her. “I was married for 50 years. Half of me is gone,” Emily responds. And just when I think these two might be reaching a new understanding of each other, Emily poo-poohs Luke as not much more than Lorelai’s “roommate” who could take off at any point.

Is it any wonder when we meet up with the couple again, as they attend a fair in the town square, that Lorelai looks a little sad? And that she says she’s fine with letting go of the surrogacy idea, but her eyes say that she’s not? Then Emily calls and says she took Lorelai’s advice and went to see a therapist and that it’s really helping — and Lorelai is too high on the notion that her mom listened to her to notice that she also ropes her into coming to the next session. But when Luke points it out… “Oh crap, I’m going to therapy with my mother,” she realizes. Sigh. Let’s end on a happier beat, shall we? It is my divine pleasure to inform you that throughout this entire scene, Paul Anka is dressed as a doggie Luke, right down to the plaid shirt and mini order pad and pen.

Now it’s your turn! Grade “Winter” via the poll below, then fill the comments with your thoughts, feelings, questions, joy, despair and coffee orders.

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