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Throwback Thursday - Gilmore Girls - Rory's Birthday Parties

12 Aug 2021

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past. 

When I first got this specific date to post an article for this section, I thought what better way to celebrate my birthday than to choose an episode about birthdays of one of my favorite shows of all time. So a great gift for me would be if you could enjoy reading this article as much as I did rewatching the episode and writing about it.

Now it’s time to recall a bit about the show before we get into the matter. Gilmore Girls is a show starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as Lorelai and Rory, mother and daughter and the titular characters, that ran through 153 episodes and seven seasons from October 5, 2000 to May 15, 2007, and had a revival on Netflix in 2016 but that’s a story for some other time.

Throughout the whole show, the Gilmore Girls spent their birthdays in different ways, but I think it would be nice to revisit the first time we got to see them celebrate a birthday in their own style. Let’s start by saying that this episode, that was number 6 of season one and premiered on November 9, 2000 was written by none other than the show’s creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino and was directed by Sarah Pia Anderson.

The episode starts as many others, with the mandatory weekly Friday night dinner at Lorelai’s parents manor in Hartford, Connecticut, to which the girls have to go as part of the deal that she made with Emily and Richard since they’re paying for Chilton, Rory’s expensive high school, in order she gets better chances to enter Harvard. After the dinner, Lorelai tries to negotiate with her mother to change next week’s dinner to Saturday since Rory’s 16th birthday will be on Friday, but her efforts are useless so the teenager will now have two birthday parties, a fancy one organized by her grandparents and another one with the Gilmore Girls’ style.

So this takes us to see, on one side, Lorelai planning their Saturday party with her friend Sookie and on the other, Rory’s classmates getting invitations for her formal celebration at the Gilmore’s mansion, which makes her feel embarrassed at school. Before this, Emily calls Lorelai to ask her to go shopping with her to get Rory a birthday present, and though this surprises Lorelai a bit, she ends up going with her to a department store, where at first, they can’t agree in what to get for the teen, until they finally find some colorful bracelets that they both think Rory will like, and end up having a small mother-daughter moment.

Emily: “Could you be serious? We're shopping for Rory.” Lorelai: “No, Mom, I'm shopping for Rory, you are shopping for your imaginary granddaughter, Barbara Hutton.”

Later, Lorelai meets Rory at Luke’s diner and the teen looks pretty upset, but after she sees her mom so relaxed and even happy after spending time with Emily, she decides not to say anything about her grandma inviting everyone in her class to the party.

Finally, we get to Friday, and we have a nice and funny scene when Lorelai gets in Rory’s bed at 4 am, the exact same time she was born, and after talking a bit about life and how happy they are to have each other, she recalls the day of her birth and how much she suffer during labor.

Lorelai: “And, it's so hard to believe that at exactly this time many moons ago I was lying in exactly this same position…” Rory: “Oh, boy. Here we go…” Lorelai: “...only I had a huge fat stomach and big fat ankles and I was swearing like a sailor…” Rory: “...on leave…” Lorelai: “...on leave! Right! And, there I was…” Rory: “ labor…” Lorelai: “...and, while some have called it, the most meaningful experience of your life, to me it was something more akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite.”

In the morning, Luke surprises Rory at his diner, with a special birthday table decorated with balloons and with a coffee cake he baked waiting for her and Lane, her friend. There, we get to see Dean, the boy she likes, with whom she exchanges some cute looks and who congratulates her before leaving.

Luke: “That's the wrong table.” Rory: “Since when is there a right table?” Luke: “Since the coffee cake I baked for you and the stupid balloons I blew up for you are at that table over there.”

The time of the fancy Gilmore’s party has come, and we get to see Emily finishing details at her home being as bossy as she always is with her employees. The girls arrive and then the guests start to fill the house making Rory feel more embarrassed since she barely knows them. But the last straw comes when Emily asks Rory to give a speech to the guests, so Rory snaps at Emily in front of everyone for inviting people she doesn’t know and then storms out of the room. Lorelai finds her in her old room where Rory finally tells her about what Emily did, but she also says how terrible she feels for yelling at her grandma. Lorelai asks her daughter to not keep things like that from her even if she wants her to be happy and ends up reminiscing about how it was growing up at the Gilmore mansion and the last birthday she spent there, until Emily finds the duo and demands they go back to the party.

Rory: “I guess I should go downstairs and apologize to Grandma.” Lorelai: “Oh, give it a minute…” Emily: "There you are!” Lorelai: “She'll find us.”

After the party ends, Rory tries to apologize with Emily and even invites her and Richard to her Saturday celebration in Stars Hollow, but she just kind of ignore her so this leads to a new fight between Lorelai and her mother, that ends up, as it usually this arguments do, digging out their past grudges and taking them back to square one.

Emily: “I spent days planning this party, making sure everything was perfect. Making sure the food, the music, the guests, everything was perfect. And she humiliated me in front of my friends.” Lorelai: “You don't know her! You've never tried to know her! Like you never tried to know me!” Emily: “Oh, you'd like to think that, wouldn't you? I know you perfectly. Do you think I sit going ‘Why does Lorelai do this? Or that? I don't know. She's such a mystery to me.’" Lorelai: “That's it. I give up.” Emily: “Oh, if I had a dollar for every time you gave up-” Lorelai: “You could pay for this party, couldn't you?”

On Saturday morning Rory goes to a college fair at her school and discovers that Paris, her Chilton enemy, wants to go to Harvard too. They have a small argument but end up on a lighter note when Rory makes clear that she doesn't like Tristan, one of their classmates, and Paris gives her a nice comment about her party. I think this is the first step for the friendship they’ll develop in the coming seasons.

Now it’s time for the Gilmore girls’ style party that includes basically everyone from Stars Hollow. Rory gets a laptop as a gift from her mother and then they all sing Happy birthday while Rory blows the candles from a special cake with her face in it, made by Sookie. Then, Lorelai makes a toast in honor of her daughter and right after that, Emily and Richard appear through the door making Rory very happy for having her grandparents at her home and Lorelai very anxious for the same reason. Later, Luke arrives with ice which makes Lorelai so happy since they had run out of it, so she hugs him and Emily sees them. While some of the guests are sharing stories about Rory’s childhood, Emily goes upstairs and Lorelai follows her. There, Emily remarks that it seems as if Lorelai and Luke were dating which she denies immediately.

Emily: “And this man with the ice.” Lorelai: “Luke.” Emily: “How long have you been seeing him?” Lorelai: “Luke? I'm not seeing Luke. He's just a friend.” Emily: “Mm-hmm.” Lorelai: “Mom, I swear. Luke keeps me in coffee, nothing else.” Emily: “He seems to like you.” Lorelai: “And you're judging this by what?” Emily: “By the way he looked at you.” Lorelai: “Which is how?” Emily: “Like you were about to give him a lap dance.” Lorelai: “Mom, he did not look at me like that.” Emily: “You're pleased.” Lorelai: “What?” Emily: “You smiled. You're pleased that the ice man looked at you like a Porterhouse steak.” Lorelai: “I'm smiling because you're crazy and that's what you do to crazy people to keep them calm.”

Then, Emily discovers that Lorelai broke a leg a few years ago in a yoga class and she knew nothing about it when it happened. Her daughter thanks her for coming to the party because it meant a lot for Rory, but we can clearly see that even when she was tense about the visit, it meant a lot to Lorelai herself too. Rory says goodbye to her grandparents and before leaving, in the car Emily accepts in front of Richard that she really doesn’t know her daughter.

Later, while cleaning after the party, Lorelai sees Rory sneaking to their backyard to meet with Dean who gives her a handmade bracelet as a birthday present and holding hands with him, realizing that she may not be the only one keeping things from her mother.

Some final thoughts
In this episode, we get to see more clearly the contrasts between the lifestyles of both Gilmores branches. First, in the scene at the mall where Lorelai and Emily are shopping birthday presents, we can clearly see how Emily doesn’t really know her granddaughter, when she’s picking stuff that are not really her style, but unlike other times, Lorelai actually keeps it cool and tries to be more understanding with her mom and guide her through this, cause she feels like she’s making little efforts to get closer to them, and even if they don’t notice it, this also gives them some needed quality time between them.

And then, both parties are very contrasting. The one in the mansion, even when it has all the planning and best stuff they could get, it feels cold and impersonal, since basically none knows who the birthday girl is, but they don’t even seem to care since they are all there apparently just for business, obligation or to comply with social rules. However, the party in Stars Hollow, which may not have the most expensive food or decorations, feels colorful, warm and full of life and people who really care about each other.

Now, there’s contrasts but we also can get some similarities in other aspects. If you’ve seen most of the show, you certainly know that Emily and Lorelai are in constant tension, especially in the early episodes, and this one is not the exception, but it is clear how Emily is trying to be closer to her daughter and granddaughter. Small details like serving pudding at the dinner in the beginning of the hour and her willingness to go to buy a present for Rory that “Lorelai would buy for her” are proof of this. At this point she feels like an outsider in the girls’ lives so she wants to be more part of it, but she tries to hide it since her pride doesn’t let her to fully give in, which is exactly what happens to Lorelai, and that’s one of the main reasons they can’t move forward in their relationship. At the end, even when they may seem so different this mother and daughter are kind of similar in certain points, but it will take them a long time to make some progress in their relationship, however that development is definitely worth watching through the seasons, just as Rory and Lorelai’s bond.

Did you used to watch Gilmore Girls? What do you think about this episode? Share your thoughts in the comments section and let’s start the conversation.