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‘Gilmore Girls’: That Ending Was Perfect, and We Need to Accept It

Congratulations, Netflix. After an extremely divisive ending and against our better judgement, we're still ready to keep bingeing.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Photos

Saeed Adyani/Netflix

[“Gilmore Girls” fans have been waiting to hear the “final four words” for almost a decade, but it turns out not everyone was ready for them. Below, IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers (a casual fan), Senior Film Critic David Ehrlich (a “Gilmore Girls” lifer), and TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller (who only recently binged the series) interpret the extreme feelings experienced in those final seconds and try to find an answer as to how we can all move forward, together. Be warned: the discussion contains spoilers for “A Year in the Life,” up through those final four words, and for more on the ending, be sure to read Senior Editor Hanh Nguyen’s report on what’s next.]

‘Gilmore Girls’: The Ending Was Perfect, So Please Don’t Make More

READ MORE: ‘Gilmore Girls’ Final Four Words: Let the Debates Begin About That Brilliant Ending

Ben: While it’s arguably belittling to “A Year in the Life” — which I liked quite a bit overall — to start asking, “What’s next?” so soon after completing the six-hour binge, I think the heavily teased “final four words” demand that we start there. To me, the reveal of Rory’s pregnancy felt like a classic cliffhanger ending setting up more narrative to come. And because so much coverage (including our own) led us to believe Netflix’s revival was here to provide the proper ending to a series denied one during its initial run, such a major last-second reveal could easily be seen as misleading to fans who were tuning in for some closure. There’s been no word from Amy Sherman-Palladino, the cast, or Netflix confirming more seasons are coming, nor that those words really were final, but David, you’re OK either way?

David: Maybe it’s because I come from the film world, where “Cliffhanger” is less a narrative device than it is shorthand for “Sylvester Stallone mountain climbing John Lithgow to death,” but I have no idea what Ben is talking about. For one thing, it’s always been my understanding that these episodes were explicitly conceived to fix one of the most grievous injustices in the history of television (and the history of time, itself) and give Amy Sherman-Palladino the opportunity to end The Greatest Story Ever Told on her own terms. In the annals of Gilmore Girls lore, they’re known as “the final four words” for a reason.

However, as Ben observed, a lot of this comes down to coverage, and — in theory — it’s entirely possible that the purpose of these episodes could ultimately diverge from how they were positioned to (and by) us. Money always finds a way, and Netflix certainly has a lot of money. Like, “Fuller House” money.

Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham, "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life"

That being said, I think any discussion about more “Gilmore Girls” overlooks the narrative significance of those final four words. There had been a ton of speculation as to what those final words might be, but — as soon as Rory abruptly turned to her mother and spat them out — it was clear that their story should never have ended any other way.

A show about inter-generational conflict and kinship that spanned 16 years across eight-ish seasons, “Gilmore Girls” had all sorts of wonderful detours, but it always returned to the idea of nature versus nature, of how the search for self-identity is always complicated / enriched / shadowed by the people who raised us. It should — nay, MUST — end with the cycle continuing on to its next rotation; Rory becoming a mother to a Gilmore girl (or boy) of her own, and Lorelei graduating to the uneasy role of grandmother and accepting all of the baggage that comes along with that. The reason I found that last scene so deeply affecting is that it tied up an eternity of character arcs while at the same time pointing ahead to how this world might continue without us watching it, both wildly uncertain and also wonderfully fun to imagine. The circle of life, it moves us all.

READ MORE: ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’ Review: Netflix Revival Makes the Past Pertinent Again, With a Few Big Questions (Spoilers)

Of course, to go back to Ben’s point, they could always pull a “Girl Meets World” and simply follow this franchise down the bloodline. But while I have no doubt that would make for terrific television with ASP at the helm, I struggle to understand what it might have to say that hasn’t already been said at a mile-a-minute and jacked up on coffee. If Netflix invited us to check in on the townsfolk of Stars Hollow every few years, I suppose I could live with that — I’d certainly have to watch — but I think “Gilmore Girls” would do well to take a page from the film world and leave on a high.

Liz, pick a side! #TeamBen or #TeamObviouslyRight?

Liz: Ah, hashtags, the truest form of professional criticism. I confess to you, David, that even before I saw the final part of “A Year in the Life,” I was thinking to myself that it’d be nice to see “Another Year in the Life.” After all, the title is “Year in the Life,” and not “The Definitively Last Year We’ll Ever See.” Oh, and this might be a quirk of Netflix’s cataloging system, but “A Year in the Life” is organized on the site as a separate series from the original seven seasons — and it’s definitely labeled as “Season 1.”

But beyond my own official position of #PedanticDetailsMatter, I confess there’s a part of me that’s expecting more. The meta knowledge that Sherman-Palladino always wanted to end the series with those specific four words has me admiring the hell out of her balls — if the series had gone out that way in the mid-2000s, it might have beaten out “The Sopranos” on no shortage of “controversial series finale” rankings. But just because a creator wants to make a big statement with an ending doesn’t mean that ending will communicate what it needs to about both theme and character.

Michael Winters and Alexis Bledel,

Because quite honestly, it doesn’t sit exactly right with me, to frame the entire narrative arc of one of TV’s most female-friendly series as, ultimately, a journey from uterus to uterus. And that’s especially true for a sequence of episodes (I will never just stop thinking of them as episodes — blame it on “Sherlock’s” equally lengthy runtimes) where Rory was trying to define herself, beyond relationships, as a real writer. One of the aspects of Lorelai’s journey that the show does a nice job of setting up is how much being a mom at 16 defined her life and her personality. Now that Rory is a theoretical mother-to-be, we have an opportunity to see her on a similar (though of course quite different) trajectory.

Also, maybe this is just residual PTSD from both the announcement that “The X-Files” was returning and the actual experience of watching it, but these days I no longer, in my heart of hearts, believe that any series is really done, ever. You could tell me “Perry Mason” was getting a 10th season, and I’d buy it. (Barbara Hall, as the only living original cast member, set to star.)

But I think we’re toying with two different questions: Is another year in the life meant to be, and should there be one? Am I wrong, Ben?

READ MORE: ‘Gilmore Girls’: The 73 Most Important Characters, Ranked

Ben: To answer if there will be more, I bow to Netflix and its many hidden statistics. Clearly, interest was extremely high heading into the revival’s release, and it’s hard to imagine demand dissipating, especially after that ending. As you’re reading this, many similar debates are being held across the country; the same questions are being asked and many varying answers are being tossed around arguing for more, against more, and why there will or won’t be more of Rory, Lorelai and lil’ baby Lauren (in a nod to OG Mama and the actress who plays her). Official word is indefinite. I’ve only read a few interviews with Amy Sherman-Palladino and the cast, but it’s safe to say the door is not permanently shut. (It really never is anymore, as Liz pointed out.)

Whether or not there should be more, well, I’d really like to agree with you, David. I’m a fan of fitting finales more than ones tied up in a neat little bow, and all the discussion of those “final four words” — despite Lauren Graham’s ignorance to the lore surrounding them — motivated incredible speculation from fans, covering everything from well-argued cases to goofy guesses. The fact we could still be surprised after all these years speaks to the courageous choice by Sherman-Palladino, and she should be commended for it.

Amy Sherman-Palladino

But here’s the thing: I didn’t spend years wondering what those final four words were going to be. Neither did Liz, I’m guessing, as she only just now caught up on the series. And, more significant than the casual fans and new adopters via Netflix, many lifelong viewers simply won’t be satisfied with a scenario in which they never know who little Lauren’s dad is, or if Rory even went through with the birth. Even if they’re impressed by Sherman-Palladino’s designs, the lone fact this is a revived property driven by fans after almost a decade of downtime means there can’t be enough “Gilmore Girls.” I’m betting an instinctual need to keep tracking this story forward will set in for more people than those few who are happy with an uncertain, imagined future.

And honestly, it’s Netflix’s fault / Netflix’s brilliant business plan. Not so much in that the network brought back “Gilmore Girls” (a purely good act, like so few things in this world), but that it’s encouraging a culture of never-ending stories. Binge viewing lulls us into a space where time has stopped, for better and for worse, and few shows do it as effectively as this one. From the impossibly quaint, problem-free community of Stars Hollow to the java-fueled speed talking of its favorite inhabitants, this series transports you so fully out of reality and into a snow globe filled with kindness, it’s doubly jarring to be taken out of it. And that means it’s going to be harder than ever for people to accept this is the end, when so many more stories could be told about the growing number of Gilmore girls. As my sister recently implied when guessing what would happen in the new episodes, “Gilmore Girls” isn’t a difficult recipe to recreate (when its core creators are in place): “a series of poor decisions based off inevitable but avoidable misunderstandings — plus coffee.”

David: There should not be more “Gilmore Girls.” There should not be more “Gilmore Girls.” There should not be more “Gilmore Girls.”

…But let’s be real: I would totally watch if there were.

Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham, "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life"

As both of you observed, viewers in our sick sad world are like dogs in that they lack the ability to be satiated — they never know when they’re full, they never know when a story should be over (as much as I would like to lean over the balcony of my ivory tower and look down at all the TV addicts out there, the movie world has become just as culpable for this phenomenon). “Better to burn out than to fade away,” right?

I appreciate the idea that Stars Hollow is the town that time forgot, like something out of “The Twilight Zone,” and therefore that it has no beginning, no middle, and no end. By that logic, we could be seeing stories about it until the waning days of America, itself (which, at this rate, could be a plot point in a godforsaken “second” season of “A Year in the Life”). And Ben, your sister has a good point: The Gilmore recipe is easy enough for Amy Sherman-Palladino to recreate — she proved that with “Bunheads” — but that’s not a good enough reason to do it!

Liz, I’m not entirely sure I follow your uterus-to-uterus argument quite yet, if only because I don’t think that the show’s decision to hinge on two pregnancies necessarily reduces these fantastic women to their reproductive functions. On the contrary, I think one of the things that allows these (hopefully final) four episodes to work so well for me is that they speak to one of the big ideas behind the show, and especially that of Rory’s wayward journey towards becoming a writer: In some key respects of this life, you don’t get to define yourself. As I danced around earlier in our discussion, that’s ultimately the defining conflict of the show. There are some things that are intractably your own, but so much of who we are is dictated by the people in our lives, the people who come into our lives, and the happenstance that brings us together. That’s the magic of Stars Hollow, a bizarre coterie of oddballs and outcasts who are thrown together to make the most of it and oh crap now I’m imagining how Taylor might somehow obnoxiously over-plan his own funeral and now I’m thinking of what might happen next for all of these lovable characters and now Netflix has me right where they want me! Ugh. See you in 2017.

Liz: David, to address your point, it could be that I’m hypersensitive to reproductive-themed narratives when it comes to stories about women, because holy smokes so many women’s stories, no matter what the time period or genre, end up going down that path. (And yes, having a baby is both simultaneously a huge deal for women and also not the sole thing that defines them, should they choose to become mothers. It’s just something I feel like I see a lot.)

Overall, I feel like I’ve learned a lot from both of you in discussing the show, especially when it comes to the way in which these characters have lingered and evolved in your memory since the show’s original airing. The thing about having binged my way through all seven seasons — and now “A Day in the Life” — over a relatively tight period of time is that my overall emotional engagement isn’t on par with, say, a show that I’ve been re-watching for decades. But what “Gilmore Girls” seems to have done with great success is build a world that feels real, despite its unrealistic qualities. A world to which it’s tempting to return, no matter what level of fan you might be.

The ultimate decision of whether there will be more “Gilmore Girls” is quite clearly out of our hands. And you’ve made some convincing arguments as to why this should stick as the ending. But it seems that despite this, we’re in agreement that should it come back, we will follow.

“Gilmore Girls: A Day in the Life” is currently streaming on Netflix. Check out all of IndieWire’s “Gilmore” coverage here. 

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