And so we’re back to that mustard-covered pretzel. It’s not the very end of the show, but in many ways it’s the climax of the entire series. Lorelai, after slipping away from Stars Hollow and putting 3,000 miles of distance between herself and the rest of her family, wanders away from her impromptu “Wild” walkabout and makes a phone call to her mother. More than a year has passed since her father died (a plot point inspired by the death of Edward Herrmann, the actor who played him), but Lorelai is still haunted by her performance at the wake, where she panicked when her mother (Kelly Bishop reprising her role as Emily Gilmore) asked her to share her favorite story about the dearly departed.
That moment, a highlight of the revival season’s first episode, perfectly galvanizes the need for new “Gilmore Girls,” perfectly speaks to the unresolved inter-generational rifts that made it possible for such warm characters to be so cold to each other for so long. This was always a show about the agonies of acceptance, about flawed people trying to say “okay” to who they are and how things turned out. Most of all, trying to say “okay” to each other. And the show’s semi-illegitimate first ending never gave the Gilmores a chance to do that. The show never would ever have benefitted from tying up all of its loose ends, but its failure to find acceptance felt like a betrayal to the soul of its premise.
“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” had one job, and this is how it gets it done. Lorelai starts talking as soon as Emily picks up on the other end of the line, and she doesn’t stop talking for almost four minutes. In one of the longest monologues in television history — something that never could have been attempted when “Gilmore Girls” was still actually on television — she tells her mom an epic story about how some uptight kid once broke her heart on her birthday and then humiliated her at school, about how he accused her of not being a real Gilmore, but actually the gardener’s daughter who Emily bought because she couldn’t have children on her own.
She tells Emily that she ran away from school, went straight to the mall, and cried in the food court wishing she had the money to buy a pretzel. Money was one thing that her dad always had, but — when he happened to see his daughter sobbing in the saddest place on Earth — he already had exactly what she needed, no additional transaction required. He took her to the movies, where they saw “Grease” and “An Unmarried Woman” (“something for me and something for him”), and never spoke about it again. “It was the best birthday I ever had” Lorelai says, sobbing as hard as she ever has since that fateful afternoon at the mall.
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Graham delivers the entire thing without a false note, dissolving decades of hyper-articulate frustration (and unspoken regret) into the kind of diatribe that only this character could give. It’s a moment familiar to anyone who’s ever struggled to like the people they love, but it’s made possible by a lifetime of hugely personal episodes.
“I thought it was so beautiful,” Graham said. “It is, ultimately, a story about a pretzel, yet it is the way she got to express her love and her devotion to her father and mother, and it’s in the form of this tiny, little, small life moment. That, to me, is what the show does so beautifully.” The sun will rise again on Stars Hollow, but this monologue is such a perfect way to say goodbye to its residents precisely because it confronts the idea that life will go on without us there to watch it. And the final four words that followed, in which it’s revealed that Rory is pregnant, don’t pave the way for new episodes so much as they underscore how the entire series — “A Year in the Life” especially — have been fueled by the need to make peace with the past in order to be better prepared for the future.
If anything, more “Gilmore Girls” would require turning a deaf ear to the show’s most salient points. “I agree,” Graham concluded. “Just as an experience, it was kind of perfect. I always said, while we were doing it, that I couldn’t see more episodes in that form. Five years from now do you have ‘A Very Gilmore Christmas?’ Maybe, but there’s no reason anymore except enjoyment. And, actually, I think there’s far more risk to continue — you run the risk of disappointing people.”
Graham isn’t making any definitive declarations, but it couldn’t be clearer that she’s satisfied with this as a stopping point, and that she’s looking toward other challenges from here. And she doesn’t mean another TV show. “I kind of got what I wanted out of this,” she explained, “out of being an actor, and now I’m actually just as interested in helping somebody else have that, whether through directing or producing.”
More than anything, however, it’s writing that seems to be Graham’s main passion these days. “It takes longer but it gives me a satisfaction that is still very new and refreshing. What’s satisfying to me has changed, so now I like to be part of the creative process, not just get a script and go do it.” She and her “Parenthood” co-star Mae Whitman are currently adapting Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan’s book “The Royal We,” and Graham’s first novel “Someday, Someday, Maybe” became a bestseller when it was published in 2013.
“Things have changed, but also they haven’t,” Graham continued. “We now have 10 times the television that we had when we were originally on, but 99 percent of it is incredibly dystopian and just seems to get darker and more violent, and there are fewer shows like it.” For the record, Graham has watched her “Gilmore Girls” daughter Alexis Bledel in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and she’s a big fan (though she remembers how depressed it made her to read Margaret Atwood’s book when it was first published).
“I look at the success of ‘A Year in the Life’ and what it did for Netflix, and what I write as a screenwriter is in that same vein of happy romantic comedies. I’m really devoted to that genre as something we need — hopeful, smart stories of having some love — and the idea that it’s just for girls is ridiculous. Nobody really makes romantic comedies anymore, and I don’t get why. I just don’t like watching zombies kill each other. I see how much the new ‘Gilmore Girls’ has meant to the people who loved it, and I feel even more strongly that I want to be a part of things like that.”
Graham, who doesn’t need to be reminded that the final episode of “A Year in the Life” ends just a couple of days before the 2016 election, has no intention of slowing down; these days, she isn’t slumpy when playing herself. “I want to be part of storytelling that gives someone a lift of some kind,” she said, eyes wide. “It doesn’t have to be role-model-y, necessarily, but I’m proud to have put something positive in the world, and I feel even more devoted to that now because I need it. I’m just devoted to storytelling, and I don’t care as much if I’m in it anymore. I’d be just as happy to write it.” Now that Lorelai Gilmore finally has the ending she deserved, the actress who played her is free to start again. That’s the thing about closure — it can lead to so many wonderful new places.