Gilmore Girls: The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton

Season 1, Episode 2: The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton
Directed by Arlene Sanford, Written by Amy Sherman-Palladino
Air date: October 12th, 2000

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I did not realize this until I researched the production details of this episode, but director Arlene Sanford directed three episodes of my [guilty pleasure] show, Nashville, an episode of Friends, and, to my great surprise, nineteen of twenty episodes of little known show The Torkelsons, which I adored as a teenager.  The Torkelsons was very successful at creating a believable warmth by way of an unquestionable sense of home and family, which lends itself naturally to the likes of Gilmore Girls.  I also love the specific character development Chandler goes through in that particular episode of Friends, and, given both of these, I’m a little bit disappointed that Arlene didn’t have the chance to direct a more Stars-Hollow-centric episode.  It’s not like we don’t see much of the town here, but Rory and Lorelai are separated for most of the runtime and we spend a small percentage of that time in Lorelai and Rory’s house.  I think you can see those sorts of sensibilities and style playing into the episode, but I think she would have had a lot more to play with in one of the ones that follow, like Cinnamon’s WakeLove and War and Snow, or Forgiveness and Stuff (just to name a few from season one), and actually, I seriously wonder what she would have brought to The Bracebridge Dinner in season two.  Of course, I love ALL of these as they already are (including The Lorelai’s First Day at Chilton), but I am led to wonder how they might have been different under Sanford’s direction.

THE BEATS

        On Rory’s first day at Chilton, Lorelai sleeps through her alarm, causing a domino effect of disaster for getting Rory to school on time and in proper fashion.  Literally; Lorelai is out of clean clothes and is forced to wear the most ridiculous outfit possible – a pink and white tie-dye shirt, denim cutoff shorts, cowboy boots and the most unflattering ponytail ever.  Which is saying something – Lauren Graham has gorgeous hair.
        The first thing that’s always stood out to me as an OBVIOUS solution to avoid the whole disaster is, uh, why couldn’t Lorelai wear something of Rory’s???  It seems like ANYTHING in Rory’s closet would have been preferable to what she ended up wearing.  Or, hell, something out of the hamper?  It just seems like there would have been SOMEthing else she could have done to have made the morning go a little less awkwardly.  Perhaps we can chalk up such a lapse in judgement to a haze of sleepiness and a lack of coffee (on Lorelai’s part, at least; I’m not sure Rory has the same excuse).

        As they drive through Stars Hollow, Rory takes one final, wistful glance at Stars Hollow High (catching a glimpse even of Lane on the front steps).   Upon arrival to Chilton, Rory insists that they go in and meet the Headmaster together – completely unconcerned by Lorelai’s attire, apparently.
        Lorelai wraps herself in her long peacoat and they make their way into the formidable looking main building.  Ian Jack (Nick Chinlund), a Chilton Dad™  takes notice of them and goes so far as to flirt pretty openly with Lorelai, who is nearly as awkward as Rory was upon first meeting Dean, but it’s weirder for a number of reasons (and I’ll get more into that later).

        They are let into the Headmaster’s office to find Headmaster Charleston himself (Dakin Matthews) waiting for them – along with Emily, bedecked in the blue and white Chilton hues; the absolute antithesis of Lorelai.  Emily insists Lorelai take off her coat and is mortified when the outfit underneath is revealed.  She not-at-all-stealthily wraps her arms around Rory and begins singing her praises in a sugary-sweet tone until the meeting quickly ends and Rory is left alone with the Headmaster.
       
Outside, Emily berates Lorelai all the way back to their cars.  Lorelai attempts to take the high road and apologizes – only to receive one last jibe as they part.
        And some people like Emily at this point???
In Rory’s one-on-one interview with Headmaster Charleston, we learn Rory’s specific dreams and goals; she wants to be an international correspondent, à la Christiane Amanpour, who is essentially her role model.  Charleston surprises Rory – and us – by gong on to say that her family is very nice and he is definitely aware of her connections – but they don’t matter, not when it comes to her career and performance at Chilton.  He also warns her that it will be a tough road ahead.  She may fail.  Rory doesn’t really comment.
        I’ve never been definitively sure what Rory means by her response to Charleston about the salmon puffs, but under the circumstances of this blog, I’ll take a shot.  She sidesteps the question but, despite circling BACK to her family connection the comment almost indicates that she’s not afraid – or that she doesn’t quite get it yet.
Spoiler: the bit about having to recite the school song never happens and I personally wish it HAD, just once, because, as-is, it just sounds like, “this place is HARD and you should feel overwhelmed!”

        We meet Madeline (Shelly Cole), Louise (Teal Redmann) and Paris (Liza Weilin a prime example of a Bechdel-Wallace pass as they investigate, espionage-style, “the new girl.”  They immediately determine that Rory is bad news simply because she’s new and because she’s like to be competition on the school paper.
The school rules are broken down for Rory at breakneck speed, including a requirement to recite the school song on demand (extra credit if you can do it in Latin).

        At [the new set of] Luke’s Diner, Luke himself is in the process of fixing some old and broken piece of kitchenware and attempts to get Lorelai to eat/drink something healthy, which ends in him providing her with coffee, per usual.  Get used to this routine.
We get to see the new Gilmore House – which I love.  Easily my favorite set in any television show.   Emily calls to ask Lorelai about Rory’s sizes for Chilton apparel and other such merchandise.  Lorelai is annoyed (and so is Emily); business as usual.

Lorelai, now dressed to impress, arrives at the Independence Inn for work.  In the kitchen, we meet Jackson (Jackson Douglas), the Inn’s produce supplier, who is in what looks like a regular practice of bickering with Sookie over the quality of a product; in this case, it’s peaches.  Lorelai fills Sookie in on the morning’s events, interrupted by a second phone call from Emily, who wants to shower Rory with more things, potentially even a car.

        Meanwhile, Rory’s classes are underway and Paris, it seems, is a know-it-all and teacher’s pet – and not in lovable, Hermione style.  In the middle of the class, Tristan (Chad Michael Murray), another Chilton student, swaggers into Rory’s classes and immediately notices Rory in a way that still makes my skin crawl.
Tristan is a classic example of your early 2000’s “hot guy,” perhaps except for the lack of a repulsive amount of hair gel.  Not that he needs it; he’s perfectly disgusting all on his own.  UGH.  Especially in contrast to our introduction to Dean, which is accidentally-creepy, this episode, on the one hand, indicates noticeable arrogance and we’re not supposed to like this character because of obvious reasons; the biggest one being that he makes Rory uncomfortable.  On the other hand, though, it soars past the “vaguely unlikable”, vehemently ringing the “full-on asshole” alarm bell.  He deliberately and repeatedly makes Rory uncomfortable …further demonstrated in subsequent episodes.  I have NO sympathy for him here, or in subsequent episodes; the only time that that shifts is at the very end of his time on this show.  Above all else, it’s the way he takes advantage of Rory’s obvious need and want of an ally.  She turns to him initially thinking that he’s throwing her a life line in earnest, but then he makes her feel small and powerless—and continues to remind her of that fact throughout the rest of the episode.  Paris, while terrible, will eventually warn Rory to stay out of the way, which is, by contrast to what Tristan does, an acknowledgement of Rory as a person.

        Rory is inevitably daunted by the sheer volume of work thrown at her, which she tries to convey to Paris, who approaches (more like rushes) Rory after class and openly states antagonistic terms.  To make matters worse,  Tristan also catches up with her and makes a move and her discomfort from his behavior gives him great amusement.  Apparently it also grants him permission to continue making fun of her, by which he proceeds to call her ‘Mary’ for the remainder of the episode.
        Excuse me – yuck, yuck, YUCK!

        Mr. Jack (the Chilton Dad™) shows up at the Inn . . . and asks Lorelai out.  She declines because of the Chilton connection.  He emphasizes the fact that she’s “so young,” again – hard to believe she’s a mom – which STILL seems odd.

        Back at Chilton, Rory accidentally smashes Paris’ History project, only adding to Paris’ generalized dislike – now it’s personal.
In re-watch, there were a few scenes that stood out to me more than they have in casual viewing and this was definitely one of them.  The nature of it isn’t cut and dry; most of us have actually been in Paris’ shoes in that moment.  Maybe not specifically, but enough that we can clearly see how she has some ground to feel upset, even resentful towards Rory; anyone would.  That said, we’ve all been in Rory’s shoes, too and we know Rory well enough by this point (albeit an episode and a half into the series) to know that her immediate response of, “oh, no!  Paris, I’m so sorry!” is genuine.  As we’ll come to see over subsequent episodes, because of Paris’ reputation at Chilton, I doubt very much that many other students would say this in earnest, but Rory does—and may be yet another reason why Paris lashes out; because she doesn’t believe Rory).  The biggest thing that jumped out at me viewing, though, is that it seemed like a rather poignant metaphor for how Paris sees Rory; a person who will wreck all of her hard work; everything she has built and in which she takes pride.  I love Liza Weil’s delivery of her line, “stay away from me.”  She doesn’t sound strictly angry and vicious the way she does on almost every other occasion; she sounds sad.  There’s a slight tremor in her voice and even her facial expression as she stomps away is almost pouty, by which, I mean that she looks hurt and dejected.  She’s hangs her head, rather than holding it up high.  There’s a human being in there, who is genuinely downheartened and we as the audience understand why.  Spoiler alert: I genuinely like Paris as a character.  I don’t always love how she behaves or her moral decisions, but I respect her and really like watching her develop as a character from beginning to end.  Props to Liza Weil.

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Of course, Rory ends up in the same class with Paris – again.  The teacher does not believe Rory’s story that she destroyed the project (even though the pieces of it are probably still on the hallway floor just outside the room).  Paris does not accept any of Rory’s multiple attempts to offer to help make a new project.  When denied, Rory opts to beat Paris at answering the class questions to get Paris’ attention; which it does, but only in such a way that ups the hostility between them even further.  And Tristan calls Rory “Mary” again, just in case we still didn’t get that he’s a jerk.

        Lorelai stops by Luke’s for an afternoon cup of coffee, over which she tells him about the day, including getting asked out. is happy she turned down the Chilton Dad™.  He quickly remarks on the age difference.  It’s cute, and I know that’s the prime goal with his reaction; he’s trying to cover up his relief with practicality.  But I agree with him.  The guy did the same thing Joey did in the pilot; the expected, “oh, you look too young to have a sixteen year old daughter!   Okay, well, in Joey’s case, he was a lot younger and thought Lorelai was closer to his age.  But Chilton Dad™ acting surprised makes one wonder: did he think she was Rory’s older sister?  Aunt?  Cousin?  He doesn’t think she looks older because he comments in the same “you’re so young” manner.  And in any of these cases – ICK!  If not, why is he so surprised by her being a mother, then?  So much so that he must note his disbelief multiple times?  And DUDE – he shows up at her place of work in the same day that they first met?  It’s not romantic, it’s creepy.  I’m glad she turned him down, too, Luke.
        In the midst of what is a slightly romantic moment, however, Lorelai gets a call from her neighbors, Babbette (Sally Struthers) and Morey (Ted Rooney).  Some men have shown up on her property, wandering around the house.  Lorelai rushes home and discovers that they are there to install a DSL line, already paid for by hmm, I wonder who?
Less than amused, Lorelai makes a beeline for a ritzy beauty salon where Emily is in the midst of getting her hair done.  There, Lorelai, voice shaking with suppressed frustration, first says politely, though firmly—yet again—that, as regards Rory, Emily’s help as re (read: charity and forced interferance) is not needed.  Emily attempts to brush Lorelai off, calling her behavior absurd and trying to downplay the whole thing.  Lorelai is having none of that.  She makes a public stand for independence and self-sufficiency (while still slipping in an acknowledgement for what generosity he has accepted from her parents).
I admire this scene SO MUCH because of its parallel to the scene in Headmaster Charleston’s office.  Here, it’s Emily who looks embarrassed.  The blocking has her looking up at Lorelai, who is dressed impeccably.  I also admire Lorelai’s moxie; much like in the pilot, she steps up and stands her ground confidently, unwilling to be pushed too far.

        Back in their comfort zone, the Girls and Lane decompress from the day by way of eating pizza and Lorelai suggests they make time to hang out on days when Lorelai’s in Hartford for her business class.  Once Lane rushes off to her family dinner, Rory ponders further on how to deal with Paris and Chilton in general.  She actually finds the tiniest glimmer of enjoyment from the budding rivalry.  I enjoy her reactions to both the end of the day and Paris’ obvious villainy.  It indicates a kind of optimism that I think speaks to the broader sense of who Rory is as a character; which is a HUGE step forward from the pilot.  In hindsight, she reminds me a little of Riley from Pixar’s Inside Out.

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        The episode then concludes with Lorelai asking Rory for her opinion on whether Luke is attractive or not.  Rory immediately stamps on the idea of Lorelai dating Luke; cue Lorelai to run through the multiple denials of any such implications.  It’s cute and believable and leaves you ready for episode three.

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POP CULTURE REFERENCES: 19

CONTINUITY NOTES:

  • Music trumps any “bad girl” nail polish nonsense; Rory doesn’t see the point to begin with, but Lorelai abandons the endeavor completely when Lane arrives on their porch with a new CD.
  • Rory HATES to be late – we see this made evident at least once in every season
  • The Chilton Dad, Ian Jack, mentions his daughter and that he’ll “tell Julia to look out for” Rory – but we never see or even hear of Julia again.
  • The “You ready?” exchange happening twice actually happens again (more than once) in later episodes.  It’s a rather unnoticeable trait of Lorelai and Rory’s.
  • Technical Note: At 25:51, in the widescreen version on Netflix, the boom pole is visible in the upper right corner of the frame.
  • Paris: “I intend to be valedictorian when I graduate.”
  • Sean Gunn makes his first appearance in the show here, as Mick, whom Lorelai has never met before.  Gunn will return in a few episodes, however, as the infamous Kirk.  There’s never association between the two characters.
  • First mention of Al’s Pancake World at the conclusion of this episode; however, Rory only refers to it as “Pancake World,” here.

 

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