Gilmore Girls: The Deer Hunters

Season 1, Episode 4: The Deer Hunters
Directed by Alan Myerson, Written by Jed Seidel
Air date: October 26th, 2000

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A parent-teacher conference, romantic sparks, a healthy dose of Shakespeare, two meltdowns and a whole lot of risotto.

THE BEATS

In the opening bumper, Lorelai and Rory shop for school supplies.  The scene always seemed like arbitrarily chipper backdrop stuff in previews viewings to me, but in this re-watch it suddenly jumped out as a demonstration of Lorelai’s support, however colorful of Rory and her academic pursuit.  When she later comments, “I’ve always wanted her to go [to Harvard],” to teacher Max Medina (Scott Cohen) and it’s a little jarring and out of place.  I don’t entirely accept it as much as I do this active demonstration.

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Someone needs pie.

The rest of the episode proceeds around the basic premise that Rory is still struggling at Chilton and, as such, the big Shakespeare test at the end of the week looms heavy and ominous.  She keeps it to herself, however, rather than sharing the situation with Lorelai.

 

Even after watching it again, I only still barely understand the reasoning.  It strikes me far more, as necessary set up for the cutesy meeting between mom and teacher.

Meanwhile, at the Independence Inn, a food critic has reviewed Sookie’s cooking and it’s “a rave,” as Lorelai puts it, and it’s no exaggeration.  The review does however, just mildly underrate one aspect of his meal (and that is an exaggeration, because he clearly loved the food otherwise), and Sookie becomes depressed and fixated on finding out why.  The most bizarre thing, is that this plotline gets dropped entirely after Sookie tracks the critic down to his house and presents him the same dish with a different wine.  We never hear about that event ever again.  Color me curious.

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It’s also too bad because while it’s still more obsessive behavior from Sookie, you can also see why she takes so much pride in her cooking.  Not only is her food ridiculously good – enough for a glowing review and an overall reputation within the tri-county area of being stupendous – but her food is connected to some pretty amazing memories.  Anyone who takes that kind of pride in their work is commendable and it’s part of why I love Sookie.  It’s the artist streak in all of us that she doesn’t keep hidden and it’s fantastic.

Obsession is the theme of the episode, though, as Rory spends the rest of the week killing herself over studying, both with and without Lorelai’s help.  The two fall asleep Thursday night and miss their morning alarms.  Rory makes a mad dash to school, during which a deer runs into the side of Lorelai’s jeep when Rory pauses at a stop sign.  She finally gets to class, but is told she is unable to take the test.  Perhaps it’s just because I went to public school, but I don’t understand why Rory couldn’t have still at least started to take the test, and simply not had any additional time. She’s been on time every other day of the semester, yeah?  It’s not like tardiness was a common thing for her.

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Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200.  Go directly to the Headmaster’s Office.

It doesn’t matter, of course; this is probably what we’re supposed to think, because Rory makes a desperate plea to Mr. Medina, who refuses to budge.  The plea quickly collapses into a tirade, but aimed at Paris.  All I can say about that is: yes, YES, YES, Rory.  I remember watching that episode for the first time, being completely taken aback by Rory’s gumption.  We all wanted such a blow up and we actually got it!  Rory is so mild-mannered, that it was really rewarding to see her bust loose a little; especially when everything she says is within reason, even if loud.  And Paris is surprised, too.  She doesn’t seethe or respond, only looks uncomfortable.  Love it.

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She stops to give Tristan a proper yell on the way out, too, and it is glorious.  Eat it, dirtbag.

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“The name is RORY!”

Lorelai is summoned to Chilton and she assures a deflated Rory that everything will be taken care of.  However, the meeting that ensues between parent, teacher and headmaster quickly dissolves into Lorelai’s very own breakdown, ending in a pompous “nope,” from Headmaster “Il Duce” Charleston while holding open the door to his office.

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“You nurture horrible kids who treat each other like mortal enemies.  You set impossible standards…and you take a great kid like Rory and you tear her apart!”

I’m very impressed by the two rants, even more so in the re-watch; specifically, because they are so different.  We see this type of variance in personality portrayed more than once in this show (especially in season four episode Let the Games Begin, which are some of my favorite scenes in the entire series), but I sincerely appreciate it here, four episodes in.  Both girls “throw fits” as Headmaster Charleston observes, but not only are the breakdowns beautifully performed by the two actresses, the writing is superb as well; the differences are subtle and downright eloquent.  For example, Rory maintains a normal, respectable volume towards Mr. Medina, even while outright begging to take the test.  She only starts yelling when she rounds on Paris and Tristan.  Lorelai, on the other hand, yells at both Medina AND Charleston.

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I would go so far as to say it is some of the best characterization writing from these early episodes.  It’s a touch on the over-dramatic side, as is much of the rest of the first (and even second) season, but the situation warrants it, and the build-up to these breakdowns is very well paced.  I really enjoy watching the study session.  It’s scenes like that that establish the warmth and familiarity of their household and relationship.  It felt very real to me; I can recall similar study sessions between my mom and I (even if it was over math and biology, rather than Shakespeare) and it does an excellent job of continuing the mood from the opening scene.  The mad-dash to school is a bit over-the-top, Rory’s stopping to get out of the car to search for the deer is completely absurd, but two rants are a payoff that, I think, is entirely worth it.  Lorelai can get desperate for Rory to succeed sometimes, but you can also see the earnestness in both her and Rory’s actions.

Lorelai acknowledges at the end of the episode that the fixation on the studying, overworking themselves and the drive to go to Harvard might have started from her own desires, pushed onto Rory.  She gives Rory the freedom to make her own decisions and do what she wants and I believe her.  Maybe I’m biased in Lorelai’s favor, and I admit that, but I think the writing backs me up.  She genuinely wants what’s best for her daughter; for her to be healthy, happy and, more than anything, her own self.  Considering what Lorelai has been through to get that on her own, it seems to me that she means it.  And this is a consistency in her character that lasts throughout all seven – yes, seven – seasons.

The episode concludes with a message on their answering machine from Mr. Max Medina, indicating very obvious foreshadowing for what is to come in subsequent episodes.  And some great acting on Lauren Graham’s part. 

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POP CULTURE REFERENCES:


CONTINUITY NOTES / RANDOM NOTES:

  • Richard Topol plays a gruff waiter here, but he will reappear in Teach Me Tonight (season 2, episode 19) as a much more patient and friendly doctor.
  • To reiterate: the sub plot with Sookie and the food critic gets completely dropped
  • As is becoming a trend, the Independence Inn kitchen contains lots of sparkling interactions and great little bits of comedy.  Sookie and Jackson aren’t up to the verbal sparring we’re already used to, but the lack of it is what’s great.  I especially enjoy Jackson’s reaction to Sookie’s passive dismissal of his mistake.
  • The sparring is made up for, however, by Drella and Michel.
  • A question that has bothered me for years: there’s SO much focus on the one Shakespeare test; what about Rory’s other subjects?  Spanish, Math, Science, etc?  Very rarely in the future does ONE subject get the full attention of an entire episode, without so much as a passing mention of even ONE other class.
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