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'Gilmore Girls' recap: Rory goes to Chilton, Lorelai goes to the rodeo

Season 1 | Episode 2 | “The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton” | Aired Oct 12, 2000

On the last episode of Gilmore Girls, Rory was accepted to fancy Connecticut private school Chilton. This week, she’s leaving Stars Hollow High behind and starting at her new school. The episode kicks off with Lorelai painting her daughter’s toenails red in preparation. (Because private school girls are bad, and everyone knows they have red toenails, explains Lorelai.) Rory’s best friend, Lane, arrives with the new XTC CD, and they run inside, dancing wildly to “I’m the Man Who Murdered Love.” Cue the credits!

The next scene opens bright and early, with Rory screaming at her mother to wake up. “It’s 7:10!” she repeats over and over again, while a dazed Lorelai stumbles out of bed, having overslept after her furry alarm clock failed to purr on time. Rory is dressed, composed and frustrated, the first of many times when the daughter in this relationship will be more stable and responsible than the mother. It’s a reversal that works for them, however, because as scattered as Lorelai can be, she’s always there to guide Rory—pushing her to fail, to try new things and to escape her comfort zone from time to time. In the first few episodes, Lorelai may seem irresponsible, but her ability to make mistakes and keep on going is what makes her strong, successful and a great mom.

Because she overslept on laundry day, and despite having a closet half-full of seemingly normal clothes, Lorelai has absolutely nothing to wear to Chilton except for a tight, tie-dyed pink T-shirt, short cut-off denim shorts and cowboy boots. Rory makes the first of many rodeo jokes, and they’re out the door on the way to Chilton.

Upon arriving at Chilton (an old, scary building that Rory describes as having an “off with their heads” vibe), Rory breaks the news that Lorelai has to come inside to meet the headmaster—cowboy boots and all. She throws on a long black trench coat, fails to close it over her outfit until after they meet hot Chilton dad Ian Jack, and rushes to the headmaster’s office. On the steps, they pass three girls with a very Heathers vibe who are giving Rory a dirty look for no apparent reason. Chances are they’ll be pretty important. (Looking back, I wonder if the creators realized just how important Paris, played by Liza Weil, would turn out to be. Imagine how different the series would have been if she had stayed just a two-dimensional mean girl, on the show only for Rory’s high school years.)

Lorelai and Rory reach the headmaster’s office, and the Gilmore matriarch herself, Emily, is there to greet them. It’s unbearably hot in the office, of course, and Emily insists that Lorelai take off her jacket because she’s being rude. She takes it off, mutters a meek “laundry day” to her mother and Headmaster Charleston (with whom Emily is old friends), and sits down for two minutes of awkward conversation. Emily is in fine form, and it’s the first time we really see her smart and snarky side emerge. “Dinner. Friday night. No spurs, please!” she shouts at Lorelai as they’re leaving.

gilmore-girls-paris-chiltonEverything about Rory’s first day at Chilton is terrible, from Paris threatening her without any real cause (“You’ll never catch up. You’ll never beat me. This school is my domain.”) to the boys all calling her “Mary” and her not understanding why. The classes are hard, the workload is crazy and her locker refuses to open. We’re introduced not only to Paris, but to her sidekicks Madeline (Shelly Cole) and Louise (Teal Redmann), and to Tristan Dugray (Chad Michael Murray), the troubled class hottie who flirts with Rory but refuses to call her by her real name.

It’s impossible to avoid a feeling of nostalgia when rewatching Gilmore Girls. Amy Sherman-Palladino and company didn’t just create a TV show on the WB 14 years ago—they created a whole world. Every building, every person and every pond in Stars Hollow has a story and a memory to go along with it, and it’s impossible to see Lorelai walk by Patty’s dance studio without thinking of Rory and Dean. There’s no way you can watch Lorelai kick open the door of her tan Jeep without thinking of the deer that hit it, or the time she tried to dig it out of snow like a crazy person, or the time it finally broke down and she and Luke went new-car shopping. Even the entryway of Chilton holds memories, of Lorelai and Rory saying an emotional goodbye to the school on Rory’s graduation day.

Back in Stars Hollow, Luke and Miss Patty (Liz Torres) both question Lorelai’s judgment when they see the outfit she wore to drop off Rory at Chilton. She soon changes into a gray skirt suit (again with a super-short skirt—was that an early ’00s trend that I’m forgetting?) and heads to the Inn, where Sookie is arguing with her produce guy (Jackson Douglas) and Michel is being sassy as ever. “If I have to fetch you like a dog, I’d like a cookie and a raise,” he tells Lorelai after Emily calls to discuss Rory’s need for more uniforms and a parking space at Chilton. Hot Chilton Dad also stops by the Inn, but Lorelai brushes him off, saying it’s too awkward to date the PTA before Rory’s first day is even over. (Spoiler alert: It’s apparently OK to date Rory’s teachers, just not Chilton parents. That makes sense.)

Both Gilmore ladies have had pretty rough days so far, and both storylines are building to explosions. Rory decides to yank as hard as she can on her stubborn locker, and of course destroys Paris’ history diorama in the process. Rory takes the blame and offers to help fix the project in class, but Paris doesn’t want her help, so they get into a screaming match in class. When Paris crumples up Rory’s apology note and throws it on the floor later in class, Rory gets fed up and decides to beat Paris, rather than trying to be her friend, by answering all of the teacher’s questions first.

If I watch every episode of Gilmore Girls 100 times, I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the sight of Kirk (Sean Gunn) as “Mick,” an unfamiliar, one-dimensional character, in the first few episodes of season 1. Many of his personality traits are the same, but rather than building out the Mick character as the show went on, they reintroduced Gunn as Kirk, a bizarre, Stars Hollow–born man whom everyone in town had known for years. In this episode, he’s still just Mick, a worker who is at Lorelai’s house to install a DSL line while she’s at the Inn. It turns out that Emily ordered the DSL line, and Lorelai storms off to the hair salon to give her mother a piece of her mind.

It’s a perfect example of just why Emily and Lorelai’s relationship is so strained—Emily tries to help, thinking that money will solve everything, but her efforts are sorely misguided. Lorelai, on the other hand, has a knee-jerk reaction to taking anything from her mother, and so she goes above and beyond to refuse Emily’s gift, offending her mother and further straining the relationship in the process. Emily and Lorelai’s relationship will continue to grow throughout the next few seasons, but for now it stands to contrast and add context to the way Lorelai raises her own daughter.

In the Gilmore Girls pilot, we were given a superficial view of the mother-daughter bond between Lorelai and Rory. They were fighting for most of the episode, they made up in the end, Lorelai teased Rory about Dean and they fast-talked their way through a couple of inside jokes. But on the second episode of the show’s first season, we’re shown just how strong their relationship is, and we’re offered a first glimpse into the bond that makes them more than mother and daughter—it makes them best friends. At the end of the day, no matter which season you’re watching, Gilmore Girls isn’t a show about school, small towns or even love. It’s about mothers, daughters and one of the strongest friendships ever seen on TV. All of this unfolds across seven seasons, countless obstacles and a dozen relationships. But when I looked back at season 1, I saw the Gilmore relationship summed up in one scene, as Rory and Lorelai clutched each other outside of Chilton at the end of a long day, pushing aside all of their problems and drawing strength from one another like nothing else mattered.

After venting about their bad days outside of Rory’s new school, the Gilmore women return to Stars Hollow for pizza with Lane, and an awkward conversation about how Lorelai thinks Luke is cute. “If you date him, you’ll break up and then we can never eat there again!” exclaims Rory, predicting a tiny bit of the Gilmore Girls‘ future.

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