Season 1 | Episode 4 | “The Deer Hunters” | Aired Oct 26, 2000
Things are not going well for Rory on the fourth episode of Gilmore Girls, as she starts to fall behind at Chilton. She and Lorelai are excitedly buying highlighters and purple legal pads when the episode opens, but in the next scene, we see her at school receiving a D on her English paper. Hot new teacher Max Medina (Scott Cohen, aka Luke Wilson’s down-to-earth doppelganger) is encouraging, but at the end of the day, a D is basically a “job application at McDonald’s”—or at least that’s what mean girl Paris tells Rory as she saunters out of the classroom.
It’s all grump and groan back in Stars Hollow, despite Lorelai’s best efforts, as Rory obsesses over her bad grade (without ever telling her mother what’s wrong) and Sookie pouts about a not-quite-perfect review. The restaurant critic, who wrote a complete rave about Sookie’s cooking, called her famous risotto “perfectly fine,” and it threw her into a funk. Rory is completely weighted down by bags and books, and we rarely see her look up from her giant textbook for the rest of the episode. She’s studying for the upcoming “no make-ups” Shakespeare exam that will be 20 percent of her final grade, and because she’s putting so much effort into it, we know something’s gotta go wrong.
Drella, the inn’s harpist, is in this episode, scuffing up Michel’s $300 Italian loafers and playing Black Sabbath just to irk Lorelai. She’s one of the show’s most annoying characters, and looking back it’s hard to believe that she was in so many of the season 1 episodes. Even stranger—the actress who plays Drella (Alex Borstein) was Sookie St. James (Melissa McCarthy’s role) in the original Gilmore Girls pilot. Those scenes are bizarre without McCarthy, and we can all be glad it didn’t work out, because it allowed Borstein to come back to the show a few years later in the fabulous role of Miss Celine.
After Lorelai and Rory leave the inn for the day, they return home so that Rory can study some more and her mom can pester her, narrating the news and asking to go out for ice cream. “Lorelai, go to your room!” Rory finally shouts, before packing up and heading into her room for more serious Shakespeare studying. Rory also studies at Lane’s house, at Luke’s diner and on a bench outside of Chilton. She probably even studies in the shower and on the bus.
Rory still hasn’t told her mom about the D, but Lorelai’s bound to find out soon enough, as she heads off to a parent-teacher meeting at Chilton. The parents are super-intense, quizzing teacher Max about the AP exam and asking a million questions. Lorelai shows up late wearing a B-52s T-shirt, clumsily stumbling into the classroom globe and rambling in response to Max’s friendly flirting. After asking if she’s allowed to watch Rory take the upcoming AP test, one of the other parents mutters, “Must be a scholarship student,” and Max calls a recess to avoid a fight. Instead he and Lorelai flirt some more, and she finds out about the D grade Rory got on her paper. She rushes off to comfort Rory, who is (of course) studying at the diner.
We see a new level to Sookie’s wackiness in “The Deer Hunters,” as she force-feeds Lorelai three different types of risotto and attacks the inn’s waiter to find out why the critic didn’t like her risotto. The dish, legend tells it, is magical. When Sookie’s mom was on her death bed, she ate some of the risotto and went on to live for three more years. Finally Sookie discovers that the food critic ordered the wrong wine for his meal, so she creepily finds out his address and hand-delivers a fresh plate of risotto for him to try with the correct wine. She’s completely bizarre, but she’s so goofy and bubbly that her crazy quirks become endearing. And “odd but endearing” is pretty much what Gilmore Girls is all about.
Now that Lorelai knows why Rory’s been studying so hard, she’s fully focused on helping her daughter study. The Gilmore ladies stay up all night the day before the test, reviewing Rory’s notes, going over quizzes and learning more about Shakespeare than most college English majors ever will. Rory reaches a point where she’s getting every answer correct, and they finally fall asleep at the kitchen table.
The next morning, Rory wakes up abruptly, and starts screaming because she’s late. She missed her bus and Lorelai can’t take her, so Rory grabs the car keys and runs out the door. On the way, she stops at a stop sign and calls Lane to check on a set of notes (because apparently double-checking one answer is more important than making it to the test at all), and a deer runs out of the woods and straight into her car. “I just got hit by a deer!” she screams at Lane, to which her best friend responds, “How do you get hit by a deer?”
Running through the halls of Chilton, Rory throws on the last pieces of her uniform, and we get a glimpse of the clock: 8:15. Uh oh. She gets to class and Mr. Medina tells her she’ll have to wait in the library; she missed the test. Normally calm Rory flips out, losing her quiet and collected composure and screaming about the deer that hit her and everything she did to learn the material and get to class.
Paris mutters “loser” under her breath, and it’s the final straw. Rory goes off on an epic rant, screaming at Paris and asking, “What the hell is wrong with you that you have this constant need to be the biggest jerk in the entire world?” As Mr. Medina pulls her out of class, she also screams at Tristan (who’s been calling her “Mary” since day one at Chilton), “For the last time, the name is RORY.”
Lorelai rushes to the school after being called to the headmaster’s office, and she can’t believe that Rory wasn’t allowed to take the test. She goes off on her own fit, yelling at Max and calling Headmaster Charleston “Il Duce.” She’s asked to leave, and she and Rory head home together. On their way back to Stars Hollow, Rory yells for Lorelai to stop the car, and they hop out for a scenic walk to look for the deer and have a heart-to-heart chat. Lorelai tells Rory it’s OK to drop out of Chilton if she wants to, but Rory assures her that this is the right path. She wants Chilton and she wants to go to Harvard; she just needs to catch up.
The episode ends on a high note, with Rory positive about her future again, and with Max calling the Gilmore household to tell Rory that she can do extra credit and to flirt a little more with Lorelai.