Going into the Gilmore Girls revival, there were a few things we were able to count on. Stars Hollow would remain the happy little town that it’s always been, Lorelai Gilmore would still be managing the Dragonfly, Luke would still be pouring coffee at his diner, and we’d find ourselves still wondering who Rory might end up with. But with the 2014 death of Edward Hermann, the actor who portrayed Richard Gilmore, Emily Gilmore’s story was up in the air. What would Friday night dinners be without Richard spouting trivia and charming anecdotes from the head of the table? What would become of the soirees Emily spearheaded for Richard’s business partners?
Throughout the course of Gilmore Girls, Emily’s character was largely defined by her devotion to Richard and her dependence on him. While she was herself a formidable woman, a firebrand with a mean streak, and a powerhouse wit, she was of a generation in which a woman’s place was by her husband’s side. She supported Richard in his business endeavors, she accepted changes to their life and finances trusting that he knew what he was doing, and she maintained their home and their reputations as upstanding, charitable people while he worked. Now, however, with Richard Gilmore having passed away, Emily was left a widow, and her journey is hands down the strongest part of the revival.
Over the course of the revival, we watch Emily learn to navigate a life in which she answers to no one. She tries repeatedly to make the house she and Richard kept together feel like home without him in it while simultaneously being reluctant to let go of the parts of the house that were Richard’s. Rearranging furniture and adding televisions to rooms that have never before had televisions, Emily tries to bring new life into a home where she has also preserved Richard’s office perfectly and refused to allow others to sit at the head of the dinner table. She (mistakenly) orders an enormous portrait of Richard that looms over every scene in her living room, his presence always felt despite his pronounced absence. We watch her nitpick the design of his headstone, determined that it should be perfect, as if getting it right and no longer having to manage it meant a kind of finality that she was not ready to fully admit.
Emily did take quite a few steps out of her comfort zone, though. Allowing Berta and her family to move into her home was a major step away from the norm in the Gilmore house, though the storyline revolving around them was probably the weakest part of her arc (why does it take a year to figure out what language people are speaking?). The Emily Gilmore of the original series would not have allowed someone else’s children to run playfully through her home without so much as a remark about it, but widowed Emily Gilmore seemed to need to fill her otherwise cavernous home with sounds, as though she could not bear to be alone in the silence to contemplate her new life alone. We see her try to tweak the home repeatedly until finally she concedes defeat and sells it, opting to buy a smaller home in Nantucket where she can feel more at home while still remembering her late husband fondly.
Grief does a lot to a person. Along with her own personal recovery, we watch Emily clash with Lorelai in the ways that they grieve, beginning with a contentious battle after Richard’s memorial service in which Lorelai, having had too much to drink in her own grief, tells a terrible story to remember her father–a story that Emily had forced out of her in the moment, insisting that Lorelai express herself immediately. The personality clash between these two has been a long-running theme for Gilmore Girls, but never has it felt so raw and painful as when Emily unleashed her feelings about Lorelai’s life choices in the kitchen. It is clear in the revival that each of them is so consumed by their own grief over the loss of Richard that they are unable to fully support the other in their loss. Attempting to work through this, Emily tricks Lorelai into going to therapy with her, which of course results in catastrophe. But surprisingly, it is Emily, not Lorelai, that drops out of the therapy sessions, choosing to work her problems out on her own. Their quiet reconciliation in the final installment is moving and satisfying, as they come to their truce on their own terms.
Throughout the course of the revival we are privileged to watch the growth of Emily Gilmore. As she becomes more self-aware and determined to live by her own rules, we join her in her joys and her heartaches, watching her learn how to live on her own. By the time she throws care to the wind and vents her frustrations with her stuffy DAR compatriots, we are cheering for her (and for the creators of the show for showing so much restraint with Netflix’s allowed language that when Emily drops multiple “bullshits” in a single scene, it brings the house down). When Emily finally settles into her Nantucket home and takes a glass of wine out into the yard to enjoy with the evening breeze, you feel confident that she has truly found herself.
The revival clocks in at roughly six hours of television, and in that six hours quite a lot happens, leaving you as the viewer simultaneously charmed and conflicted. However, if there’s one thing the revival does well, it is telling a grief story: in Emily Gilmore, we see someone learn how to live on their own after a lifetime of companionship, and her story is truly the beating heart of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.