Someone call Antonioli’s and order a couple pizzas! Extra cheese?
The Deer Hunters (original air date: October 26, 2000)
This week, Rory tanks an English paper, and then goes above and beyond studying for her test on Shakespeare. However, she misses the test due to an accident with a deer, which results in her pitching a major wobbly in the classroom, and then in the headmaster’s office. At the Independence Inn, Sookie is upset because a food critic doesn’t rave over the risotto, and goes above and beyond to track him down and get him to try it again. In several scenes, Lorelai goes above and beyond, acting childish or demanding in response to Rory’s and Sookie’s need for work-time, and bumbles her way through a parent-teacher conference at Chilton, where she first meets Max Medina, Rory’s English teacher. She also throws a major tantrum a la Rory to the headmaster. It initially seems that it’s just a whole lot of screaming, hysterical women overreacting or not managing, but, much like Shakespeare, there’s a lot of tension under the surface, and simple actions aren’t so simple after all.
This episode is focused on women who must prove themselves to men, and men who don’t allow them to demonstrate/don’t acknowledge their talents. Women are pushed to the point of emotional breakdowns, and have little other options but to act in cartoonish “emotional girly” ways to finally get a response.
The title of this week’s episode echoes movie The Deer Hunter, a controversial 1978 film about Vietnam, broken into three acts and an epilogue. It features some of the greatest actors of our time playing working-class Russian immigrant steelworkers from Pittsburgh who get sent off to Vietnam. Opens with a group of friends preparing for (I’ll just quote Wikipedia) “two rites of passage: marriage and military service.” Their deer hunting is meant to be something respectful, a sacred ritual, and contrasts with the horrors and futility of the killing in Vietnam, and in the last act, a deer is allowed to escape during a hunt in a symbolic gesture. The movie’s primary metaphor, though, is a game of Russian routlette, affecting others’ sanity. Was it patriotic, or a mockery? Critics still argue over this. (Later, Lorelai’s Flashdance reference also calls back the whole “steeltown” worker thing.)
At Lane’s mom’s antiques store, Rory’s carting around a giant volume of Shakespeare and a huge binder of notes. When Lane tells Rory Dean has asked about her, she adds, “I guess he’s into brainy chicks.” It’s amazing to remember that, before Rory Gilmore, there weren’t a whole lot of “brainy chicks” on TV who had romances with super-hot guys, guys who liked them because they were “brainy chicks.” But we’ll be back with more Shakespeare in a bit.
First, we have Drella in her final appearance on the show. Initially, she calls Michel “Chevalier” and mows over his feet with her harp. Then, later that afternoon, she’s ripping through the instantly recognizable guitar lick from Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” (1970), a full-blown metal cliche that has been referenced by Beavis & Butt-Head, Wayne’s World, and School of Rock, to name just a few. Also, Sabbath is (much like Gamer culture and sci fi fandoms) wrongfully considered male territory, hypermasculine, even. When Lorelai comes over to tell her:
No Black Sabbath, no Steely Dan, no Boston, and no Queen.
Drella: What happened to make you so cold?
Lorelai: We like that Mozart.
Drella: I am the Artie Shaw of harpists.
Lorelai lists off the types of bands that, again, are considered for dudes only, that are hostile to female fans. Drella claims male artistic space and identity for herself. She takes this even further with her Artie Shaw reference. Shaw was a clarinetist and one of the best-known swing bandleaders (like his rival Benny Goodman). He was the first to sign Billie Holiday as vocalist of a major big band, and helped discover drummer Buddy Rich. But unlike many of the era’s other bandleaders, Shaw saw himself as a more innovative and experimental musician than critics and even his fans wanted, and resented that he often had to cater to mainstream demands. Shaw-related topics like intellectual approaches, control, and artistry over money are all relevant here; Drella, too, is being forced to limit her scope and talents for mainstream approval, curbed by critics.
The Mozart reference, also, is loaded. Wolfgang Amadeus was a child prodigy, prolific, mythologized, cosmopolitan, possibly an insane genius, and one of the most influential composers of all time. His compositions are often linked with intellectual stimulation. But if you listen to his pieces, surface happiness, not to grossly oversimplify, one hand is playing something happy, the other playing something that sounds melancholy… or dangerous. With Mozart, you get the whole spectrum all at once. Let’s keep this comedy-and-tragedy idea in mind as we head to Chilton….
At an evening parent-teacher conference, Mr. Medina is in the middle of telling the Chilton parents that the class is concentrating on a “complete overview”of Elizabethan literature, and names Shakespeare, Marlowe, Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Webster (which is all written on his classroom chalkboard, along with some definitions of rhyme and meter schemes). The parents fuss about what’s going to be on the AP exam, but there’s something else to consider about the Elizabethan literary figures mentioned: it’s all men. During an era in which the most powerful nation in the world was ruled by a woman, a “complete overview” of its literature features only men. The syllabus doesn’t even include Edmund Spenser’s female-dominant “The Faerie Queene,” nor Sir Philip Sidney, much less actual women writers of the era, like Sidney’s sister, poet Mary Sidney. Instead, the course focuses on playwrights, in a time when women were excluded from performing on the stage, or having their works performed publicly. Women are symbolic, static, not active, not participants.
Into all of this busts Lorelai, wearing a B-52s t-shirt with her suit. Sure, it’s one of her 80s band references, but the mention of a band fronted by women and gay men is a nice contrast to Elizabethan drama. But this also is a very sneaky link to a 1991 Shakespearean adaptation of the Henry plays, titled My Own Private Idaho, after the B-52s song. The Hal and Falstaff characters in the film deal with social expectations and a (homosexual) male-centric adventure in which the woman is the quest-object, not a participant.
Lorelai and Max engage in some heterosexual almost-flirting.
When Lorelai finds out Rory bombed her paper, she heads back to Stars Hollow to provide comfort. Rory’s bent over more Shakespeare books and notes at Luke’s, and tells Lorelai she didn’t say anything about the D because it was “too humiliating.” Lor then tells Rory, “you once told me that you loved Saved by the Bell. What could be more humiliating than that?” Not that I don’t agree that Saved by the Bell is terrible, but it serves to contrast a cartoon-like, idealized, happy-go-lucky fictional high school environment with Rory’s own realistic pressures at Chilton.
The next morning, Paris rocks up to Rory, quoting the first octave of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
“You’re going down,” she finishes.
Sure, it’s one of Shakespeare’s love poems, which adds fuel to the Team Roris bandwagon (upon which I happily have seated myself as well). But it’s possible to cherry-pick some bits: Rory’s “true mind” is experiencing “impediments” and “bending,” when, as her mother advised her earlier, she should not be “shaken” by one bad grade… or by Paris’s nastiness. On the one hand, it’s also Shakespeare’s most well-known sonnet, an obvious choice for high school study, or for memorization, suggesting that maybe Paris isn’t as exceptional a student after all. But on the other hand, Paris leaves out the concluding sestet in which the poet meditates on how he might be mistaken and, if he is, he takes it all back, suggesting that Paris isn’t shaking in her assessment of herself, her abilities, or Rory and her abilities. She, at least, does not falter in her definitions.
The sonnet about ideal love also connects with Lane’s earlier comment about Dean, and how he must like “brainy girls.”
But Rory’s freaked out, because her “worth is unknown,” in all of these contexts. Paris may be certain, but neither Rory nor the poem’s speaker are entirely sure.
Sookie makes a million risottos, and then, back at the Gilmore Girls’ house, Lorelai quizzes Rory about A Comedy of Errors and Richard III, in which Rory keeps missing the dates, and later, the basic structure of the sonnets, which she nails. No analysis, just dates and definitions. But the mention of the sonnets which don’t conform to Shakespeare’s regular meters and structures, as well as the Comedy of Errors and Richard III, signal that things are about to go all wrong, and it’s going to be both tragedy and comedy together. Both Rory and Lorelai fall asleep, each tucking a blanket around the other, with Lorelai eventually joining Rory at the kitchen table, where they sleep on her piles of notes and books. Over all of this plays “My Darling” by Wilco
Go back to sleep now
And I’ll keep all the bad dreams away
Breathe now, think sweet things
And I’ll think of all the right words to say
Because we made you
With the love in each of our hearts….
It doesn’t continue with the lines about “don’t grow up too fast,” but nevertheless, it emphasizes the familial bond between mother and daughter, nurturing and protective, even the “we” touching on the fact that Lorelai is pulling double-duty as both mother and father.
However sweet it may be, though, that Lor snuggles next to Rory at the kitchen table instead of waking her and sending her to sleep in her own bed, it results in them both oversleeping, Rory missing her bus, and being extremely late for school.
Lorelai lets Rory take her car, and, as she’s paused at a stop sign, Rory calls Lane to ask if she left a notebook at her place. Lane is hiding in her closet (yes, she’s in the closet), which is a psychedelic crash pad with lava lamps, weird art, and, naturally, her music. (Really, Mrs. Kim NEVER opens the closet door?)
Lane is listening to Wesley Yang & Gavin McNett’s “Wendy,” which, according to several GG wikis, was also playing in the background when Rory cleaned out her locker at Stars Hollow High in the pilot. This particular song has me stumped. From what little I can find out, both composers seem to write music for TV shows. The music is barely recognizable outside of some strumming guitars. Anyone have any ideas?
Anyway, this is when Rory gets hit by a deer, which becomes the repeated “You hit a deer?” “No, I got hit by a deer!” joke. A comedy of errors indeed.
Rory is late to class, and when she tries to explain, Mr. Medina refuses to let her take the test anyway, repeating that she “needs to calm down.” Instead, Rory flips out and, when Paris starts muttering, confronts her, too, about being “the biggest jerk in the entire world” and then, for good measure, screams at Tristan, “And for the last time, the name is RORY!” before Mr. Medina hustles her out of class and sends her to the headmaster’s office.
That’ll teach them about mistaken identity, huh?
At the Inn, Drella, strumming, asks a passing Lorelai “What do you think of Pat Benatar?” “Great idea,” says Lorelai, purposefully misunderstanding. “Can she play the harp?” Lorelai then hears Sookie screaming with delight about figuring out why the critic didn’t understand just how great her risotto was (because he’s paired it with the wrong wine), and then gets the call about Rory being in trouble at Chilton. Loading these turning points in the plots with a reference to Pat Benatar, no matter how brief, shifts the tone from one of complete misogyny.
Pat Benatar (actually Pat Giraldo) was one of the most popular early-80s female artists, hugely visible due to the beginning years of MTV. Her songs were also tough, edgy, focused on surviving women. She was emulated by others as an 80s icon of power and owned sexuality:
But she wasn’t a token rocker chick; Patricia trained classically before she found commercial success in 1980. She dealt with extreme sexism in the music industry: for example, she ended up stuck using her ex-husband’s name, even though she and Neil have been married for over thirty years, because she had been styled and marketed as “Pat Benatar” when starting out in the late ‘70s, so in 1982, she was told she could not now be “Patricia Giraldo,” nor could she and Neil market themselves as a duo or partnership, although they have for the last several decades. (As they have said in interviews, “We are each other’s muse.”) Using Pat Benatar as a cultural reference isn’t just “Hey, cool rocker chick,” but has a whole pile of musical credibility plus feminism packed into that Spandex. This flavors Lorelai’s dash off to Chilton to have a big ol’ fight with Mr. Medina and Headmaster Charleston about Rory not being allowed to take her English exam.
According to Lorelai, Rory “deserves” to take the test, and yes, this is a bit of Mom-entitlement that we see in the Lorelai-Rory relationship. But Lorelai isn’t entirely wrong, although she keeps emphasising how Rory is “a great kid!” and “That isn’t Rory!”, something that becomes a real problem down the line. But the headmaster reads Lorelai to filth, reiterating that maybe Rory can’t hack it, and pointing out that both mother and daughter are “throwing fits” and “manic” and “another outburst from either of you will not be on the options list.” Women, doncha know?
After leaving campus, the Gilmore Girls go deer hunting.
Is this an act of folly bordering on madness, or one of respect? Comedy or tragedy? Or both? Mother and daughter discuss stress, pressure, goals, Harvard, happiness, and Rory insists that she’s not ready to give up on Chilton yet.
Later, Mr. Medina calls and tells Rory that she can do extra credit work, and adds some flirtatious remarks to Lorelai. So everything’s coming up Gilmore?
In this episode, the women may have made the men uncomfortable with their emotional outbursts and confrontations, from Lorelai freaking out on the Chilton faculty to Sookie bringing the risotto and a different wine to the restaurant critic, but they still effectively insist on being fairly assessed, as much on their own terms as possible. Because school, life, and love is indeed a battlefield, dammit.