Cinnamon’s Wake (original air date: November 2, 2000)
The title of this week’s episode evokes James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and deaths and funerals frame the episode, from a cousin Lorelai doesn’t know or remember, to Babette’s beloved cat, Cinnamon. Accordingly, the ongoing theme of different kinds of humor, of responses to emotional things and/or tragedy and loss, all plays out from both high and low angles. From Emily’s zinger “No, dear. That was a joke” after Lorelai’s comments about Nazis, to Michel’s “tres droll” routine pretending to not understand French to a French-speaking group, to Sookie’s slapstick pratfalls with setting things on fire, the characters are seemingly using all kinds of humor, exploring, testing, pushing boundaries, seeing how far one can go.
We open with one of the most well-known Lane Kim moments in the show (in part because it’s featured in the credits): Lane skanking to “Time Bomb” by Rancid. It’s a funny moment, but it’s also a culturally layered moment, the Korean Christian high school girl appropriating aggressive, political and social male space and culture for her own purposes. Skanking itself is a racial and cultural hybrid, with roots in 1960s Jamaican ska music and dance halls, but it was appropriated by British skinheads, and turned into moshing and thrash associated with punk. All of that made its way over to the States to be repurposed yet again, and then revived in the 1990s in California, bringing “punk” and “alternative” music firmly into the mainstream. Around and around and around we go! The idea of bifurcation and coming together is reflected nicely when Lane explains that her mom thinks she is currently “on a park bench, contemplating the reunification of the two Koreas” instead of “here, skanking to Rancid.”
But what does Rancid’s “Time Bomb” have to do with an episode on life and death, comedy and tragedy? Here’s a selection from the lyrics that link nicely:
Living and dying and the stories that are true
Secrets to a good life is knowing when you’re through
Black coat, white shoes, black hat, Cadillac
Yeah, the boy’s a time bomb
Well, he’s back in the hole where they got him living
Like a rat but he’s smarter than that nine lives
Like a cat 15 years old take him to the youth authority home
First thing you learn is that you got to make it
In this world alone
(Notice the cat reference, too?)
Later, the young “he” of the song, after years of criminal activity, is murdered by a rival.
Tears come from the razor that’s been tattooed below
His eye his mother cries she knows that he is strong enough
To die he’s rollin’ in the Cadillac it’s midnight sunroof is down
Three shots rung out, the hero’s dead, the new king is crowned.
Live fast, break rules, and die young? Is he a hero, a victim, a good guy made bad by circumstances, or what? Speaking of which….
Another line this episode explores, along with tragedy and comedy and life and death, is the nebulous boundaries regarding rules and definitions of what is okay and what is not. From Lorelai dating Rory’s teacher Mr. Medina to Sookie providing the home-baked goods for the Chilton bake sale, Lorelai bobs around in a sea of sometimes-unexamined rule-bending, all with comical snafus peppered about. (Why does she question the ethics of dating Mr. Medina, but not if it’s somehow unethical for her professional chef co-worker to provide baked goods for the Chilton parents’ bake sale?)
The whole episode hovers in the transient gray areas around deflecting with humor or a sense of the ridiculous what things are and aren’t, or how people pretend something isn’t what it is.
For example, Dean walks a creepy-stalker line by hopping on the bus for one stop in order to talk to Rory again. They later engage in all sorts of awkward flirting as she goes into store pretending she’s totally not there to see him when we know she totally is. Dean pretends the same thing when they see each other at Babette and Morey’s house. All of this Rory-and-Dean high school funny-awkwardness is paralleled with Max and Lorelai’s only-slightly-less awkward exchanges and not-quite coffee date. Both Girls are in a state of uncertainty about a potential romantic relationship, and have to commit to an “I like you, do you like me?” “Are we or aren’t we?” “What is this?” And they both avoid telling the other about their potential romantic interests, as if to highlight not only the privacy elements, but just the fact that they’re not quite sure and settled about the idea of romantic relationships with these guys just yet. They waffle around quite a bit, but both Lorelai and Rory finally make those big steps forward with their dudes at the end.
Rory continues exploring the “life” side of things when she and Lane are having a typical teen b.s. session, and Rory asks Lane where she would live if she could live in any city in the world.” Lane picks Philadelphia without hesitation, because “M. Night Shyamalan lives there.” Rory asks, “But what would you do there?” Lane responds, “Hang out with M. Night Shyamalan!” At the time of this episode, MNS was lauded for the Sixth Sense and hadn’t become the parody we know today. The plot twist in Sixth Sense blew everyone away, and in context with this episode, it also highlights notions of who is dead and who is alive, and the fine line between them, the misty spaces between two absolutes. These things are transient, or “crossroads” as Lorelai calls it.
When Lorelai has her not-a-date, totally-not-planned, completely-coincidental-meet-up with Max at the coffeehouse, she compares wanting to date him to wanting to be in the Bangles:
LORELAI: Well, I want to be in the Bangles, doesn’t mean I quit my job and get a guitar and ruin my life to be a Bangle does it?
MAX: The Bangles broke up.
LORELAI: Yeah, that’s not the point.
MAX: Well it has to be part of the point if there’s not band anymore.
But it is the point, and the Bangles make even more of a point if we think about them in context. They, too, occupy nebulous space, and raised questions just by existing. Who is really the lead singer? Was it a Susannah-fronted band, or are they a group? Were they punk or New Wave? Were they talented musicians and artists, or a group of hot girls? Were they meant to be taken seriously as artists, or were they all fun and silliness and awesome hair? These tensions are exacerbated when we consider that, at the time this episode was filmed, the Bangles had actually just gotten back together (and will appear in a later GG episode).
The Lorelai/Max date is full of amusing hilarity and hijinx, but it’s followed by even more wackiness when Lorelai and Sookie are hanging out at Luke’s, and Lorelai tells Sookie about him, about the “mixed up stuff,” and how “there’s goody stuff about it and there’s baddy stuff too.”
LORELAI: Life is a funny funny thing huh?
SOOKIE: Yeah, I love that Jim Carey.
SOOKIE: Jim Carrey. He’s just – he’s just funny.
LORELAI: He is funny, but I don’t mean funny funny, I’m being philosophical.
SOOKIE: Oh, very serious face – Jean Paul Sartre
“Funny” has so many different meanings, different possibilities, different incarnations, highs and lows, deep and surface, and humor can conceal, reveal, or both. Speaking of which….
This is all followed by the penultimate event in the episode, Cinnamon’s death. On the one hand, the whole event is done in slapstick, black humor fashion, emphasising absurdity as Babette describes Cinnamon’s lifeless body rolling off the couch and sliding across the waxed floor before Babette realized she was dead. On the other hand, Babette and Morey’s sadness is real, their loss is real. “This is life Rory,” Morey says. “It breaks your heart.”
Rory’s talk with Lane about it reflects all of this:
LANE: They said that they rolled her body into a lamp? [Rory nods] Did you laugh? [Rory shakes her head]. Did you want to? [Rory nods]
RORY: But it’s sad.
LANE: Yeah, it’s sad.
When Babette’s sorting through all of Cinnamon’s prescriptions at the wake, she describes it as “a scene from the kitty version of Valley of the Dolls,” seriousness undercut with camp. When it was published in 1966, the Jacqueline Susann novel was the best selling book of the year, and one of the best-sellers of all time. It was followed in 1967 by a film version, which not only made the ending more upbeat than the novel, but is the source of some of the greatest legendary Hollywood stories of all time. (Go on, watch it with commentary!) But VOTD was meant to be a serious look at drugs and addiction, as well as women’s roles at the time. However, it instead became a campy cult classic (and the follow-up not-actually-a-sequel sequel, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, brings it all on home). Add to that the tragedy of one of the movie’s breakout actresses, Manson murder victim Sharon Tate, and, well… yeah, you laugh, but it’s sad. And it’s sad, so you laugh. What else can you do?
Babette and Lorelai talk about “their kids,” about loss and moving on, about romance and finding a partner. Babette mentions seeing an episode of Oprah on couples breaking up after a loss like this, and how she’s worried her own marriage to Morey might go “belly up” now. For all of her bright, loud, showy personality in Stars Hollow, Babette shows raw vulnerability here:
But just as your heart is breaking because you understand Babette’s fears and insecurities (and her “Oh please, with that ass? Gimme a break” to Lorelai as well), Morey starts playing something on the piano (with Miss Patty rockin’ it out on the bongos in accompaniment). “That’s Cinnamon’s song!” Babette cries, and goes to sit by him on the piano bench.
The song is “I Thought About You” by Johnny Mercer and James Van Heusen. It’s an adaptable tune, with multiple variations, and it shows the obvious: that Morey is thinking about Babette, knows what she needs, that they both are thinking about Cinnamon. It shows their love for each other, his consideration. But even though this version is just the music, the lyrics to this jazz standard (which has been performed by Frank, Mel, Dinah, Billie, Miles, Ella, and countless others) emphasize their connection (and their family connection with Cinnamon. As part of a child-free marriage with several cats, I totally get that). It even places them in their cozy, small-town Stars Hollow environment:
Two or three cars parked under the stars
A winding stream
Moon shining down on some little town
And with each beam, same old dream
At every stop that we made
Oh, I thought about you
But when I pulled down the shade
Then I really felt blue,
I peeked through the crack
And looked at the track
The one going back to you
And what did I do
I thought about you
They are always connected in their sometimes-absurd, sometimes-non-traditional home and family life. But the song also plays behind Lorelai fretting to Sookie about not being able to find Rory, and about Rory seeing Max. Mother is connected to daughter, too, and this situation still needs attention.
First things first, though… Dean finds Rory sitting outside the Dells’ house, and he apologizes to Rory for bugging her, and Rory tells him she’s interested and then runs off. The music switches to “Truly Truly,” with Grant Lee Phillips singing:
Truly, truly, truly, I want you
Truly, truly, truly, I do
Truly, truly, truly, I want you
Very subtle as Rory dashes off to talk to Lorelai and hear about Max and how you can’t pick who you’re attracted to. (Rory, however, does not disclose anything to her mom about Dean, even as Lorelai promises to “tell [Rory] everything” about her life, including Mr. Medina. Ah, teenagers.)
Later that night, after the Gilmore Girls say goodnight to Babette and Morey, Morey suggests that the two of them “stay outside a while” and “look for the Big Dipper.” Just like the lyrics to “I Thought About You,” the “moon [is] shining down on some little town.” I adore Morey and Babette.
But there’s one last hurrah at the Gilmores’ house when Emily calls. Lorelai ends up ‘fessing that they were at
LORELAI: A wake, a funeral.
EMILY: A funeral for who?
LORELAI: It was for the neighbour’s –
[Rory motions her not to tell her]
LORELAI: -cat. [mouths ‘What?’ to Rory]. Mom?
EMILY: Hold on, I’m looking up aneurysm in our medical dictionary to see if I just had one.
LORELAI: I just wanted to be honest with you mom, silly me.
Obviously, the idea of a funeral for a cat is absurd to Emily, and she points out “You skipped your own cousin’s funeral for a cat funeral?”
“Well,” Lorelai says to Rory, wrapping up all of the mother/daughter exchanges in this episode, “I don’t know what to tell and what to hide!” Rory tells Lorelai that she, her mom, can date whoever she wants, and, as if to combat what are clearly her own uncomfortable feelings about dating and men and relationships, she ends their conversation with another joke, telling Lorelai, “Keep him out late, I have an exam.”
Throughout “Cinnamon’s Wake,” like in Joyce’s absurdist Finnegans Wake, the characters, especially the triumvirate of Gilmore Girls, use humor in personal interactions to subvert, to defend, to resist, to cope, to assert. Humor also pads their interactions with Dean and Max, allowing things that are actually kind of creepy and boundary-crossing to appear less threatening, even cute and endearing. But this is life. Ah, this is what women must do to deal with it all, huh?
Or, as Jimmy Joyce put it, “They lived and laughed and loved and left.”