One of the podcasts that I listen to regularly is the Gilmore Guys show hosted by Kevin Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe. I like it because it’s generally funny, and their analysis of a non-genre television show that’s been off the air for nearly a decade is interesting, since they bring a perspective that’s based on working within the entertainment industry. For my part, I finished watching Gilmore Girls last summer; I didn’t remark on it at the time because it was mostly just a thing to pass the time.
In the last few weeks, Kevin and Demi have reached a major milestone in the series, the beginning of the show’s final season, which was produced by David S Rosenthal instead of the original creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Among Gilmore fans there’s a bit of debate about the quality of Season 7, since Sherman-Palladino’s voice is so strongly married to the rest of the series. My general opinion is that Season 7’s not really that great (I watched through it in a few days just to say that I had been through it), and from a story perspective there are more than a few narrative decisions that I think were especially bad. The most pervasive one is the way the show shifts its center away from its female leads, who have had various successful and unsuccessful romances in the past as just an aspect of their pretty full lives, to being pretty much all about the love triangle between Lorelai, Christopher, and Luke (I don’t think it can be overemphasized how Luke and Christopher become central characters in a show that is explicitly not supposed to be about them in the last season). That’s troubling, but the single worst decision of the show has to do with the treatment of Rory’s childhood best friend, Lane Kim.
For background, Lane is a regular character on the show whose life is modeled on some of the experiences of Helen Pai, a friend of Sherman-Palladino’s who worked as the music producer on the show. Lane comes from a heavily religious Seventh Day Adventist Korean family and rebels against her restrictive home life through a deep love of rock ‘n’ roll music that she also spends years hiding from her mother. When her mother, Mrs. Kim, finally discovers Lane’s passion for rock music, they become estranged as Lane chooses to pursue a career as a musician instead of going to college. Romantically, Lane has two serious relationships, both with members of the rock band she helps form. In the history of the show, the first boyfriend, Dave Rygalski, is named after Helen Pai’s real-life husband, and most fans agree that if the actor Adam Brody hadn’t gotten a regular role on the WB drama One Tree Hill he would have been Lane’s key romance for the duration of the show. Instead, after a season without a romance plotline, Lane was eventually paired with the band’s lead signer, Zack. The relationship never made much sense as a follow up to Dave, who Lane apparently broke up with off screen. At the end of Season 6, which is Sherman-Palladino’s last season working on the original run of Gilmore Girls, Lane and Zack get married and leave for their honeymoon.
What’s weird about Lane’s character arc over the course of the original six seasons is that she always seems to be on a trajectory of settling for less than what she could have. She starts out too meek to openly defy her mother, so she sneaks around constantly with her CDs and drumsticks. When she does eventually come clean, it’s because she gets caught by her mother, which results in them not speaking for a period of time while Lane drops out of college, spends a few months couch surfing with Lorelai and Rory, and eventually moves in with her bandmates. Life with Zack and the bass player Brian is really different, and pretty frustrating to watch as many plotlines with the band revolve around Lane being the adult to Zack and Brian’s immature children. When it comes to the romance, Zack isn’t a terribly good match for Lane; where Dave was presented as a thoughtful guy whom she connected with on an intellectual level, Zack is an insensitive oaf who pouts when he doesn’t get his way and whose ego threatens to tear the band apart. He doesn’t have any qualities in common with Dave other than being a musician, and his relationship with Lane feels like an afterthought rather than a natural progression for the character. Even in terms of job outlook, Lane chooses to give up on college completely in favor of being a musician, but aside from one summer tour (that her mother organizes after they reconcile) she never really commits to pursuing that dream seriously.
Essentially, Lane is the character who is presented as a foil to Rory, who continues to go on to bigger and better things throughout the series, while she stays in town and settles for a much smaller life than she originally wanted.
That’s all pretty rough in itself, but the direction that Rosenthal goes with the character in Season 7 is just terrible. In the second episode of the season, Lane gets back from her honeymoon and explains through a series of conversations with Rory that her first time having sex was so terrible she never wants to do it again, and it also got her pregnant. Lane’s disillusionment with sex is played for laughs in the episode, but it doesn’t read like a real “bad first time” story. Lane actually says, with a straight face, that she now understands the massive conspiracy that women have perpetuated that “sex is sexy.” This is not a thing that someone who didn’t enjoy their first experience with sex would say; it sounds more like a gag written by a guy who buys into the idea that women don’t actually have their own libidos. Throwing on top of that the fact that Lane gets pregnant the first time she and Zack have sex, while not impossible, approaches a level of malice towards the character that’s incredibly gross.
Look, it is entirely fair to say that even before Season 7 of Gilmore Girls, the show’s relationship to sex is complicated. I’d go so far as to say that it’s actually pretty sex-negative in many respects (can’t forget Lorelai’s glee that Rory didn’t have sex while she was in high school after Paris had a very public mental breakdown following her first time, or that anytime someone gets pregnant they become incompetent maniacs), but the Sherman-Palladino seasons at least have the benefit of being written with the oversight of a female creator. In Season 7 though, it gets so much worse, especially for Lane.