So, more Gilmore Girls fun today. I’m now halfway through season four which means that I’ve watched the whole Jess and Rory in high school romance play out. Since someone asked, yes, I do also like Luke and Lorelai but, honestly, the most compelling relationship for me is Jess and Rory. I crazy love them. I wrote a rambling, sorta coherent blog post about watching Gilmore Girls during my recovery from surgery back in the fall.
But I thought I’d put my English Lit degree to use and analyze what makes the show work so well and how the writers made the Rory/Jess relationship so appealing. I can’t do that without divulging a few spoilers so, fair warning, there be spoilers ahead, matey. The show stopped airing in 2007 but, for those of you streaming it on Netflix like me, I’m giving the spoiler warning, just in case.
I happen to adore love triangle plots as well as the handsome, sexy bad boy with a squishy marshmallow interior trope. If he just happens to read too, that’s catnip for me. It is definitely something that draws me into a story. However, it can be a tricky thing to pull off. The bad boy can quickly become the alpha-hole, if not handled carefully. The key with a love triangle is to make both lovers a viable choice for the protagonist. In this case, both Dean and Jess are good choices for Rory for different reasons. (note: This is before Dean marries). I have never written a love triangle though so I’d like to explore it a bit to see what I can learn from the show as a writer.
Okay, so, the first season of the show, we witnessed Rory with her very first boyfriend, Dean. They were just as adorable and cute and bubble gum as one could imagine. They had their fair share of problems, most notably that Dean is slightly possessive and jealous (the writers amp this up a lot later but it’s not too bad in the early seasons). They dated for two years and, despite the dorky hair on Jared, they are adorable together.
(Side note here: How believable is it that they dated for approximately two years, at age 16-17 and did not have sex? I’m not sure that I find that terribly believable. I know what happens later and all between them—just think that’s an odd, out of character note. But maybe that’s just me and the plethora of YA books I’ve read that handle that whole issue fairly well. I also recognize that it could have related to “family friendly” broadcast TV issues.)
And then Jess Mariano shows up. He’s rude (most especially to Rory’s mother and best friend, Lorelai), he’s not a part of Stars Hollow, and can’t seem to get along with anyone in town. He’s an outsider, in other words. He’s not part of Rory’s fairly safe insular world. And then, we, like Rory, discover he loves to read, just as much as she does. The bad boy actually turns out to be her intellectual equal (which Dean never was).
He challenges her and more importantly, he sees her. He understands Rory. And he sees Rory for herself which is a key moment in many romances, when the love interest sees behind the social mask to the essence of the person beneath. That’s what true intimacy is, isn’t it?
Jess also pursues her—hard, even though she’s still dating Dean. It’s clear from very early on that Jess is completely taken with her. He adores her. He seeks her out and they have much more substantive discussions than we see her and Dean having. They connect. And Rory is desperately attracted to him. To cope with it, she befriends him and they get to know each other. And Dean’s days are numbered.
How great is it that Rory kissed him first? Such a cute scene!
Throughout their relationship, he’s supportive of Rory’s goals. This is in marked contrast to Dean who is not. In many ways, Dean represents the safe world of Stars Hollow, where Rory grew up. Unfortunately, she outgrew Dean. Jess, by contrast, meets her on her level, sharing many of the same interests, along with a far more cosmopolitan worldview than Dean. Could she have ever had that fun-filled day in NYC with Dean? I don’t think so.
Now, once Jess and Rory do start dating, he does not treat her as well as Dean does. He isn’t reliable, doesn’t call when he says he will, and takes her somewhat for granted. And the relationship we do see of them is far more physical than with Dean. Jess seems to be far more demanding physically and the physical attraction much stronger. It’s a more mature relationship, in many ways.
Jess ends up leaving abruptly, when he finds out he can’t graduate and take Rory to the prom. Obviously, it would have been a better, more mature choice to talk it over with her but he doesn’t yet have the skills to do that.
And, from a writing perspective, that lack of a goodbye is much more powerful and leaves the door open for the future. Also, the behind the scenes aspect of the show is that they were trying to spin the Jess character off for his own show. (Having seen Here Comes the Son, not sure that would have worked).
I know Rory and Jess reconnect several times later but I’m leaving those discussions aside at the moment to focus on the high school Rory and Jess. I think, had Jess stayed, they would probably have broken up due to his lack of communication skills. She is also not that great at communicating what she wants either yet. Also, they were on separate life paths at that point.
I still think that a Rory and Jess endgame makes sense for the revival. First of all, establishing a new character as the love interest would be tough in that amount of time. Secondly, her mother and his uncle are together bringing them back in touch naturally. And, at 28 or 29, they would both have established careers (Jess already does when we see him the final time) and be thinking about settling down. And, finally, they never said goodbye to each other. I think the love is still there, deepening with time. We’ll have to see if ASP and the TPTB agree with me or if I change my mind after I meet Logan and/or watch the last three seasons.
Don’t bet on it 🙂 I’m pretty hardcore Team Jess 🙂