In Defense of Gilmore Girls’ Seventh Season

Photo-Illustration: Vulture

Last month, Netflix decided the time was ripe to make more Gilmore Girls. Soon after, we got details: Each of the reboot’s four, 90-minute-long “films” will take place during a different season. The announcement was loaded with the implication that show's creator Amy Sherman-Palladino would right the “wrongs” of the final season. This sentiment is nothing new. Over the years, the conversation around Gilmore Girls has often assumed one consensus: The show’s seventh and final season — the only without Sherman-Palladino at the helm — was an unmitigated disaster.

The A.V. Club called it “problematic”; the New York Times said the final season had “cut the show’s heart out” and found its central conflicts “a bit of a stretch”; and there’s a Reddit thread dedicated to “The Infamous Season 7.” Prior to the revival announcement, Kevin Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe of Gilmore Guys — a podcast that dissects one episode of Gilmore Girls in each show — said they might not even cover the seventh season, which was led by David S. Rosenthal (who was also an executive producer during season six). "I think it would be a disservice to the Palladinos to end this on the way [season 7] ruined [their] show," Adejuyigbe told The Atlantic. (Porter and Adejuyigbe have said on the podcast that they haven’t watched the final season from beginning to end.)

But was it really as terrible as everyone says?

It’s curious how widely accepted this opinion is. Palladino has never shied away from the discussion — in a peppery interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2009, Palladino, who left the show amid contract disputes, claimed that although she never got around to seeing it, she had “heard” that Gilmore Girls had not ended in the way she envisioned. She also said that even from the very start of the series, she knew what the final four words of the show were going to be — that’s how clear her vision was.

Gilmore Girls, like many shows today, is often considered the product of a single creator, and because Sherman-Palladino’s claim to the show is so strong, she seems inseparable from it. To the devoted fans, her absence at the end of the series was jarring. If the show is her, how could it continue without her? You see this in discussions about how The West Wing suffered without Aaron Sorkin, the fear fans had when Alan Ball left True Blood. and more recently, when Armando Iannucci announced he was leaving Veep. But if we remove this emotional allegiance, it’s entirely possible that season seven isn’t actually bad.

One of the biggest criticisms of season seven is that it doesn't sound the same. When Amy Sherman-Palladino was working on the show, she said the writer’s room largely constructed the plots, but every script passed through her hands. She and her collaborator-husband, Dan Palladino, would make the dialogue and tone consistent (plus, finding writers with "good ears," to help with this, she said, is key). ASP's absence is clearly felt here: The dialogue feels slightly off from previous years — a jarring difference for such a verbal show. But if you can adjust to the tonal differences, thematically, season seven is a pretty consistent end to the show and doesn’t deviate much from the season before. There are a few plot points people use as evidence that season seven was subpar, but many of these were actually set up by Palladino in season six (indeed, some fans take issue with season six as much as seven): Take the existence of Luke’s daughter, April Nardini, the Jar Jar Binks of the Stars Hollow universe, the Luke-Lorelai breakup, and Lorelai sleeping with Christopher. In the case of Sookie’s accidental pregnancy, Melissa McCarthy was actually pregnant, leaving the writers to either turn this into some sort of conflict or introduce different reasons for Sookie to be carrying large ferns around the Dragonfly’s kitchen.  

Pairing up Lorelai with Rory’s father, Christopher, was viewed as season seven’s ultimate betrayal, but the move wasn’t really a curveball: It actually has strong roots in earlier seasons. When Lorelai and Chris reunite at the end of season two, Lorelai finally gives in to Chris’s advances because previously only a “timing issue” prevented their inevitable romance. She thought if they were both in “the right place, at the right time” they could actually make it work. Of course, it doesn’t work. But watching the Lorelai-Chris relationship metabolize was a logical extension of a series-long question that Lorelai continually revisits: Should she be with Christopher? As viewers, we know all along that Luke is the one for Lorelai, but by the end of season seven, our protagonist finds the answer for herself. Toward the end of the series, Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai, told TV Guide, “When the creator of the show is gone, the actors end up being the people who have been there the longest. And I got more involved with where the story was headed, and felt that I was having more of an active role.” Graham said she encouraged romantic complications, and the Chris-Lorelai story line in particular, because she didn’t want Luke to be the obvious choice.

Fans often argue that one of the biggest injustices of season seven is the treatment of Lane Kim, the best Rancid-loving Seventh Day Adventist on mid-2000s television, who falls pregnant with twins the first time she has sex. Bad sex, at that. This was disappointing, and there’s no point in pretending it wasn’t one of the weaker plot points in season seven. But it’s not exactly inconsistent. Rory also has a negative first sexual experience when she sleeps with her married ex-boyfriend, Dean, in season four. And while we want to see Lane leave Stars Hallow with her band, characters on Gilmore Girls rarely get exactly what they want (or think they want): Hep Alien blow their big chance at a record deal, and Rory isn’t accepted into the New York Times fellowship she assumed was a given.   

When a series-defining showrunner leaves before the curtain falls, it’s understandably difficult for viewers to separate the show from its creator. But in reality, they often leave behind systems that can continue without them. Sherman-Palladino ended up leaving the show because they wouldn’t let her hire more writers – which, incredibly, they ended up doing anyway after she left. “They hired this big writing staff and a producer-director onstage,” she told Vulture in 2012. “That’s what bugged me the most. They wound up having to do what we asked for anyway, and I wasn’t there.”

Wherever Sherman-Palladino leads the new, movie-length episodes, I will follow. But they won’t be a replacement for season seven. Look past the slight shift in tone, and there are some great moments, both written and acted, that final year: Lorelai's heartbreaking “I Will Always Love You” serenade to Luke; the spiritual awakening of Paris and Doyle; Lorelai’s writing rant; Emily getting arrested; and the entire episode around Richard’s heart attack. If you open your heart, there’s still a lot of Gilmore left to love here.