Note: Several spoilers about Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life lie ahead.
Rory Gilmore is famous for dating guys with notable flaws. They’re either nice but dopey, overly possessive and intellectually incompatible with her (Dean); intelligent but damaged jerks who don’t treat her right, at least during high school (Jess); or rich, relatively good guys who still can’t shake the thick cloud of douchebaggery that hangs over them (Logan).
But Paul is different.
Paul, who’s introduced in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life as Rory’s boyfriend (sort of) of two years, seems to be intelligent and considerate, the kind of person who not only shows up for dinner on time but also brings a bouquet of flowers that are indigenous to Peru. He’s a good listener who remembers what other people say to him about computer-virus concerns (Lorelai) and antique wrenches (Luke) and responds accordingly with thoughtful gifts. He’s also evolved enough to give Rory her space while still maintaining a presence in her life. (Or trying to, anyway.) My God, he even says “I will follow” when Rory escorts him into her kitchen, which is the closest we get to hearing the Gilmore Girls theme, Carole King’s “Where You Lead,” prior to the end credits of part four of A Year in the Life.
Yes, Paul is, by far, the least flawed guy Rory Gilmore has ever dated. Which is why, of course, she’s totally not into him. Paul is such an afterthought for Rory that she forgets when she’s invited him over, forgets that he’s staying in her own home, and pretty much forgets that he even exists. Paul is basically a toy in Rory’s world and Rory is an infant who has not yet developed object permanence. Every time Paul moves out of her line of sight, it’s like he ceases to be. What’s worse is that literally everyone who knows Rory treats him the same way.
When Paul shows up at Chez Gilmore for dinner in the “Winter” episode, Luke announces his presence by referring to him as “Jeffrey.” Then “Alan.” Then “Billy.” “He’s like a superhero, but he has superpowers you can’t remember no matter how much time you spend with him, like every Marvel movie ever,” Lorelai says of Paul at one point. Emily Gilmore does the same thing (minus the Marvel references), completely blanking on her previous encounters with this young man. I realize this may not be the ideal time to throw a pity party for a white guy who seems to have most things going for him, but still: Don’t you feel bad for Paul? Doesn’t Paul, played by Jack Carpenter, who portrayed a Mark Zuckerberg–like figure on The Good Wife, deserve better than to be ditched while visiting Rory, even if he doesn’t care for breakfast food? (Okay, fine, there’s a flaw: a preference for hot tea over pancakes, bacon, or bagels.)
You know who Paul is? Paul is the Barb of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. While Rory’s getting busy with Logan — the Gilmore equivalent of Steve Harrington from Stranger Things — Paul is metaphorically sitting by the backyard swimming pool waiting for Rory to come back. But the thing is, Rory’s never coming back and Paul will inevitably get dragged into the Upside Down, where absolutely no one will come to his rescue because people always forget to rescue the Pauls and Barbs of this world.
Or maybe Paul is the Gilmore Girls version of Ann Veal from Arrested Development, which makes sense since her middle name was Paul, for some reason, and also since Mae Whitman, who played Lorelai’s daughter in a parallel Parenthood universe, also pops up in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. Every time George-Michael mentioned his girlfriend Ann, his father, Michael Bluth, responded the exact same way that Lorelai does when Rory brings up Paul: “Who?” I mean, Lorelai stops short of referring to Paul as “plant” or saying things like, “It’s as Paul as the nose on Plain’s face.” But you can tell she is thinking it.
Or maybe Paul is like You’re the Worst’s Paul, the good-hearted but wimpy, kind of dull guy who’s destined to get walked on forever by women who crave excitement far more than loyalty. Like You’re the Worst Paul, Gilmore Girls Paul never says he enjoys listening to birding podcasts. But let’s face it: He probably does. Wouldn’t someone who cares about flowers being indigenous to Peru probably keep a list of all of his lifers? (Also, side note: What is the deal with the name Paul? It used to be thought of as a pretty solid male moniker. Now it’s practically becoming the official brand of the cuckold.)
Actually, in the end, Gilmore Paul proves that he’s more than a cuckolded partner. He shows some backbone by dumping Rory, via text, due to their “ever-conflicting schedules.” “I can’t believe the way I treated him,” Rory says after reading his breakup message, but not sounding all that remorseful. “I suck.”
She does suck, at least when it comes to having romantic relationships. It took Paul two years to realize that, but he finally does. He exits the relationship impersonally, but politely, with no more effort or care than Rory put into the relationship. He’s perfectly fair and reasonable about the whole thing, which is just classic Paul.
The end of the relationship is a punch line and a precursor to the more important news that Rory shares with Lorelai in the final moments of A Year in the Life. Once those last four words are uttered, you forget all about Paul, just like everyone else always does. But the truth is, thanks to that brief text, Rory may have lost what could have been the best thing that ever happened to her. She’s just too oblivious to realize it.
As for Paul, I’m not worried about his future. I like to think that, unbeknownst to Rory, maybe he crossed paths with Madeline and Louise, who were counterintuitively turned on by his basicness and are now enjoying a hot, three-way cohabiting situation that involves chuckling nightly over Rory and Paris stories while sipping cocktails and deciding whether they plan to stay through the encore the next time they go see the Bangles live. After all, one woman’s forgettable non-entity can be another woman’s — or even two women’s — sexy, reliable treasure. That’s a truism that’s as Ann as the nose on Plain’s face.