The final season of the original run of Gilmore Girls is often called the worst of the series. It’s the only season without Amy Sherman-Palladino or Daniel Palladino acting as showrunner or writer. There are plenty of other people online who have talked about what went wrong during this season, but, as they say, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Episode 20 of the seventh season, “Lorelai? Lorelai?” is an example of the show getting it right.
At this point in the final season, Lorelai (Lauren Graham) has divorced Christopher (David Sutcliffe) and is, as she has been for seven long seasons, longing for Luke (Scott Patterson). While the will-they-won’t-they trope can be exhausting at times, Gilmore Girls is one of the shows that did it right (for the most part). Sure, the introduction of April (Vanessa Marano) and Lorelai’s marriage to Christopher at the eleventh hour were unnecessary bumps in the road to Luke and Lorelai’s happily ever after, but their dynamic remained compelling until the very end.
Throughout “Lorelai? Lorelai?,” the town is abuzz about the upcoming karaoke night. As is the case with every event in Stars Hollow, the entire town shows up, including Rory (Alexis Bledel) who has returned from Yale. Lorelai gets up to sing and dedicates her rendition of “I Will Always Love You” to Rory. She sings in a goofy manner, not fully taking herself seriously, dead set on embarrassing her daughter in a loving fashion. Lorelai makes it through the first verse and chorus before Luke walks in. He wasn’t supposed to be there, he hates to attend town functions. But here he is and Lorelai immediately changes her tune.
What once was a tongue-in-cheek performance for her daughter is something much more serious. Here is the man who she has loved (and may very well still be in love with) looking up at her from his place at the back of the bar. It’s the finale of La La Land, but formatted for TV and with far less deftness. This is sloppy, drunk, and purely running on emotions. It shouldn’t work as a scene for two characters who have spent seven seasons orbiting around each other. This two minute serenade couldn’t possibly speak to their emotional arcs, but it does because of Graham.
The song choice of “I Will Always Love You” is so very on the nose. It’s a not at all subtle reminder of Luke and Lorelai’s canceled engagement and the feelings still swirling between them. On paper, that song choice reads like what a high school writer would select when they’re still learning how to show and not tell. However, there is an exception to every rule and this is the scene that proves that. It’s in the way that Lorelai alters her entire performance and energy the instant she sees Luke. Sometimes, telling is the best way to get an emotion across. Sometimes, you have to yell it from the rooftops in the most factual manner. Another show would’ve picked a song with an underlying message that would only become clear if the audience listened to the lyrics, but this is Lorelai Gilmore’s shout it from the rooftop moment. Her voice is shaky, her eyes are glistening, she’s not on tempo, and she doesn’t actually go up to Luke after it’s all over. It’s Gilmore Girls’ biggest gut punch and you can see it coming a mile away.