Christian Borle and Sutton Foster try their best with Stars Hollow: The Musical.

Heartbreaks, Musicals, and Relationship Struggles Characterize the ‘Gilmore Girls’ “Summer” Season

Despite the (over)extended musical sequence, "Summer" succeeds in moving both the plot and Lorelai and Rory's characters forward.

Summer brings some time-honored traditions to Stars Hollow. A festival or two, the community pool and, this year, a musical (written by Taylor [Michael Winters], of course). Our girls, Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Lorelai (Lauren Graham) find themselves appreciating summer with a little downtime. This episode isn’t pivotal to the revival storyline, but works more like a set-up to the end of the story.

Since Rory’s meltdown in “Spring”, she’s moved back in with Lorelai and Luke (Scott Patterson) to try to figure out what her next steps will be, although the whole town has decided she’s “back” for good. This episode starts with our first look at college-aged April (Vanessa Marano), Luke’s daughter. April is just as nerdy as ever as an MIT student, but she now wears a Rastafarian hat, sports a hippie-aesthetic fashion sense, and looks forward to campaigning for weed legalization. April was the source of a lot of controversy within the original series and many fans do not like the character, but this version of April is simpler and less overwhelming than her younger self.

Rory refuses to accept the idea of being an out-of-work and back-at-home 30-something — a membership into the town’s “30-something gang” doesn’t seem to be on the horizon — goes back to her roots to find some insight. The Stars Hollow Gazette, in danger due to its recent lack of an editor-in-chief, is saved from extinction when Rory agrees to serve the new editor-in-chief, for free, of course. After the first issue isn’t well-received by the town, she gets a visit from ex-boyfriend love Jess (Milo Ventimiglia.) She and Jess have a complicated history, but he does have a way of showing up at the exact right time with a spark of old-soul wisdom. Now playing a life coach-like position in her life, he tells her to write a book about her life with Lorelai and their relationship. Just like that, a little fire is lit in Rory. The drive of old Rory has returned, and it’s good to see her burning the midnight oil working on her story.

Meanwhile, the town is preoccupied with “Stars Hollow: The Musical”, which charts the history of the New England town. Lorelai decides to join the advisory board; not her best idea. The musical simply occupies too much time in this episode. Although it’s charming and well-performed by Sutton Foster and Christian Borle, the charm wears off after the musical lasts for far too long.

Further, the additional time spent discussing the musical halted all plot and momentum of the episode; with so many unanswered questions and dangling plot points, it’s hard to justify using this much time on something that doesn’t have an impact on the plot. Between Lane (Keiko Agena) having no real storyline throughout the series, leaving Paris and Doyle’s (Danny Strong) relationship in freefall, and continuing to watch Rory struggle, I don’t see why this musical has to take up ten percent of the episode, even though Lorelai’s moment with Foster’s Violet pushing Lorelai to admit her true feelings about the musical as she smokes in her face was pretty great.

Despite the musical detour, the story eventually moves forward eventually as we find out Michel (Yanic Truesdale) wants to leave the Dragonfly Inn because there isn’t enough of a challenge in his work. This marks the beginning of Lorelai’s downward spiral for the season. Her life is changing, and there isn’t much she can do about it.

Meanwhile, Rory tells Lorelai about the book she’d started writing about their life. Lorelai is more than opposed. In a rare standoff between mother and daughter, Rory defends her right to tell their story with truth and honesty, but Lorelai feels that it’s not Rory’s place to write any of it. The passionate Rory we all fell in love with returns only to be opposed. The book feels rather destined; Rory feels the same way. A life as unique as hers should be documented, but this scene does continue the theme of Rory’s story, which is to push her to see that she can’t have it all, even from Lorelai. Lorelai now has several relationships on the rocks with Luke, Emily (Kelly Bishop) and Rory all pushed away in one way or another. Her isolation feels self-inflicted, although it’s no less heartbreaking.

Trying to keep her life somewhat the same she confronts Luke at the diner about why he has been, as she puts it, “grumpy for months”. He uses this opportunity to confront her about hiding her therapy sessions from him. This is far from the first time Luke and Lorelai have fought in the diner, as it’s really like their own home, but this fight feels different from the rest. They banter back and forth trying to clear the air and they do, but Luke leaves upset and nothing is resolved.

Rory’s climatic scene starts with her recounting to Lane her fight with Lorelai. Rory feels that writing this book is something she needs to do now or never. Out of pure habit, she calls Logan (Matt Czuchry) for consultation, but quickly hangs up. Odette has moved in with Logan and Rory feels that her relationship is appropriately fading out, but she doesn’t feel any less heartbroken. They too clear the air, but again, little is resolved.

What’s increasingly clear is that Rory needs to come to her senses about this relationship. This episode is about Rory beginning to rebuild, and part of rebuilding is taking out what is no longer needed. As much as she loves Logan and as much as he loves her, they’re still cheating. Guilt and pain play into Rory’s decision as her comment, “we can’t even breakup because we are nothing”, makes it clear how Logan has made her feel for so long.

Lorelai feels very unsettled and goes to one more musical performance of a new song Taylor has written: “I am unbreakable”. The musical from earlier still doesn’t have a place, but it did bring us to this moment, with a touching and affecting song whose words parallel how Lorelai is feeling. Her daughter is grown up, her relationship is on the rocks, her work life is shifting, and the grief from her father’s passing still sits on the surface. But I am breaking right now. The ever strong and resilient Lorelai is broken and she doesn’t know how to fix it.

Emotionally moved and needing answers, she calmly and rationally tells Luke after returning home that she’s doing Wild. (The book, not the movie.) Needing to be out of her element, try something scary, and resolve some problems, this seems like the right move. A baffled Luke doesn’t understand why his high maintenance and anti-outdoors girlfriend would want to take on this challenge. As the song says, though, “because it’s never or now”.

RATING 7 / 10