We’re almost there. Come November 25th, the new episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life will be available to stream on Netflix and it’ll be as if the last nine years never happened. While many of us have devoured the previous seven seasons ahead of that date, not everyone has that luxury. So we’ve assembled a list of the 15 most essential episodes to rewatch now, or even watch for the first time.
While these aren’t necessarily the all-time greatest episodes of the show, most of them are up there and all of them show off everything we love about Rory and Lorelai’s world.
Gilmore Girls Season 1 Episode 9: Rory’s Dance
If you want a quick introduction to the show, “Rory’s Dance“ is the perfect way. Not only is it one of those episodes where lots of people are in formal wear (as opposed to the endless private school uniforms of the first three seasons), but it’s also a perfect microcosm of the Gilmores’ world. When Rory is convinced to go to her new school’s formal, she takes Dean and the night takes some unexpected turns.
Everything with Rory shows off how great Gilmore Girls was with portraying the clumsy awkwardness of being sixteen – really sixteen, rather than the teenagers you get on other WB high school shows at the time – and going to your first dance with a boy you like.
As always, though, the real meat of the episode is with Emily and Lorelai back in Stars Hollow, as the former stays at the house to take care of her sick daughter. After nine episodes of getting used to the frosty dynamic between them, here we’re treated to both a sweetness that would only be seen a couple of times across the entire season, and a complete blow-up by the episode’s end.
Gilmore Girls Season 1 Episode 15: Christopher Returns
A spiritual follow-up to both the Pilot and “Rory’s Dance,” relatively late in the first season we get to meet Rory’s biological father Christopher. More of a myth and subject of vague references before this, “Christopher Returns” pretty much does what it says on the tin.
Taking us on the rollercoaster of what we can understand are sporadic re-appearances in the girls’ lives, we go through Rory’s optimism that her father will stick around, Lorelai’s suspicions that he won’t, the rehashing of old grudges with both sets of parents, ultimate disappointment, and then start all over again.
While people are more or less of one mind when it comes to who Lorelai’s true love is, Christopher is an essential part of the fabric of Gilmore Girls. This episode helps us to understand why this is a show about a single mother and not an unconventionally-young nuclear family, while presenting Chris as a complex figure with his own life and backstory, and never villainising him outright.
Gilmore Girls Season 2 Episode 10: The Bracebridge Dinner
There’s a ton to love about Gilmore Girls, but it would be nothing without the residents of Lorelai and Rory’s hometown, Stars Hollow. A good townie episode, then, is always going to be utterly delightful. The Bracebridge Dinner is a fan-favourite for this very reason, and has the added benefit of bringing together all of the show’s disparate worlds for one semi-bottle episode.
When a massive party cancels on the Inn after being snowed in, Lorelai decides not to let preparations go to waste and invites all of her friends instead. Richard and Emily get an invite, and Paris ends up taking part, making this one of the few instances of Rory and Lorelai’s worlds all intersecting at once.
It’s just a lot of fun – Kirk trying to stay in character while being taunted; Richard being uncharacteristically joyful; Bootsy losing track of his beer number; the seeds of Rory’s interest in Jess being sown and lots more besides.
Gilmore Girls Season 2 Episode 22: I Can’t Get Started
One of the best season finales Gilmore Girls ever produced, “I Can’t Get Started“ brings together all of the threads from season two and weaves them into a heartbreaking hour full of the humor and pathos that characterizes the show. It’s also the perfect example of the big event – in this case Sookie and Jackson’s wedding – being kept off-screen while we follow the drama going on at the fringes.
After being established in the first season as a largely-absentee dad, Christopher was seeded into season two more and more until it seemed perfectly plausible that Lorelai might reconsider her stance on starting a relationship with her old flame. It’s precisely this history that makes the final twist so utterly heartbreaking.
Then there’s Rory and her impending choice between nice guy Dean and bad boy Jess. Wherever you ultimately fall on that choice, the latter’s reappearance at the wedding and Rory’s rash decision is one of the most beautifully put together moments of the series, and marks a turning point in the youngest Gilmore’s life.
Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 7: They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?
Often cited as the show’s best episode, “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?“ plays out like a symphony of different parts, the chaos of the charity danceathon bringing everyone together inside a pressure cooker of overdue story arcs. Dave meets Mrs. Kim, Sookie and Jackson argue over how many kids they want and – biggest of all – the Jess/Dean love triangle finally reaches its abrupt resolution.
But it’s also hilarious and weird with just the right amount of quirk – the drama perfectly balanced with the fun of seeing Lorelai and Kirk ruthlessly compete over a meaningless trophy, or Taylor and Patty bicker over the megaphone. Sleep-deprived townies in 1940s garb are the best kind of townies.
The production of Gilmore Girls is ordinarily so simple that episodes like this stand out for how fun and colourful they look, and it only helps that so many iconic series moments occur during the dance.
Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 13: Dear Emily And Richard
Gilmore Girls doesn’t do flashbacks, but when it does it does so in one of its most divisive episodes. “Dear Emily And Richard” is not universally beloved by fans, but I’d argue that it’s essential for the developing perspective on Lorelai’s relationship with her parents. Up to this point, we’re asked to accept the version of events offered in the Pilot – Emily and Richard drove her and a baby Rory away and she fled to Stars Hollow out of necessity.
But that never sat well once we got to know all of the characters involved, and here we finally see that things weren’t as clear cut as they seemed. It shows Lorelai to be an unreliable narrator of her own tragedy, and humanises Emily and Richard in relation from what we’d always believed was their greatest mistake.
It’s all brought together by the birth of Christopher’s daughter with girlfriend Sherry in present day, with parallels between Christopher’s role in both girls’ lives. This is the consequence of the events of the season two finale, and it’s one of the few times Lorelai is shown to yearn even slightly for the life she could have had.
Gilmore Girls Season 4 Episode 2: The Lorelais’ First Day At Yale
It’s well-known that teen shows don’t do well when characters go off to college but, due to the split focus on both Rory and Lorelai, Gilmore Girls did far better than most at making the transition. This episode acknowledges a lot of the potential problems of splitting up the show’s protagonists, and has both girls react in-character to the impending separation.
Anyone who’s actually gone off to college, moved out of their parents house or (though I can’t attest to this one) seen their child off to pastures new will understand the mix of emotions – excitement, fear, anxiety and relief all at the same time. Season four was a transitional year in general, and this is the start of the show’s second phase.
That phase is, among other things, about exploring some of the downsides to Rory and Lorelai’s co-dependent relationship, forcing both of them to grow up fast and determine who they might be without each other. It’s also a hug for the audience, with Lorelai’s impromptu sleepover demonstrating that some things will never change.
Gilmore Girls Season 4 Episode 14: The Incredible Sinking Lorelais
Half a season after Rory’s big move to college, we get to see the fallout from the big separation. The fourth season sees both Rory and Lorelai take big steps towards the future – Lorelai opening the Dragonfly Inn and Rory getting through her freshman year at Yale – and not finding things quite as easy as they had been before.
When Lorelai admits that money’s run out and she can’t pay the construction team, she’s reduced to asking Luke for a $30,000 loan, and Rory is forced to drop a class when she fails a paper. But the real catalyst for their joint breakdown is the lack of interaction with each other that’s been building all year.
For a show based entirely around the relationship between two characters, having an entire season in which they communicate only over the phone for episodes at a time is a brave move. “The Incredible Sinking Lorelais“ epitomises the shift, along with the more adult problems they will both have to deal with from here on out.
Gilmore Girls Season 4 Episode 22: Raincoats And Recipes
Preferably paired with the previous episode, “Last Week Fights, This Week Tights,” the season four finale is a true gem – the point at which the will they/won’t they relationship between Lorelai and Luke finally becomes a “they will,” the Dragonfly opens and Rory makes a really, really terrible decision that she’s can’t turn back from just because she’s cute and bookish. Also Kirk’s night terrors.
Dean’s marriage at 19 felt like one of the weirder choices at the start of season four, but it all makes sense once you get to the final moments. Rory has always been a little entitled – hero-worshipped as she is by her mother, grandmother and all of Stars Hollow – but her assumption that Dean belongs to her because she ‘had him first’ shines a very unflattering light on our supposed heroine.
The fact that the episode packs all of the Dean drama in at the same time as bringing the town together for the Inn opening and building on the Luke romance from the previous two episodes (or four seasons) is pretty amazing and, like a lot of the best instalments, the eccentricity is balanced by a real darkness by the end.
Gilmore Girls Season 5 Episode 07: You Jump, I Jump, Jack
There’s a strong argument that season five of Gilmore Girls is the show’s best from start to finish, and a huge part of that is the slow burn of Rory growing further and further away from the life her mother wanted for her, and towards the one that her grandparents had always intended for Lorelai. The interesting part is that she gets there more or less by herself, meeting Logan and being introduced to the seductive side of money.
“You Jump, I Jump Jack“ is the quintessential Logan episode – the third significant man in Rory’s life. He represents money and privilege, but he also pushes Rory to take more chances and get out of her comfort zone.
The final stunt of the Life and Death Brigade gathering, in which she has to jump off of scaffolding in formal wear with only a harness and an umbrella for safety, symbolises that. By the episode’s end, she is a changed woman, and finally on her way to becoming the grown-up a few more messes will eventually mould her into.
Gilmore Girls Season 5 Episode 13: Wedding Bell Blues
The 100th episode of the show is a blockbuster instalment, with all of the satisfying twists and over-wrought melodrama that implies. Taking place at Richard and Emily’s vow renewal, we get Christopher reappearing as an sleeper agent of Emily’s to break up Lorelai and Luke, while Rory and Logan’s flirtation convinces Rory to give casual dating a try at the exact wrong time.
The bachelorette party for Emily (which she essentially throws for herself at Lorelai’s house) is as delightful as the wedding itself and, despite Christopher’s fall from grace and slightly uncharacteristic behaviour, it’s always good to see Luke interact with the unfamiliar world of the senior Gilmores.
Even though we know what’s coming, the ceremony itself shows how much love there really is between Richard and Emily. Yet everyone has an angle and barely anyone’s completely in the right – it’s a tapestry of passive aggressive family dynamics, and Rory’s increasingly adult behaviour is the catalyst for a number of rifts between her various parental figures.
Gilmore Girls Season 5 Episode 22: A House Is Not A Home
When Rory’s ambitions come crashing down around her after Logan’s father questions her ability as a journalist, everything she’s been through since the start of season five causes her to drop out of college, double down on her relationship with Logan and separate from her mother. Moving in with her grandparents is the ultimate betrayal, and this episode marks the start of an entire half-season in which the two girls don’t speak.
Rory’s actions in this episode echo those in the fourth season finale, only this time Rory’s expectation that things should fall into place for her are being challenged by the real world.
Lorelai, who puts on a good front but has lived in that real world since she was sixteen, plays the mother card and the illusion of their fairytale dynamic is shattered forever. “A House Is Not A Home“ is not only a great episode on its own, but it demonstrates how brave the series was in allowing its characters to grow and regress, sometimes – as in life – in opposite directions.
Gilmore Girls Season 6 Episode 8: Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out
I’ve included a couple of good Dean episodes and a good Logan episode on this list, so it only seems fair to do the same for Jess. A player from the start of season two, Jess’ character arc doesn’t become clear until he reappears in the sixth season right in the middle of Rory’s rebellious period.
Maybe it’s her getting sick of Emily’s meddling, but it’s far more likely that it’s Jess’s influence that ultimately convinces her to reclaim her old life in the following episode. The best part is that there isn’t really any romance between them, and he’s there simply as an agent of her story arc.
On Lorelai’s side, the weight of Rory’s absence reaches a head and she becomes obsessed with her dog’s sickness. It should be a bit silly, but the moment Luke finds her in Rory’s room, distraught about how she’s a bad mother, is unexpectedly heartbreaking.
Gilmore Girls Season 6 Episode 19: I Get A Sidekick Out Of You
Lane is one of the best parts of Gilmore Girls, but she’s also one of the most underserved. That sometimes works in her favour, as I don’t think the eventual separation and reconciliation between her and Mrs Kim would have had such an impact had it not taken four years to get there, but you can count Lane-centric episodes on one hand.
That’s why “I Get A Sidekick Out Of You“ is such a treat, it’s got all of the ingredients that make Lane who she is – Stars Hollow, her Korean family and Hep Alien – brought together for her wedding to bandmate Zack.
Everyone is mismatched but it works, and makes the acceptance of Lane’s “sinful” lifestyle as a rock star from her devoutly Christian mother feel natural and completely earned. Because it’s easier to just forget what happens to Lane in the seventh season, let’s acknowledge this as the climax to her arc.
Gilmore Girls Season 7 Episode 22: Bon Voyage
Season seven is not held in high regard by fans, and it’s easy to figure out why. After the departure of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, the dialogue didn’t have the same spark and it was sad to lose her distinct voice from a show at such a late point in its run.
But this finale is a fitting send off, and more or less made up for some of the major missteps of the previous season and a half. Of course people are excited for the revival but, for those who made it to “Bon Voyage,” it was clear that the characters we’d come to know and love were going to be okay.
Importantly, the show finished on a suitably feminist note, with Rory going off to do her dream job after turning Logan’s marriage proposal down, and Lorelai and Luke’s reconciliation having everything to do with his love and devotion for Rory. As is fitting, the whole town assembles to see her, and the fans, off until the next adventure.
Gilmore Girls: A Year In The Life arrives on Netflix on Friday the 25th of November.