[Early the next morning, Lorelai and Rory are in Lorelai’s jeep driving through Stars Hollow.]
LORELAI: We’re almost there and nowhere near it. All that matters is we’re going.
RORY: We’re practically gone already.
LORELAI: Look out world.
[They stop at the red light and stare at it, waiting for it to change.]
There have been so many mentions of great American journeys in Gilmore Girls, from On the Road to Huckleberry Finn to Thelma and Louise, that it seems in tune with the show’s theme for Lorelai and Rory to hit the road at some point. Their conversation is even vaguely reminiscent of a famous exchange from On the Road:
““Sal, we gotta go and never stop going ’till we get there.’
‘Where we going, man?’
‘I don’t know but we gotta go.”
That urge towards the journey and not the destination is the same one that is driving Lorelai away from her home.
As luck would have it, before they even leave town, they get stuck at the new traffic light, which is timed to come on even if there is no other traffic on the road, and will stay on until the oldest and feeblest person in Stars Hollow can safely get across the road. It’s symbolic of the way that it will always be difficult for them to leave Stars Hollow, even temporarily. There is something in the town which holds them captive to some extent.
This is the literal “red light on the wedding night” alluded to in the episode’s title, although strictly speaking it isn’t the wedding night, but several days before the wedding. Symbolically though, it means that Lorelai has put a stop to her wedding going ahead.
RORY: Do you need a book?
LORELAI: Um, that Colette biography.
RORY: I lost your place in it.
LORELAI: That’s okay. I have to start over anyway.
Rory is referring to Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette by Judith Thurman, previously discussed as a book Rory was reading. We now learn it was actually Lorelai’s book, and Rory borrowed it.
After talking to Luke in the back yard and receiving the chuppah, Lorelai rushes indoors and suddenly tells Rory to pack – they are going on a road trip. Rory points out that Lorelai and Max are supposed to be getting married the coming weekend, less than a week away.
To surely nobody’s surprise, Lorelai begins crying and says she can’t marry Max. The reason? Because she didn’t want to put on her wedding dress every night, as a besotted Emily did before marrying Richard. Clearly her mother’s story affected her deeply, much more so than she let on at the time. While Emily’s story made Sookie and Rory feel more loving toward their boyfriends, it demonstrated to Lorelai that she didn’t really love Max at all.
Rory instantly accepts Lorelai’s explanation without further discussion, and begins on the practicalities of packing. Her way of showing support is to not add further to Lorelai’s unhappiness by making her feel guilty, and to begin focusing on what Lorelai wants to do instead. If running away is Lorelai’s plan, then Rory will go along with it unquestioningly.
Although Lorelai has known for some weeks at least that her wedding to Max cannot take place, it was her mother who helped her crysallise the reasons for it (and the phone call to Christopher gave her further ammunition against Max).
However, it was Luke giving his blessing to the marriage and apologising to her for his behaviour towards Max that seems to have been the catalyst for her admitting she couldn’t get married. Lorelai was pushed into Max’s arms when Luke reunited with Rachel, and she seems to have got engaged partly to spite Luke when he tried to put her off the idea.
With Luke now backing down and saying he will support her as a friend, all the impetus seems to have been lost, and she has no reason to marry Max. Luke finally discovered the way to make Lorelai change her mind about marrying Max.
LORELAI: And people can evolve together, don’t you think?
LORELAI: Yoko and John Lennon did. They just got closer and closer as the years went by. At the end, they had the same face.
John Lennon (1940-1980), mentioned previously and frequently, was an English singer, songwriter, and peace activist who was a founding member of The Beatles, the most commercially successful band in the history of popular music. He and his second wife Yoko Ono, previously discussed, were married in 1969, with the marriage lasting until his untimely death.
LORELAI: What is that?
LUKE: Oh, it’s a chuppah.
LORELAI: A what?
LUKE: A chuppah. You stand under it, you and Max. It’s for your wedding.
A chuppah is a canopy which a Jewish couple stand under when they are married. It’s usually a cloth or sheet (sometimes a prayer cloth) held up by four wooden poles. In Orthodox Judaism, there is meant to be open sky above the chuppah, just as is planned for Max and Lorelai’s garden wedding. The chuppah represents the home the couple are making together, which will always be open to guests.
Lorelai wonders whether it would be inappropriate for she and Max to have a chuppah, and gains reassurance from Luke on that point. Luke is actually correct: there is nothing specifically Jewish about getting married under a canopy (other religions do it too), and it doesn’t necessarily have to be religious in nature. These days there’s a bit of a trend for non-Jewish canopy weddings, and as long as it isn’t actually called a chuppah it doesn’t usually cause offence.
The chuppah is a gift from Luke to apologise for his behaviour towards Max. He knows he has been bit of a jerk about Lorelai’s wedding, and wants her to know he is still there for her as a friend. At the end of the scene, Luke and Lorelai are shown standing together under the chuppah as a sign that they will be married one day (when it happens in A Year in the Life, it will take place under a “canopy” beneath the sky, but not the chuppah).
It isn’t all that believable that the Luke we have got to know so far would actually make a chuppah for a non-Jewish wedding after getting the idea from a book (how did he know how to pronounce the word from reading it in a book?), and it seems awfully contrived.
When Lorelai gets home from work at the inn, Rory says that she got a call from a Christopher that day, and she knows that Lorelai rang him from her bachelorette party. She wonders why Lorelai would have used her bachelorette party to phone Christopher, and why Lorelai would have let them think she was actually calling Max at the time. Lorelai pleads drunkenness.
Rory lets Lorelai know that she only wants her to be happy, and questions whether she truly is happy to be marrying Max. Lorelai doesn’t answer directly, only saying, “Don’t I look happy?”. Rory’s careful response seems to imply that she is also having doubts about Lorelai’s wedding to Max, or wonders if Lorelai is having doubts.
Both Max and Rory have left an opening for Lorelai to say what is on her mind, and Christopher has given her a list of reasons to dump Max as “unworthy”. It can only be a matter of time before Lorelai breaks.
On the morning after their respective bachelor/bachelorette parties, Max comes to see Lorelai at the inn saying that he has to drop his printer off at Lorelai’s house. Rory isn’t home, and Lorelai still hasn’t given Max his own set of keys.
She has apparently promised before to sort out the key situation, and Max is annoyed that it still isn’t done, and it’s less than a week before they are married. Max, who seems to have understood all the red flags correctly, wonders if Lorelai doesn’t want him to have his own keys, or doesn’t want him in her house.
Max snaps at Lorelai that she needs to think about someone other than herself for more than five minutes a day (which is correct, but breaks the #1 rule of actually being Lorelai Gilmore, or any Gilmore, really). The gloss has definitely come off this particular relationship, and Max seems to be having serious doubts about it, or at least is wondering if Lorelai has serious doubts.