“I was in college”

RORY: Did you see me?
RORY: I was in college.
LORELAI: It was amazing!
RORY: Did I look like I belonged?
LORELAI: Completely. You’re a natural.

In fact Rory and Lorelai’s behaviour while at Harvard is absolutely cringe-worthy. Far from being a natural fit, neither of them have the slightest idea how to behave, and they have apparently based all their ideas about college life on film and television. It would be nice to think the writer is showing how absolutely unprepared for college Rory actually is, but you can’t help wondering if he is likewise basing his ideas about college on film and television.

Erika Hilson Palmer

On her way back from going to the toilet, Lorelai has a poignant moment looking at a display of past valedictorians, and makes a point of gazing longingly at Erika Hilson Palmer, the valedictorian for 1990. This is the year that Lorelai would have graduated from university if she’d gone straight from high school instead of having Rory, and it’s a reminder that Harvard was her dream first, and that she seems to have had high ambitions for herself.

In real life, Harvard University does not have class valedictorians.


[Lorelai and Rory are walking past a dormitory.]
LORELAI: This is a dorm? Not bad, huh?
RORY: Pretty, actually.
LORELAI: Come on, let’s see what it looks like on the inside.
RORY: It says “Residents Only” in plain English.

Harvard University has seventeen dormitories for freshmen students in Harvard Yard. While some can be by no standards called “pretty”, a few of the older dormitories do have a certain charm to them. The dormitory may be intended to represent Wigglesworth Hall, which is near the Widener Library. Constructed in 1931, its past residents include Leonard Bernstein, Bill Gates, Ted Kennedy, and indie pop singer Naomi Yang.

It is of course almost inevitable that the Gilmore girls will decide that they are above the rules, and free to trespass wherever they so choose. They even go into someone’s room and take photos – despite photos of dorm rooms being available on the Harvard website.

“The engagement is off”

[on the phone]
LORELAI: Yeah, Rory and I decided to hit the road.
SOOKIE: But how can you be hitting the road? You’re supposed to be getting …
LORELAI: The engagement is off, Sookie.
SOOKIE: What? What happened?
LORELAI: Well, it’s a long story. I don’t really wanna go into all the whats and whys and gory details right now, but you should know we all still love Max, and to figure out exactly what happened, you’d have to dig up Freud himself and have him work on me full time.

Lorelai’s engagement to Max is off, but there is never any real explanation for how that occurred. Did Lorelai even call Max to let him know, or has she just run away?

Sookie has of course already finished making a beautiful elaborate wedding cake for Lorelai when she gets the news. Being a good friend, she pretends she forgot to make the cake.

Lorelai and Rory’s Road Trip

We see Lorelai’s road trip plan in action – she is driving aimlessly around, and neither she nor Rory know where they are. It’s an obvious metaphor for how lost Lorelai feels at the current moment, and how she has no plans on how to navigate her life or move forward from here.

It’s also an opportunity to show Lorelai and Rory’s different outlooks on life, with Rory becoming increasingly alarmed and panicked at their lack of planning and direction. Interestingly, Lorelai makes an offhand remark about driving into the Pacific Ocean of the west coast rather than the Atlantic Ocean of the east coast – have her thoughts naturally wandered to Christopher in California? Or perhaps it’s a sly meta-comment about the road trip obviously being filmed in California rather than New England.

Lorelai Phones Christopher

While Sookie calls Jackson, and Rory sends Dean a message using her pager, Lorelai slips away to make a phone call as well. Everyone assumes that she is going to call Max, being as struck with the romance of her mother’s wedding as they are, but in fact she secretly phones Rory’s father, Christopher.

It’s interesting that Lorelai begins the conversation by pretending to be a girl named Trixie. Trix is her grandmother’s nickname, and as they are both named Lorelai, the made up nickname has a strange sort of sense.

This is the first time Christopher hears that Lorelai is about to get married, and the viewer can tell that this isn’t welcome news. Lorelai hadn’t even told him that she and Max were together, although he had heard of their relationship through Rory (Rory doesn’t seem to have updated her dad on the coming nuptials, perhaps thinking it wasn’t her place to do so).

Christopher ends by giving her very conditional congratulations, by saying he wishes her well if she has found the right guy, and that he can certainly picture her married – to the right guy. He expresses some doubts as to whether Max is the “right guy” for Lorelai.

Like Luke, he is intent on planting serious doubts in Lorelai’s mind about her decision to marry Max, but is far more successful, as he is naturally more wily and manipulative than Luke. Luke’s clumsy attempts pushed Lorelai into an engagement, while Christopher’s cleverly sown doubts will bear fruit quite soon. The tragedy for him is that he doesn’t know it until it is too late.

Emily at the Queen Victoria

When Lorelai looks around the club for a table, she is appalled to see her mother has already saved them one. Lorelai didn’t invite Michel to her bachelorette party – Sookie invited him – and now Michel has invited Lorelai’s mother, who he adores, because he “thought it would be a kick”.

Emily, apart from giving Lorelai a brief lecture about being late to her own bachelorette party, seems to be very happy to be allowed to join in the fun for a change. Although she looks slightly uncomfortable at first, she is unfazed by the drag club, and able to adjust to almost any social environment through sheer force of will.

Emily does question Rory’s appearance at a bar that is 18 and over, but isn’t angry or upset about it. This seems really unbelievable, except that we know Emily firmly believes that you don’t get into arguments or explanations at social events. Her own rules of etiquette seem to insist that she go along with it, however implausibly.

Dean’s Advice to Max

During the double date of Lorelai and Max, and Rory and Dean, Max complains about all the food he has eaten – Lorelai and Rory’s response is to rush off and buy ice creams. Dean takes this opportunity to rather patronisingly fill Max in on life with a Gilmore girl. (Dean and Max wear matching stripy shirts to show they are fulfilling the same character functions).

In the nine months since he began dating Rory, Dean has already discovered:

  • Lorelai and Rory don’t take kindly to someone else using the last of the Parmesan cheese (Rory told Emily and Richard in Love and War and Snow that she and her mother put Parmesan cheese on almost everything to make it taste better; perhaps a quick fix for the bland processed food they tend to eat)
  • They get cranky late at night, and don’t enjoy heavy discussions then
  • You have to go with their “bits”, such as when Lorelai decides that the pepperoni on the pizza is angry and the mushrooms have an attitude
  • They want to take every puppy they see home (even though in Paris is Burning, it was only Lorelai who wanted a dog, and Rory prevented her from getting one)
  • They seem crazy, but then you figure out their logic; unfortunately by then they have done two other completely crazy things, and you can never catch up with them
  • They will eat and eat, force you to do the same thing, and then blame you when they feel sick and over-full

The interesting part about this is that it shows (apart from Dean lacking respect for Lorelai’s husband-to-be) is that Dean is not a patsy or an idiot: he knows what being with Rory entails, and apparently accepts what he has signed up for, including the knowledge that Rory’s thinking is quicker than his.

Dean isn’t a victim, although it’s still hard to see what he’s getting out of his relationship with Rory – seemingly just the thrill of being permitted to love a Gilmore girl on her own terms. It’s almost like those medieval tales of courtly love, where the man worships his lady and devotedly performs acts of service for her, while her main role is simply to allow him to love her.

Max is perfectly clueless about all this, and somewhat dismayed to hear about it. Unlike Dean, he hasn’t spent a lot of time with Lorelai and Rory together, and isn’t aware of their relationship dynamics. As a grown man, he’s far less likely to passively accept whatever treatment Lorelai and Rory feel like dishing out to him.

The Traffic Light

Taylor lets Luke know that he is getting a traffic light installed in Stars Hollow, even though there hasn’t been an accident in ten years (he apparently has powers to make decisions unilaterally in the town’s best interests when it comes to public safety).

As usual, Taylor is all about town progress, while Luke is all about keeping Stars Hollow exactly the way it has been – two different ways they show their love for the town. Their struggles and interactions end up giving Stars Hollow better outcomes; without Luke, the town would change too much and lose its character, while without Taylor it would stagnate and become a backwater.

This traffic light is the one alluded to in the episode’s title.