Salisbury

VIVIAN LEWIS: Well, you know she and Eugene split up last month.
EMILY: What?
NATALIE SWOPE: Oh Em! You knew about that. They had this huge fight at the . . . oh that’s right, you missed the Schafer’s cocktail party.
EMILY: They broke up at the Schafer’s cocktail party?
NATALIE SWOPE: He has another family in Salisbury.

Salisbury is a small town in Litchfield County, Connecticut, about an hour and a half drive from Hartford.

This is an example of the kind of juicy gossip Emily is missing out on due to turning down so many major social events.

Emily and Her Maids

SUNNY: Another new [maid], Emily?
EMILY: Yes. The last one only made it through one evening. Thoroughly nervous creature.
NATALIE SWOPE: What do you do to them, Em?
EMILY: Oh, the usual. Clean this, cook that, sacrifice a virgin on your way out.
SUNNY: [laughs] The things you say.

Emily’s friends are teasing her about her inability to keep any maid longer than a week (where does this everlasting supply of new staff come from, I wonder?). She is apparently well known in her circle for this, and Liesl seems to have quit after just one night of having to witness Richard and Emily fighting on the stairs … no wonder she was “thoroughly nervous”!

Emily jokes that she makes her maids sacrifice a virgin, a stock trope in films about Satan worship. She’s well aware that she’s considered a bit of a “devil” as an employer. Note that Emily’s friends enjoy her rather wicked sense of humour, a trait which she and Lorelai share.

Emily is careful to hide the fact that her fight with Richard is what caused the maid to quit. She is both too proud and too loyal to let her friends know that she is currently quite unhappy.

(We only find out the name of Emily’s friends from the credits).

Theatre References

The episode begins with a quick flurry of theatrical references at a Friday Night Dinner, suitable for one with the dramatic title, “Presenting Lorelai Gilmore” (as if Rory is the star of the show). We can tell straight away that this episode will be all about presentation, staging, and image – the face shown to the public, and how that contradicts the private, backstage life.

The Sound of Music

The new maid introduces herself as Liesl, which is the name of one of the von Trapp children in The Sound of Music. Lorelai tells the maid that she is Brigitta, and Rory is Gretl, two of the other children (the others are Friedrich, Louisa, Kurt, and Marta).

The Sound of Music is a musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein., book by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse. Based on the 1949 memoir by Maria von Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, it is set in Austria just before it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938. Many of the details of the von Trapps’ real life were altered to make the the story more dramatic, and the names of all the children were changed.

The original Broadway production opened in 1959 with Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel in the lead roles. It won five Tony Awards, including best musical, and the first London production opened in 1961. A film version was made in 1965, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Lorelai compares her arguing parents with George and Martha, from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, previously discussed. In the play, George and Martha invite a young couple to their home, and then use their dramatically cruel arguments as a display for them. Lorelai is suggesting that she and Rory are in the role of the other couple.

The Lion King

After suggesting that her parents are providing them with “dinner theatre”, and wishing she had popcorn to enjoy with the show, Lorelai then likens Richard and Emily’s fight to “The Lion King without the puppet heads”. The climax of The Lion King contains a dramatic fight to the death between two lions.

The Lion King is a musical based on the 1994 animated Disney film of the same name, with music by Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice, and book by Rogers Allers and Irene Mecchi. The musical features actors in animal costumes, as well as giant hollow puppets.

The Lion King made its debut in 1997, first opening in Minneapolis before moving to Broadway. It is still running after more than 9000 performances, is the third longest running musical in history, and has grossed more than $1 billion, making it the highest-grossing Broadway production of all time. The show opened in the West End in 1999, and is still running after more than 7500 performances. The musical has made than $8.1 billion overall.

The Lion King musical and the film are the top-earning titles in box-office for both stage and screen.

Terrence McNally

After cheekily giving her mother a “Brava! Encore!”, Lorelai says, “Does Terrence McNally know about you two?”.

Terrence McNally (1938-2020) was a multi award-winning American playwright, librettist, and screenwriter. Known as “the bard of American theatre”, McNally won five Tony Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award. Inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 1996, he won Lifetime Achievement awards from the Dramatists Guild and the League of Off-Broadway Theatres and Producers. In 2018 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the highest recognition of artistic merit in the US. His career spanned six decades, and he was vice-president of the Council of the Dramatists Guild.

At one time, he was the partner of Edward Albee, who wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

This 1972 novel by American author Hunter S. Thompson is one of the books that Jess brought to Stars Hollow with him, seen strewn around the bedroom he shares with Luke.

The book is autobiographical, based on two trips to Las Vegas Hunter S. Thompson took with attorney and political activist Oscar Zeta Acosta (called Dr. Gonzo in the novel) in 1971. In the novel, the characters descend on Las Vegas to chase the American dream in a drug-induced haze, ruminating on the failure of the 1960s counterculture. First published in Rolling Stone, the book is Thompson’s most famous work, and his subjective blend of fact and fiction became known as “gonzo” journalism.

It’s notable that this is another autobiographical novel about travel and the American dream that Jess has brought with him, and the “fear and loathing” a comment about how he feels being dumped on a relative in a small town. Which is interesting, because it means Jess not only hates Stars Hollow, he’s scared by it, and a lot of his sneering and posturing are an attempt to disguise that.

I think we’re meant to be impressed that Jess is reading a book by a journalist, as if to say, “Jess is not only smart and enjoys reading, like Rory, but he’s interested in journalism, like Rory”. Unfortunately the writers already made Dean a fan of Hunter S. Thompson (back in the days when Dean read books and understood films), and he introduced Rory to Thompson. This undercuts Jess’ intellectual status quite a lot, although it does show he and Dean may be more alike than it appears at first sight.

Lorelai Asks Luke for Business Advice

The purpose of the road trip to Harvard was to allow Rory to see something of college life, and see herself as a future college student. For Lorelai, the purpose of the trip was to stay at a working B&B – and even though she didn’t like it, it was a successful concern with happy customers. She can begin to see herself running an inn, and from this moment forth, begins seeking out Luke as a business mentor.

Her dream of running her own inn begins to firm into a reality, and when she leaves Luke’s, she immediately phones Sookie to let her know it’s time they started seriously working towards their goal.

Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves

LORELAI: Rory, stop it! We are not gonna have this fight in a flowery bedroom with dentists singing Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves in the background.

Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves [sic] is a 1971 song written by Bob Stone, and performed by pop singer Cher, from her self-titled seventh album. It went to #1 in the US and Canada, becoming Cher’s first #1 single as a solo artist. It gave her a comeback after four years out of the Top Ten, and was her best-selling single to that point. So successful was the song that the album was renamed Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves [sic] after the song, and re-released.

The song is about a multi-generational family in a “travelling show” – the “gypsies, tramps and thieves” of the title, which are the insults hurled at them by the public. Like Highway to Hell, this is another song about life on the road, in line with the episode’s main event of a road trip.

Haden’s Nut House

On their trip, Lorelai and Rory stop at a roadside stand called Haden’s Nut House for snacks. Its name is another sign of how “crazy” Lorelai feels right now, while Haden is very close to Christopher’s surname of Hayden.

In real life, roadside nut stands are far less common in New England than they are in California, where the show was written. The filming location for Haden’s Nut House was Griffith Park, Los Angeles.

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.

Red Light

[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.

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.