“Lorelai Gilmore, are you seriously suggesting that your father go to a complete stranger and talk about his personal life?” an appalled Emily Gilmore (Kelly Bishop) asks in a Season 2 episode of Gilmore Girls.
Gilmores, the haughty family matriarch makes clear to her daughter (Lauren Graham), do not need psychiatrists. To Emily, psychiatry is for “disturbed people, deviants, people with multiple personalities who see things and hear dogs talking to them.”
But nearly 10 years later, in the Netflix revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Emily decides to do exactly what Lorelai once suggested: Go to a complete stranger and talk about her personal life.
Grief-stricken over the death of her husband, Richard (Edward Herrmann), who died of a heart attack four months before the revival begins, Emily decides to give therapy a shot.
“I think in that moment, she was in a great deal of pain and looking for an outlet and … a way to alleviate that pain,” Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview.
Although she initially seems relatively functional in the wake of Richard’s death — doting on Rory (Alexis Bledel) and bickering with Lorelai over a massive portrait of Richard — it soon becomes clear that the typically composed Emily is struggling to cope with the loss of her partner. “I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I’ve forgotten which side of the bed to sleep on. I was married for 50 years. Half of me is gone,” she tells Lorelai in the midst of her decluttering rampage, an attempt at “bringing joy” into her life again.
“There are times when you just can’t figure shit out by yourself, and you need somebody to talk to. A lot of times your family’s not the best person to talk to about this stuff because their agenda is going to be very different,” Sherman-Palladino said with a laugh. That’s why, after some protesting — “I’m not crazy!” — Emily finally reaches out to a therapist, Claudia (Kerry Butler).
After a few successful appointments, a delighted Emily invites Lorelai to “come by” to meet her new confidante, tricking her daughter into starting therapy herself. The way Sherman-Palladino sees it, it’s Emily’s latest effort to “manipulate her daughter again.” “That’s what everything is all about when it comes to Emily,” she said.
From there, Lorelai begrudgingly begins going to therapy with her mother, but their sessions are far from productive. The pair does nothing but bicker or sit tensely in silence, and, eventually, Emily stops going altogether.
Lorelai, however, chooses to continue seeing Claudia, opening up about her father’s death and other issues in her life. Although the sessions started because of a concerned Lorelai encouraging her mother to find an outlet, Lorelai realizes she needs someone to confide in too. In the end, she is the one who benefits most from the sessions she initially opposed, which is what Sherman-Palladino and executive producer Daniel Palladino had always intended.
“That was sort of the beginning of her realizing that maybe Luke was happier than she was … that she didn’t feel as happy as he did,” Palladino explained. “And that sort of starts the whole journey that culminates with the whole Wild trip.”
Ultimately, Lorelai does come to terms with her grief on a journey to the Pacific Coast Trail inspired by Wild. On a hilltop thousands of miles away from her loved ones, she calls Emily and weeps openly to her mother, finally sharing her favorite memory of her father, a story she couldn’t muster up immediately after Richard’s funeral. It’s the first time she overtly vocalizes her grief to any of her loved ones, let alone her mother.
“Lorelai, who’s always so strong and always follows her own individualistic path … she was the one who really ended up needing to talk to somebody,” Palladino said. “And she got some stuff out of it.”
Reporting by Krystie Lee Yandoli.