Gilmore Girls has always been set in a fantastical, imaginary land. Stars Hollow’s quirky citizens and strange businesses—including an illicit bar that dismantles every time the persnickety Taylor Doose passes by—would seem surreal if it weren’t for the familiar small-town atmosphere that evokes Thornton Wilder’s Grover’s Corners. Literature-loving series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino has made prior reference to Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on Gilmore Girls. So it comes as no surprise that in “Fall,” the final episode of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Sherman-Palladino offers a direct analogy between Stars Hollow and Oz, and between Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Dorothy: a vision of Rory’s loss of innocence that mirror’s Dorothy’s experience in Oz.
In the final episode, Rory, like many millennials, is in a post-Great Recession slump. She can’t get Conde Nast to arrange an actual meeting, and her first attempt at a book has failed. Her love life makes no sense. She doesn’t have a place of her own, and is shuttling between her childhood home, her lover’s apartment and her friends’ houses. Sitting at her desk at the Stars Hollow Gazette, she clicks on her computer to a strange message. Her DOS interface tells her in green letters to “Get Ready.” Rory is still staring at the screen, puzzled, when Kirk’s (Sean Gunn) pig, Petal, dashes by the office adorned with a sign advising her to “Kick Up A Rumpus.”
Later that evening, a mysterious fog fills the usually annoyingly cheery Stars Hollow streets. As Rory strolls, a “Flowers” sign changes into “Tonight.” A Victorian unicyclist in a top hat cycles by, turns to Rory, and injects some witchy Macbeth magic, saying, “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.” A bird in a tree above her calls, “Rory, Rory, get ready, Rory.” Is Rory delirious from work, or do these hints of magical realism predict an adventure afoot?
Rory notices that her office door ajar and wanders in to check on it, where she discovers her expert filer, Esther, shining a flashlight under her face and intoning, “In Omnia Paratus,” the ready-for-everything motto of Yale’s daredevil secret society, the Life and Death Brigade. Suddenly, Rory’s three traveling companions for the Yellow Brick Road appear to sweep her away on an adventure: Robert (Nick Holmes) as the Tinman, Colin (Alan Loayza) as the Cowardly Lion and, most importantly, Finn (Tanc Sade) as the Scarecrow.
After a wild night out dancing on rooftops and buying an underground tango club, it’s time for Rory to say goodbye to the childish foibles of the Life and Death Brigade, and they are nonplussed—indeed, distraught—at Rory’s pre-breakfast departure. “When will we see you again,” they moan. “We love you, Rory.” At first the farewell seemed overly dramatic, but Sherman-Palladino echoes the language of The Wizard of Oz’s goodbye scene to frame Rory’s mournful departure as an allegory for her true blossoming into adulthood and loss of naiveté (and some would say privilege).
Rory cares for her three companions, telling Robert, “Oh Robert, don’t cry, your eye will swell up terribly. Here, take your steak,” just as Dorothy said, “Oh, don’t cry. You’ll rust so dreadfully. Here’s your oil can.” Robert replies, just as the Tinman did, “Now I know I have a heart, because it’s breaking.” Sherman-Palladino also marks the importance of the Scarecrow, having Rory echo Dorothy by saying, “I think I’ll miss you most of all” to Finn. The once-brainless Scarecrow represents Rory’s naiveté and innocence, and also, perhaps, America’s pre-recession economic bliss; as she says goodbye to carefree times, she also says goodbye to her youthful idealism and her hope for a perfect career, family and romance. She knows now that all those things are flawed, and though Gilmore Girls fans have since decried this darker vision of Rory’s world, it’s the one that stands to teach her the most.
Oz was no utopian dreamland, and neither is Rory’s world. Rory must now face a yellow brick road full of trials and tribulations that will lead her through her own haunted forest. Away from the embrace of her own Glinda, her mother, Lorelai (Lauren Graham), and the good citizens of Munchkin Country, like Miss Patty (Liz Torres), Kirk (Sean Gunn), Luke (Scott Patterson) and Sookie (Melissa McCarthy), Rory wandered through a dark forest, neglecting her relationship with Paul (Jack Carpenter), conducting an affair with Logan (Matt Czuchry) and failing to realize her own career for almost a decade.
At first, London seemed like her Emerald City, full of cash and flash. There, a powerful man, Logan, seemed to offer the promise of a solution to all her troubles. Rory often called Logan in London, wanting to visit him and run away from the problems of her life in America. But Logan’s real life was hidden behind a curtain: He was living with his fiancée and couldn’t sweep Rory away from it all. And Naomi Shropshire (Alex Kingston) proved only to be a Wicked Witch who distracted Rory from her real goals, driving her crazy with misdirection, threatening to steal her silver shoes of ambition, and ultimately, abruptly firing her.
Our heart-of-gold heroine now faces the challenging yet humdrum nature of real-life quandaries. Though no street beggar, unlike the Life and Death Brigade (who most likely come from Yale money so old it predates Yale), she can’t spend her time drunkenly buying hotels and tango clubs. Her destiny seems tied with learning to earn her keep through a fulfilling career. Like her mother, she must now learn to balance that duty with raising a child, if she chooses to keep it. Parenthood is a major challenge of adulthood, and a definitive marker of the end of childhood. Rory, spoiled, protected and pampered for too long, must now raise a child herself.
For Rory, personal success may rest on writing a truthful book about the imperfections of her family life. Upon its publication, she could face the emotional fallout of anyone who feels unfairly characterized by it, including her mother, her grandmother (Kelly Bishop), Dean (Jared Padalecki), Jess (Milo Ventimiglia), Logan and the Stars Hollow townspeople. Writing a book usually requires a stable home base; if she can resist crippling indecision and pick a room of her own, whether it be in London, New York, Shanghai or Jakarta, she may be able to finish her book. For her own sanity, she stops accepting Logan’s excuses to be connected to her, including the offer of a free, luxurious writing cottage in Maine. When she rejects the cottage, she says to him, “I think your days of rescuing me are over.” Logan replies, “Oh, Ace, you never really needed rescuing, you know that.” Rory says, almost to herself, “I do now.”
With wisdom befitting a thirtysomething gal, she’ll (hopefully) say no to marrying or raising her child with morally flawed, arrogant, charming playboy Logan—the presumed father, since she never saw, nor could she even remember, her boyfriend of two years, Paul—who casts shadows of her own wealthy, feckless father, Christopher (David Sutcliffe). More than a few viewers want Rory to choose the reformed, scholarly Jess, who they see as her Luke. But I hope that Rory, like her mother, chooses herself first of all. Like Dorothy, she has had the power to do so all along. Gilmore Girls has always been a story of female empowerment, and Frank Baum, the son-in-law of a feminist who wrote most of Oz’s female characters as strong, competent ones, would surely approve.
Rory’s journey ahead will provide flying monkeys, wicked witches and fake wizards. But equipped with the magic that her own Glinda, her mother, has given her, she need not be afraid. If she taps her heels together, she can always come home to Stars Hollow.
Dakota Kim is Paste’s Food Editor. She is currently watching Westworld, High Maintenance and The Walking Dead. Tweet her @dakotakim1.