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Note: Spoilers ahead
“Gilmore Girls” features mother-daughter duo Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, played by Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel, who navigate the antics of a small town, prep schools and family dinners in the course of seven seasons.
While most of the side characters love these two women, they each face an antagonist that challenges their popularity and often pushes their development for better or worse.
Lorelai frequently fights with her mother, Emily, played by Kelly Bishop, and at school, Rory is forced to contest with high-powered student Paris Geller, played by Liza Weil. Aside from her wild intelligence and work ethic, Paris is a lot of things that Rory is not.
Paris’ demeanor is brash, uncaring and generally unlikeable. In season one, she’s a bully who takes every opportunity to put people down.
But, viewers later learn that she’s more complicated. By the time the show ends, Paris has become one of Rory’s best friends, and the audience has considerable insight into her character and motivations.
In the second episode of the show, “The Lorelais’ First Day at Chilton,” Paris immediately perceives Rory as a threat to her top-student status and treats her as such. She proceeds to hold grudges, provoke arguments and create a relationship based in competition — even though Rory is uninterested in a rivalry.
These behaviors point to a jealous streak, and while it’s true Paris is probably naturally competitive, there are a number of circumstances that contribute to her prickly personality.
For one, the show implies that Paris’ family is emotionally neglectful and uninvolved. Her friendships with Madeline and Louise seem superficial at best, with few means of connection other than scheming to tear Rory down in episodes like “The Deer Hunters.”
The benefits of pretty privilege and charisma are also crucial themes of the show, and Paris is aware that she does not have the same magnetism as someone like Rory. In “I Can’t Get Started,” Paris runs for student government and asks Rory to be her vice president, insisting:
“Everyone in the whole school hates me,” Paris says. “Oh yeah, they think I’m the best for the job, but they don’t want to go to the mall with me, so they won’t vote for me.”
And when Rory asks how she could possibly draw in voters, Paris explains, “You look like little birds help you get dressed in the morning.”
Paris leads a uniquely lonely existence, so she commands attention from every room she enters. She does not compromise on her goals and knows if she cannot befriend or make a family out of the people around her, she can at least be the best out of all of them.
When Rory enters the scene, Paris is faced with someone who is just as smart and perhaps more likable, which elevates Rory’s social advantage. Because Paris relies heavily on her identity as the best student, Rory presents a threat to the source of her self-worth.
Over the course of their relationship, there are certain moments where Paris softens and offers us a glimpse of a deeply hurt and lonely person. In “The Big One” she delivers a furious speech after being rejected from Harvard, after which she breaks down in tears.
When Paris is asked on a date for the first time in “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days,” she panics and presumes that it was only a dare, blurting out a series of reasons why it would be impossible for somebody to be interested in her.
I was struck by a scene in “There’s the Rub,” when she walks in to find Rory and her friend, Jess, about to eat mac and cheese for dinner. She says, “Is that mac and cheese? I love mac and cheese. I’m not allowed to have mac and cheese.”
These moments that show Paris’ vulnerability are rare, but they are hugely endearing and reveal much about this character. Moments like these remind the audience that Paris is highly opinionated, passionate about learning and a genuine admirer of the people around her.
Paris’ reluctant friendship with Rory gives her the chance to learn how to be vulnerable with other people. She eventually develops an identity beyond her grades, and while she never truly changes some of her toxic behaviors, she does open up more by the end of the show.
I don’t think anybody watching the show for the first time thought that Paris would provide any valuable lessons by the conclusion, but there is a lot to learn from her.
For one, it’s OK to be clear about your goals and ambitions. It can be a great service to ourselves and others to be assertive when it’s necessary, and confidence in one’s decisions is important.
This lesson is particularly important for young women. Women are expected to be demure, polite and agreeable at all times, but in many situations, it is necessary to channel Paris’ strength and undying determination.
Viewers can also learn from some of her unhealthy behaviors. It is unhealthy to allow temporary markers of worth, like grades or rank in the workplace, to negatively pressure relationships.
Often, community is more important to our happiness than being “the best,” and it’s clear from Paris’ best moments that what she needed was a strong sense of community.
And, even though Rory had her faults, Paris needed a Rory, and their crossing paths was the catalyst for one of the most compelling and complex TV friendships.
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