Directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Daniel Palladino, “The Road Trip to Harvard” is quintessential Gilmore Girls—the comedic nuances of a mother-daughter relationship summed up in 42 minutes of breakneck dialogue. But what makes this episode unique is that it finds main characters Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) outside their familiar small-town surroundings and on an impromptu road trip with no clear destination.
The road, it turns out, leads to the Ivy League university Rory has longed to attend all her life. She is in her element, visiting libraries and sneaking into residence halls on a campus that brims with potential. But it’s Lorelai’s internal journey, played out expertly on Graham’s face, that makes Babbit’s work here so memorable. As Rory sits in on a crowded lecture, we see only Lorelai’s face as she watches her 16-year-old daughter hold her own among college students, with a mix of pride and pain on her face.
This quiet realization is heightened when Lorelai finds a class picture in the same lecture hall—Class of 1990, the year she would have graduated college if she’d been able to attend. She glimpses the person she could have been, the life she could have had. Babbit captures the simultaneous feeling of a mother wanting to give her daughter a bright future, and the sinking knowledge that she can’t be a part of it.
Many women directed Gilmore Girls over its seven seasons, including Lesli Linka Glatter and series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. Babbit directed 18 episodes, but this hour most encompasses the heart of the show. There’s so much more to it than coffee cups, fast-talk and small-town charm. It’s a series with true substance and three generations of complicated, intelligent, funny women at its center. This is never more evident than at the end of “The Road Trip to Harvard,” which follows Lorelai and Rory back to their beloved Stars Hollow. In a long, sweeping shot of the Warner Brothers backlot, we see the familiar faces of neighbors and friends through the window of Lorelai’s Jeep. And along with the Gilmore girls, we come home again.
Gilmore Girls – S2E4 – “The Road Trip to Harvard” is available to stream on Netflix and on DVD via Warner Brothers Television. Follow Gilmore Girls on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and follow Jamie Babbit on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.