by Sarah Jae Leiber | February 5, 2021
We’ve all been reading the Rory (Alexis Bledel) and Marty (Wayne Wilcox) relationship wrong. As a person fully invested in the idea that the “Friendzone” is not real, and that women do not owe their male friends sexual access, I fully understand the impulse to read the downfall of Rory and her Freshman-year college friend Marty as a classic case of straight white male entitlement. That’s pretty much the fandom consensus, anyway; and it’s pretty evident when Marty returns in season seven (to date Rory’s friend Lucy, pretend he doesn’t know Rory, and then come on to her at a party) that the post-Palladino showrunners saw him as nothing but one of the many unsuccessful men who pined for our sweet Rory over the seven years we got to know her.
A closer look reveals that Rory and Marty’s relationship and subsequent friend break-up is a lot more complicated — and I think it has a lot more to do with class than it has to do with patriarchy.
When the Gilmore Girls revival premiered in the fall of 2016, many fans were shocked to find that Rory in her thirties embodied the stereotype of the entitled, white, millennial woman with a trust fund. Rory’s wide-eyed bookishness, thoughtfulness, wit, and intelligence — the traits that made her most immediately relatable to young fans — were transfigured into unrecognizable grandiosity and bitterness. What’s more, the adult version of Rory has no time for Stars Hollow, the town that raised her and her mother up from destitution-by-choice to odds-defying success. But none of this is surprising in retrospect; Rory’s attitude in the revival is the result of a seasons-long character downward spiral.
The simple answer to “When does Rory start to suck?” is season four at college, but I can pinpoint the exact moment where this is cemented: at the end of season four and her first year of college when she first sleeps with the newly-married Dean (Jared Padalecki). Showing us a glimpse of her incipient entitlement streak, she justified the affair to herself: Rory could sleep with Dean, despite his marriage to Lindsay, because he was “hers first.”
The affair is also the first time we see Rory and her mother Lorelai (Lauren Graham) diverge ethically; instead of supporting her daughter, Lorelai is rightfully furious when she finds out about what happened. The ensuing argument spirals to Rory deciding to spend the summer with her grandmother Emily (Kelly Bishop), traversing through Europe on a bottomless budget.
In moments of conflict with Lorelai, Rory defaults to “rebelling” by bolstering her relationship with her grandparents — who will always encourage her to embrace their world of easy privilege.
We can even consider Rory attending Yale as a moment of this same very weak brand of “rebellion.” After spending a lifetime working towards a democratically-won Harvard education with Lorelai, Rory ends up choosing the school that connects her closer with Emily and her Yale alum grandfather, Richard (Edward Herrmann). It’s a charmed choice to begin with, but Rory choosing Yale over Harvard is also Rory choosing societal connections over personal commitments.
Marty arrives at the start of Rory’s exploration of her privilege. He’s her only close friend throughout her first year of college that isn’t high-school frenemy, Paris (Liza Weil). Rory sees her Stars Hollow upbringing in the working-to-middle-class Marty, who is only able to attend Yale on scholarship, and if he also works a million jobs.
One of those jobs is bartending parties for Logan Huntzberger (Matt Czuchry), the latest in Rory’s run of iconic TV boyfriends. Logan is different from Rory’s previous beaus because he is as rich as a Rockefeller — or maybe richer. He’s the first boyfriend Rory’s grandparents approve of, and that approval directly results from his wealth and the Huntzberger family’s community standing.
To be clear, we meet Logan because Marty bartends for him. Logan’s cronies, Colin (Alan Loyaza) and Finn (Tanc Sade), spend a good chunk of time mocking Marty for being poor when they later run into each other on campus in season five episode three ‘Written in the Stars’ — which should send Rory running in the opposite direction, but instead endears her to Logan. Logan’s pretty face and verbal ability supersede his cruelty and complacence towards the poor. They start seeing each other, casually at first, and Rory’s attempts at making him commit send her friendship with Marty to the very back of her mind.
It’s important to note that Marty and Rory were friends regardless of her romantic relationship with Dean. Marty wasn’t thrilled to find out Rory was dating Dean, but her unavailability did not immediately disqualify her from his friendship in the way we’d see from a bitter, Friendzoned dude. For Marty, something about Rory dating Dean was different from her subsequent relationship with Logan. The distinction is most clear starting with the incident at the Chinese restaurant in season five episode 15, ‘Jews and Chinese Food.’
After snapping out of the whirlwind of her non-relationship with Logan, Rory realizes she’s been neglecting her friendship with Marty. She invites Marty over for a Marx Brothers marathon, and he tentatively accepts. In the middle of the marathon, Logan shows up and invites Rory out with a group of his friends to a Chinese restaurant. Rory — not wanting to miss out on time with Logan, and only kind of feeling guilty about ending her one-on-one hang with Marty early — invites Marty along with them.
It does not end well. Logan’s friends spend dinner talking about their exclusive, Swiss boarding school experiences, their 25-year-old fourth stepmothers, and their enormous wealth. Every time Marty interjects, with questions as innocent as, “Didn’t you miss your family while you were in boarding school?”, Logan’s friends ridicule him and his poor-person attitude. When the check comes, and dinner at this Chinese restaurant amounted to a whopping $75 per person, Marty excuses himself to “find an ATM,” although he knows that, even if he does, he won’t be able to pay for his part of the meal. Rory follows him out of the restaurant, and it’s only then that Marty tells her that he doesn’t want to be “just friends” with her anymore.
The timing is humiliating for Marty; Rory tells him she likes Logan (duh), and Marty gets in a cab, never to be seen or heard from again (until his misguided arc in season seven). But when else was he supposed to tell her? He’d spent more than enough time with a group of people who see him as the help, as subhuman. If YOU were hanging out with your college best friend, and her boyfriend — who is your EMPLOYER — came by and spent a very expensive dinner berating you for being poor, would you want to continue that friendship?
Marty ultimately could not control his persistent romantic feelings for Rory, and his confession in that moment is as much about clearing the air as it is about extricating Rory from a situation that made him feel worthless. A Rory that could have feelings for somebody like Logan is not the Rory Marty thought he knew.
In closing the door on her relationship with Marty, Rory, in favor of becoming the spoiled, entitled person we meet in the revival, also closes the door on her relationship with the working class. By the time Jess (Milo Ventimiglia; Rory’s best ex-boyfriend) yells “This isn’t you!” and “We made fun of guys like this!” in season six episode 8 ‘Let Me Hear Your Balalaikas Ringing Out’, regarding Rory’s relationship with Logan, Rory’s moral compass had already fallen irreparably off course.
While audiences were dismayed to see who Rory had become in the 2016 revival, her relationship with Marty was really just the tipping point. Dating Logan, joining the DAR, stealing a boat, quitting Yale after ONE person challenged her journalistic aspirations, and moving in with her grandparents are all reasonable results of Rory’s latter-seasons social climbing — Entitled Rich Girl Rory was hiding in plain sight all along.