The Rebel Who Almost Was: How Lane Kim was Ultimately Shortchanged
Lane Kim got shafted. Utterly, totally shafted.
Maybe if the titular Gilmore girls had been more tolerable, it would have taken me longer to realize this. Maybe if I hadn’t related so much to Lane, because our stories were very similar, I wouldn’t have felt this so vigorously.
Lane Kim’s arc was off to a good start when we met her in Season 1. She was a well-rounded container of fascinating contradictions, at the intersection of South Korean and American values. She had a staunch respect for her mother (it bordered on fear, I know), but was also as reactionary as they came; she was well-adjusted and demure, at times, but was also fiercely passionate about her individuality. She was loyal and steadfast, but took no bull from anyone who dared cross her.
Lane, in short, was the badass Rory purported to be, the underdog Rory thought she was, the compelling foil to Rory’s privilege-tinged "edginess".
Every time the youngest Gilmore girl did something tone-deaf or acted in bewildering ways, I rolled my eyes and instead, focused on what was going on with the Kims (you might notice a trend here: I don’t like Rory).
Lane, was the only child of an imperious antiques shop owner, Mrs. Kim (I, like everyone else, assumed her father was out of the picture until he popped up in the Revival). Their dynamic was an interesting and thought-provoking case study on mother-daughter relationships that sometimes drew parallels to Lorelai and Emily’s. Above all, watching her was like witnessing the past colliding with the future, with interesting results: Lane was the “rebel daughter” trying to stick it to the “Man” (read: her overbearing, über-conservative mother). She hid her rock CDs under the wood panels of her room while pretending to adhere to Mrs. Kim’s strict rules about “decadent” music. She brought clothes to change out of the more modest ones she wore in front of Mrs. Kim, as soon as the latter was out of sight. She practiced the drums in secret at a music store in town. She pretended to participate in her mother’s Christian faith while professing her allegiance to the rock gods. Lane’s closet, decked with posters and black lights, was a haven where she could read her forbidden books in peace.
In many ways, Lane’s story is that of every first generation American whose parents are from a different culture. It often feels like you are communicating from a different frequency, whence the truth and meaning are lost, somewhere in the middle. The common misconception is that immigrant parents despise the new culture and/or want to diminish its influence on their children, out of concern for the dissolution of the one they hold dear, while the young'uns want nothing to do with their parents’ ideologies. Indeed at times, the show bought into this stereotype, almost turning the Kims into caricatures. But as Lane and her mother navigated the thorny fields of family and culture, throughout the seven seasons, it became clear that the issue was much more complicated.
I was far more invested in what was going on with them, sometimes, than I was in the Gilmores, for the simple fact that it felt real. To a great degree, Rory was given a lot in life, and her struggles, when one stepped back and gave them an objective once-over, were pretty superficial. Sure, she went through regrettable teenage stuff, like breakups. Sure, her Dad is the wooooooorst. Sure, she has had her fair share of problematic love interests. And so on, and so forth.
But there was always the implicit understanding that there would be a net to catch her when she fell. When, in Season 6, she falls out with Lorelai because their visions of her future (college, romance) do not align, Rory's affluent grandparents are not only there to defend her, they practically finance the whole rebellion: a bachelor pad, a cushy job, a privileged social environment.
When, inversely, Lane finally decides to branch out, the consequences are much, much steeper. She, for one, does not have the advantage of a freethinking, modern mother. Hers is unforgiving, blunt. On the other hand, the stakes are higher: she is disrespecting her family and her culture by adhering to what strict immigrant parents would dub “westernized values”. And yet, there is nothing wrong with what she wants: a future she can decide on, the freedom to pursue her interests, a chance at love with a genuinely nice boy (I’m NOT talking about Zach).
When Lane was forced to go back to South Korea for the summer, at one point, and she was genuinely afraid that her mother wouldn’t let her come back, I felt for her. Some kids have had their parents’ home countries dangled before them as leverage if they did not behave. When Lane had to jump through hoops for Mrs. Kim to even consider that the boy she liked, Dave Rygalski (a very well-adjusted, incredibly sweet boy) was not bad news just because he was white and played in a band, I also felt for her. When Lane got kicked out of her home because she could no longer bridge the gap between her mother’s expectations and the life she wanted to live, it damn near devastated me.
And yet, she persisted. Every success was gorgeously felt.
She becomes a skilled drummer; her band Hep Alien is so good that they go on tour; she eventually “gets the boy” not once, but twice; she starts to work for Luke and earn her own money; she gradually begins to stand up to her mother.
Lane was my phoenix: sometimes burned to ashes, always reborn.
Which is why I’m still not over the fact that she got shafted.
Evidently, because this was Rory and Lorelai’s show, Lane was supposed to be their foil, the ‘thank God our lives are not that bad’. In fact, if not a complement for Rory, at times she was the butt of many gentle jokes: in Season 3, a galvanized Lane decides to dye her hair purple, but quickly panics and enlists Rory’s help to dye it back to black before her mother notices. It was undoubtedly funny, because who hasn’t done something similar at one point to protest parental authority? But underneath it, what I saw was the quiet death of one of the many harmless liberties teenagers are not allowed because they come with ramifications for stern parents, a connotation that is unacceptable. This would have been a blip in Rory’s life: for Lane, it was yet another bitter defeat.
I honestly couldn’t care about Rory’s nonsense problems with Logan Huntzberger, not when Lane was trying to earn a living, juggle a budding music career, an intercultural marriage, and heavy expectations from her family: the risks were so much higher, the victories so much sweeter. Her saga promised something much deeper and more meaningful than Rory’s ever did, for me.
So why was her storyline so terrible, ultimately?
I knew things weren’t looking good when they replaced Dave with Budget Dave, ie. Zach (I’m just being mean because I’m angry). Zach was a laid-back dude who unveiled his sweet side as time went on. But he was by no means interesting on his own, let alone for someone as incredible as Lane. In my opinion, he held her back emotionally and professionally, with a perpetually chill attitude that quickly became tiresome. He could be careless and unfocused, and although I know the show was going for an Opposites-Attract relationship, it often came across as apathy.
And then Lane gets pregnant the very first time she has sex, with twins no less, and her life, along with it many possibilities, comes to a grinding halt. A bird had had its wings clipped.
Lane never gets the kind of actualization Rory benefits from in liberal heaps: while the latter was often rewarded for being a terrible person and doing tiresome things, I kept waiting for Lane to ‘get hers’, for lack of a better expression. Anything would have done: musical success, familial stability, romantic satisfaction, a trip around the world…
Instead: we get a girl who never left Stars Hollow for long, never got to truly take control of her destiny, never got to be celebrated for the amazing unicorn she was, in a town that fawned over Rory and Lorelai’s many antics. The Revival portrays her as the perpetual sidekick to Rory’s self-involvement; she is an overworked mother, her marriage looks to be in an uninspired state, her career has not been as spectacular as it could have.
Really Sherman-Palladino? Not one win in almost ten years?
Of all the things that disheartened me about A Year In The Life (of which there were many), this hit hardest.
Maybe I saw too much of my own future in Lane’s at times: maybe her general abandoning of her aspirations, and the fact that she seemed to have settled for a lot, instead of continuing the good fight, rang as a cautionary tale for me. The cultural waters we, first generation Americans, have to navigate, are much trickier than some; and I would like to believe that a repressed girl form a rigid family could grow into a rock goddess whose badassery, in our cultural conversation, matched the one we associate so freely with Rory Gilmore.
Many have disagreed with me, some claiming that Lane’s story wasn’t that bad, others saying that she wasn’t that interesting in the first place. But I, for one, would have liked to see Lane win. I would have liked to see her get the ending she deserved.
So until a better argument comes along, I’ll keep saying it: Lane Kim got shafted.