The best episode in each Gilmore Girls season (hot take edition)


As a devout fan of Gilmore Girls, I have to admit that I don’t believe there are any “bad” episodes of the show, in the traditional sense. Some might be weaker than others, with stories or decisions that are harder to agree with, but I could never ever bring myself to say that any of them aren’t good. They are all my children, and I love them equally.

Well, okay, that’s not totally true. Naturally, we all have our favorite episodes of our favorites shows, a list of episodes we consistently revisit out of the context of a full binge-watch. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched “The Road Trip to Harvard” or “The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale” just because I needed to laugh with Lorelai and Rory.

Outside of the few personally preferred episodes in each season, there are also a handful of episodes per season that are objectively the “best.” The episodes that stand out in your mind when you picture Gilmore Girls. The Bracebridge Dinner, the dance marathon, the Festival of Living Art, the ill-fated Emily and Richard vow renewal… These are moments.

However, what are the “best” episodes of each season that aren’t often designated as the “best”? The ones that don’t get the spotlight? The ones that are a touch underrated? The ones that aren’t as momentous narratively but still pack a punch? As a Gilmore historian, I’ve run the numbers on the hot-take best episode of each season that deserve more love.

Season 1 episode 7: “Kiss and Tell”

The first season of the series truly has nothing but bangers, and that’s something of a rarity for a debut show. A lot of the time, new shows have to find their footing, but not Gilmore Girls. It was off to the races with a fully-formed identity that saw it through to a perfect first season. Some of the highlights include “Rory’s Birthday Parties,” “Concert Interruptus,” and “Christopher Returns.”

While there are, as I previously said, no bad episodes in the series or the season, one of the best of season 1 has to be episode 7, “Kiss and Tell.” Rory has her first kiss with Dean then shoplifts corn starch from Doose’s. When Lorelai hears about the kiss, she invites Dean over for a movie night. The sequence births the “it’s a lifestyle, it’s a religion” quote that was, in hindsight, a prophecy.

Apart from being an amazing fall episode of the series, it’s also one that’s emblematic of Lorelai and Rory’s relationship as mother and daughter and also friends. Rory leans on Lorelai’s help during her date with Dean, something most teenage girls probably wouldn’t seek out. The episode is charming, quaint, cozy — all the good Gilmore things.

Season 2 episode 18: “Back in the Saddle Again”

Like the first season, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an episode in the second that doesn’t hit every single time. The aforementioned road trip episode, the introduction of Jess in the next episode, the basket auction, and Jess and Rory’s car accident. These are all episodes any Gilmore Girls fans practically knows by heart because they’re just the best.

But toward the end of the season, episode 18 can almost stand alone on its own and it’s still great. “Back in the Saddle Again” finds Richard mentoring Rory, Paris, and their group for a business project. It’s one of the most memorable explorations of Rory and Richard’s relationship, as well as an excellent insight into Richard as a character following his retirement.

The episode also features some more Rory-Dean-Jess stuff, and a story involving Lorelai becoming involved in Michel’s own complicated relationship with his mother. “Back in the Saddle Again” holds up a mirror to a lot of our favorite characters and allows them to take a look at who they are, where they’re at, and who they’d like to be. It’s a 10 out of 10.

Season 3 episode 5: “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis”

If you’re like, “Now hold on a second! ‘They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?’ and ‘Take the Deviled Eggs…’ are the best episodes of season 3,” you’re absolutely right. “A Deep-Fried Korean Thanksgiving” and “Happy Birthday, Baby” could even make the list, but no one should ever, ever count out the hilarity that ensues in “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis.”

In the episode, Lorelai and Rory housesit and water the lawn for their new neighbor Dwight and find that his home, which he’s named The Oasis, is an eccentric and exotic little bungalow. When Rory can’t turn off the sprinkler system, Jess arrives to lend a helping, but nonetheless confusing for Rory, hand. Meanwhile, Lorelai meets a handsome man (played by Jon Hamm!) at one of Emily’s high society auctions.

Needless to say, Lorelai doesn’t enjoy her time with Jon Hamm, and Emily’s none too pleased that she’s turning down a second date with one of her friends’ sons. That could hurt her and Richard’s social standing within their community. All in all, it’s a humorous episode that never gets old thanks to good ol’ Dwight and none other than pre-Mad Men Jon Hamm.

Season 4 episode 9: “Ted Koppel’s Big Night Out”

Although it might be an unpopular opinion, I have been on record as saying that season 4 ranks as my favorite season of the series overall. Now, that’s not to say I think it’s the best season of the series. Those are two completely different conversations. (Pop culture discourse would be a lot more peaceful if we all learned that “favorite” does not equal “best” and vice versa.)

Being so, I love a lot of season 4’s episodes, and I’ve always felt that one of the strongest showings in this transitional season comes right near the middle. “Ted Koppel’s Big Night Out” takes place mostly at Yale during the school’s football game against Harvard. The Gilmore gamily, including non-sports fans Lorelai and Rory, tailgate in the parking lot. There’s a “fun flask” in rotation.

In the episode, Emily’s confronted with Richard’s continued friendship with Pennilyn Lott, his girlfriend before Emily and the one his mother preferred he ended up with. It’s a mess that Lorelai ever so briefly revels in. Later in the episode, Lorelai and Digger go on a date at a grocery store, which I have always, always loved. What I don’t love? Paris kissing Asher Fleming.

Season 5 episode 8: “The Party’s Over”

Again, you’re probably thinking, “How is ‘You Jump, I Jump, Jack,’ the literal episode right before not the best episode of season 5?” And I hear you, I do! But in “The Party’s Over,” we’re finally rid of Dean and that’s cause for celebration no matter what. All love to Jared Padalecki, but I think I speak for the entire Gilmore fandom when I say Dean was Rory’s worst boyfriend.

As luck would have it, Emily agrees with us once she learns the couple has gotten back together. She throws a party to introduce Rory to “suitable matches” (a tactic I don’t agree with), which only pushes Rory closer toward Logan (your mileage may vary on this one, but I like it). Combined with some Liz and TJ shenanigans and Lane battling with her mother, it’s a wonderful hour of TV.

Season 6 episode 19: “I Get a Sidekick Out of You”

Yes, I fought the Gilmore Girls fan urge to name “The Prodigal Daughter Returns” as the best episode of season 6. Even though Lorelai and Rory’s reunion marks the unofficial start of season 6 (the bitterness rages on almost 20 years later), some of the best moments of the penultimate season are still to come after their nearly midseason reconciliation.

In “I Get a Sidekick Out of You,” Lane and Zach get married, and the double ceremony day is the series in prime, quirky shape. During the reception, Lorelai’s fears for her own impending marriage cause her to drink a little bit too much and make an embarrassing toast. Still, episodes where the whole town gets together to support one of their own are the soft and gooey center of the show.

Season 7 episode 18: “Hay Bale Maze”

A lot of fans tend to write off season 7 for not being quite as good as the previous seasons, but there’s a lot of good stuff happening in the final season. Still, I ventured not to name the series finale as the best episode of the season, because though it is, it just feels like we’re celebrating the fact that the season ended. I’m not here to shade my favorite show!

Instead, I feel like it’s time to lift up “Hay Bale Maze.” For starters, it’s the last town tradition episode of the series, a final taste of the quirks that make Stars Hollow the place we all wish we lived. Logan even comes to town for the first time, too. Also, it’s the episode where Luke and Lorelai start to repair the damage of the secrets, the ultimatum, the marriage to Christopher… All the mess.

Bonus! A Year in the Life episode 2: “Spring”

When it comes to A Year in the Life, the four-part miniseries has two obvious picks for its strongest episodes: “Winter” (episode 1) and “Fall” (episode 4). One reunites us with our favorite characters, and the other features some series-best work from the writers and cast, while also seeing off Lorelai, Rory, and Emily into the next phases of their lives.

But those episodes had the difficult tasks of beginning and ending a revival miniseries of one of the most beloved shows of all time. However, in the second episode, “Spring,” we kind of just get to see the revival be what it is, and it’s fun. Lorelai and Rory go to New York, Rachael Ray steps in for Sookie at the Dragonfly, Mr. Kim appears for the first time, Kirk’s second film premieres, and so many other great moments happen. Don’t sleep on “Spring,” everyone!

All seven seasons and the revival miniseries of Gilmore Girls are available on Netflix.

Next. 10 unsolved Gilmore Girls mysteries we still think about. dark