I’ve written about character assassination before. That particular article was about Toby Ziegler, unsung hero of the Bartlet administration. However, since character assassination is something I feel strongly about, I have more to say on the subject today. The object of my scrutiny and affection in this case is Dean Forester, Rory’s first and arguably awesomest boyfriend on Gilmore Girls.
First, let me refresh your memory. According to the website tvtropes.org, character assassination or character derailment occurs:
“When an established character becomes largely different, exhibiting behavior contrary to what has been previously shown. This is not a matter of organic growth. Rather than gradually changing in response to events and experiences, a derailed character will exhibit shockingly unusual behavior that implies malfeasance or incompetence on the part of the writers.”
Read the full article here.
I hate character derailment. You love a character for a specific combination of personality traits and quirks. If you really love a character, you do so flaws and all. And then, the writers let you down. Much like a beloved show disappointing you in its final story arcs, character derailment is a slow and painful process. You don’t really notice the writers have lost with the character or the very tone of the show until it’s already broken your heart.
In the specific case of Dean Forester, the character derailment is the derailment of a love interest in order to push another love interest forward. The writers want to introduce a new potential partner for Rory into the show, but instead of doing so and letting the audience decide for themselves who to root for, they start making Dean look like a jerk to make Jess seem more appealing by contrast. Read all about this phenomenon on TV Tropes here.
If you’re not a Dean fan and you never have been, that’s fine. If you’re a Jess fan, or god forbid a Logan fan, that’s up to you. But please don’t perpetuate the delusion that Dean is some kind of idiot. If Rory ended it with Dean and started up with Jess because she just wasn’t in love with Dean anymore, that’s fine. That’s what happens in life, and I wish TV showed characters falling out of love more realistically. But if you are of the opinion that Dean is a bad guy, you are wrong.
In season one episode eight, Dean reads Jane Austen because Rory recommends it to him. In turn, he tells her to read Hunter Thompson. Don’t you dare tell me this boy is an uneducated hick. Dean likes working with his hands, too. He makes Rory a bracelet out of leather straps he cut himself and a medallion he drilled a hole into. He even puts together a car for her, for God’s sake. This is exactly the kind of thing Luke would do for Lorelai, and I don’t see anyone accusing him of being unsuitable for her. Of course, Lorelai and Rory are different people, but I think the idea that a romantic partner should fit in with and cater to every part of your personality is more than a little unhealthy.
In Dean’s defense, he’s witty and cute and incredibly gentlemanly.
He really appreciates the unique family dynamic of the Gilmore household, even joins it. He respects Lorelai, which is a surefire way to earn my respect as well. Let me just point out that both Jess and Logan are lacking when it comes to treating Rory’s mother and the most important person in her life with respect.
Dean pays attention to Rory. He’s dedicated. He likes, maybe even loves her, for exactly who she is because he sees her for exactly who she is.
All the things that come later in the show, the ones that supposedly make Dean unlikeable are completely out of character for the boy we get to know and love in season one. The aggressive and possessive behavior, the marriage to the nagging wife, the cheating on this wife with Rory and thereby driving a rift between Rory and Lorelai is something I don’t think the real Dean would ever do.
Imagine, you’re starting up this TV show and you need a romantic interest that everyone roots for, so you come up with the perfect guy: Dean. But then, quite unexpectedly, your show is a success. As the plot goes on, you need conflict to keep things interesting. The only way to make it look as though Rory could ever have a better boyfriend than Dean, is by assassinating his character. That’s just bad writing. I’m sorry, Amy Sherman-Palladino. I love you and I adore your work and I appreciate everything you have meant for feminism on television. But you went wrong where Dean Forester was concerned.