This image is from the virtual holiday open house, distributed by Connecticut governor Ned Lamont.

Ten years too late, I watched “Gilmore Girls” for the first time, with my sister. Despite its status as a Netflix nostalgia staple and one of my sister’s go-to comfort watches, I had only previously encountered Rory Gilmore’s (Alexis Bledel, “The Handmaid’s Tale”) large forehead and pleated skirt in glimpses, always exiting the TV room before it became too visually offensive. But in an effort to find a new shared show with my sister, I joined my sister on her season four re-watch of “Gilmore Girls.”

The series replicates the bare bones of my lived experiences (small, homogeneous town, Connecticut), but I found myself on the outside looking in, uninterested and suspicious of the stories playing out. “Gilmore Girls” is unapologetically, consistently and unconsciously “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” propaganda. In idyllic Stars Hollow, a single teen mother can avoid poverty and raise a child on her own (while also getting intermittent cash infusions from her conveniently rich parents). Every episode is an absurd feel-good outtake that reinforces a Make America Great Again class-mobility fantasy while signaling its impossibility. It’s mind boggling and, without nostalgia goggles, patronizing.

The fantasy, feel-good gauze that baby-proofs the show — the sweaty dialogue, triumphant character arcs, mundane interpersonal drama — belie, moralize and reinforce a bizarre American, small-town fantasy that doesn’t exist without consequences.

Every re-watcher should understand the utopian small town Connecticut fantasy “Gilmore Girls” silences Connecticut’s very real income disparity and history of racist redlining policies that created homogeneous Connecticut towns like the fictional Stars Hollow. The show’s moralistic flair would be more palatable if it were more self-aware. I generally crave stories about ambitious, selfish characters privy to, yet excluded from, frou-frou, upper-class lives, but the Gilmore family is unable to imagine themselves as both marginalized and complicit in inequality. And therein lies the rub.

Irrespective of my gripes, “Gilmore Girls” prompted some self-reflection over the holiday break, in conjunction with the book I was reading over winter break, Tasha Suri’s “The Jasmine Throne.”

The connection between “Gilmore Girls” and “The Jasmine Throne,” a fantasy novel set in fantasy South Asia, is tenuous; the two do not overlap in genre, medium or intended audience. However, their shared theme of evolving relationships and what is required to maintain one felt painfully relevant.

Returning home for the holidays has a peculiar flavor. Coming back from college — especially after living alone and pursuing new passions — can make re-settling into hometown life a process. Meeting hometown friends requires a re-learning period: How do you fit together with your new intellectual obsessions without the social lubricant of shared classes or teachers?

The family reunion holiday ritual can be particularly arduous. Families reunite and undergo a yearly, ever-awkward process of reacquainting after a period apart. It’s tricky and uncomfortable, yet hopeful, because a lot can change in a year. The roles assigned to you and others are ever changing. You’re an individual but also a granddaughter and a niece; at some point, you might become a cousin or an aunt. Your personality gets refracted, scrutinized and reinterpreted by well-meaning relatives, whom you are forced to interact with and accommodate. The first hours of meeting are part performance and part prodding to see which relationships still fit and which must be adjusted: a catch-up period and a social dance.

I’ve only seen an agonizing handful of “Gilmore Girls” episodes, but the series is obsessed with the maintenance and conclusions of familial ties, friendships and intense romantic relationships. In the season four episode “Scene in a Mall,” Rory Gilmore’s Asian best friend, Lane Kim (Keiko Agena, “Prodigal Son”), snaps at her talkative, estranged cousin Christine (Tessa Ludwick, “Thirteen”). The two are packing up Lane’s childhood bedroom while Christine makes one-sided conversation, displaying her strong desire to connect with Lane. 

In many ways, a relationship between them seems natural; both girls are children of strict first-generation immigrants in a very homogeneous (read: white) town. However, overwhelmed with events in her own life, Lane snaps that if her cousin is looking for a mentor, she should “call the Dalai Lama.” The remainder of the scene is quiet. The unsure relationship between the two cousins is reminiscent of some of my own interactions with family members my age, as life stages rarely line up once we exit primary school. You might be ready to socialize one year, but by next Christmas, you are too preoccupied to care. Sometimes you grow apart or into different people with new concerns and the pieces don’t easily fit.

Departing from “Gilmore Girls,” “The Jasmine Throne” emphasizes relationships as malleable, introducing multiple troubled, yet intense, relationships bound by blood and shared history. 

In the novel, a disgraced princess, Malini, is kept prisoner in a far-off temple and cared for by Priya, a local maidservant. Their relationship develops while Malini is in solitary confinement. Malini’s position as a princess and member of the dominant ethnic group privileges her, but her imprisonment and Priya’s relative freedom complicate their power dynamic. “The Jasmine Throne” emphasizes people as ever changing and dependent on situations. Thus, relationships should always be changing, modulating to fit new needs and sides. 

The holiday relationship transition period, while potentially upsetting, is a moment for recalibration. It’s a moment where my family members bear witness to the person I’m becoming, and I get to see and rejoice and commiserate and re-encounter them, too. As much as I am morphed and changed, misunderstood and seen, I am also refracting and observing their personhood and their possibility. 

Once out of captivity, Malini is virtually unrecognizable to Priya (yet compelling in a new way). Malini, the prisoner that Priya found both beautiful and pitiable, is not the same as Malini the princess, unattainable in her self-composure and class. For Malini, captivity brought out a new, desperate side of her that Priya got to witness. And while the circumstances were grueling and horrible — it happened.

As we age, we morph and discover, trying on different personalities: outgoing, reserved, quiet, broody. We fight personal battles and sometimes come out worse for wear. Lane processes her grief and turmoil. Christine wants a friend. Priya and Malini were lovers forged in trauma, forced to re-introduce themselves once normalcy returns. 

As per the holiday mandate, every winter we gather all our disparate pieces and meet other reassembled individuals and try to make new puzzle pieces fit. Maybe the timing doesn’t work out, but there’s always next year.

Daily Arts Writer Elizabeth Yoon can be reached at