In this episode, the women celebrate as Dorothy’s daughter Kate gets engaged to the handsome doctor Dennis, a cause of great celebration for her mother and grandmother. Right away, we get a sense of the powerful relationships that exist between the various mothers and daughters that will occur throughout the series. Dorothy clearly loves her daughter, and she wants the very best for her.
This episode also marks the first appearance of Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan, the man who will occupy so many episodes and so many failed romances. There’s an undeniable chemistry between Bea Arthur Herb Edelman, one that lends a certain frisson to their barbed relationship with one another. They really seem to inhabit the bodies two people who have shared 38 years together and who ended on less than perfect terms. Yet there is clearly a measure of affection left between them, which helps to explain in part the on-again/off-again dynamic that they maintain for the duration of the series.
The real highlight of the episode, however, is the final, climactic scene, in which Dorothy at last gets to tell Stan everything she feels as a result of his decision to divorce her in absentia. Arthur really shows her powerful acting ability, as she bites the words off and lashes Stan ruthlessly with his failures as a husband. Again, one can really believe that this is a woman who has been betrayed by the man with whom she sought to build a life. And while she clearly has a lot of anger and hatred (there is an absolutely hilarious scene in which she begins barking at him), there is also a mingled sense of loss and sadness. She knows she has to say goodbye, but she knows that it will tear her heart out to do it.
This is what makes this one of the truly greatest comedies in television history. Certainly, there is a great deal to be said about the show’s progressive politics (which I will not extensively as I work through this marathon), but it is equally skilled at negotiating the fraught and turbulent depths of human relationships. We’re not invited to hate Stan, though we are definitely invited to vicariously experience Dorothy’s rage. Edelman has a certain charm about him, and we can see how Dorothy would spend 38 years with him. This episode, as well as the many that follow it, show us just how messy and imperfect human relationships are. Further, the series shows how even the people we think we hate the most continue to exert a pull on our lives.
Next up, Rose faces the possibility of engaging physically with the first man since her husband’s untimely passing.