The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Transplant”

In today’s entry, Blanche has to make the terrible choice about whether she should donate her kidney to her sister Virginia. Though it might seem like an easy choice for most people, the issue is complicated by the fact that Virginia and Blanche have long had an antagonistic relationship, exacerbated by the fact that Virginia ended up marrying the man that Blanche once loved.

It’s always amazed me how Blanche manages to be such a compelling and even likeable character, even though she is certainly one of the most self-centered characters to ever emerge in a sitcom. I mean, what kind of a woman has to think about whether she will donate her kidney in order to save her sister’s life? Yet before we condemn Blanche too vociferously, I think it’s worth dwelling on why Blanche would appear in such a way. I would make the case that she is an expression of our own collective desire to exhibit the kinds of behavior that she does. We all, whether we acknowledge it openly or not, secretly have a very selfish part to our personae, and Blanche allows us to vicariously indulge in precisely this sort of selfish behaviour from the safety of our living rooms.

Just as importantly, this storyline also showcases the ways in which the relationships between siblings (especially sisters) are often full of viciousness and snark, even as there may well be a kernel of genuine affection. Of course, the relationship between Virginia and Blanche will continue to be strained, and the breach will reopen when the latter returns home to mourn their father. Families are made up of messy individuals, and The Golden Girls is not afraid to show this fact in all of its ugliness.

What I find especially striking about this episode is the way in which Sophia acts as a sort of conscience. When Blanche expresses her uncertainty about whether she will in fact donate to Virginia, Sophia pithily remarks that she’s glad Blanche is not her sister, a stinging reminder of the selfishness of Blanche’s behavior, as well as a reminder of the different ways in which families work.

No review of this episode would be complete without praising Sheree North’s depiction of Virginia. She brings a certain measure of class, refinement, and even vulnerability to this role. Though many people probably would not recognize the name, North was quite an accomplished television actress and actually made appearances in a number of television series (including the great Gunsmoke). She certainly puts those abilities to good use in The Golden Girls.

Next up, the women face the greatest challenge yet to their friendship, in the person of a flirtatious suitor.

 

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