The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Blanche and the Younger Man” (S1, Ep. 9)

Today as part of the Great Golden Girls Marathon, I’ll be talking about a truly hilarious episode, in which Rose’s attempts to be caring of her mother end up smothering her, while Blanche finds herself (she thinks) pursued by a young, handsome man named Dirk.

As with so many episodes in the first season (and, indeed, the series as a whole), the episode remains concerned with the relationships among women. In this case, Rose struggles with the idea that she might lose her mother sooner than she would like, and she thus overcompsensates by smothering her mother with her protectiveness. Eventually, however, she has to accept the fact that her attempts to stop her mother from living (as Alma puts it), will not stop her from dying. She must, in turn, accept the painful yet liberating truth that the only thing they can do is to make the most out of the time that they have left with one another.

As Alma consistently demonstrates, she is more than capable of taking care of herself. Jeanette Nolan truly shines in her one and only appearance as Rose’s mother. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she also shows that she is not afraid to express her sexuality, and she shocks Rose by admitting that she had a brief but passionate liaison with a drifter and ex-convict after the death of her husband. Perhaps just as remarkable is the fact that she shows no sense of shame (not that she should). She freely owns her sexuality and recognizes that that particular relationship was something that she needed at that point in her life.

The other half of the episode, of course, deals with Blanche’s brief dalliance with a younger man. While she at first thinks this is a godsend, a means of recapturing her own rapidly vanishing youthful vitality, she all too quickly realizes that he really just sees her as a substitute for his mother. Naturally, she does not take this well, but the episode does nevertheless treat the older woman/younger man dynamic with a light and humorous touch. Fortunately, it doesn’t take the easy road and make Blanche an object of derisive mockery, but instead allows her to reclaim her agency in the end.

While at first I didn’t see a great deal of continuity in the episode, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there is a parallel to be found in that both Blanche and Rose have to contend with the fact of aging and with the ways in which American culture contends with motherhood. For her part, Blanche has to cope with the fact that she is not as young as she once was, but the episode does leave her with a revitalized sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Blanche will not be one to settle into that long goodnight.

Next up, the women must contend with the fact that Sophia may be having a heart attack, and the prospect of death causes Dorothy to recognize just how much she loves her mother and isn’t ready to say goodbye.

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