The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Heart Attack” (S1, Ep. 10)

In today’s installment of the Great Golden Girls Marathon, it appears that Sophia may be having a heart attack, and the four women must cope with the fact that one of their number may be staring death in the face.

While this episode does not have the political bite of some of the other episodes of the first season, it does show the dexterity and depth with which the series is able to engage with the deeply personal. It’s one of the first times that we get a deep glimpse into the strong bond that exists between Dorothy and Sophia. It becomes clear, even at this early stage, that they are more than just mother and daughter; they are actually friends. There is an undeniable chemistry between Bea and Estelle, one that shines through in all of their performances together.

While a rather understated episode, it has its moments of genuine pathos, such as when Dorothy recognizes that she may well lose her mother. As someone who has a very deep and powerful relationship with my own Mom (and my Grandma), this scene always affects me. Embedded within this very personal trial is also a reflection on the way in which we must always contend with the fact that those we love, especially in a generation older than hours, are that much closer to the end of their lives. As such, it is a powerful reminder to make the most of the time that we are given.

This is also the first time that we learn that Rose’s husband Charlie died while they were in the middle of making love. This has always struck me as one of the more heartbreaking aspects of Rose’s character, and it remains a key part of her character development throughout the first season (and indeed throughout the series as a whole). More than any of the other characters, Rose seems to have the hardest time moving beyond the memory of Charlie, a testament to the extraordinary love that they clearly bore for one another.

Of course, everything is neatly resolved in the end with the revelation that the “heart attack” was in fact a gall bladder attack brought on by overeating. However, this doesn’t entirely efface the fact that death is an ever-present fact for these four women, especially Sophia. While The Golden Girls is certainly one of the finest-written comedies to ever grace television, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that, as one gets older, death becomes an increasingly prominent part of daily life. And that, I think, has always been one of its greatest strengths.

Next up, we get reacquainted with Dorothy’s infamous ex-husband Stan, and the beginning of a series-long arc in which the two briefly rekindle their failed relationship. Stay tuned!

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