The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “The Custody Battle” (S1, Ep. 11)

In today’s entry in the marathon, we talk about yet another bit of family feuding, this time between Dorothy and her younger sister Gloria. When Gloria–with all of her money–comes to town, she can’t resist showing off how much she has in comparison to Dorothy’s own rather meager circumstances. The real strain comes, however, when Gloria seemingly convinces Sophia to move back with her to California.

As always, the relationships among and between women remain key to the narrative tension of the episode. Dorothy and Gloria have clearly always struggled with their intertwined feelings of antagonism and affection, each jealous of the what the other has been able to accomplish. The irony, of course, is that each of them, to an extent at least, looks at herself as a failure. Dorothy struggles to break out of the never-ending cycle of being a substitute teacher, while Gloria recognizes that her primary role, that of wife and California socialite, has left her feeling somewhat empty and frustrated. Thus, their mutual antagonism stems as much from their own self-perceived failings critical judging of themselves as it does from any feelings of genuine resentment toward one another.

This episode also brings out the by turns fraught and loving between Dorothy and Sophia. While it is clear that they care for and love one another deeply, there is no denying that the former has begun to chafe under the (s)mothering influence of the latter. She wants to have her own space, but she also wants to have Sophia available when she needs her guidance and emotional support. But then, isn’t that how it always is with our mothers? We love them, but sometimes they drive us mad with their constant attempts to run out lives. In my view, it is exactly this contradictory and tense relationship that makes the mother/child bond one of the strongest that human beings experience.

It’s a neat little fact that Gloria, unlike some other members of the Dorothy/Sophia extended family, doesn’t make another appearance until Season 7 (when she is portrayed by a different actress). Of course, she is mentioned, quite a lot, by Sophia, usually in an unfavorable light to Dorothy. Indeed, the relationship between the two sisters seems much genuinely warmer than it will be in the later episode (in which it is much more straightforwardly antagonistic). It’s actually rather nice to see the ways in which the two sisters have genuine affection for one another, at least in this early episode. Furthermore, Gloria’s acknowledgment that Dorothy is and always has been the more responsible one, again reinforces the idea that their relationship is at once closer, and far more complicated, than it appears on the surface.

Next up, Rose begins a romance with Dr. Newman, the little person with whom she works. This raises all sorts of questions about whether Rose can indeed put aside her reservations about his size and marry him, as well as how we as a society view these physical differences in our everyday life.

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