Today on The Great Golden Girls Marathon we’ll be talking about the episode in which Dorothy takes up with a married man, a fellow school teacher named Glen O’Brien. While Sophia, unsurprisingly, judges her harshly for doing so, Blanche and Rose remain divided in their advice.
It’s actually rather surprising, and pleasant, to see the vulnerability Dorothy expresses in her tender moments with Glen (before she realizes that he’s cheating on his wife). For her, Glen represents another opportunity to share her life with someone with whom she has a powerful physical and emotional connection, someone with whom she can be completely comfortable in her own body. While Bea Arthur is not always associated with vulnerability, this is one instance in which her skills as an actress are brought to the forefront. The unfortunate realization that Glen has been cheating on his wife all along punctures that pleasantness, revealing Dorothy to be, at first inadvertently, and then willingly, the other woman.
There is a certain irony that Dorothy continues to see Glen even after she discovers that he is cheating on his wife. It almost seems disingenuous that a woman whose husband left her for a younger woman after 38 years of marriage would then herself indulge in an extramarital affair. But then, that is not being entirely fair to Dorothy. The heart wants what it wants, and it sometimes doesn’t care about the the obstacles that our everyday life puts in thew way. It is this fraught and dangerous personal territory that she has to traverse as she tries to figure out how she should contend with this seemingly intractable problem.
Of course, for all of its subversive strains, The Golden Girls remains in many ways a somewhat conservative show, and so the affair ultimately ends, with Dorothy recognizing that she cannot continue putting her own morality in such jeopardy. Even so, there is an acknowledgment that dating and romance can be especially challenging as one gets older and as the old ties that bound us start to loosen up. It’s hard not to feel at least a little bit of sympathy for Glen’s plight; he recognizes that while his marriage has failed, it’s not as easy as he would like it to be to start out afresh. He cannot recognize (though Dorothy does), that life doesn’t always work out as neatly as you might like it to.
Having re-watched The Golden Girls in its entirety, it’s rather striking the extent to which the first season focuses so much on the romantic exploits of Dorothy. Given the fact that so many jokes in subsequent rely on the fact that she is dateless and has no social life, her rather robust and eventful dating life in the first season is all the more extraordinary. Further, as I noted before, it also gives Bea Arthur a chance to show off her acting abilities; she’s just as compelling a romantic leading lady as her co-stars.
Next up, Rose has her own extramarital affair to deal with, when the man she has been sleeping with ends up dying in her bed.