And so we come to that staple of most 1980s sitcoms, the Christmas episode. After exchanging their gifts, the four women are held captive by a deranged Santa while picking up Rose from her job at the counseling center. Though their plans to visit their own families out of state are ultimately foiled, they come to realize that they are more like family than they ever realized
The true highlight of the episode is, of course, the calendar that Blanche gives to the other girls, entitled “The Men of Blanche’s Boudoir.” Of course, we don’t get to see what is contained in said calendar, but that just makes it all the more hilarious when the women–particularly Dorothy and Sophia–respond to the…endowments of the men on display. Sophia’s remark is, unsurprisingly, very earthy (“I’m surprised you were able to walk in October,” she exclaims), and we find ourselves both vastly amused and very curious.
Despite the fact that we don’t get to see the men, there is something more than a little subversive about this moment. As most people will agree, it is typically women who are rendered into objects of spectacle for men, their bodies a source of erotic delight (the film theorist Laura Mulvery has a remarkable essay on just this subject). As they so often do, the women manage to flip the gendered dynamics that society so often relies upon, and it does so in a way that is all the more subversive for being played for laughs.
The real emotional center of the episode, however, occurs after they go to a diner to commiserate over their seemingly ruined holiday. The friendly waiter (played by Teddy Wilson, who would return in a later episode as a different character) remarks that, given how they were carrying on and teasing one another, he had assumed their family. This casual remark from a stranger forces the four women to recognize that, in reality, they are a family in all of the ways that really matter. This might seem trivial to some people, but to me it’s one of those moments in the series where you really start to realize how much these four women mean to one another. For queer people in particular–who often have a strained relationship with their families–there is something especially resonant about the way in which these wonderful women find such profound emotional fulfillment with one another.
Now, admittedly, there is something more than a little problematic in the scene that takes place at the counseling center, especially since it uses those with mental illness as the punchline. However, in cases like this it’s important to remember that, as progressive as it often is, The Golden Girls is still very much a product of its time.
Overall, I’ve always found this to be an enjoyable episode, even if it doesn’t pack quite the punch of some of the others in the second season. Next up, we’ll be talking about one of my all-time fave episodes, in which we finally get to meet Sophia’s estranged sister Angela (played by the inimitable Nancy Walker).