Greetings, friends! Welcome to another installment of the Great Golden Girls Marathon. Today, we’re going to be talking about the episode “The Stan Who Came to Dinner,” in which Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan (played by the inimitable Herb Edelman) has to have open-heart surgery. While he makes it through the surgery without complications, his recovery in the girls’ house causes no small amount of conflict.
Personally, I’ve always really enjoyed the episodes when Stan makes an appearance. For one thing, there is an undeniable chemistry between Edelman and Bea Arthur, so much so that one can well believe that they were once married in real life (this is what happens when you have the talents of two very great actors playing against one another). For another, Edelman just plays the schmuck character so well that it’s hard not to find him charming, even if he is also very much of a sleaze (let’s not forget that the whole reason he’s Dorothy’s ex is because he left her for a stewardess). Much as you might find Stan absolutely infuriating, and as much as you might sympathize with Dorothy’s unquestionable dislike of him, you can also recognize what it was that drew her to him in the first place, and you also realize why she still finds herself a little in love with him despite everything that he’s done.
Indeed, this episode cuts to the heart of the relationship that Dorothy has with Stan. While it would be easy for her to simply tell him no when he asks if he can stay with them during his recovery, for better or worse he is still part of her family. After all, they did share 38 years together, to say nothing of their two children. More surprising, at least initially, is Sophia’s insistence that he stays there with them. However, it’s only surprising until you realize that for Sophia, with her distinctive old world sensibility, family comes before everything else, even if she might resent the fact that he’s family at all (as she says to Dorothy, “it’s your fault he’s family”). For Sophia, family really does trump everything else, and I actually find that fact a little touching.
At the same time, the episode really lays bare some of the pain and agony that Dorothy endured as she stayed with Stan, a man hardly known for his marital fidelity. Indeed, as he makes clear the night before his surgery, he cheated on her far more than she had ever believed, and while this belated confession seems to make him feel better, it really makes her reckon with the way that she thought about their relationship and their years together. Of course, she gets vengeance in her own way (a suitcase to the groin is always a good bet for a laugh).
It’s really the concluding scene that draws all of these threads together. Upon realizing that Stan has faked his relapse so that he can continue staying with them, Dorothy responds with outrage and, though she is moved by his confession of vulnerability, she makes it clear that she can’t be his emotional crutch any longer. What I particularly appreciate about this scene is the way in which it allows Stan to be emotionally vulnerable in a way that is more authentic than at almost any other point in the entire series (one exception being the series finale). Here, we see that he is, after all, a man leaving middle age, confronting the very fact of his mortality. At the same time, we also get to see Dorothy in one of her strongest moments, reminding Stan that, although she will always love him, she isn’t his wife any longer and that he has to set out on his own. Though it is, obviously, far from the end of their adventures together, it does mark a significant turning point.
This is, all told, one of the most emotionally mature episodes of the second season. Next up, we get to what I’ve always thought was one of the absolute funniest episodes the series ever aired, in which Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy compete with one another for the attentions of a very handsome and dashing actor. Stay tuned!