The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “Before and After” (S2, Ep. 15)

I have to admit that, contrary to what I usually say, this isn’t one of my favourite episodes of The Golden Girls. There’s nothing wrong with it, really, it’s just that it rather lacks the dynamic energy that characterizes so many of the other episodes of this season. In it, Rose has what she at first believes is a heart attack (it’s actually just an esophageal spasm), which makes her decide that she’s going to “eat life,” and her new lifestyle clashes with her roommates. As a result, she moves out, only to realize that nothing can replace the community she has with the other girls.

Among other things, this episode reveals a fundamental aspect of Rose’s personality, i.e. her willingness to sacrifice her own happiness in order to volunteer for others. The opening moments of the episode reveal the truly staggering array of activities in which Rose is involved, ranging from helping the neighbors by baking a wedding cake to various types of community service. While all of the women–including Sophia–frequently engage in community activities, there’s no question that Rose is the most involved in that regard. This episode is one of the few times that she starts to question the intrinsic worth of those efforts.

As with so many episodes of The Golden Girls, this episode addresses the fundamental issue of death. Given that all of them are over fifty, the reality is that death is always a possibility. In this case, it makes Rose reconsider all of the things that she has done and the way that she has lived her life. One can hardly blame her for this moment of self-reflection. After all she, like the other women, isn’t getting any younger, and so it would make sense for her to want to make sure that she gets the most out of her life while she still can. However, one can question the way that she goes about it, which seems by nature designed to alienate the women that she has already built such a strong relationship with, and the quickness of her decision to move out is, I think, one of Rose’s least-charming moments.

This is also one of the handful of episodes that sees one of the women takes up residence with someone else (Sophia does so in a later episode, for similar reasons). While the episode lacks the sort of social commentary that makes The Golden Girls such a wonderful series to watch, her exchanges with her new roommates does, I think, reflect something essential about how the series views personal relationships. For these new women, their living arrangement is one purely of convenience. They are, as one of them says, roommates, not friends. One can see this in every exchange that occurs , whether that’s one roommates leaving the room while Rose is in the middle of a story, the other roommate mistaking Rose for the other roommate’s mother, or the fact that the women know nothing about one another.

The purpose of these exchanges is, of course, to highlight the difference between these living arrangements and those shared by Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, and Sophia. At a deeper level, however, I also think it says something about the state of American society in the mid-80s and about the fraying social bonds that once tied people together. It’s hard to imagine these other two women having any friends which is, I think, the saddest and most profound statement about the nature of American culture in the ’80s in the entire episode.

Next up, we come to an episode in which Blanche has to confront the decisions that she’s made as a mother.

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