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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “Flu Attack” (S1, Ep. 21)

Well, it has been a long time since I wrote a post on The Golden Girls. So, to take a bit of a break from the oppressive political news that seems to assail us each and every day, I decided to do a short entry on one of the final episodes of the first season, “Flu Attack,” in which Blanche, Dorothy, and Rose contract a flu and, in the midst of their sniping, also must contend with the fact that each of them is in the running for a prestigious volunteer award.

The episode is marked in particular by one of Sophia’s most humorous and self-reflexive stories. In her telling, pesto was inadvertently created when a village healer gave “Salvador, the village idiot” a salve for an ear infection. Once he realized that the substance actually tasted great on linguini, he decided to market it. When Dorothy accuses her of making the whole thing up, Sophia immediately responds, “I’m old. I’m supposed to be colorful.” Naturally, the scene is played for laughs, but it also contains an awareness of the

The revelation that it is Sophia who will be winning the Best Friend of the Friends of Good Health Award is one of the first instances in which we see her extraordinary level of involvement in the community (this theme emerges more fully in a future season). Furthermore, it also allows us to see the extent to which all four of them are deeply engaged in civic and public service. In the past, some critics have reprimanded the show for not allowing its four women to be more politically active, and I have always wondered if they have been watching the same show that I have. While a writer like Susan Faludi states that the women are safely ensconced in the home (and thus do not pose a challenge to the male order), I would argue that these moments of engagement on their part actually do serve as a site of resistance. They refuse to fade into irrelevance,

I’ve always found this to be one of the best episodes from the first season, as it is one of the ones that clearly shows how both the writing has matured and the four leads have begun to grow more comfortable with one another. There is still a bit of an edge to the comedy, but by now it has already been tempered by the obvious love among the four women, a love made all the more touching by their reconciliation at the end of the episode. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the sparring between Blanche and Dorothy in particular is uproariously funny, particularly their argument over custody of the blanket.

However, there are a few tender moments sprinkled amidst the vitriol, as when Blanche in a fit of pique calls Rose a “nerd” and the latter breaks down into tears. While it is clearly intended to be a humorous moment (and it is), it also reveals both Rose’s innate tenderness (for all of her competitiveness) and is also a moment of release from the bickering that has so far taken place. Rose can give as good as she gets, however, as when she passive aggressively reminds Dorothy that she cannot possibly get the award, given that too few people like her. And of course Blanche has her own vulnerabilities, as when she pays a waiter at the event to be her “date,” since her own was unwilling to go with her in her state.

All in all, this is one of the funniest episodes of the first season, if not an explicitly political one.

In the next installment, Rose finds herself unemployed and must attempt to find another job, which turns out to be much more difficult than any of them had anticipated.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “The Operation” (S1, Ep. 18)

In today’s installment of “The Great Golden Girls Marathon,” we get to see both a moment of vulnerability from Dorothy and a truly spectacular dance scene between Dorothy and Rose. When Dorothy accidentally injures herself during a tap dance, she is forced to contend with her fear of hospitals and of surgery, while the other two must decide how they are going to perform without her (they eventually dub themselves “The Two Merry Widows”).

It’s rather nice to see Dorothy manifest something other than the sort of steely strength that is normally her way of being in the world. She is clearly quite frightened about the fact that she has to go through a fairly major surgery (and who wouldn’t  be scared, when even the doctors blurt out the truth that they can’t really guarantee that something won’t go amiss). While the whole scene in which the doctors act like complete idiots is played for laughs, it has just the slightest bit of edge to it, and that gives Dorothy’s determination to see the surgery through–but only after briefly escaping from the hospital.

Yet the episode also takes pains to show that, to a degree at least, she’s being just a bit ridiculous about the whole thing. When she meets her roommate, Bonnie, played by the inimitable Anne Haney, famous for her roles in both Mrs. Doubtfire and Mama’s Family), she realizes that her own crisis is rather small potatoes compared to Bonnie’s survival of breast cancer. While the particularities of women’s health issues wouldn’t really take full shape and get full treatment until later seasons, the fact that it is brought up in this early episode indicates how deeply this concern runs in the show’s ethos.

The highlight of the episode, in my opinion, is the spectacular tap-dancing scene between Rose and Blanche. There is something uniquely pleasurable in general about seeing the human body engaged in the beauty of the dance, and it becomes even more so when it is two characters that we have already begun to love. Rue and Betty seem to have a particular bond with one another that exists in that pleasurably intimate space between intense friendship and romantic desire, and this is frequently expressed in their ability to be physically intimate with one another.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that the strongest bonds (particularly physical) exist in distinct pairs:  Dorothy/Blanche; Dorothy/Sophia; Blanche/Rose. I am not exactly sure what to make of this as of yet, though I suspect part of it has to do with the rather vexed relationship that existed between Bea and Betty when they weren’t in character. There’s no denying that there is powerful affection between all of the women, but there’s also truth to the observation that it’s definitely stronger between some of them than others.

In the next installment, Blanche meets yet another man who wants to make her a permanent part of his life, while Dorothy and Rose attempt to take on that most gargantuan of household tasks:  the installation of a toilet.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “The Truth Will Out” (S1, Ep. 16)

In today’s entry in “The Great Golden Girls Marathon,” we once again meet some members of the girls’ family, in this case Rose’s daughter Kirsten and granddaughter Charley. While Rose has spent the years since her husband’s death cultivating his legacy and encouraging her children to see him as a successful businessman, it gradually becomes clear that, in fact, he was a terrible salesman, and that he left her very little in his will.

However, on the way to that revelation, Rose finds that she has to lie to both her daughter and her friends, claiming that it was bad investments on her part that led to the lack of funds. Kirsten, unsurprisingly, condemns her mother’s alleged irresponsibility, proclaiming that she has never been so ashamed of her. Somehow, it becomes acceptable for her to show the utmost disregard for her mother’s feelings, to say nothing of the respect that she should theoretically at least an effort to demonstrate.

It should come as no surprise that Kirsten proves to be quite the ungrateful and indeed disrespectful to her mother when she believes that Rose has squandered the fortune that her father allegedly built. The fraught and often contentious relationship between children and their parents would prove to be an ongoing tension in many episodes of the series (not least between Dorothy and Sophia), but here it takes on an especially cutting edge, and we’re definitely not encouraged to sympathize with Kirsten.

Indeed, it’s only when Rose realizes that the myth she has propagated about Charlie has begun to distort the view that her grandchildren have of their grandfather that she feels that she must at last come clean about the reality of his legacy. It’s rather touching, I think, that Rose was willing to sacrifice her own good image in her daughter’s eyes rather than sully her husband’s conversation. It’s also rather nice that Rose, and Kirsten, finally realize that it is Charlie’s success as a good person that matters, more than the amount of money that he was able to leave his widow and family.

In a fun bit of casting trivia, this is the first of two times that daughter Kirsten appears in the show. She would return in the final season when Rose suffers cardiac arrest, though in the latter she is played by a different actress. If anything, her later incarnation is even more unpleasant, since she blames the other four women for her mother’s health scare. Truly, Kirsten is one of the most unpleasant of the many progeny that appear in the show, and one wonders how someone as sweet and kind as Rose could raise such an unpleasant daughter (I’ll have much more to say on this when we get to Kirsten’s second appearance).

In the next episode, we meet yet another member of the extended family (which happens a great deal in the series, particularly in the first season), when Blanche’s niece Lucy comes for a visit and reveals that she acts a little more like Blanche than is probably good for her.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “In a Bed of Rose’s” (S1, Ep. 15)

In today’s installment of The Great Golden Girls Marathon, Rose strikes up a one-night-stand with a man who, unbeknownst to her, is actually married. The real kicker, though, is that he dies after their encounter (in her bed!), leaving Rose to deal with the consequences.

Of course, it ultimately becomes apparent that Al is in fact a married man, and that Rose–who has always considered herself the most morally upright of the four women–has become the very thing she had condemned Dorothy for being. She has become the other woman. That being said, she deserves kudos for being willing to meet Al’s wife face-to-face to tell her not only that her husband has been carrying on an affair, but that he also died in her bed. The conversation between the two women, in which Al’s wife reveals that she has long known of his infidelity, is one of the richest and most compelling in the entire first season, as the women commiserate over their shared relationship with a man who was, all things considered, something of a cad.

It’s particularly striking that this episode comes after one in which Dorothy also has to contend with the moral consequences of adultery. Rose, however, has to deal with the other side of that equation, in that she has to do the right thing and actually confront the wife of her paramour. As always, The Golden Girls shows just how complicated, messy, and sometimes unpleasant life can be. Even when we think we’re just having a bit of fun, sometimes our actions have unintended consequences with which we then have to contend.

Furthermore, Rose also has to contend with the fact that Al, like her husband Charlie, died while making love. She clearly has a great deal of emotional guilt that she carries around as a result of Charlie’s death, and she has to accept that sometimes bad things happen, and that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with her that leads to men happening to die while in her amorous embraces. (There’s also a great joke near the end of the episode, in which she says that her next date also dies, as well as the police investigating the case. Truly one of the funniest moments in the first season).

All in all, this is one of my favourite episodes of the first season, because it truly does allow Rose to finally begin breaking out of her prudish shell and engaging in the same sort of romantic escapades as the other women.  As such, it stands as one of those points where we do see some character development and, frankly, I have always found the later Rose much more appealing and charismatic than her iteration in the first few episodes of the first season.

Rose will also be the focus of our next entry. In the next episode, we’ll discover some deeply-held secrets about Charlie, as Rose has to contend with her desire to protect Charlie’s memory with the demands and judgment of her daughter Kirsten.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “That Was No Lady” (S1, Ep. 14)

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.

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The Great “Golden Girls” Marathon: “A Little Romance” (S1, Ep. 13)

In today’s episode of The Great Golden Girls Marathon, we find out that Rose has begun to fall in love with one of her colleagues at the counseling center, a certain Jonathan Newman who, it turns out, is a little person. Shenanigans ensue, of course, especially when Blanche invites Rose’s beau over for dinner.

As it would come to do with several other minority identities, The Golden Girls does a fairly nuanced job of portraying Jonathan as simply a person like anyone else. He is intelligent and well-spoken with a wicked sense of humour. However, he is also flawed and rather intolerant in his own way, as evidenced by the fact that he can’t continue his relationship with Rose due to her non-Jewish identity. Of course, the thwarting of their romance is quite in keeping with the series’ investment in ensuring that we in the audience understand that it is the relationship among the four women that takes center-stage.

Certainly, there are parts of the situation that cause us to laugh, but I would argue that we are not invited to see Jonathan’s short stature as the source of the humour. Instead, it is Blanche’s awkwardness and inability to cope with it that incites our laughter. Jonathan is so clearly comfortable in his own skin that he throws her own awkwardness into sharp relief.

This episode also featured two notable guest stars:  Billy Barty and the renowned psychic Jeane Dixon (both of whom appear in a dream sequence of Rose’s that is as ridiculous as it sounds). Of course, this wouldn’t be the last time that the show would feature famous personalities and actors, and that roster would come to include such luminaries as Bob Hope, Debbie Reynolds, and so many others would grace the stage.

This is one of those early episodes that does not, as of yet, dive headfirst into the political as would come to be the case in Seasons 2-6 (I’ll get to the final season at some point). Instead, it relies on a typical sitcom setup to make a larger point. It’s a subtle point, certainly, but it does help to illustrate just how versatile The Golden Girls was and how even at this early stage in its development the show had already managed to hone the sharpness of its humour.

Up next, the women dive into some murky moral ground when Dorothy finds herself having an affair with a married man.

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Ramsay Bolton/Snow and the Complicity of Violence in “Game of Thrones”

Warning:  Full spoilers for the show follow.

Like millions of other TV viewers, I have long since grown tired of Ramsay Snow (lately Bolton), one of the few unambiguously evil characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones. While I think that Iwan Rheon deserves a lot of credit for bringing this character to chilling life, I think the writers have made a bit of a misstep by having Ramsay be so straightforwardly bad (and I blame Martin for this as well). Frankly, I’ve been hoping for his death since at least last season, and even somewhat before that. One can only tolerate pure evil for so long.

Fortunately, the most recent episode of Game of Thrones gave us what we have been asking for:  Ramsay Snow, defeated by his fellow bastard Jon and ultimately fed to the dogs that have been his preferred weapon for far too long. In a wonderful bit of poetic justice, it was our own beloved Sansa that was the instrument of his death and who delivered a chilling curse upon him in his final moments. While this was preceded by a wonderful scene in which Jon pummels his enemy into near-oblivion, it was really the (mostly unseen) mauling that packed the greatest punch and that proved the most satisfying.

There was something intensely, viscerally satisfying about seeing Ramsay receive the punishment that he so richly deserves. It was hard not to feel one’s heart pounding with exhilaration as Jon Snow pummeled the man responsible for the gradual descent of the North back into chaos and barbarity, and  I literally felt my body responding with a queer sort of thrill when that dog began licking his face and finally made the lunge, my skin crawling with a mingling of visual (and sensual) pleasure and revulsion. There is something particularly heinous and terrifying about the thought of being eaten alive by dogs, one’s body and being rendered into nothing more than a body.

Of course, part of the reason for this affect has to do with the many, many, many things that Ramsay has done to the characters that we love. His callous murder of Rickon in this episode alone would have been enough to enrage those who remain loyal to the Starks, but let’s not forget the fact that he gelded Theon (after months of torture), killed the wilding Osha, and fed his own stepmother and half-brother to his dogs. If anyone in this series deserved this horrible way of death, it was Theon.

And yet…and yet. Despite my cheers and thrills at seeing this bit of justice, a little voice in the back of my mind kept reminding me of my own complicity in the vision of violence and torture that Thrones continues to feed us. How was it possible, I ask myself, that I, a relatively enlightened and reasonable person, could find myself so thrilled at the sight of horrific dismemberment? Was the fact that Sansa was finally able to reclaim a bit of her agency really enough to justify this mental behaviour on my part?

It’s hard not to read Game of Thrones in light of the fraught political climate in which we currently live, in which emotion and passion has come to dominate rational discourse and enlightenment. Given that, I find my responses to this scene in Thrones even more disturbing, and this realization has reaffirmed my fervent belief that now, more than ever, we must indulge the better angels of our natures. Otherwise, we all risk becoming no better than the monsters, like Ramsay, that we have struggled so mightily to overcome.

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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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The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Return of Dorothy’s Ex” (S1, Ep

Welcome back to the Great Golden Girls Marathon. In today’s installment, we take a look at the second episode in which Dorothy’s ex-husband Stan appears. While he is ostensibly in town to take care of some business with Dorothy, he ends up revealing that his new wife Chrissy has left him for a younger man. To make matters even more complicated, he also confesses that he still has feelings for Dorothy. While she feels tempted to return to her old life with him, she eventually turns him down, and he returns to Chrissy.

On one level, Stan is certainly the most insufferable type of man imaginable. He seems curiously out of place in his own life, perpetually struggling financially, always on the hunt for a younger woman. All of which, of course, just points to his own insecurity as a man. He has, in many ways, largely failed to do exactly those things that American culture expects its men to accomplish. He couldn’t even manage to hold his marriage together (though we don’t find out how spectacularly he failed at that until several episodes later).

And yet, despite all of that, Herb Edelman brings a certain charisma, one might even go so far as to say charm, to Stan. He should be utterly unlikeable, and yet he always manages to bring life to the episodes in which he appears. I suspect that a great deal of this has to do with the undeniable rapport and chemistry between Bea and Herb, who really do manage to capture the mix of dislike and affection that a couple married for 38 years would exhibit. And that makes sense; after all, 38 years is a very long time to be in a life with someone. They built their lives around each other, and while Dorothy has clearly begun to rebuild hers, Stan cannot quite cope with the reality of this new era. When even Chrissy leaves him, he goes back to Dorothy. He realizes, unfortunately too late, that she is the one that he really and truly loves.

One can’t blame Dorothy for finally deciding that she cannot go through with this particular iteration of her relationship. Sure, there are deep connections–both financial and emotional–that manage to rope them together (as we saw way back when Stan first appeared at Kate’s wedding), but she also knows that they can never recapture the magic of what they had when they were married. As I’ve learned the hard way, there are some wounds that go too deep to ever fully be healed, no matter how much we might wish that they would. That, for me, is one of the saddest things about the show:  despite how much they clearly love each other, Stan and Dorothy will always remain a tale of almost. They almost made it, but ultimately it just can’t work for them.

Next up, we meet yet another member of the family when Dorothy’s sister Gloria shows up, and a tug-of-war between the two sisters ensues.

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The Great Golden Girls Marathon: “The Heart Attack” (S1, Ep. 10)

In today’s installment of the Great Golden Girls Marathon, it appears that Sophia may be having a heart attack, and the four women must cope with the fact that one of their number may be staring death in the face.

While this episode does not have the political bite of some of the other episodes of the first season, it does show the dexterity and depth with which the series is able to engage with the deeply personal. It’s one of the first times that we get a deep glimpse into the strong bond that exists between Dorothy and Sophia. It becomes clear, even at this early stage, that they are more than just mother and daughter; they are actually friends. There is an undeniable chemistry between Bea and Estelle, one that shines through in all of their performances together.

While a rather understated episode, it has its moments of genuine pathos, such as when Dorothy recognizes that she may well lose her mother. As someone who has a very deep and powerful relationship with my own Mom (and my Grandma), this scene always affects me. Embedded within this very personal trial is also a reflection on the way in which we must always contend with the fact that those we love, especially in a generation older than hours, are that much closer to the end of their lives. As such, it is a powerful reminder to make the most of the time that we are given.

This is also the first time that we learn that Rose’s husband Charlie died while they were in the middle of making love. This has always struck me as one of the more heartbreaking aspects of Rose’s character, and it remains a key part of her character development throughout the first season (and indeed throughout the series as a whole). More than any of the other characters, Rose seems to have the hardest time moving beyond the memory of Charlie, a testament to the extraordinary love that they clearly bore for one another.

Of course, everything is neatly resolved in the end with the revelation that the “heart attack” was in fact a gall bladder attack brought on by overeating. However, this doesn’t entirely efface the fact that death is an ever-present fact for these four women, especially Sophia. While The Golden Girls is certainly one of the finest-written comedies to ever grace television, it doesn’t shy away from the fact that, as one gets older, death becomes an increasingly prominent part of daily life. And that, I think, has always been one of its greatest strengths.

Next up, we get reacquainted with Dorothy’s infamous ex-husband Stan, and the beginning of a series-long arc in which the two briefly rekindle their failed relationship. Stay tuned!