March 06, 2006

Golden Girls, second season, disk one, episode five

Before I begin my disposition, please bear in mind that this episode originally aired on November 8th, 1986. Earlier that year, in May, the term HIV was finally agreed upon by the international community to describe the virus that causes AIDS. The first results from AZT clinical trials had been released in September. This was the year that Reagan first mentioned the word 'AIDS' in a speech

On June 30th of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick that homosexual activity between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home was not protect by the Constitution.

It in the context of these momentous events of the year 1986 that a lesbian friend of Dorothy's named Jean comes to visit in the episode "Isn't it Romantic?"


Despite the heady topic, this particular episode of The Golden Girls opens inauspiciously enough, with Sophia renting a pornographic video to watch on the VCR that Dorothy has just bought. "I did that once," said Blanche, pointing to the screen. In response to the face Rose pulls, Blanche says, "It was his birthday!"

It becomes clear that Sophia's salty Sicilian dead-pan acceptance of life and its many varieties obviously extends to gay people. Remember, three minutes ago she was watching a porno! Still munching from her bag of popcorn, she quips as Jean arrives, "Jean is a nice girl. She happens to like girls instead of guys. Some people like cats instead of dogs. Frankly I'd rather live with a lesbian than a cat. Unless a lesbian sheds. That I don't know."


Rose makes some ice cream clown sundaes for Jean.

Jean arrives and hijinks ensue, as Dorothy is afraid of telling Blanche and Rose that their houseguest is a lesbian. Jean's long-term partner Pat has just died, and everything thinks Pat is a man. Blanche of course wants to take Jean out and get her some mens but Jean and Dorothy constantly demure, prompting Blanche to conclude that Jean must be having an affair with a married man.

It's all fun and games and double-entendres ('bosom buddies,' etc.) until Jean confesses that she's falling in love with Rose.


Later that night, Dorothy, sharing a bed with her mother, can't sleep. She wakes up Sophia and asks her what she would do if she was told one of her children was gay. Is it your brother Phil? She says, saying that she's known all along, since he was a kid and became obsessed with gladiator films...But no, Dorothy's speaking theoretically here.

"I'll tell you truth, Dorothy. If one of my kids was gay, I wouldn't love him one bit less and would wish him all the happiness in the world."


Sophia laughs incredulously when told that Jean thinks she's in love with Rose.

Blanche of course can't believe that a woman wouldn't want to be with a man--they have so much more to offer, you know. But she takes it in stride--in the back of her mind she's no doubt thinking about the lack of competition. But when told that Jean is in love with Rose, Blanche becomes upset.


To think Jean would prefer Rose over me? That's ridiculous!"

But Rose remains in the dark. The next night, Rose and Jean end up talking late into the night on the couch, their playing cards forgotten. Sophie, who has a cold (from going out in the rain to rent more pornos!) has to sleep alone, which causes the sleeping arrangements to shift; late that night Rose invites Jean back to her bedroom, where Jean tells her how she feels.


The next morning, Jean decides she has to leave, but Rose asks to speak to her alone. Jean appologizes--she says that she thought she'd spend the rest of her life with Pat, but when she died Jean felt bereft...and so her feelings toward Rose were powerful and confusing.

Rose confesses to Jean, that she doesn't understand these kinds of feelings, but says she feels flattered and proud that Jean feels that way.


As they embrace Sophia walks in. "This isn't what it looks like," says Jean.

"I know, I know, I was listening at the door," says Sophia.

"Why were you listening at the door," says Rose,

"Because I wasn't tall enough to see in the window," she says, pointing out the kitchen window.


Blanche and Dorothy sheepishly rise!

Clearly, a particular kind of homosexuality is presented in this episode. One can imagine any number of homosexual 'tropes' a sitcom like this could have employed...the flamboyantly young gay nephew of Blanche's could have been interesting, or a visit from another relative dying of AIDS perhaps. Unlike some episodes, the girls do not engage directly with the momentous politics of the time, and yet one could read this episode as a response to Bowers v. Hardwick. The banality and harmlessness of Jean's lesbianism and the sympathy we feel about her life partner having died, is precisely that kind of relationship that Bowers v. Hardwick underscored as punishable and criminal.

Its worth noting that Jeffrey Duteil's script for the episode received an Emmy nomination.

Posted by jason at March 6, 2006 03:02 AM
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