Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by the week’s new releases or premieres. This week: With the 2016 television season slowly staggering in after the holidays, there are not many new releases to inspire us. Instead, we’re using the weird winter weather as an occasion to revisit our favorite episodes about freakish storms.
The Golden Girls, season seven, episodes eight and nine (originally aired 9/9/1991)
Most fans of The Golden Girls know that, despite becoming an audience favorite, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) wasn’t originally intended to be a permanent part of NBC’s bawdy, twilight-years comedy. But settle into the fictional Miami household she did, becoming a mentor and loving detractor to her daughter Dorothy (Bea Arthur) all over again. Their relationship was somewhat contentious during the show’s run, as Sophia’s unfiltered take on life (ostensibly born of the stroke that landed her at the infamous Shady Pines) made her a wild card in the new family’s dynamic, which now included roommates Blanche and Rose (Rue McClanahan and Betty White, respectively).
Although Rose’s Midwestern values and optimism frequently clashed with Dorothy’s well-earned cynicism, Sophia was similarly positioned as a foil to her daughter. Dorothy, still nursing the wounds of her first husband’s rampant infidelity, lived her life more cautiously than any of her roommates, including her octogenarian mother. By contrast, Sophia lived her dwindling years with gusto, taking lovers and indulging in the occasional get-rich-quick scheme. She doled out stinging one-liners with her Old World wisdom, with Dorothy acting as the most common recipient of her barbs and advice.
But, criticism and occasionally worrisome behavior aside, there was never anything especially mean-spirited about Sophia’s actions, even though she often compared her children to each other (but what parent doesn’t?). For the most part, Sophia merely irritated her daughter rather than hurt her. At least, that was the case until season seven’s “The Monkey Show.” The two-part episode begins with Sophia warning the girls that a hurricane’s “a-comin’” (the “a-” prefix only gets used in emergencies, according to the octogenarian), before dropping another bombshell on Dorothy—the impending arrival of her younger sister Gloria. Dorothy’s annoyed by the news until she learns of the circumstances: Gloria seems to have lost all of her money in a bad investment. Then she’s practically beaming with schadenfreude.
The sisters’ reunion is initially tense, in part because Dorothy is in the middle of yet another goodbye to her ex-husband, Stan Zbornak. The former spouses carried torches for each for most of the series; season six saw them almost get remarried. But under his therapist’s guidance, Stan has been attempting to transfer his love for Dorothy—and codependence—to a fake monkey (which is just a puppet resting on a traffic cone). The therapist then advises Dorothy and Stan to spend at least two years apart once the transfer is complete, much to Dorothy’s delight.
Back at home, the hurricane preparations continue as Dorothy warms up to Gloria again. Declaring her happiness at having her sister back in her life and her ex-husband out of it, Dorothy then walks in on the two of them having sex—and in her own bed, no less. Dorothy’s outrage grows when she learns that her mother orchestrated the encounter, wooing Gloria for Stan by proxy. Sophia explains that Gloria requires a man to look after her, while Dorothy is the kind of woman who should look after her mother. She effectively pigeonholes her daughters as a hothouse flower and spinster—she sells Gloria short while selling out Dorothy.
As the storm nears, the players are scattered throughout the city, with Blanche and Rose conducting a telethon, and Sophia running away after hearing that she’d gone too far in her meddling. She heads to her brother Angelo’s apartment to seek his counsel, wringing her hands over the sibling rivalry that she helped foster—and that viewers had glimpsed throughout the show.
Gloria had previously been relegated to the occasional bitter reference from Dorothy, as she had seemingly lived a charmed life—first under their mother’s protection, then by marrying into money. The character, played here by Dena “Mother Nature” Dietrich, had only had one other appearance on the show, in season one’s “The Custody Battle,” where she was portrayed by veteran TV actress Doris Belack, but the domestic discontent was front and center for both.
In “The Custody Battle,” Dorothy resisted Gloria’s appeal to take care of their mother, despite the fact that Gloria had considerably greater resources. Dorothy had long felt slighted by her family, whether it was by having her toys (even the ones she’d outgrown) taken away, or having her life mocked for having shotgun-married an unfaithful albeit ultimately successful man. And Sophia’s perceived preference of Gloria justified Dorothy’s anger, which boiled over after Sophia “gave” Stan, another thing Dorothy had outgrown, to her sister.
It’s telling that Dorothy feels betrayed by Sophia more than anyone else: Although she ranked lowest in Sophia’s affections while she was growing up, Dorothy had sought to mend their relationship as adults, taking Sophia into her new home after the “home” she’d placed her in was no longer an option. Her disappointment at not being her mother’s favorite is one of the few things that Dorothy hadn’t yet outgrown.
Of course, there’s a happy ending—indeed, the hurricane never reaches land and Dorothy’s content in the knowledge that she’ll never actually be rid of her family, even her ex-husband. The dispute blows over as quickly as the hurricane warning is lifted, but not before the show could address a long-standing issue.
The Golden Girls is available on DVD and Amazon Prime.