Saturday, June 22, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Triangle



Written by: Winifred Hervey

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: October 5, 1985

Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) is the ultimate vixen, but in The Triangle, she is revealed as a loyal friend and a woman with certain standards. Funny thanks to some standout performances, The Triangle is the first time we see the housemates quarreling over a man, though not the last.

Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) is not feeling well. With that, her daughter Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) calls for the doctor. Enter Dr. Elliot Clayton (Peter Hansen), who is currently sans wife. This delights Dorothy, who quickly gets him to ask her out. While Blanche is openly flirtatious with Dr. Clayton herself, she concedes that Dorothy saw him first and has dibs on the doctor. Little do either women know that Clayton is a letch. Clayton tries to manhandle Blanche, angering the respectable Southern belle.

Encouraged by their mutual housemate Rose Nylund (Betty White), Blanche tells Dorothy how Elliot attempted to force himself on her. Not only does Dorothy flat-out refuse to believe her, she calls Blanche a slut and accuses her of lying and jealousy. Blanche is first upset then angered that Dorothy would take Elliot's word over hers when she knows that Elliot is lying. Blanche orders Dorothy to move out, horrifying Rose. Despite Sophia's story of Sicily, Rose gets involved. Using her own wits, she tricks Clayton into a confession. This brings about both the end of Dorothy's relationship with Elliot and a reconciliation with Blanche.

The Triangle is the first Golden Girls episode where the girls are in conflict with each other. Each episode prior had at least one of the four women in conflict with someone else (Dorothy vs. Stan, Blanche vs. Virginia). Here, they face off against each other. We also get the very first story that Sophia tells about picturing Sicily. Her stories of her birthplace would become part of her persona, complete with her opening line of "Picture it: Sicily (fill in the year)". Here, she reverses the order as "Sicily, 1912. Picture this", though I think this is the only time we hear it this way.

If we go by Rose the Prude, in 1912 Sophia would have been a mere seven years old. Therefore, that would make her story about how she found herself in a similar situation like that of Dorothy and Blanche illogical. The "Picture it: Sicily" stories almost always ended with a wild punchline of Sophia somehow involved with a famous person. Here, her love rival turned out to be Celeste Lizio (1908-1988), better known as "Mama Celeste" of the frozen pizza company. Apparently this is a true story, as Sophia in a nice bit of comedy, opens the freezer and condemns something there, presumably a Mama Celeste pizza.

There are two sections that are cut from reruns. The first is early in The Triangle: dialogue from Blanche about her new dress and Rose's old doctor, who might have also been the veterinarian checking on the farm animals. The second is more plot-related. After Dorothy and Blanche's blowup over Elliot, all four Golden Girls are in the kitchen, attempting to go around each other. Rose is doing her best to keep the peace, Sophia trying to stay out of it and Dorothy and Blanche barely speaking. It is a pity that this is cut from rebroadcasts, as it adds more to the tension and sets up the first confrontation with Elliot.

The Triangle is elevated by a great scene between McClanahan and White as they tell competing stories to justify their positions. Blanche tells the sordid tale of when her efforts at truth-telling blew up in her face. That is the story of when she told her friend, Anderbeau Johnson, that Anderbeau's boyfriend Clyde Whitehead tried to get with her. Anderbeau refused to believe her, and Clyde wouldn't speak to Blanche after she told all. As Blanche says at the end, "I lost Anderbeau AND her beau!". 

Rose, confused over who "Anderbobo" is, comes up with a scenario where Dorothy marries Elliot. "They could have a child!", she tells Blanche, soon correcting herself with, "They could adopt a child!". This imaginary child, whom Rose names "Mei-Ling", will have her coming out party ruined when Dorothy overhears the towel lady tell someone at the country club that Elliot has bonged every female member.

McClanahan and White each have wonderful delivery in these two stories. They are equally hilarious, though McClanahan gets the edge because she gets to use Mei-Ling's story. After Dorothy refuses to believe her about Elliot, Blanche tells her that she's glad Mei-Ling's coming out party was ruined. When an understandably confused Dorothy asks what she is talking about, Blanche tells her to ask the towel lady. 

I think in this episode, Rue McClanahan was the standout performance. She mixed comic anger with genuine hurt about her predicament. She concludes on a joyful note, when after telling Dorothy that she has to think about forgiving her, she immediately says she thought about it and forgives her. While The Triangle is, according to Wikipedia the episode for which Bea Arthur was nominated as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series that year, I think it should have been McClanahan who had the nomination for The Triangle.

The whole thing was delivered and set up perfectly. The Anderbeau and Mei-Ling stories, coupled with Sophia's first "Picture It: Sicily 1912" story, elevate The Triangle to a standout Golden Girls episode.

However, what also works is how the characters fight and make up. You can see in each of their performances that Rose, Dorothy, Blanche and Sophia do care for and about each other. You see this in how Rose works hard to reconcile her friends. You see this the genuine anger and disbelief when Dorothy literally calls Blanche a slut. You see this when Dorothy goes and asks for forgiveness. 

The Triangle blends comedy and drama well, balancing the two in a strong fashion.

It is unresolved if Coco would have sided with Blanche or Dorothy.


Next Episode: On Golden Girls

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