Tuesday, July 2, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Break-In



Written by: Susan Harris

Directed by: Paul Bogart

Airdate: November 9, 1985

The Break-In, the eighth Golden Girls episode, is not a "very special episode", though in tackling one of the character's mental and emotional health it came close. A strong performance with some funny lines elevates The Break-In to a good episode. 

After coming back from a Madonna concert, homeowner Blanche Deveraux (Rue McClanahan) along with her housemates Rose Nylund (Betty White), Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) and Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) find that the house has been robbed. Dorothy finds that her mink stole was stolen, while Blanche finds her mother's jewels are missing.

Most affected is Rose. She has led a pretty sedate life up to now, and the robbery has traumatized her. She has become more fearful, with her buying mace that led to Blanche macing herself by mistake. Rose's paranoia culminated in her purchase of a handgun despite not knowing how to use it. Eventually, her fear and paranoia lead her to fire the gun when she thinks someone is breaking in. Fortunately, she misses killing Blanche's latest beau Lester (Robert Rothwell), who had accidentally set off the alarm. Dorothy counsels Rose, telling her that her fears are crippling her. Rose responds that in her mind, the robbers are still here. 

Rose finds herself alone in a parking garage when a man starts following then chasing her. In the end, Rose found that she is not helpless, the robbers were found, Dorothy's stole is returned, and Blanche finds her jewels which she had forgotten she had put in the freezer. 

The Break-In has one unique trait in that it is one of the few if only episodes to have location footage. Normally, everything takes place either at the house or a location that is clearly a set. Here however, the garage scene was filmed at an actual garage. It would have to, as it would be too hard to make a multistory parking garage believable on a set.

There is not much learned with regards to the characters in The Break-In. What is learned is really awful apart from a mention that Rose has gone to Hawaii and her father was a dairy farmer. In Rose the Prude, Dorothy refers to Rose's late husband as "Charles". In The Break-In, Rose calls him "Charles", which is a break from her usual "Charlie". We also hear Rose talk about "Little Falls", which presumably is her hometown. "Little Falls" makes its debut and farewell here, as I do not think it is ever mentioned again.

I suspect that The Break-In was early on in production, which would explain Rose coming from "Little Falls" where she was married to "Charles". There is a strange formality to "Charles" and "Little Falls" just sounds odd. Those two elements would, fortunately change, but they still ring poorly.

Worse, at least for me, is Rose's monologue about how she wonders if jewelry comes from Jewish people. She mentions that in "Little Falls" the jeweler was Jewish. "Jeweler, Jewish, I wonder if there is a connection," Rose concludes before Sophia tells her that she wonders if there is a connection between Rose's brain and wallpaper paste. I cannot say that this bizarre connection between jeweler and Jewish is anti-Semitic, but it has never sat well with me.

Surprisingly, this section is not cut from rebroadcasts. What is usually trimmed is an extended section where the women discuss the robbery and what to blame it on. Blanche blames karma while Dorothy blames "massive unemployment" for the robbery. This is, I figure, writer Susan Harris' worldview that crime is a result of poverty. People, in this worldview, are forced to commit crimes to eat, the idea that people steal only because they have no other option.

Personally, I think this is far too simplistic an answer, and unproven in The Break-In. The notion that no one wants to commit crimes or wants to steal unless necessity forces them to is wrong. Such ideas like those from Dorothy/Harris never account for a sad human trait: greed. It is not poverty or unemployment, massive or otherwise, that drives crime. There are probably people who do steal to keep body and soul together. However, I would imagine they would steal food, not minks. Even if they stole minks, these thieves would have to find fences to hock them to. 

I am glad that this part is cut, though I wish the "Jewish Jeweler from Little Falls" would be too.

It is interesting that Dorothy is far harsher on The Salesman (Christian Clemenson) trying to scare them into buying an expensive security system than she is on those who created the situation where such a system was thought necessary. She will excuse the robbers who have traumatized her friend, but not the guy who is trying to upsell them what could ease Rose's mind somewhat. 

 It is curious in that I seem to be coming down hard on The Break-In when it has a lot of good elements. At the heart of it is White's performance. She keeps to Rose's naïve, sweet nature confronting a very traumatizing experience. We see her sense of safety and security shattered until she ends up rallying to her own defense. White and Arthur have a great moment when the latter is attempting to comfort the former.

Getty gets to rattle off some great zingers. Observing Rose's fear, she tells her, "You've got nothing to fear but fear itself...and of course, the Boogeyman", which has the intended effect of frightening Rose. After Rose goes in guns blasting, Sophia remarks how she's managed to live 80-81 years and undergone health issues but that one night she'll belch and "Stable Mable" will blow her head off. Her final scene with Dorothy as she attempts to use the word "disdam" is daring, outrageous and very funny.

The running gag about Blanche's Chinese vase seemed exaggerated and not worth the trouble. 

In retrospect, I might have The Break-In higher than I should. There is a lot I ended up disliking. However, thanks to some of the lines and specifically Betty White's performance, The Break-In ends up being better than I remember.

It would have been nice here to have had Coco slap some sense into Rose. 


Next Episode: Blanche and the Younger Man

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