Tuesday, July 9, 2024

The Golden Girls: The Heart Attack


Written by: Winifred Hervey

Directed by: Jim Drake

Airdate: November 23, 1985

The Heart Attack is an episode that I pretty much skip every time it comes on television. I suppose this might be a filler episode, one where nothing is meant to happen. Bless everyone for trying to make it work, but The Heart Attack is boring and save for one detail that would remain consistent is pretty much skippable.

After a big party the four housemates are cleaning up. Homeowner Blanche Deveraux (Rue McClanahan) mocks some of the guests. Rose Nylund (Betty White) and Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) continue snacking and cleaning, enjoying the successful party. Dorothy's mother Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty) soon starts feeling what she calls a bubble, pressure on her chest she initially thinks is indigestion.

It might be more than that, however. Sophia now believes that it is a heart attack. Paramedics are called, but there is a storm that is blocking roads. With them trapped and Sophia potentially dying, everyone starts contemplating death. Eventually, Sophia's doctor Dr. Harris (Ronald Hunter) arrives and diagnoses Sophia as having a gallbladder attack due to overeating. Crisis over, Sophia takes back what she said to Dorothy about her being Sophia's favorite. 

We learn one of the most tragic elements in The Golden Girls: how Rose's husband Charlie died. In Rose the Prude, Rose tells her then-boyfriend that Charlie died while he and Rose were making love. In The Heart Attack, she confirms this when she tells Dorothy that she has seen a heart attack and that it is much worse than what Sophia is experiencing. It is a very moving description of his death, and one can see Rose's continued grief over the love of her life. We do learn that Charlie died after Labor Day, since in her flustered state she started putting white pants on Charlie and he immediately said that he couldn't wear white after Labor Day. For all the inconsistencies and contradictions that The Golden Girls would have, Charlie's death is one of the few that remained constant.

This compares to the inconsistency of Sophia's widowhood. In The Competition, Sophia tells her long-lost love that she has been a widow for 22 years. In The Heart Attack, she says she is looking forward to seeing her husband, whom she hasn't seen in 30 years. What happened in those missing eight years?   

There is a surprising amount in The Heart Attack that is removed from reruns. There is the previously mentioned dissing of the guests by Blanche. There is a listing of how various members of Sophia and Dorothy's family died. There is a longer conversation in the kitchen about the various food they have eaten. There is a conversation between Rose and Blanche about the pros and cons of burial versus cremation. There is an extended section where Rose keeps Sophia company as Dorothy and Blanche look for Sophia's rosary beads.

I was surprised at how much of The Heart Attack was cut from the original broadcast. Oddly, one section from The Heart Attack that perhaps should be cut is Rose telling Sophia what she thinks Heaven is like. I should say, "Heavens", for without meaning to, Rose believes in a segregated afterlife. I do not mean by race but rather by religion. She talks about how she imagined there is a Catholic heaven with nuns and priests. There is a Protestant heaven with people and cows. There is a Jewish heaven with libraries and I think furriers. I know it is meant to show Rose's naivete. However, I think it makes her look accidentally bigoted. Why would Catholics and Protestants have a separate Heaven? Would those who entered Paradise be one with Christ? I get why she would imagine such a thing. I do not get why anyone else thought that maybe Rose should not be seen this way.

I wonder if Rose shared her ideas of a Jewish Heaven with Dr. Harris, who tells them that he is Jewish.

The Heart Attack is boring. I think it is because there is no real plot: Sophia may be having a heart attack, and the three other women react to it. I think it undercuts the drama when we are only on Episode 10, and one imagines that they are not going to kill off a by-now major character. I think the women did as well as they could with the script. To be fair, each of them had a small moment where we could see how death, remembered or contemplated, could be traumatic for them. However, there does not seem to be any real sense of urgency. I can never feel anxious or sad about Sophia possibly dying because I do not believe it. 

Perhaps the oddest element in The Heart Attack is that it aired shortly before Thanksgiving. This meditation on death seems a strange way to greet a holiday built around food and family, not to mention the traditional opening to the Christmas season. It might have been better to have moved The Heart Attack to later in the season. It might have had a greater impact to see Sophia potentially dying (and thus, leaving the series) if it had happened near the end of Season One versus early on. 

Again, I think everyone did the best they could in The Heart Attack. However, I found it slow, dull and pointless. I always skip The Heart Attack whenever it is on reruns, and now I am glad I will never have to watch it again.

I'll bet none of this would have happened if Coco had made all the food for that party.   


Next Episode: Stan's Return

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