The One When Rose Gets An HIV Test
7/3/2012 2:45:00 PM
By Alex Garner
Gay men love the Golden Girls and the Golden Girls loved us back. Not only was it one of the highest rated shows on television during its run, but it was undoubtedly one of the gayest shows on television. It’s no surprise then that the show decided to tackle the AIDS crisis with an episode titled, “72 Hours,” which aired on Saturday February 17, 1990 at 9pm. The episode focused on Rose having to go in for an HIV test. They were able to create a very funny show that didn’t come off as preachy and tackled a very sensitive subject with intelligence and humor.
Back in the 90s, before the internet, we didn’t have people writing recaps of popular shows like we do today. So I decided I would give this very special episode the recap treatment.
The episode opens with Sophia, Blanche and Dorothy discussing Dorothy’s “Save The Wetlands,” benefit. She’s having trouble convincing people that the wetlands are worth saving. Some things never change. This is where Blanche comes in. The self-centered Southern belle decides to help out with the benefit, much to Dorothy’s surprise. We learn of Blanche’s motivation in a hilarious exchange.
Blanche: “I have an affection for bayous. In fact, I became a woman in one”
Sophia: “I thought you lost in a hot air balloon”
Dorothy: “I thought you lost it at a pancake breakfast”
It’s important to point out that timing and facial expressions are part of what made this show so successful. Bea Arthur was a master when it came to both things and in this episode she doesn’t disappoint.
Rose enters with the mail and receives a letter informing her she may have been given blood containing HIV when she recently had a blood transfusion during gallbladder surgery. Of course, we all know that Rose isn’t going to end up being HIV-positive but we sympathize with the fear and anxiety this sixty year old grandmother is experiencing. The girls reassure her and tell her not to get too worried, “It’s just a precaution.”
The day of the test arrives and they prepare to head to the hospital. At this point it’s worth noting that Dorothy is rocking a purple cow neck sweater. The clothes they put Bea Arthur in are both fascinating and terrifying. Rose makes a comment about how if the test comes back positive, no one is going to want to be around her. especially not her beau Miles. The girls try unsuccessfully to reassure her and so it’s Sophia to the rescue with some old world advice.
Sophia: “I know just how you feel. I remember how nervous, and scared and panicked I was when I went to that neurologist to have my memory tested.”
Rose: ”How did you handle it”
Sophia: “Well usually I add a cup of bleach.”
At the hospital the clerk encourages Rose to use a fictitious name for anonymity and, of course, she picks Dorothy Zbornak. Going so far as to spell it correctly for the clerk. Blanche and both Dorothys sit down to discuss the jeopardy HIV-positive people face if their status becomes public – loss of job or insurance, etc. All this talk only heightens Rose’s fears and we get a classic St. Olaf story. Dorothy and Blanche have pained expressions on their faces, but considering what Rose has been through, they let her proceed.
St. Olaf’s most active volcano threatened to erupt but luckily some druid priests were in town for the opening of Stonehenge land. They can stop the eruption if they sacrifice the town’s dumbest virgin.
With classic Betty White delivery, Rose says, “I don’t know why I raised my hand.”
In the end it turns out that they weren’t druid priests, “just a bunch of Shriners looking for a good time.”
Rose’s anxiety increases and Blanche pulls her aside to let her know that she understands what she is going through because she has had an HIV test before. This is where Blanche talk about her prevention strategies with her multiple partners. It sounds a bit like she’s reading from a brochure but it doesn’t last too long as Rose is called in for the test.
Dorothy is reading an actual brochure on AIDS and teenagers, and laments to her mother how parents just don’t talk to their kids about sex. Sophia interjects that thankfully she was, “one of those progressive parents.” To which Dorothy responds, “I was amazed at how you used those technical terms. You told me never to let a boy touch me you know where.” Pause. Dorothy dryly continues “And you spelled where.”
But Sophia demonstrates just how evolved she is by presenting Dorothy with some condoms she bought in the pharmacy, “your boyfriends are supposed to put them, you know w-h-e-r-e”
After Rose gets her blood drawn the doctor tells her that the results will take three days. She has the reaction we all had back then, “how am I going to get through the next 72 hours?”
The stress of waiting gets to Rose and she finally has a blow up over the donations for Dorothy’s fundraiser – the B storyline. Rose grows more and more hysterical and Sophia steps in, “wait, I’ve seen this in the movies.” Sophia stands up, walks over to Dorothy and slaps her in the face. To which Dorothy responds, “Ma, you almost got it.”
Sophia demonstrates the “ignorant paranoia” of the time by not wanting to use her bathroom after Rose has used it. When Dorothy attempts to set her straight, she points out how she is making progress, “yesterday I was using the bathroom down at the Shell station.”
Sophia also goes as far as putting large R’s on the coffee cups Rose has used. Blanche and Dorothy convince Sophia that she is being ridiculous and in a trademark Golden Girls moment, the girls decide that no matter what happens they will be there for Rose.
This commitment by the chosen family echoes the circumstances of the times when many men relied on the family of their choosing as opposed to the family of their birth. A constant theme of the Golden Girls was that they created their own family, just as many gays had done, and it had just as much value as any other family.
In one final teachable moment, Rose wonders why this is happening to her, leading to a heated exchange with Blanche.
Rose: "This isn’t supposed to happen to people like me. You must have gone to bed with hundreds of men. All I had was an innocent operation."
Blanche: "Hey, wait a minute. Are you saying this should be me instead of you?”
Rose: "No, I’m just saying, I’m a good person. Hell, I’m a goodie two-shoes."
Blanche: "AIDS is not a bad person’s disease, Rose! It is not god’s punishing people for their sins!”
Rose realizes that she is wrong and thanks Blanche for setting her straight. She then wonders how Blanche made it through when waiting for her own HIV test. Blanche replies “Just kept it to myself and acted like a real bitch to everybody else.” To which Rose sweetly responds, “No wonder we never knew.”
All’s well that ends well as Rose gets the good news from her doctor that she is, in fact, HIV-negative. The girls are overcome with relief and the doctor commends them for creating such a supportive family for one another. It’s a final nod to the gay audience that all different kinds of families have value and that together we’ll make it through. Roll credits. Thank you for being a friend.
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