The episode is not a particular standout in The Golden Girls’ run, and the scene is emphatically nothing special, either. But it underscores one of The Golden Girls’ central revolutionary functions: it was a show about women over 50 who knew what was what and spoke their minds. Its reputation as a cultural boundary-breaker persists, largely thanks to its unapologetic examination of aging, sex, LGBTQ issues, and—naturally—death. Death in the broad, theoretical, lurking sense (of the capacity for expiration inside each of us), but also in the specific, jarring, wretched sense (of the people we love being gone from us in every possible, irretrievable way).
Lee Henderson’s “Palliative Care (1985-1992)” compiles every mention of death and dying across The Golden Girls’ seven seasons, as well as plenty of parallel terms: mourning, grieving, funeral, suicide, choking, murder, heart-attack, wake, buried, will, stabbed, killed, electrocuted, shot, beheaded, heaven. Henderson’s morbid supercut keeps pace with the girls’ witty repartee and no-nonsense manner, the logic of his editing preserving the pauses and the canned laughter that accompanies death’s mentions. Spryly, the accumulation maneuvers onwards to the next clip the moment another word might infringe on death’s space.
“Palliative Care” is a Golden Girls shrine, or it’s a cocoon, or its an enclosure, a restraint. But it’s also a cultural commentary, at other times a re-attunement of a collective sensitivity to death. Henderson’s chronological arrangement of clips surfaces small harmonies. Units of speech become a deluge. Whatever story normally anchors each word gets washed in repetition until the video conjures some new sensation. It’s easy to find oneself imaging—as I find myself imaging—the worlds that originate these milliseconds-long excerpts, to assume some piece of context that can’t be read in the Miami pastels, the leafy curtains, the country kitchen, the way they carry themselves with their falsely-broad shoulders, the wringing of hands, the appearance of some stranger who doesn’t belong to the usual four. I guess which “deaths” are punchlines and which are breakdowns, until they are all punchlines, until they are all breakdowns. The sense of the words gets lost and then pulled back again in a pause like a gasp for air, a kick in the gut.
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