With everything going on in politics right now it seemed pretty fitting to write about the “Letter to Gorbachev” episode from season 3. Although the issues at hand with Russia today are vastly different, it still never ceases to amaze me how topics from The Golden Girls continue to intersect with current events. I also just love this episode in general because it features one of my all-time favorite Sophia moments. There are lots of fun fashion moments, too, so hold onto your hat, Mr. Number One Communist, and let’s take a look!
This episode starts out with what’s technically the B storyline although, honestly, I think both of the story lines are equally great. In fact, if you’re like me, I bet you tend remember Sophia’s performance later in the episode more than that Gorbachev story line. Sophia is wearing a bright blue cardigan that looks like it zips over a periwinkle floral print dress. It’s not exactly a house dress but more of a day dress, if that makes sense. She smashes Dorothy’s watch in a hilarious attempt to perfect a magic trick for an upcoming talent show at the senior center she sometimes hangs out at. You know, the one that is totally different from Shady Pines and actually fun. Dorothy is wearing a tunic here that I have come to think of as “Avant-garde Dorothy.” She doesn’t always wear this style, but when she does it’s peak Dorothy. I think the mix of lavender shades is really pretty on her, and the wrap around collar is interesting the way it buttons down on the chest rather than at the neck. And I’m fairly certain that we never see her wear that style of earring ever again. The round hoop is a nice contrast with all of the rectangles on the shirt.
Rose walks through the door next and says she’s concerned about nuclear war. She then shows a painting from one of the girls in the Sunshine Cadet group that she’s been “helping out with.” Now, for someone who’s just helping out she sure is all decked out in uniform, complete with sash and badges! Although, I suppose it’s fair to think that she’s become pretty involved by this time since the Cadets were also featured earlier in the season in the infamous “Old Friends” episode. Rose, you’re one tough cookie for sticking around after Fernando’s attempted kidnapping! Maybe I’ll write about that episode next because it’s one of my favorites and one of the best of the entire series I think.
Blanche’s style is super casual for most of the episode until she does a 180 in the last scene. Oh, and the dream sequence. More about that in a bit, though, because for now she’s wearing a casual, loose fitting blouse and pants in a sort of violet-navy color. The fabric and drape reminds me of a smock you wear when getting your hair cut, but it somehow works on Blanche. This scene sets up the whole Gorbachev storyline because the painting is about a nuclear bomb attack. The Girls then have a discussion about a tough subject as only they can, how the threat of a nuclear war is on kids’ minds these days and it wasn’t when they were kids. And Rose recalls wondering as a kid if she’d ever be small curd cottage cheese queen. But before things get too serious, here comes Sophia and her sock puppet, also named Sophia! I just really love her in this episode. Even though her routines are corny, this is one episode where we really get to see Sophia shine in such a fun way. The Girls are having none of it, too, which is a funny way to flip the script since it’s usually Sophia who doles out those kinds of insults. Rose also has her moment with sock puppets in the “Once, in St. Olaf” episode later on in season 6.
Now, also by this time Rose has decided to write letters both to Gorbachev and President Reagan to ask them to cut out the nuclear nonsense. For the good of all humankind? No, mostly because she doesn’t want her troop’s camp out to be ruined. Things take a strange turn in the next scene, but let’s start with the fashion.
First of all, why is Blanche dressed like a lumberjack in that long, red plaid shirt that looks like Mel Bushman forgot it after a date? Strangely, though, I do actually like this look on her! Red is Blanche’s signature color, after all. Dorothy’s wearing a sweater layered over a yellow collared shirt over pants. The sweater has a colorful sort of flower thing on her left shoulder that I was quite captivated by. Then I noticed the tents set up in the living room, which seemed incredibly odd; however, this is yet another instance of the Hallmark Channel cutting the scene before this one where it’s explained that they’re camping inside the house because it’s raining. In doing some other research about Bea Arthur, I’ve noticed that commercials were often shorter and more sped up than they are today. You can see this a bit in her commercials for Shopper’s Drug Mart. Cable TV gives over even more air time to commercials, unfortunately, so that’s why I think scenes end up getting cut, which is really annoying. But I suppose cutting that scene out does put more of the focus on the Gorbachev story line. A man named Alexi Bovanov arrives to deliver an invitation for Rose and her family to visit Moscow because Gorbachev was moved by her letter. Blanche hilariously spits the Coca Cola she’s been drinking in his face out of shock that he would actually take Rose seriously.
And then there’s Rose and the headdress, which is obviously problematic. I had actually forgotten all about this part, and it was a little shocking to me when it happened. For all the reasons why we love the show, there are moments that we have to stop and take stock of. What happened at the end of the previous cut scene was Rose decided to take the troop out for pizza, and right after that is when Alexi shows up. Rose comes back, they tell her about the letter, and she’s confused why Reagan wouldn’t respond first since she sent his letter two days before. Then all of a sudden she announces that she’s forgotten it’s a full moon which means “the Cadet Master must wear full headdress!” I guess the whole thing is supposed to help explain the improbability of Gorbachev actually writing back? And I get that it was 1987, but it’s just a bad joke with a horrible set up no matter what. Sorry, but I really can’t give the writers of this episode a pass here. Unfortunately, Dorothy also closes the scene with an equally awful joke that’s like something out of an episode of Bonanza.
Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to Rose’s Russian Dream Sequence Extravaganza!
This whole scene is pretty amazing. The set really seems like a movie rather than something from network television, which makes sense for a dream sequence. I love the giant photo of Rose in between Lenin and Marx behind the platform. Set designer, Ed Stephenson, never failed to include those details that helped make the set so memorable and often worked so well to enhance the script.
Rose also tells the crowd that Dr. Zhivago is her favorite movie, and this scene recalls crowd scenes from the film along with old news footage of speeches by Communist leaders. And the Girls are all decked out in fabulous furs! Rose makes sure to mention that it’s fake fur, too, after she wakes up, which is a nice nod to all of their real life animal rights causes. I think they all look absolutely fantastic in this scene! They’re each wearing Russian-style hats, and Blanche is carrying a muff that matches hers, of course. I love how Rose and Dorothy are both wearing dark coats and hats with pops of color in their scarves. Dorothy’s coat also has some unique, colorful sections of fur. Blanche is beautiful in cream, a color we rarely see her wear! The contrast in the fur pattern of her hat and muff is so pretty on her. Blanche also does her Marilyn Monroe impression here except she changes the words to “Mr. Number One Communist” instead of Mr. President. Not to be outdone, Sophia shows up next with her comedy routine, and she’s wearing her signature yellow bath robe, which I think is just genius!
Rose wakes up from her dream, and I noticed that Blanche is wearing one of my favorite Devarobes that she also wears later on in the series in “The Accurate Conception” episode from season 5. Yet again, though, here comes Sophia in her yellow bathrobe, but this time she’s got a boom box in hand. What follows is the infamous “Thanks for the Medicare” song. Let’s just watch it because it’s that good!
The Girls are all thoroughly unimpressed, but you have to wonder just how many takes they had to do of this scene on the set without laughing. This is definitely The Golden Girls content that kept viewers tuning in for seven seasons!
Alexi is back for the press conference about Rose and her letter in the next scene. Blanche is wearing an almost iridescent, bright blue, faux wrap top with dots, a sculptural belt, and a black pencil skirt. To me, this outfit screams 1980’s. It’s such a quintessential look of the period. The overall style and fit seems to place the look from a bit earlier than when this episode was filmed, perhaps 1985, although Blanche definitely wasn’t dressing like that then. I also really like Dorothy’s outfit in this scene. She wears a flowy top in a lovely taupe shade with a leaf pattern and wide, white stripes.
So, of course, Dorothy and Blanche had to tell Alexi that Rose isn’t actually a little girl. They break the news to her, and then she tells the truth to everyone waiting for the press conference. By the way, whoever heard of having a press conference inside someone’s house? Well, never mind that oddity, because Rose’s suit here is truly stunning! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a suit jacket before or since with cut out lapels like that! It’s such a unique detail that really works on her. I also really love anytime Rose wears something satiny or shiny. But what I was really trying to capture in the photos of this outfit was something I noticed only after repeat viewings of this episode: the sweater guard! Usually these are worn with cardigans up closer to the bust line. Clips with shorter chains are also sometimes worn with collared shirts that bring to mind the New Romantic aesthetic from the 1980’s. They’re a fabulous little accessory that have made something of a comeback in recent years, and you can lots on etsy or even try making your own. This tutorial even shows you how to make a nifty collar clip from a pair of clip on earrings that will fit into the top button holes of a cardigan! Bea Arthur would definitely appreciate that since she always wore clip-ons. Although it may have been more of a practical consideration in this scene–worn to keep the jacket from sliding off her shoulders–I thought it warranted it some special discussion since I think it may be unique to the fashion of the show.
Finally, the Girls are back at the kitchen table, and Rose lets Blanche read the letter she wrote to Gorbachev. Rose is feeling a little embarrassed by the whole situation, but her letter is very touching, and Blanche and Dorothy make her feel better as only they can. Rose says she feels like a “grade-A, Minnesota chucklehead,” but Blanche reminds her that she’s “our chucklehead.” The episode ends with Sophia prank calling Rose as President Reagan, and I think she might be wearing the same hot pink suit from the “End of the Curse” episode.
Speaking of writing and calling, this is a great time to remind you to contact your elected representatives! Midterm elections are coming up very soon so consider taking a moment to let your representatives know what issues and causes you care about as a constituent and would like them to support (or not support, as the case may be). A super easy way to do this is to use Resistbot. Just text the word RESIST to 50409 on your cell phone or use Twitter, Messenger or Telegram. Resistbot will help you identify your representatives and then compose and send a message to them. It’s also a good time to double check that your voter registration is up to date or to register to vote. The Vote.org website provides resources for every state.
I love how this whole episode is basically a riff on politics at the time. Gorbachav and Reagan held four summits from 1985 to 1988, with Reagan making his famous “tear down this wall!” remark in 1987. The two also met again that year in Washington and signed the INF Treaty to eliminate certain kinds of nuclear weapons and missiles. Yes, I got that info from Wikipedia. My knowledge of that whole situation is definitely shaky, but I wanted to at least mention it to give this episode context today. It also originally aired on Halloween of 1987, which was not long after the Black Monday stock market crash. Thirty years later and we’re still counting on the Girls to make us laugh and take our minds off everything that’s going on in the world!