Our first comment on this season is about the switch that occurred when Tina left Bette for a man. This wasn’t an easy season … for Laurel, Jennifer, or the audience.
To begin with, this was not an easy story to tell. Unfortunately, Ilene Chaiken didn’t tell the right story. She left the audience bewildered by Tina, and in some quarters outright hostile to her, because of how some parts of the story were written. The writing was more about melodrama and sensationalism on Ilene’s part than it was about telling this one story in the lives of this couple – a couple many had come to love, flaws and all. It was really the first time in TV history that any series focused on a lesbian couple, and Laurel and Jennifer tipped the balance in why a sizeable group of viewers loved Tina and Bette and were emotionally invested in their story.
Even without all of this, however, the story of a woman leaving a woman for a man begged to be told properly and with finesse … and unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Bette was Tina’s first woman. If this storyline, which is not so unusual, was going to be explored, it was Tina who was a good choice. But whatever happened from the end of S2 to the beginning of S3 was a mystery when it was broadcast. If not for an interview Laurel gave after the season aired and our rethinking of the two crucial Tina scenes we spoke about in S2, it may have been a permanent mystery.
Ilene never told Tina’s story. A story that started out as being about a woman leaving a woman for a man, turned into the story of a woman being left by a woman for a man. In other words, Ilene told Bette’s story in S3. We saw Bette’s reaction and Bette’s thoughts about Tina’s “change” of heart. But we didn’t get one clear line from Tina’s own point of view about why she was suddenly attracted to men.
It was sometime after the season aired that Laurel shed light on Tina’s motivations in an interview she gave to Popgirls online magazine:
“Ilene said another thing to me that I found really interesting –one reason Tina’s drawn to Henry (Steven Eckholdt) is because she’s much more powerful in the relationship than she was in her relationship with Bette. She has more freedom, she has a job, she can have her kid — he helps her find a nanny so she can have someone take care of her kid. She’s much more a non-traditional woman in her relationship with this man.”
Than she was in her relationship with Bette. She had less freedom, felt powerless, and was more a traditional heterosexual woman with lesbian Bette, than she was with heterosexual Henry. That’s a stinging but astute observation and statement to make about Tina, and it was one Ilene made to Laurel. Too bad it didn’t play out in the writing like that, because it would have been worth exploring and it went to the heart of Tina’s issues with Bette. Instead, what we saw as it was written by Ilene Chaiken was Tina drifting away from Bette.
Stepping back for a moment to the end of S2, and Tina wanting to return home. Some could not reconcile this with Tina’s behavior in S3. Some say that Tina had reconciled with Bette, because she made an offhand comment about Candace. Although we have many a time enjoyed the subtlety in the writing, this was one of those instances where the writer’s pen certainly needed a nudge.
Tina and Bette hadn’t reconciled anything by the end of S2.
Tina moved back in with Bette because as a pregnant woman about to give birth, she was at her most vulnerable. She needed someone she could trust who would take care of her and/or the baby if something happened to her during delivery. Tina had a history of difficult pregnancies, and as we saw, she almost lost her second child in the delivery room
Tina knew her pregnancies were high-risk and that either she and/or the baby could have been in danger. In the S2 finale, both certainly were in danger. She didn’t turn to Helena, although Helena was in love with Tina and prepared to take care of her and her child. Helena had her own serious problems with Winnie, fighting her for custody of their kids. Helena had too much on her mind and was too distracted with the welfare of her kids to give Tina the full attention she needed, and Tina knew this.
Who else to turn to but Bette? Bette is the woman Tina never stopped loving, even though she had deep feelings of mistrust and anger. She never lost trust in Bette as mother of her child, and Tina never wavered in her strongly held view that Bette be the legal adopted parent of Angelica. Bette had just suffered a great loss with Melvin, and the thing about losing someone is that one way to heal is to throw yourself back into life, full force and immediately. Bette needed to take care of Tina at that moment, not only because of her connection to Tina, but to take her mind off of Melvin’s death by protecting Tina’s life and helping Tina bring new life into the world. It was a matter of maternal trust between both women.
Ilene did a splendid job making the connection between a life that ends and a new life that comes into the world. Our complaint here that we would have enjoyed the final scene more, with everyone gathered to celebrate this new life, if Tina had been in that scene. We realize Laurel had to reshoot scenes at a later date because she was rushed to the hospital for a emergency C-section – talk about life imitating art – but we feel the producers/writers missed the boat here because after everything Tina had gone through to have Angelica, she deserved to be the center of attention, holding her baby with everyone gathered around her. We will have to chalk it up to one of those big missed opportunities.
Coming back to Season 3, the first two chosen below could by some stretch of the imagination be examples of the insight provided by Laurel in that Popgirls interview.
Season 3, Episode 3
Tina gets a job offer from Helena. Tina comes home looking sensational in jeans, black jacket and white tailored shirt. Bette is the stranger on the couch pretending to read an art book when Tina comes through the door.
They must have switched Bette’s body with someone else, because she is unrecognizable to Tina and the audience. Tina asks what she’s hiding, and Bette sheepishly spills the beans. It’s some Buddhist philosophy tome and Tina even briefly jokes that the author is funny looking. Bette then proceeds to read to Tina from the book, but Tina isn’t having any of it. She’s not even listening, she is almost dismissive and annoyed with Bette, and just plain bored with the conversation.
Tina stands up and asks Bette if she called the nanny to sit with Angelica because Bette and Tina are going to dinner with the gang. Bette is clearly hurt because she’s trying to connect with Tina, but Tina walks into their bedroom to change Angelica’s diaper and play with their daughter. From the bedroom, Tina calls out to Bette that Helena offered her a job at her studio.
That wakes up Bette right away. She joins Tina in the bedroom and asks her if she is going to take the job. Tina says she’s thinking about it and when Bette protests because Helena was Tina’s lover and Bette is jealous, Tina says she has nothing to worry about since there is nothing at all between them. When Bette tells Tina she wants to think about it, Tina says it’s not Bette’s decision to make. Bette looks at Tina like it’s the end of the world.
This was a very difficult scene to watch, because Tina and Bette have never been good at communicating with each other with actual sit down heart-to-hearts. Here, we have them actually talking something over to come to a decision. Step in the right direction. However, the direction was leading them further away from each other.
Laurel really made us feel Tina’s annoyance, anger and wish to break free from what, or rather whom, she saw as her “jailer.” Even though Bette was more stoic in S3, she still tried to control Tina with guilt, possessiveness and attempts to bully. The scene in the bedroom is one example of that possessiveness in Bette. Tina was not willing to put up with it any longer, and she acted badly towards Bette. She acted like a caged animal that feels trapped with no way out.
Season 3, Episode 5
Bette comes home from Yoga class and we see her enter the bedroom. Tina is still up, hands behind her head in bed, while she watches Bette start to undress. We can see Tina’s image in the mirror. She asks Bette if she had an epiphany at Yoga class and she says it sarcastically, but Bette is either oblivious to the tone of Tina’s voice or she’s decided to ignore the tone to avoid another argument. Bette starts to tell Tina she is on the short list for a curator’s job at the Whitney Museum in New York. Tina sits up in bed and says that she’s surprised Bette’s on the list. Now Bette gives into arguing with Tina because she thinks it is a sarcastic remark. Tina is actually being sincere, because Bette had told her before she wasn’t interested in being a curator any longer.
Bette then takes for granted that Tina will follow her to New York. That she will give up her job, her friends, the life in L.A. that she loves, pack up her life and goods and child and move 3000 miles away to start over again. When Tina tells this to Bette in a gentle way, Bette grows cross and she’s hurt that Tina says she needs to give it some thought. Tina doesn’t even say no outright. She rationally says what most spouses in Tina’s shoes would say in this situation.
It’s not men who are an issue at all here. It’s Bette being hurt and angry at Tina for not wanting to follow her blindly to New York. This is causing Tina to push herself further away from Bette because of what she sees as Bette’s unreasonableness in not even wanting to listen to Tina’s doubts about moving, and her statement that she needs to give it some thought.
Laurel showed Tina’s conflict of emotions in this scene, starting with sarcasm and then moving to sincerely expressing Tina’s resistance to Bette’s throwing down of the gauntlet, that Tina shouldn’t even think about questioning the common sense of the move. You could see the frustrated tears in Tina’s eyes and the confusion in her face at Bette’s reaction.
This was another example of a scene that was not easy to watch, but which did shed more light on them as a couple and at least had them talking things over.
Although we can find some way to interpret these scenes to seem consistent with Ilene’s comment to Laurel, the fact remains that Tina’s point of view did not make its way more forcefully or in clearly, so the audience could have understood Tina. Without Tina’s point of view and voice, some viewers were left out in the cold at the time.
Laurel’s interview and our renewed contemplation of two crucial Tina scenes from S2 that depicted her deep, unresolved anger at Bette, go a very long way towards solving the mystery of Tina’s erratic behavior in S3.
Season 3, Episode 12
Tina discovers that Bette has filed for sole custody when she mistakenly receives a fax from her lawyer that was sent by Bette’s lawyer, Joyce Wischnia. (We won’t even go into the questionable ethics of that client/lawyer relationship.) This was one scene in Season 3 where we actually hear things from Tina’s point of view.
Bette had changed her mind, but did not catch Joyce in time. It was reminiscent of the scene in Romeo and Juliet where messages don’t get to their intended parties in time, spelling doom for the lovers.
If there was one thing that Tina remained steadfast about during the whole of Season 3, it was that Bette had parental rights and should adopt Angelica legally. She protested to the distrustful social worker that Bette was the rightful adoptive mother to Angelica, and she protested to Henry when he tried to talk her out of it. Tina passionately defended Bette’s right to adopt Angelica to Henry. She also told him he was moving too fast for her taste with his talk about marriage, which is one sign that Tina was not serious about Henry. As Laurel said, he was a temporary way out for Tina, to be able to breathe and get her lost self back again. To make a life for her daughter was also a top priority.
The breach came when Tina saw the fax. Laurel was exceptional in this scene, because we believed Tina’s resolve about Bette’s parental rights. The cloud of pain that washed over Tina as she read that fax was palpable. Laurel showed us how Tina felt in her core, that once again Bette had betrayed her, only this time with the full weight of the law. If Bette’s claim held up in court, Tina would lose Angelica forever.
It was one of the single most exasperating things to happen, as it caused a further rift between Tina and Bette just when Bette’s own emotions had turned around again in favor of Tina.
This frustrating end to a difficult season was a sign of things to come, at least in the first half of Season 4.