TV Loves Calling Out Cheaters Right Now

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Sunday night’s Pose, co-written and directed by activist Janet Mock, picks up exactly where last week’s “Mother’s Day” left off: a very awkward meeting between the wife of Stan Bowes (Evan Peters), Patty Bowes (Kate Mara), and the former mistress of Stan Bowes, Angel (Indya Moore). As Patty and Angel stare each other down in a New York City diner, I realized I had seen a very similar scene mere days earlier on a very different outpost of the massive television landscape.
During last Tuesday’s The Bold Type, viewers watched Sutton Brady (Meghann Fahy) grit her teeth through an awkward conversation with Allison Gabler (Caitlyn Sponheimer), the wife of the secretly married man our favorite fashion assistant had just slept with. Confrontations with The Other Woman are all the rage right now. But, unlike those Dynasty-ready showdowns of the past, today’s encounters aren’t bloody battlefields. Instead, they’ve shed that sexist past in favor of far more emotional, honest investigations into the women who love, or, at least happen to sleep with, cheating men.
It’s easy to imagine suburban housewife Patty would be furious sitting on one side of a tiny, dingy NYC table, looking at the woman her husband was so invested in, he got her an apartment. That kind of furor is what soap operas were built off of. But, Patty isn’t angry with Angel. She, like many real-life women, is simply sad — and she wants answers. She wants to know why the man she married, and created an entire life around, wanted to step out on her with another woman. That is why one of Patty’s very first questions to Angel is, “Did he talk about me?” Although Stan is a lying cheater, Patty still desperately hopes she somehow factored into her husband’s infidelity. She didn’t, Angel confirms.
As Patty shares her greatest fears over her relationship with Stan, Angel does as well. Angel knows she is a character in this adulterous saga, so she isn’t worried about whether she matters in it. Rather, Angel merely wants to know if Stan loved her, like he said he did. That is the most important, and the most emotional, question she poses to Patty. Although Patty deflects the possibility, jumping into an interrogation over Angel’s gender, it’s obvious that is the only reason Angel is so comfortable sipping coffee with the wife of the man she fell for. Once Patty becomes more interested in attacking Angel's identity than an honest discussion over Stan’s inner life, Angel is rightly done with the entire scene.
This fairly calm meeting leads to Patty and Stan’s confrontation, which is far more explosive than the one Mrs. Bowes has with Mr. Bowes’ mistress. That is the one that leaves Stan sobbing on a psychiatrist’s couch, and Patty’s announcement that her husband is no longer allowed to live in their home. All of Patty's wrath is directed at the fact her husband is a weak, lying jerk.
While the fallout from Stan’s cheating is steeped in pathos and 1980s homophobia (“Did something happen to you when you were a little kid?” Patty asks), The Bold Type originally goes far funnier with that kind of relationship-rocking scandal. In “Stride Of Pride,” Sutton, fresh from a breakup with one-true-love Richard Hunter (Sam Page), leans into hooking up with whatever hot, random man appears in her life. This time, it’s Dillon Frank (Kevin McGarry), a hunky music insider… who happens to have a wife. Sutton doesn’t learn about that important little detail until she’s on a karaoke date with Dillon and her best friends, Kat Edison (Aisha Dee) and Jane Sloan (Katie Stevens). In the middle of belting out ABBA, Sutton sees a text from a mystery woman named Allison pop up on her new love interest’s phone.
With the musical tinkles of “Mamma Mia” blaring in the background, Sutton grills Dillon about who in the heck is picking up his laundry and why that woman is waiting for him to come home. Soon enough, Sutton is yelling at the evasive two-timer from the stage, asking, “Who. Is Allison. Tell me!” Dillon eventually relents, sighing, “My wife.” Sutton orders Dillon to leave, but not before she chucks his phone at him. All the while, please remember, the sounds of ridiculous Swedish disco plays around the drama.
Although Sutton’s upsetting encounter with Dillon is filled with humor, her meeting with his wife isn’t. In fact, it’s just as somber as Angel and Patty's, thankfully without any latent transphobia. Allison immediately recognizes the other woman isn’t some kind of psychotic stalker, as Frank claimed. Instead, Sutton is a nice person trying to tell the truth, no matter how upsetting it is. And, tell the truth she does, explaining the exact events that led to Sutton and Dillon’s hookup. There is no malice on either side — merely exhaustion and a bit of sadness over Dillon’s horrible behavior.
Both ladies leave the conversation hoping the other woman finds the love and respect they both deserve from a relationship; no name calling, no drink throwing required.
While Pose and Bold Type explore the best case scenarios for these kinds of tense conflicts, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale has investigated the pressure cooker of a situation that occurs when you view the “other woman” as the enemy. Of course, June Osborne (Elisabeth Moss) isn’t a mistress in the Waterford household (she’s a sex slave), but the disturbingly deluded Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) does not view her captive as such. As a Gilead handmaid, June routinely “sleeps” with Serena’s husband Fred (Joseph Fiennes). June is able to carry a baby. June will give birth to a baby. While all of these facts are actually the nightmarish circumstances of June’s repeated rapes, Serena is too blinded by her own jealousies to understand us much. For Serena, June is the quintessential “other woman.” That is why a season 2 episode is called “Other Women.”
Although Serena never has an honest conversation with June about Fred’s monstrous behavior as the Pattys and Allisons of television did — the closest she ever came was admitting her hatred for knitting in “Women’s Work” — Serena does have her blowout with Fred, as those other TV wives did. The result was the knock down, drag-out fight of “Holly,” where Serena sobs and rages over all the ways Fred has failed her. This is when, at last, Serena calls her husband what he is: a rapist. Finally, the couple’s awful dirty laundry has been dragged into the light.
While we all might miss the OMG-worthy GIFs of old-school TV catfights over awful men, everyone can agree we’re not just in the golden age of television. We’re in the golden age of asking what happens after an affair. No wonder The Affair is doing so well.
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