Thursday, November 5, 2015

REVIEW: 'Mom' - Bonnie's Not Sure How to Feel When Her Mother Wants to Meet Her in 'Terrorists and Gingerbread'

CBS' Mom - Episode 3.01 "Terrorists and Gingerbread"

Christy and Bonnie have different ideas about forgiveness when Bonnie's mother, Shirley (Ellen Burstyn), who abandoned her as a small child, suddenly wants to be a part of their lives.

Over its first two seasons, Mom has become one of the best shows on broadcast television. Sure, the supporting ensemble is still being tinkered with all the time. But the core duo of Anna Faris and Allison Janney is so fantastic. The show comes back for its third season with a strong and emotionally resonant episode. As a show about multiple generations, it has been slightly strange to hear so little about Bonnie's own parents. It's been alluded to briefly - mostly in her mentioning her stint in the foster care system during her relapse arc last season. But "Terrorists and Gingerbread" explores just what happened to Bonnie all those years ago and whether or not she can forgive her own mother just as Christy has done with her.

Bonnie has been able to live without a mother for all these years. It hasn't created a happy life. But she is still alive and starting to get things back together with this family she has created for herself. She's never allowed to be happy for too long. But she has moments of great success followed by moments of absolute defeat. She's in a better place to meet her mom now than she was before. She may still enjoy running away from her problems in order to not deal with the emotional consequences. But she's still capable of addressing all this anger and hostility that has been simmering within her for so long. Meeting her mother could bring meaningful change to her life. Or it could only bring more pain and sadness. The only way for Bonnie to find out is to actually meet the woman who gave her life.

Christy is the first to meet Shirley to learn what her side of the story is. Bonnie is too afraid to meet her. Christy wanting to isn't an attack against what Bonnie is feeling. Shirley is Christy's grandmother after all. She has the right to be curious as well. When Christy finally does sit down with Shirley, it is slightly awkward. Neither one really knows what to say. But it's also easy for them to start up a conversation. Shirley has done nothing wrong to Christy. This is the first time they've interacted and the two haven't had the chance to make choices regarding the other. Christy wants to share her entire life with this woman. She wants to share pictures of her children and her mother. She also wants to be open with all the struggles that both she and Bonnie have dealt with.

Shirley's story is just as heartbreaking. Bonnie's father died in a motorcycling accident when she was just a toddler. Shirley struggled to earn enough money to feed and house both of them. She bounced from job to job just trying to survive. She hit rock bottom when she had to move them into her car. The decision to place Bonnie into foster care was a difficult one. But Shirley did it hoping that it would provide Bonnie with a better life. She couldn't take care of herself let alone a child. She did this for Bonnie. And yet, that doesn't explain why she never reached out to Bonnie before this moment in time.

Bonnie demands the answer to that question. Shirley betrayed Bonnie every day she wasn't a part of her life. Once Shirley got back on her feet, she could have searched for Bonnie again. She chose not to because she fell in love again with a man who didn't want children. She listened to that man for the next few decades of her life. While Bonnie was struggling as a mother and an addict, Shirley turned her back on her to enjoy her own happiness. Shirley is only reaching out now because she is dying and filled with remorse over not getting to know this family that she had created. It's a heartbreaking story. But Bonnie is just as angry as she was before. She went to Shirley in order to get answers. She left with clarity - though it wasn't enough to mend all the complicated emotions in her heart.

Bonnie could spend the rest of Shirley's days alive getting to know her. Make up for all the time they missed. And yet, Bonnie doesn't know if she can do that. She lets go of all of her anger towards her mother. That brings her a peace that is completely foreign to her. She's not quite sure how to act around her mother when she visits her in San Francisco. She's incredibly grateful to learn about her father and even get a picture of him. That's a memory that can still be idolized. With Shirley, it's so much more difficult to want a relationship with her. Bonnie doesn't know how she feels. It's heartbreaking that they part without any indication if they'll ever see each other again. That uncertainty is very emotional for both of them. But Bonnie still chooses to leave. She needs time to process her feelings. Unfortunately, time may be the one thing she isn't allowed to have since Shirley only has a few months left to live. It's a complicated and personal story that this episode tells beautifully despite all the tragedy that encompasses it. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Terrorists and Gingerbread" was directed by James Widdoes with story by Chuck Lorre & Marco Pennette and teleplay by Gemma Baker, Adam Chase & Anne Flett-Giordano.
  • This premiere has a very emotionally heavy main story. So to make sure there's still some laughs, there's a fun running joke about everyone mistaking June Squibb's Dottie as Bonnie's mother. She smells of gingerbread and even bakes cookies for the family!
  • Ellen Burstyn could easily get an Emmy nomination out of this performance. Typically voters just name check her because of her impressive career. But this role actually deserves that kind of recognition.
  • Also, I highly doubt this will be the last time the audience sees Shirley this season. The amount of time she has left could create a very interesting story arc for Bonnie and Christy.
  • In order to deal with the loss of her mother at such a young age, Bonnie created a fantasy that her mother died stopping terrorists from blowing up Disneyland. It would be impossible for reality to come anywhere close to that. But that's the thought that has kept Bonnie going for all of these years.
  • Despite all the jokes, Bonnie really does respect the wise advice that Marjorie gives her. She even refers to her as the mother she never really had.