American Woman Recap: Swimming With Sharks

American Woman

Mother of the Year
Season 1 Episode 6
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Paramount Network

When I was younger I knew that passive aggression was a phrase, but I didn’t know exactly what the phenomenon was. I wish my younger self could have seen Diana and her mother, Peggy, interact. Just the one interaction when Diana gets up in the living room and her mother preemptively says, “If you’re done, put your glass in the kitchen, dear,” and Diana responds, “I was just going to get more,” with a knowing smile.

That speaks everything about their relationship: Peggy hectoring Diana with something she disguises as love and caring, and Diana rebelling while trying to not upset her mother. This all comes out at a pool party that Bonnie hosts for her co-worker Louise and her two kids. Louise doesn’t have air conditioning at her house, so Bonnie invites the kids over to swim in her pool during a heat wave.

Kathleen and Diana are talking about the party in front of Peggy who (passive aggressively of course) fishes for an invitation. Kathleen offers one though it’s clear that Diana has no interest in being in the same space with her mother unless she really has to be. Things at the pool party go even worse than anyone imagined. When Louise and her kids show up, Peggy says, “Someone could have warned me that they are coloreds.” No one reacts kindly to that, even back then.

It really starts to go bad, however, when Peggy sees Diana in her amazing turquoise macramé bathing suit that should be on Bo Derek in a Sports Illustrated swuitsuit issue. She looked flawless in it too, but Peggy henpecks Diana about how she doesn’t have any modesty. Then, changing gears, she tells Diana not to drink too much because when she drinks, she eats, and she still hasn’t worked off the seven pounds she gained last summer. Girl, if I could manage to only gain seven pounds each summer on a steady diet of cookies from the Pines Pantry in Fire Island and pasta from Fontelina in Capri, I would be in really good shape. Or, you know, at least as good of shape as Diana.

This is the last straw and Diana barges out and goes to a bar in the daytime. A daytime bar is never a good idea. There is only one reason to be at a bar while the sun is up: to watch Eurovision. OK, well, then there are two. The other is to get totally plastered. I mean, who is even at the bar with nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a rogue’s gallery of losers, grifters, and strivers.

It seems like Diana is striving for some male attention and she easily gets it, letting one of the losers take her home, but only after he explicitly (and illicitly) tells her he wants to take her home to have sex with her. Diana climbs on top and sees to her own pleasure. We see her leave a little bit later, giving the guy a fake name on the way out. She stops and smiles in the hallway and it’s a little unclear why she’s so happy, short of the obvious afterglow. It probably has something to do with this being the ultimate rebellion against her mother. This is the way she can take control of her life and feel good. It’s a way she can have power over men since they won’t promote her at work, and even steal the fan right off her desk. This is a way that Diana can finally be in charge, and she loves it.

Bonnie’s story wasn’t nearly as exciting this week, and not only because she wasn’t getting laid. After seeing how shabbily white customers treat her black co-worker, Louise, Bonnie comes up with this pool party idea. Louise initially demurs, knowing that the road to hell is paved not only with good intentions but also half-assed pool parties. But Bonnie assures her it will be fun and she will be welcoming. We all know it’s going to be messier than a two-year-old eating spaghetti though, right? Right.

It starts off well, but things just get worse and worse for poor Louise. Not only is there blatant racism like Peggy’s, there’s also the inadvertent racism of Kathleen. She doesn’t mean anything bad when she says that Louise’s skin is the perfect tone, but her discussion of all the different skin tones “colored” people can have is, well, it’s a little tone deaf. Kathleen isn’t malicious she’s just ignorant.

That doesn’t mean what she says or does is excusable, but at least she’s not going out of her way to insult these people like Peggy. Bonnie is also going through some mother-daughter drama of her own. Elder Becca won’t welcome William, Louise’s son, and hang out with him. After Bonnie bribes her, Becca heads out to the pool and then invites William up to her room to “listen to music.” What horny teenager hasn’t tried that trick at a family gathering? Luckily for Becca it actually works. It seems like the best way to rebel against mom on this show is by making out with a boy.

When Bonnie catches William and Becca making out, she is upset and tells Louise “it’s not right,” betraying some bias of her own. Louise puts on a polite face, like she did with the racist costumer at the beginning of the episode, and tells Bonnie that it’s time to go. It seems like even with her best of intentions, Bonnie has ruined this relationship too.

The episode ends with their relationship unresolved, but there’s a bit of a make-up session for Becca and Bonnie, who admits to her daughter that she’s making this up as she goes along and is struggling to make sense of it much as her daughter is. The really strange ending though is the last couple seconds of the episode, where we see Bonnie floating by in the pool smoking a joint. Where did that come from? What is it supposed to mean? Why did we need that parting shot? Is it so we remember this is Bonnie’s show and not Diana’s even though Diana had the much better story this week? I don’t know. Maybe I was just stoned at a pool party and imagined it.

American Woman Recap: Swimming With Sharks