Becoming Donna Reed

Season 1: Episode 25 – The Ideal Wife


Donna is dressed up and hosting a dinner party for two of Alex’s colleagues and their wives. The settle down to eat and everyone praises Donna on the food and the decor. The other ladies begin complaining that they are always interrupted during dinner by their husbands’ patients. They talk about how angry they get. Alex remarks that Donna always handles interruptions gracefully. The others all praise her cool and calm.

The phone rings and Alex is called away. Donna sees him off and he tells her how sweet she is. She returns to her guests who continue to lavish compliments upon her. Alex returns. The others tell him how wonderful Donna has been. However, some of the compliments, like telling Donna she looks good no matter how many times she wears the same dress, seem laced with arsenic.

After dinner Donna tells Alex she is tired of being called sweet. He promises never to use the word again.

The next morning Donna goes to Mary’s room. Clothes are strewn everywhere and Mary lets Donna know that she needs a new cardigan. Donna tells her to clean her room and Mary says she’ll do it later. Then Mary tells Donna she is the best mother and so much nicer and sweeter than the others. Donna leaves, the room stays a mess.

Downstairs Jeff asks Donna for money. Donna reminds him he owes her money and has not completed his chores. Jeff tells Donna how much better she is than his friends’ mothers. He tells he about a necklace he wants to by for her. Donna tells him not to waste his money on something like that and lends him the money he wanted.

Donna realizes she has been had by her children.

She goes in to see Alex and he tells her they have been invited to a gathering at a senior doctor’s on Tuesday. She reminds him they have theater tickets that night. He reminds her of how important his job is and she relents.

Max, the laundryman, comes by with the cleaning. He helps himself to a cold drink and chats with Donna. He compliments her and tells her she’s his favorite customer. She sees that he forgot her gray dress, she had hoped to wear it that night. He tells her how hard it would be to go get it. She tells him not to bother. On his way out he thanks her for being so sweet. She snaps and follows him outside. She yells and tells him she needs the dress today.

She goes to Mary and tells her to clean her room immediately. She yells and tells her she will not have any new clothes. She yells at Jeff and tells him to do is chores and repay her the money she gave him. She tells Alex she wants to go to the play, not the dinner.

The kids go to Alex to see what is wrong with Donna. He tells them to be patient.

The next morning Mary is cleaning her room. Donna asks her about her plans and she reports she intends to stay home and clean the blinds. Jeff is doing yard work and asks Donna if he should paint the gate. Alex tells Donna he cancelled dinner and they are going to the play. Everyone is doing what she asked, but the warmth and easiness are gone

Max comes by with the cleaning and is very formal and polite. Donna apologizes and they talk. He tells her that you can’t be something you are not.

She buys Mary a cardigan, puts Jeff’s money back in his piggy-bank, and makes Alex’s favorite dinner. She tells Alex they will go to the dinner. He tells her no, they will go to the play. He doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s sweet. She tells him, “What’s wrong with being sweet?” They embrace.


Never never, never always, always sometimes.


I am sure the message I am supposed to get from this episode is that women are only happy if they are caring for others and not exerting their own desires, but that’s not what I am coming away with. I know that, as a modern woman, I should be disgusted with this episode and how it keeps Donna down. I don’t feel that either.

What I am feeling is a bit nostalgic and a bit frustrated. I am, yet again, struck by how badly we need to reestablish moderation and context. Not every situation is best handled with sugar-coating and not every situation is best handled by aggression. We need to rediscover how to match our behavior to the situation.

Donna is sweetness and light, but too many people today are resentment and selfishness. Donna may be too quick to forgive and acquiesce, but I see way too many people are far too quick to blame and yell. We are so afraid of being weak that forget to be human.

Nearly every time I go to s store I see a salesperson being screeched at by some enraged customer. We have learned that the best way to get what we want is to embarrass and belittle. We want what we want, and we’re gonna get it. We don’t really care who we have to hurt in order to get it. I think taking a strong stand is acceptable if you are fighting an insurance company to pay for a needed medical treatment, but walking in with blazing guns to get an extra 15% off a blouse seems senseless.

Donna is too good, too perfect. She is an ideal that no real woman can ever be. However, I like that we once tried to be an ideal. I liked that we wanted to see a ideal on TV. I think there is something to be said for striving to be better. I don’t really feel inspired by Snooki; she doesn’t make me want to be kinder, more patient, or a better wife. Sorry.

I think there is a time a place for everything. Sometimes we need to be patient, sometimes we need to be demanding. However, I’d rather be someone, and be around someone, whose default mode is graciousness, not bitchiness. I will always believe it takes more strength to handle adversity with dignity and tact than to be rude and mean. That’s just the way I roll.

Plan of Action

Pair the right reaction to the current situation for a rich and nuanced finish.