– Julia and Megan, Dark Shadows
My first reaction to Dark Shadows was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.
If it is an accident that this episode premiered on Mother’s Day, it’s a happy one in my case. Dark Shadows inspired me to drop a note of thanks to our kids’ mom. As The Stepmom, I may not have loved everything she’s done over the years, but she has gotten all the big things right.
My husband and his ex know parenting as if they wrote the script. After well over a decade apart, the kids are still the warm common ground in even their chilliest seasons. They have taken care to keep the negative things they feel about one another (and me) out of sight and earshot of the kids. This has done us all nothing but good.
Because, dammit, feelings. What can anyone do about them?
In a daylight scene with the kids, Betty Draper Francis feels fine at first: sitting at her kitchen table, talking about Sally’s family-tree project for school, going through Bobby’s homework. Then she finds the note.
It’s a little bit of nothing, a few lines about going out to buy a lightbulb. “Lovely Megan,” it starts.
Betty is hurt. Of course. She makes an impulsive comment to Sally, mentions a part of Don’s life his daughter knows nothing about. Sally is confused and hurt, and I wonder how much of Sally’s reaction Betty sees. Yes, she knows what she has set in motion. But in her pain, does Betty notice what is happening to her daughter now?
Megan’s approach could not be more different, or more sensitive. When Sally lashes out, accuses her of not being a true friend, taunts her (“Are you going to go make yourself cry now?”), Megan is upset. But she holds it together: takes a breath instead of the bait, stays calm. This is a tall order, especially after you have told a kid that it isn’t “your place” to share certain things with her. Megan performs it all beautifully.
The unhappy fact of being a stepmom is that a lot of things aren’t “your place” to say, to do, to decide. In the great play that is the stepparent’s life, you almost never get the spotlight. You can share in the success of a good night, but that’s about it. The parents — owners of the custody arrangement, directing and leading almost every act — call the shots, whether they always want to or not.
Still, you might get lucky. You might land a really good production, with people at the top of their game who know their lines and are down for some fun. People like this know when to stick with the script and when to improvise. They are generous. Their audience, always watching, knows it’s in good hands.
Like Megan, I’ve been able to define a whole new role in my family. Unlike Megan, I actually did get lucky. My role as “friend” to my audience is fun because other people are already Mom and Dad. Those people know their roles. They like them, they’re good at them, and they expect me to be good at mine.
Megan is very good at her role. She deserves a better cast.