“Mrs Fletcher is really about the terrible mundanity and loneliness of learning how to be a person again.”
Starring Kathryn Hahn as the titular character, Mrs Fletcher is a coming-of-age narrative dedicated to middle-aged women. Specifically, it is about mothers who are figuring out who they are, how they like to have sex, and how to live while their children are off at college. More importantly, it speaks openly of sexuality amongst older women — an aspect of television that is often neglected for sexist, ageist reasons — while making an incisive social commentary on what it means to be a mother and a person.
Based on Tom Perrotta’s novel of the same name, the series follows Eve/Mrs Fletcher (Hahn) as she learns how to live again after spending almost two decades of her life taking care of her son Brendan (Jackson White), with little to no support from her ex-husband or gratitude from her son.
We see that Mrs Fletcher is beyond exhausted from motherhood. She struggles with forming new connections beyond familial ones and struggles with her sense of self-worth in the absence of her son. She has dedicated most of her life taking care of him — a thankless, difficult job since her son wilfully neglects her existence in favour of bullying other kids and mistreating the women he knows. The series makes clear that this is a woman who is trying to be a person again apart from also being a mother and, devastatingly, she doesn’t know who she is if not a mother to Brendan. Issues of sexuality and motherhood are fully fleshed out, with the series highlighting that mothers are sexual beings with needs, desires, and qualities that are not intrinsic to their status as mothers.
Mrs Fletcher also struggles with sexual experience: she doesn’t know how she likes to have sex, what arouses her or the type of sexual partners she prefers. So, she turns to porn, lots of it. She masturbates to lesbian porn, obsessively fantasises about having sex with both men and women, and tries to play out what is shown in porn in hopes that she’d like it. Everything about this process is clumsy, awkward and messy. After all, Mrs Fletcher has not been out of her home for years.
It is not pleasing to watch as Mrs Fletcher fails, and neither should it be. While society usually expects mothers to suddenly snap back — from pregnancy, from giving birth, from shouldering the immense weight of tiny lives — Mrs Fletcher highlights that there is no such thing as perfection. Mothers are complex human beings too and, like everyone else, cannot possibly emulate the ludicrous stereotype of the soccer mom who has it all together. While initially promoted as an incredibly horny television series, Mrs Fletcher is really about the terrible mundanity and loneliness of learning how to be a person again. It is also about how mothers lose their sense of identity because of the demands of motherhood, and the lack of social support for mothers. This is a loss that is merely met with indifference from their partners and the rest of society.
Recently, Lucy Ellman, writer of the novel Ducks, Newburyport which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, received criticism for saying this:
“You watch people get pregnant and know they’ll be emotionally and intellectually absent for 20 years. Thought, knowledge, adult conversation and vital political action are all put on hold.”
Mothers all over the world — maybe understandably so — read Ellman’s comment as an affront to their intellectual and social accomplishments. They began listing all their achievements, arguing that motherhood is not an impediment to their lives. Under privileged circumstances — particularly that of class, race and sexuality — maybe a balance between motherhood and one’s career is possible, or rather, afforded. But, as Laura June says in “The Motherhood Literature Paradox”, mothers who struggle alone because of a variety of systemic and patriarchal reasons may very well “accomplish next to nothing but the raising of a child … there will be no voice in public, no writings.”
Mrs Fletcher, a white woman with a room of her own and a stable career as the director of a nursing home, is already better off than so many other mothers out there who are precariously getting by on food stamps. Many go hungry just so their children can eat. We watch painfully as Mrs Fletcher struggles to regain her personhood. But we must also remember that the show’s portrayal of motherhood is not universal. Mrs Fletcher’s struggles, while devastating to see, will not be made worse by the dint of her class and race.
Narratives on reclaiming female sexuality are often heterosexual. HBO’s Mrs Fletcher, however, gives us both a nuanced look into motherhood as well as Mrs Fletcher’s growing sexual fantasies about women alongside her journey to regaining her identity again — this is refreshing to see. It is also important, given that narratives on older women who love women are scarce. Older women who are mothers are never seen as sexual, much less being sexual for women. Mrs Fletcher, then, is invigorating in all the ways it sparks a much needed and even different conversation on sexuality and motherhood.
Directed By: Various
Executive Producers: Tom Perrotta, Helen Estabrook, Nicole Holofcener, Sarah Condon
Produced By: Jeffrey T. Berstein, Kathryn Hahn
Cast: Kathryn Hahn, Jackson White, Owen Teague, Cameron Boyce, Jen Richards, Katie Kershaw, Domenick Lombardozzi, Ifádansi Rashad
Available On: HBO Go, HBO Now, Amazon Prime