REVIEW: ‘Mrs Fletcher’ is an Empathetic Portrayal of Motherhood

Rating: 3 out of 3.

“Mrs Fletcher is really about the terrible mundanity and loneliness of learning how to be a person again.”

The most refreshing aspect of Mrs Fletcher is its explicit focus on middle-aged women’s sexuality — an aspect of television that is often neglected for sexist reasons — while making an incisive social commentary on what it means to be a mother and a person. Based on Tom Perrotta’s (writer of The Leftovers) novel of the same name, the series follows Mrs Fletcher (Kathryn Hahn) as she learns how to live again after spending two decades of her life raising her son, Brendan (Jackson White), with little support from her ex-husband.

It only takes three minutes into the series for us to see that Mrs Fletcher is beyond exhausted from motherhood. She fails at forming new connections beyond familial ones and struggles with regaining her sense of self-worth in the absence of her son. The empty nest becomes a horrifying reckoning as she navigates a hollowed life in the wake of motherhood. While mothers have desires that are not limited to motherhood, the world refuses to acknowledge their personhood.

mrs fletcher hbo

In addition to her withered social life, Mrs Fletcher also falters with sexual experience: she doesn’t know how she likes to have sex or the type of sexual partners she prefers. And so she masturbates to lesbian porn, fantasizes about having sex with both men and women, and attempts to play out what is shown in porn in hopes that she’d like it. Everything about this process is awkward, clumsy and messy. It is not pleasing to watch as Mrs Fletcher fails, and neither should it be.

While people usually expect mothers to snap back into perfect shape after giving birth, Mrs Fletcher highlights that 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. Despite being marketed 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 lack of social and political support for mothers. This desolation, however, is merely met with indifference from their partners and the rest of society.

Just recently, Lucy Ellman, writer of Ducks, Newburyport which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, was criticized for pointing out that motherhood is incompatible with selfhood:

“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 read Ellman’s comment as an affront to their intellectual and social accomplishments. They argued 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. But, as Laura June notes 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. We watch painfully as Mrs Fletcher struggles to regain her personhood. But we must also remember that the show’s portrayal of motherhood is limited. While Mrs Fletcher’s heartbreaking journey is devastating to watch, it will not be made worse by the dint of her class and race.

HBO’s Mrs Fletcher 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 for 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