Ally McBeal – “Silver Bells”

Ally McBeal Season 1, Episode 11 (1997)

In “Silver Bells,” James had been married to Mindy but fell in love with Patti, whom he met at work. He didn’t want to leave Mindy, and especially did not want to disrupt the marriage for their children, so instead he brought Patti home to live with them. James fertilized Patti’s egg and Mindy carried the child, so their youngest child is by all three of them. Mindy stays at home and mothers their children, while Patti and James both work at the same law firm. The three are seeking legal recognition for their union.

BELOW BE SPOILERS, Y’ARR

“Silver Bells” pulls out one of our Evil Poly Tropes: Polyamory is just cheating, and at least one partner is secretly or not so secretly not OK with it. As the episode goes on, we learn that James’s relationship with Patti began as extramarital, but the three decided not to engage in serial monogamy, but to combine the relationships. The protagonist, Ally, explains that is seems Mindy only agreed to the arrangement in order to avoid losing her husband and children’s father. The judges does not recognize their union, and Mindy agrees that this decision is “the right thing,” implying that she was at least not as enthusiastic about the arrangement, if not downright opposed to it.

The main characters do reflect, at least a little, on the possibility of polyamory for themselves. However, protagonist Ally maintains that monogamous marriage is the proper goal. She pities James’s wife and sees the relationship as “legal cheating.”

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