On “Work Wives” and Other Partners

In the most recent episode of In Plain Sight, “The Merry Wives of Witsec,” Mary and Marshall find themselves with a witness who has been leading a double life. They only find out about the double life when the witness brings his second wife and daughter to Albuquerque.  Neither family knows that the other exists, and, technically, the witness isn’t practicing bigamy so much as duplicity. He faked the marriage certificate for his second wife, so they’re not legally married (which is a surprise to her).

Spoilers follow, so stop reading here if you haven’t seen the episode!

This is an amusing episode. At one point, both Mary and Marshall make so many not-so sotto voce comments during a joint therapy session for the two recently conjoined families that they’re asked to leave the room. Ultimately, though, the anguish in the two families is real enough to cut through the humor, and, the episode seems to be making the larger point that the witness’s double life is different only in degree from what the rest of us are doing in contemporary society. Mary suggests that the witness is living out every man’s “Betty and Veronica” fantasy–having both the pretty blonde and the buxom brunette. Marshall, she claims is no different, with his southern belle (gun-packing) girlfriend and his “work wife,” Mary herself.

Mary is kind of right, but maybe incomplete in attributing this only to Marshall. After all, who is Marshall but her very own “work wife”? The episode subtly suggests that to negotiate modern society we all need multiple partners. In a society that sharply separates home-private life from work-public life, a partner-“wife” in each sphere is almost a survival necessity. Where would Mary be, after all, without her ex-husband-turned-“home wife” to take care of her baby? Especially since she is having trouble trusting anyone enough to hire as a sitter (amusingly, she refuses one potential nanny because she has two jaywalking tickets, which makes her, according to Mary, “a repeat offender”).

Stan is also leading his own double life of sorts. Earlier in the season, he was wondering how to ask out his dance teacher (Tia Carrere), someone who was, after all, his partner already, but a partner in another role. As the season has progressed, his dance partner has become his romantic partner, but he’s started to have trouble negotiating the split between his romantic life and work life. There are some things he can’t tell her about his job. And, to the gossipy amusement of his co-workers, he and Lia are observed by Mary in a liplock at a fancy restaurant.

And Marshall also needs his “work wife” Mary to help him out with his romantic life. He’s trying to make reservations to surprise Abigail to celebrate their “first date” anniversary and needs Mary’s help to keep it a surprise. While scoffing at the very idea of a dating anniversary, Mary makes reservations (when she’s unable to get them in at Marshall’s first choice) at the perfect place—Friday night at the shooting range. It’s extremely helpful when your “work wife” knows you and your other partner well enough to know the best place for a romantic evening for the two of you.

The best part of the episode: Marshall proposing to Abigail at the shooting range. As In Plain Sight does so well at its best, the series mocks sentimental conventions at the same time that it delivers the emotional goods as well any one else. I was completely not expecting a proposal in this scene, and then even when Marshall went down on one knee, it took a second to realize what was coming—an engagement ring, attached to Abigail’s target. Funny and touching both, this proposal at the shooting range was one of the best staged proposals I’ve seen on television in a long while. Thank goodness Marshall had his “work wife” to help set it up.

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