Welcome to Wisteria Lane, where every neighbor is a potential killer, every friend a potential enemy, and every woman victim to TV’s most overused childbearing tropes. Join me as we take a tour of these tropes—we need not even leave Wisteria Lane.
(Major spoiler alerts, seasons 1-6)
The Out-of-Hospital Birth
Also known as the “born in an elevator trope,” this one’s mighty popular in TV and film. Desperate Housewives, not to be outdone, has dreamed up some truly outlandish scenarios. In season four, Bree’s daughter Danielle goes into labor at a Halloween party and gives birth—in secret—at home. In season six, Lynette gives birth while she’s held hostage by a serial killer.
Birth Control Trickery
In season one, Gaby discovered that Carlos had been tampering with her birth control pills, because he wants a baby and she doesn’t. Gaby becomes pregnant, and she forgives Carlos. In season three, Edie and Carlos decide to try for a baby together—but Edie secretly takes birth control pills. When Carlos finds out, he breaks up with Edie. Then, in season six, Carlos confesses to Gaby that he never had a vasectomy, as he had promised years ago. (Gaby forgives him.)
Lies About Paternity
Without this trope, also known as the “Who’s Your Daddy?,” Desperate Housewives simply couldn’t exist.
- Season One: It turns out that Zach is Mike’s biological child. Mary Alice (whose suicide was the first mystery of the series) and her husband Paul stole a baby from Dierdre, Mike’s drug-addicted ex. When Deirdre cleans herself up and arrives to reclaim her child, Mary Alice murders her.
- Season Two: Libby, the stripper carrying the baby that Carlos and Gaby want to adopt, lies to her boyfriend about the paternity of her child. The real baby daddy is his brother. Tom and Lynette discover that Tom has an illegitimate daughter. Tom really didn’t know, of course—it was Nora, his one-night-stand of yore, who hid this daughter all these years.
- Season Three: Bree convinces the world that Orson is the father of Danielle’s baby.
- Season Four: Katherine’s daughter Dylan isn’t really the progeny of Wayne, Katherine’s abusive ex-husband. After Katherine leaves Wayne, their daughter Dylan dies in an accident, and Katherine fears Wayne will convince the cops it was murder. So, logically, she buries her daughter in the backyard and adopts an orphan to replace her.
- Season Six: Angie lies to everyone about the true paternity of her son Danny. Bree discovers that her boyfriend Keith has a son (the baby’s mama hid this from him). In turn, Bree decides not to tell Keith, but eventually changes her mind. Keith leaves her.
The Fake Pregnancy
Bree fakes a pregnancy; Porter’s mistress also fakes a pregnancy. (Glee, anyone?)
In season four, Susan thinks she’s going through menopause, but she’s pregnant. The same thing happens to Lynette. This one—plus the teenage miscarriage/adoption—accounts for the majority of representations of pregnancy in TVLand, an outlandish place where nobody has a typical pregnancy.
The Convenient Miscarriage
In season one, Gaby falls down the stairs and suffers a miscarriage. Usually, the convenient miscarriage occurs in teen dramas—at some point in almost every teen drama there’s a pregnancy, but since abortions are rare in TVLand, miscarriages are quite common.
The Powerless Surrogate
Want another woman to carry your child? You’d better make sure she’s destitute, weird, or powerless. In season one, Gaby and Carlos decide to buy a baby off a pregnant stripper. Later, they decide to impregnate Xiao-Mei, their maid. Not surprisingly, Xiao-Mei (being a woman) attempts to seduce Gaby’s husband and take over her life, and Gaby (being a woman) threatens to sell Xiao-Mei into slavery.
The Meddling Mother-in-Law (and mother)
Having a baby? Better avoid all the mother figures in your life, because they’re planning to ruin yours. Bree’s mother-in-law Phyllis interferes with Bree’s infant Benjamin, so Bree kicks her out. Later, Bree interferes with Danielle’s rearing of the same child—and Danielle leaves. In season four, Mike’s mom arrives just in time for the birth of Susan’s baby. Susan kicks her out. In season six, Lynette kicks her mother-in-law out of the house for similar reasons. Meanwhile, all four of our Desperate Housewives have seriously problematic relationships with their own mothers. And let’s not forget about Orson’s mother, Gloria, who asks her daughter-in-law to rape Orson, amongst other, um…schemes.
Whew! That was an exhausting tour! What did we learn? First and foremost, women lie about paternity…so men beware! We also learned that women murder in order to hide their lies, and that men murder to cover up or seek retribution for women’s mistakes. Let’s not forget it was Susan who ran over Dave’s family; it was Orson’s mom who told him to run over Mike; it was Mary Beth’s mistake that led Paul to murder; it was Katherine’s cover-up that led Wayne to murder; and even serial killer Edie was driven to homicide by his deeply abusive mother.
Granted, series creator Marc Cherry intentionally crafts his plot lines around the machinations of women. He originally conceived Desperate Housewives as an antidote to Sex and the City, which he thought over-emphasized friendship and ignored the secrets that women keep. Thank goodness he stepped in!