Something I like about Scrubs: Elliot and Molly’s buddy relationship

I recently talked about some ways in which Scrubs gets gender wrong, and now I want to talk about something I really liked on it, despite its being way too brief: the buddy relationship that developed between Elliot and Molly. TV and movies don’t feature nearly enough buddy relationships between women. There are a million possible reasons why, but I think it all boils down to an assumption that the target male audience doesn’t care about relationships that by definition have nothing to do with a man.

While Elliot and Carla are friends who often have each other’s back, they’re not what I’d call “buddies” when I think about the “buddy movie” genre. Molly becomes a mentor to Elliot, who pushes Elliot to try things she otherwise wouldn’t dare, who believes in her and helps her stand up for herself. She’s like a big sister to Elliot, and when all is said and done, I can believe these two had a strong positive impact on each other. They weren’t just friends: they were friends who inspired each other to grow. And that’s what defines buddies.

They talk about all sorts of things rather than just about men, and most of their conversations about men center on dealing with male superiors and co-workers, not on their love lives. There’s no jealousy or competition between them. It’s just two women against the world.

There’s one episode in particular that stands out for me (written by a woman, by the way) in which Elliot is practically walking on air because she finally has the mentor of her dreams. Molly demonstrates how to deal with male superiors who intimidate you by walking over to a table full of them, saying, “Yes, those are my breasts” when all the men stare at them, then hiding her breasts behind her arms and saying what she has to say to them. Unlike a lot of episodes in which Scrubs toys with the idea that women maintain power over men by granting and withholding sexual access to their bodies, this one deals with the sad fact that sometimes men see you as the gatekeeper to an orifice they want, and you have to remind them that you’re also a human being and a professional in their industry who is trying to do a job.

But not longer after that, Elliot meets Molly’s boyfriend… as Molly is making excuses for why he stole her neighbor’s car and got into an accident. The boyfriend is a felon and/or a nutjob, and here she is defending him. Elliot’s instant reaction is “Oh, my god, my mentor is a crazy person!”

And my reaction to Elliot’s reaction was a big “Yes!” because I’d have felt the same way. Molly is so together in every other way, but has made a really crazy choice when it comes to a man. This is pretty standard behavior for TV professional women characters, and it’s usually not commented on – in fact, we’re often supposed to find it romantic, which is hard to do if you actually are a professional woman and/or a woman who tries to be together and make smart choices in and out of your bedroom. It was actually a bold move on the show’s part to feature one woman critiquing another’s high tolerance for bullshit from male partners. We rarely see women characters offering realistic criteria for choosing their partners because the shows are always being written from the viewpoint of men.

Having faced head-on the fact that Molly’s choice of boyfriend is ill-advised, the episode takes one step further in the buddy department as Elliot backs off from her friendship with Molly. Dr. Cox counsels Elliot not to dump a friend who could make Elliot stand up to him (as she did earlier in the episode) just because that friend’s personal life isn’t as brilliant as her professional life, because Molly’s personal life and professional life have nothing to do with one another. (Which is true, except in TV land, where the bad choices professional women make in their love lives almost always involve co-workers, but that’s for another post.) Elliot approaches Molly as if nothing happened, and Molly knowingly acknowledges that she freaked Elliot out a little with the boyfriend. She goes on to explain that for reasons she can’t figure out, stable, sensible men bore her but guys who are still living at home trying to get their band together really interest her. (Bonus points that it’s not “bad boys” who attract Molly, but rather immature men: that sort of glitch in one’s romantic hardware is a lot easier to relate to, and not so different from the bad choices some male TV characters make in their love lives.)

You can’t get a more well-rounded buddy story than that. Two women who talk about stuff other than men and their love lives. A mentorship. The hero falling from her pedestal. And finally forgiveness because you can’t expect your buddies to be perfect.

That said… Molly’s final episode focuses on hooking her up with J.D., which was a really vomitous way to end her time on the show and a betrayal of the amazing friendship they’d built up between her and Elliot. It was really out of left field, so I’m guessing it was pushed by the studio as something for a sweeps month, but whoever is responsible for it should be dumped right in the middle of the Outback naked without any supplies.

But at least we got the buddy relationship before everything went to Standard TV Hell, and for that I’m glad.


  1. Mecha says

    I think one of the also-helpful things about Cox’s helping Elliot realize that Molly can be crazy in one aspect of her life is Cox walking Elliot through her (and the audience’s) assumption: ‘Would you consider me a good mentor?’ ‘Yes, to some people,’ ‘Well, then, let’s consider my personal life being psychotic, miserable, and dysfunctional.’ It isn’t just that you have the female buddy/mentor line, or that Elliot works through the standard ‘my mentor’s crazy!’ point (even when JD really doesn’t), but that it’s made clear that being imperfect or crazy like that is not a gendered issue, even though it is often presented as such, or only really an issue if you’re a woman.

    There are many cases in Scrubs like that, where they set up a scenario to try to make you realize that an issue isn’t as exclusively gendered as it seems (see: your discussion about using flirting as a method of getting things done being like men using promises of sports or drinking or whatever.) Even when they fail at times.


  2. says

    That’s an excellent point, Mecha. It was clear to me without that scene that the writer wasn’t saying “Molly’s crazy because that’s how women are.” But for those audience members who might still tend to think of it that way, the writer went a step further and included Cox standing there listing all the ways in which his personal life sounds insane and advised Elliot to stick with anyone who inspired her not to take his (Cox’s) crap. Which I also took as a nod to the ongoing issue that Cox never mentored Elliot like he did J.D. – while it doesn’t fix the problem, it does suggest that he ultimately wants her to succeed, which I think is something she needed to hear.

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