Mary Alice Young
|Mary Alice Young|
Brenda Strong as Mary Alice Young
|Desperate Housewives character|
|Portrayed by||Brenda Strong|
1x01, October 3, 2004
|Last appearance||"Finishing the Hat"
8x23, May 13, 2012
|Created by||Marc Cherry|
President of the Homeowners Association
|Residence||4352 Wisteria Lane, Fairview, Eagle State (14 years before season 1)
Salt Lake City, Utah (before moved to Eagle State)
Mary Alice Young (formerly Angela Forrest) is a fictional character on the ABC television series Desperate Housewives. The character is played by actress Brenda Strong and narrates the series from beyond the grave; the character's suicide in the pilot episode served as the catalyst of the series. The narration provided by Mary Alice is essential to the tale of Wisteria Lane, as the show revolves around her sharing the secrets of her friends and neighbours. Her narration technique is akin in style to Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology.
Mary Alice is the most mysterious of the housewives because only bits and pieces of her story are known. A loving, doting wife and mother who was generous to her family and neighbours, she was the last person any of them expected to commit suicide. In death, Mary Alice sees things she would not have seen in life: her friends' vulnerabilities, lies and secrets. She does not judge them so much as love them more because of their foibles, pitying them for the ways they manipulate and hurt those they care about most. Although deceased since the first episode, Mary Alice continued to have a leading storyline throughout the first and second seasons of the show, with the story being led by her husband and son, Paul and Zach Young respectively.
Development and casting
The role Mary Alice was originally given to Sheryl Lee. A pilot was filmed including Lee, but Brenda Strong eventually took over the role, as producers thought that Lee was not right for the part. Strong commented on the casting change for her character, explaining, "I think it was a conceptual shift ... There certainly wasn't something wrong with what [Lee] did. It was just that instead of vanilla they wanted chocolate, and I happened to be chocolate." Scenes featuring Lee were refilmed with Strong as her replacement. The mystery surrounding Mary Alice and her family was the main storyline in the first season of the series, and it is resolved in the first season finale. Series creator Marc Cherry had wanted there to be a "definite end" to the mystery, hoping to avoid similar viewer fatigue that Twin Peaks suffered after drawing out its central mystery past its first season. ABC executives initially protested the writers' decision to have Mary Alice purposefully kill Deirdre Taylor, prompting the writers to make Deirdre violent in order to justify Mary Alice's actions.
In the first scene of the pilot episode, Mary Alice introduces herself. She then proceeds to go inside her house, reach for a gun, and shoot herself in the head.
After finding a blackmail note in Mary Alice's clothes, the leading women make a series of discoveries. She was being treated by Dr. Albert Goldfine; she once went by another name, Angela; and she may have had something to do with a baby that disappeared. Her son, Zach, begins to have flashbacks and is under the impression that he killed a baby named Dana, when he was younger. When Felicia Tilman comes to town and realizes she knew Mary Alice by her former identity, it is only a matter of time before the women learn just how much Mary Alice may have been hiding.
In the first season's finale, the mystery of Mary Alice's death is revealed. In March 1990, Mary Alice could not conceive and bought a baby illegally from a heroin addict, Deirdre Taylor. She then moved to Wisteria Lane with her husband and the baby to start a new life. In 1993, the Young family's life on Wisteria Lane was nearly destroyed when the woman returned, seemingly sober, wanting her baby back. After a verbal fight, as Deirdre went to reclaim her baby, Mary Alice stabbed and killed her. The child, originally named Dana and renamed Zach, woke up and saw the dead body. Mary Alice and Paul chopped up the body and buried it under their pool. Zach's birth father turned out to be Mike Delfino. Years later, when Martha Huber discovered Mary Alice's secret via her sister, Felicia, who worked with "Angela", she blackmailed Mary Alice. In desperation, Mary Alice committed suicide.
Mary Alice was the first housewife to move to Wisteria Lane, fifteen years before the show's pilot episode (the day Mary Alice killed herself). In the second season finale, Mary Alice appeared in the episodes in various flash backs, describing how she met the major housewives. The first character she met was Susan Mayer, she rescued Susan after she locked herself in her moving van. The second character she encountered was Bree Van de Kamp, who came to the Youngs' house with her husband Rex and her son Andrew in tow. She made Andrew apologize for stealing a garden ornamental frog. She met Lynette Scavo several years later. Lynette and her husband Tom were arguing over how Lynette was expecting twins and that it was completely okay for Lynette to punish Tom for not telling her that his family had eight sets of twins over three generations. Gabrielle Solis was the final housewife to be greeted by the group. She and her husband Carlos were only wearing underwear, when Mary Alice, Susan, Lynette, and Bree walked in. She is also seen in a quick flashback with her son Zach and husband Paul sometime in the mid-1990s where Zach tangles his shoe laces and where she is pouring water in the kitchen.
In "Bang", episode 7 of the third season, Lynette has a series of dreams about the last time she talked to Mary Alice, moments before she shot herself. Lynette tormented herself over not trying to save Mary Alice. After a hostage situation in which two people were killed and Lynette was injured, she had one final dream of Mary Alice. This time, however, Lynette tried to prevent something bad from happening by asking if she could help her. Mary Alice replied that she couldn't, but she could do something. She could enjoy the lovely day, as we get so few of them. Mary Alice, as the narrator, says, "This was the last time Lynette would dream of me, and for her sake, I am grateful."
Mary Alice was not a prominent part of this season, but she was seen on various occasions nonetheless. She was seen in a flashback on the second episode of the fourth season called "Smiles of a Summer Night". In a flashback of Susan’s about the day Katherine Mayfair abruptly left Wisteria Lane, Mary Alice Young and Susan go to Katherine’s house, questioning her about why the moving van outside her house. Katherine tells them that she got a job in Chicago and refuses to allow Julie to say goodbye to Dylan. A crashing noise is heard upstairs and Katherine is nervous and evasive. When Susan asks if everything is OK, Katherine makes her excuses and tells them she is really going to miss them, shutting the door.
It was mentioned that Mary Alice held the position of President of Wisteria Lane's homeowners' association, a position left vacant for four years (after her death) until Katherine returned and insisted a new one be elected.
Mary Alice makes her second and last onscreen fourth season appearance in the finale called Free in a flashback to the night before Katherine left Wisteria Lane. Whilst Katherine and Lillian were out, Mary Alice was babysitting Dylan and revealed that Katherine's then husband, Wayne Davis, had arrived and given Dylan a toy doll and a tricycle. Having no idea that Katherine was running away from her abusive ex, Mary Alice apologizes for any wrongdoing as Katherine rushes inside with her Aunt Lillian to check on Dylan.
Like the last two seasons, Mary Alice appears only once in Episode 13. At Eli Scruggs' funeral, Mary Alice recalls how she changed Eli's life. She remembers how one morning before he had any steady work, he approached her and introduced himself. Initially commenting that she doesn't have any work for him, Mary Alice changes her mind when she notices Eli had obviously fallen on hard times. She asks him if he will fix a vase she broke. Eli appreciates her sympathy and initially declines but Mary Alice is insistent. A few years later, now that Eli has found steady work thanks to Mary Alice recommending him to the women of the neighbourhood, Eli walks in on Mary Alice reading a note. Mary Alice tries to be upbeat despite the fact that something is obviously troubling her, and offers Eli the vase that he fixed for her a few years ago. Eli accepts and leaves, worried about her fragile state but thinking it best to leave her alone. It is then revealed that the note Mary Alice was reading is the blackmail letter and that is the day she killed herself. An ambulance arrives and the neighbourhood shows up in force to find out what happened to Mary Alice complete with Martha Huber gossiping with other women about Mary Alice's suicide. Eli watches from afar and regrets having done nothing to stop Mary Alice's suicide. From that day forward, he makes a vow to not only fix people's belongings but their lives as much as he can as well.
Once again, Mary Alice is not part of a central storyline but continues to look over the neighborhood she left behind. Her old house is bought by the Bolen family. She makes one appearance in "Epiphany" where she brings Barbara, Eddie's mom, home from a bar when she left her son alone and scold her for bad parenting. At the end of the season finale, Mary Alice's husband, Paul, is released from jail and makes his epic return to Wisteria Lane.
Paul returns to Wisteria Lane as a series regular and brings his new wife, Beth, with him. Her old house was recently bought by her paroled husband. Her adopted son Zach also returned after it came to light that he shot Paul after the Wisteria Lane riot. Paul survives and discovers that Zach has wasted his fortune after developing a serious drug addiction. He blames Paul for the way his life turned out and Mary Alice's suicide. Soon enough though, Paul and Zach reconcile and he enters rehab. Paul's character later has a change of heart and rekindles a friendship with Susan, after years of feuding. In the season's end, Paul is held hostage by Felicia, who has returned to again seek revenge on Paul. When Felicia demands a confession from Paul over killing Martha, he indeed confesses but declares he is not sorry as Martha caused Mary Alice's suicide. Susan saves Paul, and after Felicia flees, she is killed in a car accident. Though free, Paul finally confesses to killing Martha and is taken away by the police.
More flashbacks reveal new information about her family before her death. The first of this occurs in episode two, where it is revealed that Mary Alice wanted to call her friends (after she received the note) but chose not to.
A few episodes later, a suicidal Bree talks to a hallucination of Mary Alice, asking her if she remembers how good things were on Wisteria Lane and whether not she is happy now in death, Mary Alice replies she is not unhappy and disappears when Bree picks up her gun.
The series finale opens with the day in which Mary Alice arrived on Wisteria Lane. Martha is the first to welcome her, but after Mary Alice seems unwilling to talk, Martha guesses Mary Alice is hiding something and made it her mission to find out what. At the end of the finale, Mary Alice's spirit is seen with the ghosts of all those who have died over the years on Wistera Lane, explaining her presence all this time has been in the hopes that they can give a message to those left behind that while their lives may be desperate, they are still worth living.
Despite being deceased, Mary Alice's voice has been heard in nearly every episode of the series; however, Rex Van de Kamp (played by Steven Culp) narrated the sixteenth episode of season three, "My Husband, the Pig" (though Mary Alice still provided narration for the opening "previously on Desperate Housewives" montage), and Edie Britt (played by Nicollette Sheridan) narrated the nineteenth episode of season five, "Look Into Their Eyes and You See What They Know". That episode had no "previously" montage, and is the only episode in the series in which Mary Alice is not seen or heard at all. In addition to this, she has appeared in person in several episodes. Besides "Pilot" (1.01), where she commits suicide, she has appeared in flashbacks and dream sequences in episodes: "Pretty Little Picture" (1.03), "Guilty" (1.08), "The Ladies Who Lunch" (1.16), "One Wonderful Day" (1.23), "There Is No Other Way" (2.16), "Remember" (2.23 and 2.24), "Bang" (3.07), "Smiles of a Summer Night" (4.02), "Free" (4.17), "The Best Thing That Ever Could Have Happened" (5.13), "Epiphany" (6.20), "Remember Paul?" (7.01), "Making the Connection" (8.02), "Putting It Together" (8.09), and the series finale, "Finishing the Hat" (8.23).
Both the character of Mary Alice and her narrations were well received by critics and even earned Strong some nominations and awards. In his review of the pilot, Tom Shales of The Washington Post complimented Mary Alice character's narrations. While reviewing the first season finale, Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly praised the conclusion to the Mary Alice mystery, calling it "both shocking and satisfying.". On the other hand, Ann Hodgman of Entertainment Weekly was negative in her review and criticized the writers' decision to devoting too much of the episode to the Mary Alice storyline rather than focusing on the other characters.
Strong was nominated two times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 2011 and 2012.
- Awards for Brenda Strong
- "Development Update: March 3". The Futon Critic. March 3, 2010. Retrieved August 22, 2010.
- McDougall, Charles (January 5, 2005). "Desperately seeking a ratings hit". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved August 15, 2010.
- Touchstone Television, pp. 96-99
- Audio commentary on "Pilot" with Marc Cherry. Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season. [DVD]. Touchstone Pictures. Retrieved March 19, 2011.
- Audio commentary on "One Wonderful Day" with Marc Cherry and Larry Shaw. Desperate Housewives: The Complete First Season. [DVD]. Touchstone Pictures.
- Brenda Strong promises 'Desperate Housewives' flashbacks, digital spy, July 26, 2011
- Shales, Tom (October 3, 2004). "'Housewives': Worth Staying at Home For". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2011.
- Ross, Dalton (September 27, 2005). "Desperate Housewives Season One DVD Review". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
- Hodgman, Ann (May 23, 2005). "Tidy Endings". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved July 11, 2011.
- "Primetime Emmy Awards nominations for 2011 - Outstanding Voice-Over Performance". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2012-07-19.
- "Emmys Press Release" (PDF). Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. 2012-07-19. Retrieved 2012-07-19.