The Pataki Files: Helga and the Nanny

This is out MUCH later than I originally anticipated! No excuses, I just suck as a blogger! Hope you stuck around for more in-depth analysis of the Pataki family! If you need a reminder on what the hell this is you can read the introductory piece and the first post about Olga’s homecoming!

In “Helga and The Nanny,” we get to see how Helga reacts when a positive but unfamiliar force enters her household. When Miriam gets community service (drunk driving? In other episodes it’s mentioned that Miriam has also lost her license), Bob hires a live-in nanny to pick up the slack. Nanny Inga is the embodiment maternal nurturing, with just the right blend of firmness and encouragement. When Inga attempts to create structure for Helga (forcing her to eat a healthy breakfast, giving her afterschool schedules, etc.), it shows the viewer how thoroughly normalized neglect is in the Pataki household. Helga perceives the introduction of a positive authority figure as a threat because she’s spent most of her life cultivating fierce independence as a method for coping with her parents’ behavior.

Helga resists Nanny Inga to the point of actively sabotaging her: she frames Inga for the theft of Bob’s prized beeper belt, effectively destroying any chance she has at a future career in housekeeping or childcare. As in “Olga Comes Home,” Helga feels briefly victorious before her conscience gets the better of her, riddling her dreams (once again) with bizarre, guilt-fueled imagery. During their last meeting, Inga, who earlier in the episode pointed out that Helga was a “nervous child,” says bluntly that if Helga continues to shut out the good influences in her life, she’ll never be able to work through all of her anger and will ultimately suffer. Never before has someone seen through Helga so easily and the fact that all of her vulnerabilities are so transparent to Nanny Inga leaves Helga deeply shaken.

Nanny Inga’s spot-on assessment of Helga’s demeanor leads into one of the most profound scenes in all of children’s television: Helga has achieved her end, Nanny Inga is long gone, and things are back to normal in the Pataki house. Helga grabs the mail while Bob shouts at a despondent Miriam, who has a drink in hand; the yelling continues as she returns upstairs and can still be heard as she reads a postcard from Inga, who hopes her home life is back to normal. Helga looks up sadly as the screams from downstairs continue, and you can see that she’s wondering if just maybe, this isn’t really what she wants but merely what she’s used to. She then picks up the needlepoint that Inga recommended to soothe her nerves, and starts to sew.

In this scene we get a sense of how truly troubled Helga’s psyche is. She’s so caught up in protecting herself and maintaining the status quo (because change is scary, and how do you cope with change when you’ve been navigating an emotionally abusive  landscape your entire life?) that she doesn’t realize until it’s too late that things could have been different if she’d been able to let down her walls. Where is the line between self-preservation and accepting help when you’re a young child who has had to learn the arts of deflection, defensiveness and violence? How do you figure out how and when to cross it? “Helga and the Nanny” brings these questions to the forefront but offers no easy answers.

What do you think about Helga’s coping mechanism and how do you think Nanny Inga could have helped Helga if she hadn’t been pushed away? Comment to let me know and hopefully the next Pataki Files will be out in the coming weeks!

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