Is It Wrong to Cheer Cheating on Television?

From THE GOOD WIFE to ONCE UPON A TIME we are seeing a renaissance of cheating.  Dare we speculate that “cheating” is being seen as an accepted form of relationships in modern day television?  And the real question becomes: but should it be?
Unexplained phone calls, illicit meetings and furtive glances can only mean one thing: somebody’s cheating.  When it debuted, THE GOOD WIFE was a scathing admonishment of cheating husbands everywhere.   We felt the betrayal and anger in every fiber of Alicia Florrick’s being as she steeled herself against her inner broken-heart and tried to recover from the one thing a woman can never forgive:  a cheating husband.  In her case, her husband did not just have one affair or even a fling, he was a flagrant cheater, who met with prostitutes and slept with co-workers.  He had not just ignored his wedding vow of fidelity; he acted like sex as currency in his profession was accepted.  The show was a rallying cry for scorned women everywhere. 
Then a curious thing happened, the show began to tiptoe into the treacherous waters of testing the marital bonds.  At the end of the second season, Alicia decided to throw caution to the wind and embarked on a secret affair of her own with her boss Will Gardner.  In her defense, Alicia had the decency to throw her husband out first – creating a fine-line that she was technically separated at the time of her affair.  But she never fully committed to the idea of actually leaving her husband as she put the brakes on her initial plan to divorce him quickly and quietly.  Instead, she chose to use her affair as a weapon – as a way of striking back at the man who had done the exact same thing to her.  It may be even more egregious, as this time he knew perfectly well what was going on and why she was doing it.  When Peter had his affairs, he did everything he could to hide those trysts.  Alicia was discrete, but she knew that her husband was aware that she had decided to punish him.  This was not the punishment of just separation, but humiliation.  She wanted to inflict pain.  What is perhaps just as wrong was how much the viewing audience applauded what she did.  In those final moments of the 2nd season when Alicia agreed to accompany Will to a hotel room, the fans roared with approval.  Alicia was not only declaring herself a free woman, she was exacting a deserved revenge on her despicable husband.
But should we have cheered?  Shouldn’t we have shook our heads with dismay that Alicia did not take the high road and succumbed to the temptation for payback?  A stronger woman would have tossed Peter out, filed immediately for divorce and never looked back.  However, that is not what Alicia did.  She strategically thought about it and found a more satisfying way to make Peter pay for the years of lying, deceit, humiliation and pain that she suffered.  She would make him suffer too – and she knew perfectly well that her affair could not be kept a secret.  Affairs are always revealed.  In fact, in the episode entitled “Another Ham Sandwich,” Alicia was forced to admit under oath before a grand jury of her dalliance with her boss.  After which her first thought was to rush home and tell her children before they heard about it through the news, but due to unrelated legal maneuvering the grand jury testimony remained sealed and Alicia was able to postpone the inevitable revelation to her kids.  In that moment, Alicia unconsciously acknowledged the wrongness of her actions – she was keeping it from her children and she was horrified that they may find out.  This was not a relationship that she was proud of, nor one that she intended to pursue.  It had merely served as a way to strike back at her philandering husband for his past affairs.  It worked.  But given the thorny legal situation that it has now placed Alicia, she must be rethinking her hasty and ill-advised actions.  One day soon she will be asking herself: was it worth it?  And she will be forced to admit that it wasn’t.  It could cost her the perception of the “good wife” and the “good mother” in her children’s eyes, as well as her peers, co-workers and the public at-large.   Her high moral ground will be stripped away. If she had really wanted to pursue a relationship with Will Gardner, she should have done so openly and informed the world of her separation and intent to divorce.  Otherwise, she is just engaging in the same despicable conduct that she had “flayed” her husband for.  Cheating is cheating.  Are we supposed to cheer for it?
Another prime example that recently was splashed across television screens was in the fairytale series ONCE UPON A TIME.  As viewers, we know that the Evil Queen put a curse on the inhabitants of Storybrooke, Maine and that they are actually characters from the classic fairytales.  Thus, we know that Snow White married Prince Charming and that they had a baby girl named Emma – and that 28 years later Emma, as a grown woman, has returned to break the curse and restore the “happy endings.”  The one real wrinkle is that Emma is not really a believer in this alternate verse — and the inhabitants themselves have no memory of their former lives. 
So in Mary Margaret’s mind, she is just a single schoolteacher who helps out at the hospital; and David Nolan is only a man who lost his memory of his life prior to an accident and wakes up to find out that he is married.  In the episode entitled “7:15 a.m.”, Mary Margaret and David struggled against temptation and their mutual attraction, but it was to no avail.  The episode ended with them passionately kissing as Regina glared in the background.  Then in the episode entitled “Fruit of the Poisonous Tree,” David and Mary Margaret snuck away for a romantic picnic.  The picnic should have been completely heart-warming and romantic since Mary Margaret (aka Snow White) and David (aka Prince Charming) had circumvented the Evil Queen’s curse and found each other once again. 
Instead, as viewers, we were forced to feel like we were party to an illicit rendezvous.  David has known from the moment he found out that he had a wife, that he no longer had feelings for her and that she was not the right woman to have in his life.  It was initially honorable that he returned home with Kathryn and tried to work things out and participated in marriage counseling.  But once David realized that his heart wasn’t in it and that he wanted to pursue a relationship with Mary Margaret, he should have been open about it and left his wife.  Continuing to live with Kathryn and deceive her about his feelings and their relationship is wrong.  It was equally wrong for Mary Margaret to agree to see David, sneaking around like it is so romantic to have an affair.  Worse yet, it was wrong for a show that touts itself as a family-show to make its audience (which is comprised of younger viewers) a party to such conduct.  Do we want our children thinking it is okay to cheat?
How hard is it for people to simply declare their feelings openly to another person for the whole world to see and be honest about their relationships?  Secret relationships are permitted, so long as no one else is being hurt, such as a spouse, girlfriend or “significant other.”  Being dishonest with another person who thinks that they have an exclusive relationship is wrong.
In ONCE UPON A TIME, the writers have taken two cheer-worthy heroes (Snow White and Prince Charming) and turned them into caricatures of their former selves.  In the fairytale world, Snow White did the honorable thing and forsook Prince Charming to protect him and then took the memory-erase potion so that she would not be a threat to him in the future.  Snow White was strong enough to do that.  Yet we are asked to believe that the same exact woman, known as Mary Margaret in Storybrooke, then agrees sneak around and have an affair? It not only doesn’t fit the woman we knew, it also sends the wrong message about her relationship with her true love. For true love waits — he does not ask one to participate in an affair that will only hurt others.   So if Mary Margaret and David feel like there are destined to be together, then why not declare it openly?  Why doesn’t David just leave Kathryn? 
Cheating is wrong for so many reasons, but mostly because it’s intent is to cause another person pain.  It is not to prevent pain.  That’s just the excuse that cheaters use.  They always claim that they lie, deceive and sneak around to protect others.  But really it is because they know their actions will cause pain – and they are secretly pleased by it.  It makes them feel powerful.  But power is not derived from inflicting pain on others. Power is earned.  Thus power gained through pain and deceit is an abuse – and that is exactly what cheating is at its core:  it is abusive.  It forces the knowing and the unknowingly deceived party into an abusive relationship.
We should not have felt pity and empathy for Kathryn, but after seeing how little David respects her and the pain he is willing to inflict upon her, she deserves our support.  David has just forced his wife into an abusive relationship – and that is not something I can cheer for. 
It is time for our heroes and the characters we cheer for to start acting like heroes – and heroes never have to cheat.  If you love someone, be honest about it; and if you don’t love someone, but just as honest about that.  Move on, move-out and stop abusing the other person just because you don’t love them anymore. 
Would we have cheered any less if Alicia had been honest about her sexual relationship with Will?  Or would we have cheered less if David had left his wife and then took Mary Margaret on a picnic?  Absolutely not.  In fact, we would have cheered louder.  We applaud and root for strong characters taking a definitive stand on what they want and tenaciously pursuing it.  Let’s honor our characters and let them act more honorably.  Let’s stop celebrating cheaters and start celebrating honesty and integrity. 
Yes, it’s only television.  But shouldn’t we still expect more from our fictional heroes?

Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).

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  • kbecks

    If Alicia divorced Peter right away, what would happen to his chances of running for governor? Plus, I never thought she slept with Will because she wanted to exact revenge. Hmm.

  • April

    I agree wholeheartedly. I was very disappointed with the adultery theme in Once Upon a Time because my 12 year old daughter loves that series. 

  • Diana

    The really cheating here is David with Kathryn….cause David is James and James is married with Snow aka Mary M.