Alias Grace Episodes 4 – 6

Episode 4


In this episode, the story slows down, and possibly sags if you’re feeling less charitable. But the wealth of detail about the dynamics in the Kinnear household, and in Grace’s own head, in the days leading up to the murders provides plenty of food for thought.

The mix of dreams, reality, and unreliable narration is ramped up, with Dr. Jordan recounting McDermott’s version of events, in which Grace was an ice-cold schemer who egged him on to kill Nancy and Kinnear. Now we see it acted out as we’ve seen Grace’s version all along, and Jordan presses Grace as to whether this isn’t really how it happened.

In Grace’s telling, she’s minding her own business, trying to navigate the men’s harassment and Nancy’s unpredictable moods, when McDermott, in a fit of temper after being fired, tells her that Kinnear has been sleeping with Nancy for years, and the whole neighborhood knows it. This is what I mean about the show losing its way somewhat; it feels unlikely that after all she’s seen Grace would remain this clueless about the exact nature of Nancy and Kinnear’s relationship, and I’m also not clear on what she thinks the people in church are judging them about if it isn’t that.

At any rate, it causes Grace, who isn’t without her ample share of Victorian awe for convention, to lose respect for Nancy (she says nothing about Kinnear), and it crystallizes her lurking misgivings about her new job into a resentment of having been “tricked and imposed upon” to clean up after a woman who has no right, according to society, to live the way she does. When Jeremiah comes to visit, he tells her he doesn’t like the atmosphere of the place, and he’s worried that Kinnear’s penchant for servant girls will soon extend to her. He’s going to go be a hypnotist in America, and he invites her to come along as his “medical clairvoyant.” She’s tempted (me too, Grace), but she’s not about to live on the road with a man she’s not married to — now less than ever — and Jeremiah, for all his charms, isn’t willing to put a ring on it.

Soon enough Grace learns that Nancy is pregnant, and it fills her with foreboding about what’s to become of this house. She has a vivid dream of walking outside, where she is kissed and held (much as Dr. Jordan likes to picture) by the various men who have preyed on her — McDermott, George Parkinson, Kinnear, and her father — before tearing herself away. On the way back inside, she sees an omen: “I saw headless angels in bloody robes. They were sitting in silent judgment upon Mr. Kinnear’s house, and on all within it.” When she wakes up in the morning, her feet are dirty, and she realizes she really did go outside. Thus, for a second time she knows of, she’s had an episode where she can’t remember what she was doing.

Watching Dr. Jordan write this story down, Grace smiles to herself. In her narration, she explains that it’s because she feels good that she’s giving him information he seems to want: “And I thought to myself, I wonder what you will make of all that.” This injects more ambiguity into both the truthfulness of her account and the possible reasons she might lie.

Stray observations:

  • Kinnear has some fellow onetime rebellion-putter-downers to reminisce with him over dinner. The dialogue in this series is normally incredible, which makes it even more jarring when one of them utters this abomination, which would stand out as terrible even in an average show: “And she was screaming, ‘My farm! My life!’ And do you remember? Tom says, ‘Your burning farm is not your problem, it is your disgusting rebel husband!’” And then he killed all the Tuskens, presumably.
  • Nancy has an excellent Lucille Bluth-like moment when Grace is bringing the wine into the dining room and she sticks her glass in the way without looking up.
  • Margaret Atwood has a cameo in the church scene as the prig whispering that Kinnear and Nancy appearing together is “an outrage. An outrage!”
  • Fainting count: 0

Foreshadowing/symbolism alert:

  • Nancy mentions to Kinnear that she’s heard Grace talking aloud to herself. We’ve never seen her do that, but it’s not exactly implausible.
  • Grace tells Jordan how angry it made her to think that Nancy would be rewarded for getting pregnant out of wedlock with a rich man’s child, while Mary had died for the same thing. Repeated by Mary’s voice, her own initial reaction, ”It cannot be,” changes in meaning, from “It’s impossible that this is true” to “This can’t be allowed to happen.” And Mary will make sure that it doesn’t.
  • “What are you doing in McDermott’s loft?” asks Jamie when he sees her, sounding alarmed. He’s probably worried that he’s losing ground to the older, hotter man. When Grace and McDermott ran off together after the murders, he could hardly have reached any other conclusion, which contributed to his reasons for testifying against her.

Episode 5


Now we get down to it. Dr. Jordan thinks he’s on the verge of drawing out the crucial memory Grace claims to lack, and according to Reverend Verringer he’s also on the verge of having his reputation ruined if it gets out that he’s now living alone with Mrs Humphrey. This subplot isn’t too well developed — however obligated he felt to help her out when she ran out of money, I think I’d starting looking for another place once I found myself also cooking meals, paying someone to clean, and being sexually harassed in the middle of the night. But it adds some urgency to Jordan’s goal, and just as he thinks he might be getting there, along comes Jeremiah — sorry, Dr. Jerome Dupont, who’s made good on his intentions of becoming a hypnotist and shows up at the governor’s mansion out of the blue to see what he can do for Grace.

Jeremiah assumes, of course, that she’ll pretend to be hypnotized, tell a story that protests her innocence, and spring herself from jail. (Whether he thinks she really is innocent or not is anyone’s guess.) But for Grace it’s not that simple. The night before her last session with Jordan, she runs through the possibilities in her mind. According to her narration, she has no idea what did or didn’t happen at the farm, and she doesn’t know what she’s going tell him. Again she hears Mary’s voice, telling her to unlock the door, open the window, let her in. And in the morning, Jordan tells her this isn’t about whether she’s criminally guilty or not — he only wants to know what’s in her mind.

What she tells him is more than she seemed to know during the night. In this version, Nancy abruptly tells her and McDermott they’re to leave tomorrow, and it’s afterwards, over a drink, that McDermott says he’s going to kill them. This time he means it, and Grace tries to warn Nancy, but she doesn’t take it seriously. That night, Grace dreams that Mary visits her, and she tries one last time to let her soul go free, but to no avail. And then she dreams of Nancy’s death, the wound on her forehead and the hand grasping at her throat, despite not yet knowing how it’s going to happen.

Grace spends the moment of McDermott’s first assault in the vegetable garden, watching the snails. She insists to Jordan that she can’t remember anything else until Kinnear came home and McDermott shot him. Then she tried to run, but fainted from fear, and she can’t remember anything after that either. Jordan reads her Jamie Walsh’s account, that she was awake and lying to him about Nancy and Kinnear’s whereabouts during the time she claims to have been unconscious. She attributes this to his wanting to see her condemned.

Jordan finally leaves town after Mrs. Humphrey tries to rape him, and Grace narrates the rest of the night’s events to nobody. She says that the next thing she remembers is briefly waking up on the wagon as she and McDermott fled the house, and after that, being on the ground with him on top of her. She screams and struggles, and he says she was the one who came on to him, just like she was the one who instigated the murders. He keeps saying that she agreed to marry him, and she comes to think he’s insane. Before long they’re arrested, and she tells herself that if she tells the police everything she remembers, they’ll have to let her go.

Stray observations:

  • Fainting count: 3 (Grace, seeing Jeremiah, being shot at, being sentenced to death)

Episode 6


Grasping at straws, Dr. Jordan meets Grace’s lawyer (Albert Schultz), who suggests she’s just prolonging their sessions because she’s infatuated with him, and claims he had the same experience. He also says he believes Grace is guilty. Back in Kingston, Jordan gives in and agrees that Jeremiah should hypnotize Grace, even though she protests that she might not want her memory back after all.

So they try it. The hypnotism scene in which “Mary” explains that she seduced McDermott and killed Nancy is staged as the classic ghost-story setup it is, with the audience assembled: Jordan the skeptic; Verringer, who takes “Dr. Dupont’s” word that this is a scientific method; and the members of the spiritualist society, who are ready to eat up any nonsense put in front of them. All are called out by Mary as hypocrites and frauds.

Does Grace have dissociative personality disorder, or is it all an act, or is this a supernatural story and Mary’s spirit really is sharing Grace’s body? I have no preference between the first two, but I don’t like to think that of Mary. In life she wasn’t the type to be jealous, vengeful or violent. Why should she want to kill Nancy? Dr. Jordan’s theory, that hypnosis is so popular with women of this time period because it gives them a pretext for saying things they could never otherwise say, makes the most sense, but it still doesn’t tell us whether Grace is doing it consciously or unconsciously.

So Jordan is left frustrated after all, unable to write a report because he has no idea what the truth is. The Mrs. Humphrey subplot takes it last and weirdest turn as Jordan has sex with her in her house (from which all the furniture is gone), then cruelly tells her he wishes it was someone else, and bangs his head against the wall a couple of times before leaving. He’s going back to America to fight in the Civil War, hoping to forget Grace.

Eleven years later, Grace is pardoned, and she moves to America and accepts an offer of marriage from Jamie Walsh, now convinced of her innocence and remorseful for the part he played in her conviction. We learn that the narration we’ve been hearing, addressed to Dr. Jordan, is a long letter she’s writing from her new home, and she gives the clearest indication yet that she’s been unreliable: she tells him that although she’s happy with Jamie, she feels she’s playing a role in the same way she used to do with him, and she “may have changed some of the details” of her story to suit each audience. And in the story’s final comment on memory and truth, we can’t be sure that Jordan will ever know this, because he’s unresponsive following brain damage sustained in the war.

Stray observations:

  • If I were Nancy, I’m not sure how I would feel about being included in Grace’s quilt (nor am I remotely convinced it’s realistic that she would have been allowed to keep her own petticoat, let alone the dress she stole from Nancy). Her border of snakes is extremely badass, however.
  • My compliments to the makeup department for not overdoing it with Grace and Jamie.
  • As I said in the first recap, I haven’t read the novel Alias Grace, but Grace’s unease about Jamie’s eagerness to hear all about her worst experiences in the asylum and prison, and to excoriate himself for helping cause them and beg her forgiveness, reminded me of one of the most striking parts of The Handmaid’s Tale: when the regime first starts curtailing women’s rights, and the narrator suspects her husband of secretly enjoying his new power over her, if only because it allows him to show what a good guy he is for not taking advantage of it.
  • Fainting count: 0