CBC’s Alias Grace
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley
* For a recap & review of Part 1, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 3, click here.
Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) finds himself dreaming about Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), holding her close in the midst of the penitentiary’s yard. He’s quickly back to real life. In his office, Mrs. Humphrey (Sarah Manninen) collapses, she isn’t well. Neither is life in general going well. She hasn’t eaten since her husband left recently. And so the good doctor buys food for the house, advancing “two months rent” for her to take care of things in the interim. She’s a little affectionate towards him, naturally, making him uncomfortable. Whereas he was just longing in dreams for Grace.
Speaking of our lady, she’s at work sewing, taking care of things around the house where she works. When Dr. Jordan arrives, they speak of dreams. She tells him she doesn’t remember any, though we see a vision of Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin) near a rose garden, a cut ripping across her forehead; she begins falling, grabs her throat. Then quickly, back to reality.
Grace talks more of her good friend Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), a wild spirit, a free woman in her heart. At night, the two women play a game with an apple peel, a superstition-style game; peeled in one piece, Grace tosses it behind her as her friend asks “Who shall we marry?” But when Mary tries, she cuts herself on the knife while peeling, ending their game.
Saddest is how they’re young, yet their lives already revolving entirely around men. Not by choice. Even Grace, she was forced out of the house by a revolting father, but it was more a choice of getting abused constantly, or working and sending money back home eternally. An entire life shaped by the horror of men.
Another free spirit, Jeremiah Pontelli (Zachary Levi), shows up to peddle his wares to the women at the Parkinson home, Mrs. Honey (Elizabeth Saunders) even in her experienced years not immune to his charm. He does a good magic trick, too. Had his “pocket picked” and his “heart broken” enough to learn some tricks of his own, he says. Afterwards, he looks into Grace’s palm, seeing something foreboding. Although he tells her: “You will cross water three times. You will have much trouble. But all will be fine in the end. You are one of us.”
We see bits of how difficult it was to be a women in their time. Can’t even go to the outhouse at night without a partner, or else bad things might happen. And it’d be blamed on the woman if anything did. As Grace says, a woman can’t “let her guard down.” Juxtaposed with this harsh, tragic lesson of womanhood, she wakes one morning to find she’s had her first period, believing that she’s dying like her mother. Luckily, she’s got Mary to guide her. Yet it’s still a nasty life being a woman amongst men and their misogyny. As I write this recap and review, we’re facing the Harvey Weinstein situation, all its hideousness: things have changed, but not really, not for women.
George Parkinson (Will Bowes) had to stay at home for a long while, feeling ill. He was left with so much time on his hands, nothing to do. The whole house full of women waiting on him hand and foot. Suddenly, Mary’s also very cold towards Grace. Everything’s changed, they no longer have fun together at work, no more joking. Mary’s feeling sick herself. Because she’s up the duff with George’s baby. He’s turned his back on her, as well. So convenient for men, to do what they wish then walk away when it’s inconvenient. Mary’s left to try getting him to help. What does the man do? Hands her “five dollars.” So, she has to find work somewhere where they’ll allow her to work pregnant, likely in horrible conditions.
Or, an illegal abortion. She writes a note, claiming that if she perishes then all her things go to Grace. Her faithful friend goes with her to the doctor, but Mary heads in for the procedure alone. All the horrific bits of womanhood, the things women face because of men, thrown at Ms. Marks, so quickly, so brutal. It’s awful. Particularly when Mary’s screams are heard and she comes bursting out in a terrible state.
Grace: “It was either one corpse that way, or two the other.”
Our lady tried taking care of her friend. Until one day she woke to a cold, dead Mary in bed. A true tragic end for the young woman. Thus leading others to the discovery of the “bad business” involved in her agonising death. An even sadder moment is when Grace doesn’t know if her friend’s faking, having once faked a death-like moment with her in the laundry.
Later, Grace goes into a state of disembodied shock yelling to the others: “Where is Grace?”
“For it is not always the one who strikes the blow that is the actual murderer.”
This series has started out so strong, at a particularly relevant time here at the tail end of 2017. When so many women are finally able to come forward without (as much) fear as before, that their stories might not believed. Grace Marks isn’t entirely the best historical example, as there are many questions about the factual authenticity to certain claims.
However, there’s so much in her story that plays out as a microcosm of what all women go through in the course of their lives. Being a woman is harder than being a man; any man who can’t admit that doesn’t understand history, the balance of power between genders, and likely feels a false sense of constructed masculinity that’s unwilling to let them see a woman’s perspective clearly.
Can’t wait for Part 3.