CBC’s Alias Grace
Directed by Mary Harron
Written by Sarah Polley
* For a recap & review of Part 3, click here.
* For a recap & review of Part 5, click here.
Grace (Sarah Gadon) and the other women in prison witness the whipping of a woman while they eat breakfast. Normal day at Kingston Penitentiary. Soon, she’s taken up to the house, to talk with Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft). He’s busy still having daydreams about her, falling for his patient.
He also wants to talk about James McDermott (Kerr Logan), reading the man’s confession where it paints a picture of a jealous Grace, the green eyed monster focused on Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin), apparently. “She‘s not better born than we are,” Grace told him. So he claimed. She doesn’t particularly deny the story, though in not many words she passes it off.
She tells him more about her and Nancy’s relationship around the house. They were a little close, but the hierarchy around Thomas Kinnear’s (Paul Gross) place was evident. One day when James isn’t around, she has to kill a chicken on her own. This prompts Nancy to treat her like trash, all but throwing her out of the house, demanding she kill their food. Grace is able to get Jamie Walsh (Stephen Joffe) to help her, a young man who also works for Mr. Kinnear, and it gets Nancy interested in her personal life, of course.
People at the local church seem to have their ideas about Mr. Kinnear, one woman (Margaret Atwood) calls it “an outrage” having him there. They don’t stay, either, after Nancy wants to leave rather than be stared at the whole time. Grace talks about church, how people act as if being there is the only God is with them; elsewhere they do what they want, dropping the act. But God “cannot be caged in as men can.”
Nancy decides it’s time McDermott finishes employment at the house. He’s got no job come end of the month. Not easy any time, certainly not easy back then. Especially for a misogynistic arsehole like James. He winds up revealing to Grace that Kinnear and Nancy sleep together, as if it weren’t already obvious; such is the sweet innocence of Grace, at the time.
Eventually Grace calls Nancy out and gets a slap across the face from her. Gradually, we see our lady being warped. By the way Nancy treats her, by how McDermott pours his poison in her ear. He actually mentions knocking them in the head, throwing them down the cellar. Very specific, no?
We’re seeing all different sides of possible truths. Grace claims one thing; McDermott another. We see both, literally. Yet staunchly, she denies any wrongdoing, despite what her Irish friend said in his confession before his hanging. She also talks to Dr. Jordan about loneliness. How bad things were in the asylum, at prison. How cruel were the punishments of being locked in a coffin-like box, stood up, left there endlessly. Not to mention the “liberties” taken by various men, winding up in a “delicate condition” when she was leaving the asylum. Ugly, violent male behaviour.
“The road to death is a lonely highway, and longer than it appears. Even when it leads straight down from the scaffold by way of a rope. And it‘s a dark road, with never any moon shining on it to light your way.”
On her birthday, Grace was given the afternoon free by Nancy. She went for a walk by herself, enjoying a beautiful day, picking flowers; time to herself, for herself. A rare occurrence in the life of any woman in the 1800s. Jamie shows up, asking to be her sweetheart. She lets him down fairly easy. And from afar watches Mr. Kinnear, he asks her what they were doing in the orchard together, as if suspicious, or jealous. Then, as expected, Nancy is right back to being herself, weird and passive aggressive. Plus McDermott acting jealous to boot like an angry idiot.
One good thing – Jeremiah (Zachary Levi) arrives at the house. They sit for a drink, he tells her he’s going giving up peddling to be a hypnotist. The new fad, all that spiritualism infecting the people of the 19th century. He goes on to warn about Kinnear, his “appetite” for servant girls, the talk of the town that everybody’s heard of plenty. He’s scared for her, wanting Grace to go away with him elsewhere. She doesn’t like the idea, if they don’t get married, which he doesn’t seem to believe in. Soon enough McDermott comes in, running her friend off. That lad is bad news, for sure.
“When a man gets a habit, it is hard for him to break it, like a dog gone bad.”
Grace notices a doctor come by one day. Then she’s seeing Nancy throw up, ordering her to clean the vomit. Safe to say, she’s probably up the duff with the master of the house’s child. Aside from that, Kinnear seems to have started admiring the young servant, leering at her silently. What would he do once he figured out his mistress was pregnant?
That night, Grace hears Nancy talking about her, planning to possibly let her go along with McDermott. The mistress really doesn’t like that the master finds his servant attractive.
Grace dreams that night of men surrounding her, George Parkinson (Will Bowes), Kinnear, McDermott, all grabbing her, touching her. Afterwards, she sees sheets in the trees outside the house, like angels, or ghosts. When she woke, the sheets she’d hung had blown into a tree.
And we’re always left wondering, is Grace telling the truth? Is she telling any of us the truth? One of the reasons I love the miniseries is how they capture the truth v. lies theme that Atwood’s book tackled so well. Grace is a dichotomy, you can never tell for sure what she’s thinking, if she’s lying or being truthful.
Can’t wait for Part 5.