Hulu’s Into the Dark
Season 1, Episode 8: “All That We Destroy”
Directed by Chelsea Stardust
Written by Jim Agnew & Sean Keller
* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “I’m Just Fucking With You” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “They Come Knocking” – click here
A woman’s face emerges from a black substance. She washes off in the shower. After that she’s dressed by Dr. Victoria Harris (Samantha Mathis), her makeup is done, her hair brushed, and when she’s ready she lies waiting in bed.
She wakes later to find herself with Spencer Harris (Israel Broussard). He pours wine, playing “Every Time I Think of You” by The Babys. He acts like she should know who he is, but she can’t remember anything. So he chokes her, slamming her head into the floor until there’s a sickening thud. In parallel to the opening where she wakes up, Ashley (Aurora Perrineau) lies with a black pool of blood seeping from her skull.
Spencer drags the body outside, disposing of it in a steel drum at the side of the house just as his mother Victoria gets home. He tells her “it‘s done.” She passes him a journal, asking him if it felt “any different.” He’s in a pissy mood, replying: “It didn‘t feel anything like her.”
Dr. Harris has a small lab at home. She’s got lots of stuff written on a whiteboard. She has a steel tub with a pool of black liquid inside and a high-tech computer on which she keeps her research. Victoria gets a call on the computer from Parker (Frank Whaley)— their digital conversation occurs in a hyperreal projected environment, so while she places a tiny device on her temple, she’s walking on a nature path with him. He’s concerned for her safety, suggesting mom start surveillance on her son 24/7.
Next time Ashley wakes up, she and Spencer are being watched. The troubled mother has to witness everything her doubly troubled son does. Spencer plays The Babys again, trying to elicit a reaction from Ashley, whose memory’s not returning. He starts to strangle her again while Victoria watches.
We see a memory of Spencer’s— he was out in the desert, where he saw Ashley get kicked out of a vehicle in the middle of nowhere. He told her she wasn’t heading the right way. He walked with her back towards his house. They introduced themselves, and she managed to get him to offer up his jacket.
Just a small clue. We’ll see the full scope of what happened eventually.
We hear of Victoria’s company, Harris Genetics. They’re about to introduce “the world‘s first custom grown cloned organs,” trying to corner the market on transplants. She doesn’t feel any complicity in what her son’s doing. She does’t really seem to have any qualms about the ethical implications. Interesting, in a day and age where the feminisation of artificial intelligence is of major concern. Also interesting because Victoria’s own people at the company clearly don’t know what she’s doing at home.
While Spencer’s out for a walk he runs into a woman outside her home. Her name’s Marissa (Dora Madison). She just got home from law school, disillusioned and hoping to do something creative instead. He helps her take a few things inside the house. Obvious he’s struggling with murderous misogynistic impulses. He doesn’t kill her, though. She shows up that evening with cookies as a thank you. Mom’s surprised. Nonetheless, these two spend more time together. Spencer draws one of his incredible, surreal portraits for her. Yet each time he’s around her he struggles not to put his hands around her throat.
More of the day Spencer met Ashley. Back at his place, he showed her around, and she took a moment to snort a line in the bathroom. They had a drink of wine together. She asked to hear The Babys and the music plays.
Back to the current moment, as Victoria prepares Ashley Prime, telling the artificial girl about what her son likes, suggesting things she ought to say. They go meet Spencer and mom leaves them alone. He puts on The Babys. Ashley asks about his sketches and the portraits. All the while Victoria waits outside the door, sure that any moment her boy will begin to murder again. And, as expected, he does, leaving another body to be put in the “bio–composter” outside.
“A butterfly only changes once”
The son laments he usually feels smothered by a “horrible, invisible nothingness.” (Father Gore wonders if there’s any chance Spencer could be a synthetic human, too? Just a quick thought.) Spencer feels free again, for the first time in a long time. He thanks his mother, hugging her close.
Back in that projected environment, Dr. Harris tells Parker about the progress she’s made with her boy, which they both see as a hopeful sign. The kid has’t hugged mom in years, suggestive of psychopathy. Can human cloning truly help a murderer become normal again? Or, will he always need “his fix“?
More of that fateful night between Spencer and Ashley. We find them dancing to The Babys. She showed him her tattoo, of Ouroboros— on the nose, but perfect imagery. After a bit he threw her around, gripping her throat tight and choking her while slamming her head brutally into the hardwood floor beneath them. Blood seeped from her skull and from her nose as he watched her die. Later, Victoria came home to realise what happened. She already knew something was wrong with her son anyway.
Cut to another Ashley Prime being born out of the black liquid. Victoria’s starting to doubt the process, though continues repeating it. She helps Ashley get dressed and ready. Then the young synthetic woman reawakens, believing she had an accident, just like all the other versions of herself. Victoria shows Ashley a video of Spencer as a boy, playing with their dog Max. She also shows her Max’s grave. They had another dog, Lucky, who likewise died. “Everything dies,” Victoria says.
Is this what she tells herself? That every death “is a tragedy“?
Further backstory comes out when Spencer goes to an art gallery with Marissa. He tells her he’s been home-schooled since the 6th grade, after his mom took him out of regular classes and they moved to their isolated house. He shoved a little girl off a jungle gym as a kid. “I wanted to be king,” he says— a grim microcosm of toxic masculinity in young boys. The girl died in hospital days after the incident. Marissa doesn’t judge Spencer. Instead she shows him one of his portraits she’s had displayed in the gallery. When she drops him off that night, she sees a glimpse of Ashley upstairs and starts to get curious.
Speaking of Ashley, she’s having memories. Little snippets of a life coming back to her. She feels like she’s choking. Only it’s more than “just a dream” like Victoria tries to frame it. Ashley’s gradually recalling all those times she’s been technologically reincarnated. And Dr. Harris is beginning to feel the sting of morality. She talks with Parker about it and they don’t see eye to eye. Oh, and he’s Spencer’s father! Yikes.
Ashley’s figuring things out on her own. She finds the claw marks of her fingers left in the floorboards of Spencer’s room. She discovers the sketches he’s done of her face in various forms. Simultaneously, Marissa sneaks around the house trying to find out who the girl is she saw there recently.
On top of everything else, Dr. Mathis has to meet the board at her company to explain what she’s been up to and reassure everybody things are fine. This leaves Ashley locked in her room and Spencer home alone. Probably not good, right? And at home, Marissa looks into Ashley after snapping a pic of her— she finds a Wanted poster, stating Ashley committed armed robbery and fraud. She then contacts Spencer, and Victoria intercepts it, monitoring all her son’s communications.
Marissa goes to the house, attempting to tell Spencer what she found. She worries he might be in danger. He’s his old self fully again now that his secretive inner world is threatened. He slams Marissa around, gripping her throat like he’s done so many times already to Ashley. Marissa manages to crack him with a bottle, calling 911 with voice recognition. Spencer stabs her with a shard of glass, just as his mother gets back.
Ashley stumbles into the lab after getting out of her room, seeing all the evidence of the cloning experiments, all sorts of pictures from the real Ashley’s life. She sees the tub of black liquid from which she’s been re-birthed, over and over. She finds videos of Victoria’s experiments. When Dr. Harris goes to start the composter, she comes upon Ashley wielding the hammer. The artificial woman attacks, though she’s interrupted by Spencer. She punches him in the balls (yas, queen!) and makes a run for it outside to hide. When she gets the chance she punches him in the face, then she strangles him, smashing his head into the ground right when sirens and lights flood the neighbourhood.
Ashley’s put in a police car, while Victoria weeps over he dead son in the driveway. In the aftermath, the mother shreds all her files and all the evidence of her sick experiments. Parker tries telling her to cauterise the wound and be done with her boy. Victoria’s done with her husband, cutting herself off from him digitally.
That’s when she births a new son, ready to try it all over again.
And the cycles continue, perpetuated into oblivion by those who enable their existence.
“You’re a shadow—
a memory of someone.”
How long do parents allow the toxicity of their sons’ actions to go on before they admit there’s a problem? How long does a love for one’s own flesh and blood excuse their horrible behaviour? Look at the parents of rapist piece of shit Brock Turner, for one of many examples out there. At a certain point, the excuses must stop, or else the misogyny’s no longer the problem of the son, it becomes the legacy of a family— and of whole generations. One image specifically— of the tangled nest art piece at the gallery— is such a heartbreaking, vivid symbol of a twisted family home.
Yes, even mothers can help encourage and foster toxic masculine behaviour, sexism, and misogyny. We see it in Dr. Harris and her refusal to fully admit the monstrosity of her son, as well as how she’s complicit in using feminised A.I. to satisfy his fatally misogynistic cravings.
A fantastic episode, all around.
“They Come Knocking” is next month’s instalment.