Previously on Alias Grace, “Parts 1 & 2”
While reviewing “Part 1” and “Part 2,” I argued that Alias Grace was going to be quite a compelling show if it could steer clear of its most obvious narrative paths. I stand by this argument and remain intrigued by questions that have nothing to do with whether or not Grace is guilty. However, what I failed to recognize is that despite being uninterested in that particular answer, it is still both worthwhile and enjoyable to play along with the mystery and dissect Grace’s story, in search of truths and lies. The journey need not dictate the destination, after all.
Though “Part 3” and “Part 4” don’t have the best of pacing or plot progression, they do continue the captivatingly intricate character study from previous installments. Sarah Gadon strings us along through Grace’s tale as if we’re the thread on her quilting needles, lulling us into a sense of complacency and acceptance about her story with every stitch. But each time Grace stops to pluck a new pin from the cushion, we too are forced to stop and question the legitimacy of the patchwork tale she’s telling.
Grace couldn’t kill a chicken, even when her job depended on it, and death was not a subject she enjoyed talking about in general. The idea of running away with the peddler-turned-hypnotist, Jeremiah, gave her pause because of the implied “cheats” and “deceptions” their new work lives would involve. Despite the way James McDermott threw her to the wolves during their eventual trials, Grace did not blame the man for wanting company on the road to death. None of these details seem to fit the profile of a murderess. Even when Grace shows the slightest bit of anger – mainly towards Nancy or McDermott – it’s more of a natural human reaction to frustration, than any indication of a woman who could be a real threat. Then again, Grace is the one shaping this narrative.
It’s easy to forget that fact, since Grace seems so forthcoming with her accounts, offering plenty of specifics on even the smallest aspects of them. She’s the protagonist of this story and it feels natural to give her the benefit of the doubt. Until, that is, Gadon brings a different side of Grace to life, even if only for a moment, and then everything you thought you knew is shattered. You start to wonder why she has such a perfect answer for every question Dr. Jordan asks of her; is it simply the truth and therefore effortless, or is it because Grace has had 15 years to practice her response to any and all possible inquiries?
Perhaps the most notable of these moments thus far happened at the end of “Part 4” when Grace reveals how happy it made her to share a strange dream with Jordan. As the Dr. scribbles enthusiastically in his notebook, the corners of Grace’s mouth twitch upwards in what could absolutely be seen as a less than innocent grin. It’s quite possible this is the first Dr. who has taken Grace seriously, and the validation is what’s causing her delight. But it’s also reasonable to suppose she’s pleased because Jordan’s reaction is exactly the result she hoped for, the one she’s worked hard to construct. No doubt Jordan believes there’s some connection to be made between the symbolic images in her dream, the sleepwalking, and her out of body experience after Mary’s death.
Up until that ambiguous grin, I must admit I’d had no issue in believing Grace. Gadon has done an excellent job of walking a straight line between what might be truth or fiction. The ending of “Part 4” challenged my perceptions, once again, and compelled me to reframe the opinions I had made; particularly with regards to Nancy. Grace paints her as a woman with severe mood swings; kind and friendly one moment, and an absolute bitch the next. Nancy’s alleged arrogance, misplaced jealousies, and callousness, combined with the knowledge that local society looked down upon her – for reasons that are ludicrous now, but were widely upheld back then – make her into a figure that could have been targeted by many people. These accounts, cast Grace in a much better light than Nancy, and makes it all the more plausible to believe the former is innocent. And though this certainly isn’t the performance of her lifetime, Anna Paquin is more than adequately juggling the parts of a role that requires her to be entirely (or partly) concocted, or completely authentic, and making it believable on all fronts.
We can’t forget McDermott’s role in all of this, though. The supposed bad blood between him and Nancy, which came before Grace’s arrival at Mr. Kinnear’s, could either be more evidence in support of Grace or the perfect attention to detail on her part. Why not create a long-standing feud between the two, and then continue to depict McDermott as a man with little regard for women? Unlike with Nancy, though, it’s harder to cut McDermott any slack. If there’s one aspect – in this case it’s a recurring one – of Grace’s story where it’s easiest to side with her, it’s where the men are concerned. I have zero issues believing every man she ever knew was problematic, or even dangerous, to some degree. Even Mr. Kinnear, who seemed quite liberal at first, turns out to be a man of power who cares little about anything but his own needs. How shocking. But I digress.
As we move into the final two episodes, I wonder how all of these events and people eventually coalesce into this one, hugely significant moment in Grace’s life. What does this puzzle look like in its completion? And will Grace ever finish that damn quilt? I look forward to exploring these questions further, and seeing how my perceptions will once again be challenged. Whether guilty or not, it will be fascinating to watch Grace finally tell the part of the story, whether wholly true or not, we’ve all been waiting for.
Questions & Observations
- Jordan is falling hard for Grace. Perhaps he is the J – from the apple peel game – that Grace is destined to be with? The more he daydreams about her, the more I believe he’s going to write a positive report calling for her exoneration. His perception is definitely askew.
- When do we think the telling of this story is taking place? The way Grace sometimes talks to Jordan in her mind, suggests she is recalling her time with him from somewhere in the future.
- The opening quote from episode 3, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, is from the poem Maud, which is rife with ambiguity. How fitting.
- When Grace talked about how women must clean up after both themselves and the men around them, about how they often don’t think of the consequences for their actions and because of that they are quite like children, I nodded my head wildly. Yeah, yeah, #notallmen, but also, #manymanymen.
Alias Grace Parts 3 & 4 Review Score
"Parts 3 & 4"
Starring: Sarah Gadon, Edward Holcroft, Zachary Levi, Kerr Logan, Rebecca Liddiard, Paul Gross, and Stephen Joffe