Image credit: Michael Becker/FX
GETTING BUGGY Sister Mary (Lily Rabe) and Frank (Fredric Lehne) try to make sense of current events in "Dark Cousin."
But that was then. Back in the present, Judy, now sloshed, snapped out of her wallow to answer the phone in Sam’s room. “It’s your conscience calling,” quipped the voice on the other line. It was Sister Mary, calling to be all cocky, gloaty, victory-dancy Proud Mary. She told Judy she knew everything – about the little girl in the blue coat, about what happened 15 years earlier, about Sam. To be clear, she also declared herself to be the demon that was exorcised from Jed Potter – hence, how she knew what she knew. (“I was in your head. Remember?”) Before she hung up, Sister Mary drew Judy’s attention to the parting gift that she left on Sam’s desk: A switchblade razor.
Judy could hide no more. She had been exposed. Her new identity – a cover story that never quite stuck – was blown. In a diner bathroom, she scrubbed her hands and tried to dab out, OUT! some damnable spot on her black dress. She took a good hard look at herself in the mirror. Then she grabbed the razor and slashed her wrists and bled out and died – all in her mind. (But hey: If you want to make an argument that Judy really killed herself, and she’s walking around as an oblivious ghost, a la Violet Harmon from last year’s American Horror Story, I’m all ears.)
Judy returned to her booth in the diner and found herself joined by company: Shachath. The conversation that followed revealed that Judy was quite familiar with this spirit of despair. But Shachath said there was something different about Judy’s latest bluesy cry , something “plaintive” and “piercing.” I would argue that the change in tenor was due to Judy’s increasing enlightenment, her growing courage to look herself in the mirror. I would argue further that this process continued through this scene, as Judy processed more of her painful past and Shachath listened with the patience and grace of a well-trained therapist. Judy wanted to know why had she not succumbed to despair years earlier, when her finance, Casey, abandoned her the night before their wedding after she told him that he had given her syphilis, and that as a result, she couldn’t bare their shared dream of having children? Because that woman still had hope, Shachath replied. Why didn’t death claim her back in ’49, after she ran over the little girl in the blue coat? Because God had a plan for her and gave her a calling, Shachath explained. Judy rolled her eyes. Project: Sister Jude had been a failure. All she was doing was “trying to hide my darkness under that miserable black cloth,” she said, full of contempt. Shachath said nothing in response, either because she didn't know what to say... or couldn’t say what she knew or suspected, which could be this: God’s “plan” for Judy never involved becoming a nun, or at least required her to become a nun to bring her to a final destination still to come. (Remember what your momma used to tell you, Judy: God always answers your prayers. It’s just not always the answers you want or expect.)
Shachath then made a pitch for Judy’s suicide. Calling her by her church-slave name, Shachath said, “You deserve peace, Jude. You deserve peace for your extraordinary, tireless efforts to find meaning in this life.” She told her that the life of an itinerant drunk, trying to survive the winter on crackers and coffee and whisky was no way to live at all. She told her to come out of the cold, surrender to the warm peace of death. “Peace is so close, Sister.” This scene turned me against Shachath the first time I saw it. It felt like she wanted Judy to choose death, like she was baiting Judy into offing herself, not for Judy’s sake, but for her own. Come and gimme some of that yum-yum despair, you sad haggy floozy! But I’m less convinced after a second viewing. Other possibilities emerged. Maybe she was trying to goose Judy toward the date with revelation and brutal grace that was to come. Or maybe it was the opposite: Maybe Shachath wanted to take Judy now because she wanted spare her future developments.
Regardless, Judy was prepared to accept Shachath’s kiss. “I’m ready,” she declared. “But I need to do one last thing.”
Like a recovering alcoholic assaying the stage that requires that she ask forgiveness from those she wronged, Judy paid a visit to the parents of Missy Stone. Judy was about to spill everything when a twentysomething woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform entered the house and took charge of the infant Mrs. Stone was babysitting. The nurse: Missy Stone. The little girl in the blue coat had survived! And judging from appearances, she had turned out okay. What a relief for Judy! Also? “I’m so confused…” In her befuddlement, the ironies hit home. All those years of running away, all those years of hiding, all those years of guilt-wracked certainty that she was a murderer, a despoiler of innocence, a veritable Shachath, all of those years of trying in vain to connect with the promise salvation and execute the program of redemption offered by The Church – in short, all of those years of self-loathing and misery – could have been avoided, because the myth of her own fall – the origin story of her monstrosity – was almost completely bogus. The great O’Connoresque twist of Judy Martin’s life: If only she had not driven away that night in ‘49, if only she had stayed and played the role of Good Samaritan, she would have certainly saved one life: Her own. Still, the question remains: Have the past 15 years been a total waste? Or is God working something out through the legacy of Judy’s mess? And if so: Is that something Good News or bad for Judy?
NEXT: The Death of Grace