When you believe you can survive in this world without anyone’s support, something strange happens. When you insist that you can live in a vacuum with only your own abilities for company, you’re implying that you don’t live in a society established and maintained by others. It’s been dubbed “Off-the-Grid Syndrome” (or “Libertarianism”): The more you insist on being self-sufficient, the more you’ll be compelled to rely on others in the end.
355 is justified in being enraged with Yorick and Allison after their blundering escape plan jeopardizes her life and leads to Yorick’s capture by military personnel. Yorick, for one, could have spent five minutes debating the source of 355’s heinous cruelty before giving up on her in a fuck-you rage. But it’s 355’s dread of emotional closeness and relinquishing even a sliver of control, of entrusting another person to shoulder even a fraction of the load, that exhausts her to the point where she dozes at the wheel of their stolen camper and sends it careening into a tree. Whereas just asking for aid could have harmed her ego, a physical brain wound has rendered her incapable of doing anything for herself. Her defiance results in a concussion (or worse) and an actual prison cell for her and Dr. Mann, all while Yorick — and her purpose — is taken over by a heavily armed group of strangers.
In a cruel twist of fate, these strangers are intimately familiar with the exact thing 355 can’t bring herself to consider: the importance of teamwork. While there are far more questions than answers concerning these formerly convicted (mainly) women who (somehow) fled that jail to settle the (mysteriously) abandoned town nearby, their society is undeniably an object lesson in trust and authority delegation.
They have created a calm, working anarchist commune that enjoys electricity, decent food (toast!!!!!!), music, and even beer, while the rest of the world is collapsing. They only imprisoned Allison and 355 because they mistook the rope tying Yorick’s wrists when they discovered him for evidence of kidnapping rather than a magic show cut short.
Marrisville is a post-abolition Mayberry, at least for the time being, a microcosm of what would be possible if the world was founded on trust and the benefit of the doubt. (Even in the comics, these women offer a powerful counterpoint to the series’ doomsday tone: many people might live happily without cis men.) The thought of cooperation without personal advantage is a difficult pill to swallow for someone like 355, whose entire existence is constrained, if not actively defined, by the idea that hell is other people. In fact, she pushes herself to the point of projectile vomiting rather than admitting she’s sick, much less unable to do her work (and hence her entire identity).
The most inconvenient aspect of this forced reckoning? She’s given up the moral high ground to those who should have been fighting hard to regain her trust. Yorick is now making valid points as well. He chastises her, saying, “You start a fight you can’t win, and you’re going to make things a lot worse for us.” Rather than accepting the assistance offered, she lashes out like a vengeful adolescent, telling Dr. Mann and Yorick that they would not be there if it weren’t for her. Whereas they used to take her nastiness at face value, this third round develops a pattern, allowing everyone — especially Yorick — to perceive it for what it is: a protection mechanism.
But there is a silver lining here, at least for us. The trio’s hilarious, intellectualized chemistry from Boston is now blossoming into something… new. Oh, screw it, let’s just call it what it is: horny. Suddenly, their physical clashes are infused with a personal undercurrent: Allison places an unusually compassionate hand on the geneticist’s arm as she checks 355’s head wound before her brain catches up with her and she brusquely shoves her aside. When Yorick realizes 355 might take his challenge and kick his ass, his eyes light up with an intensity that isn’t completely family-friendly. “You won’t have to take care of me like this again,” 355 vows Yorick when she eventually accepts the medicines and bed on offer. “Hey, it’s all right. “I know,” he admits, and it’s evident that something has… changed. (It’s not for nothing that she continues warning ladies to stay away from Yorick and Yorick to stay away from women, but in Sonia’s case, she’s probably right.) Only a woman with a certain goal inquires earnestly about a man’s magic tricks.)
The situation inside the Pentagon has evolved even more radically, with Jennifer’s Yorick-shaped house of cards beginning to crumble. Captain Nguyen’s claim of a six-foot cis man with a monkey seems improbable, considering that she was drugged until Kimberly and Regina repeat it in front of Marla Campbell.
We don’t know much about who the former First Lady was in the past, but based on her family’s context signals — her husband, and now, notably, her daughter – she was the epitome of WASP wifery. Consider this talk she had with Jennifer about childbirth a few episodes ago: She was most likely a master of relatability, a savvy Southern belle who skated through life on the entitlements bestowed upon her by genteel white patriarchy, playing up her down-to-earth, not-like-the-other-Republican-girls persona to woo unlikely allies like Jennifer Brown on her husband’s behalf.
Her authority was destroyed in the same way as her daughters were, but where her daughter sees salvation, she is too exhausted to maintain the ruse. In her mind, she’s spent her entire life hustling on behalf of other people — first her husband, then her children, and finally her grandchildren — and after witnessing all but one of them disintegrate in front of her, she’s not about to seek out a new master, especially now that she realizes her sole foe, one of the few people she still considers to be “a decent human being,” has been actively gaslighting her while enjoying the survival of her own son. When she confronts Jennifer in front of the entire war room, she protests, “You weren’t even a good mother,” in true mean-girl-mask-off form. (It’s almost poetic how conservatives — white men, white women, basically anyone with ill-gotten authority — never fail to lose their minds when the tables are turned and someone else reaps the benefits of a system they’ve been successfully gaming for years.)
Unfortunately, this discovery, combined with the news that their Lynchburg house was swept away by a collapsed dam a few weeks before, shatters the dissociative delusion she’d been clinging to, leaving her with no shred of identity worth living for. While her daughter babbles about peach cobbler, she dresses for the first time since the Event and manages to climb to the roof. After all, it’s a testament to Paris Jefferson’s captivating performance that I’m actually sorry to see Marla go.
Kimberly’s mother’s suicide is likely to be the final straw, sending her into full-on Joker mode from now on. She’s already starting to show signs of unraveling. At the start of the episode, she describes Hero Brown as “sort of short, doesn’t really brush her hair, looks like a drug addict,” and by the end, she has taken on the same appearance. (Charlie Jane Anders’ novel “My Mother Saw a Monkey” is full of this kind of irony.) She insists on “seeing [her kids] again,” and is taken aback when Marla replies, “Yeah, when you’re dead!”
When she and Regina plot to depose Jennifer Brown, she virtually spits the term “atheist Ivy League ass-kissers,” then practically screams that “God selected [Yorick],” then fiercely intones, “We will become a nation of moms again.” Her mother subsequently commits suicide while trading for canned fruit, leaving her alone with her Second Coming beliefs, an extremist megalomaniac as her sole ally, and no one to rein her in. Those of us who lived through Kanye West’s era know that this is a formula for disaster.
Beth DeVille might be a full-fledged insurgent now if we’re talking about radicalization. Because she is already in Australia when the Event occurs in the comics, we don’t see her again until long later. Beth was never seen leaving the TV show. After the one-two punch of rejecting her now-assumed-dead boyfriend’s proposal and failing to contact her mother before an all-but-collapsed healthcare system abandoned her to die alone of cancer, she’s got some serious survivor’s guilt. (This paragraph comes across as a very COVID-informed remark regarding pandemics and pandemic-related disasters’ cascading effects.)
And now we know that the experience has developed a resolve that may or may not be directed toward revolution, wherever she has been and with whom she has been since then. Jennifer’s obsessive politician’s need to be perceived as a decent and nurturing person is exploited by her when she slips into the Pentagon, where she is lavished with special treatment while surreptitiously gathering intelligence for her friends.
Her primary goal is to figure out what the government knows about the Event’s source; “people treat it like a hurricane, a tsunami, or something,” she nonchalantly comments, hoping Jennifer will fall for the hook. If that fails, she is awarded a number of consolation awards. Christine, tasked with babysitting her in the war room, tells her straight out that the Secret Service is only half-staffed; then she witnesses Marla’s altercation with Jennifer — a dot that a smart woman who studies human beings for a living will almost certainly be able to connect, given enough time, to the survival of her erstwhile non-fiancé.
Unfortunately, Jennifer appears to be on the verge of learning a bitter lesson, similar to the one 355 is learning: hoarding information and responsibility, presuming you know best, is a tactic with a very short half-life. It makes no difference whether her aims justify her heinous means, any more than it does in 355’s case. The plain fact is that the more people she manipulates — Kimberly, Marla, Regina, the military, her own atheist Ivy League ass-kissers, even Beth — the smaller her margin for success gets. And at this point, it’s a razor-thin margin. Secrets don’t make friends, and they certainly don’t make enemies in our world.