[Review by Noah Burns]
[Writer: Richard Hatem | Director: James A. Contner | Aired: 07/06/2005]
One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know. Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.
Being alone is hard. Being together is hard. But at least when you’re together, there’s someone with whom to share the hardship. Rebecca has had a hard life. Her abduction, which will later be described as a “defining” experience by her colleagues, sets the boundaries of her personality. It left her with very deep wounds which she can only try to avoid reopening by remaining very still. And even then, she can’t really avoid them. As she put it last week, “What happened to [me] still happened, and there’s nothing [I] can do to stop it.” I think an accurate gloss on this comment would be, “What happened to me is still happening [remember “Local Girl Still Missing”], and I feel like there’s nothing I can do to stop it.” The original statement was the important lesson that Rebecca learned last time: she can’t undo what was done to her. But from here on out, she’s going to have to start learning how to live as the person she became because it was done to her. Easier said than done, certainly; but, perhaps, easier done together than alone.
Trying to keep track of exactly what all the different characters are doing in this episode has been like trying to keep track of all the bees in a swarm. I can’t promise to do it successfully. But I think I can make a try, and see if I can get us some honey.
Structurally, this episode is built around Rebecca’s participation in three social situations: Paul’s ambush of her in the first scene after the credits, Gary’s ambush of her at the center of the episode, and her finally deciding to have an onion flower with the gang at the end. These three situations are the purpose of this episode. How Rebecca gets into them, how she gets out of them, and what she takes from them are going to form the heart of this review.
Rebecca: So why are you showing us a suicide?
Web: Because it’s not a suicide. It’s a murder. Solve it.
It’s not clear exactly how much Web knows at the beginning of this episode. At minimum, he knows about the three not-suicides, and suspects that they are the work of a single serial killer. He also must know that Rebecca is isolated from the group. It therefore makes sense that he would assign her to work on the case, using either of the (not mutually exclusive) lenses for viewing his character: either he wants to use her isolation to tap into the isolation of the suicidal victims, or he wants to help her overcome this isolation, or both. Regardless, his assigning this case to Paul and Rebecca together has a particular effect: it makes Rebecca’s isolation from the group apparent enough that Paul will not ignore it any longer. Paul will work with the team to try and solve the case, and Rebecca will work alone, among them. Conflict will necessarily arise between these two approaches, and it quickly does.
The first of our three scenes is a nice character piece. Paul is jocund and charming, while also being ever so slightly an ass. Rebecca is standoffish, and doesn’t respond to his attempts at humor. Paul pays her back by being dismissive of her inquiry into Web’s motives. This is unfair a) because he’s always trying to figure out what Web’s thinking, and b) because he’s been checking up on her past. Rebecca grows more and more uncomfortable as the team arrives member by member, until she finally leaves to go do “a thing” that she supposedly has to do. Paul gives her a pitying look (nice, while also being ever so slightly an ass), while Danny is oblivious, though at least not patronizing at that. I also like the moment between Rebecca and Mel when Rebecca informs her in a mildly irritated voice that “this is sort of a work session”. This is nicely ironic, since, metaphorically, the case that they are working on is the problem of Rebecca’s isolation from the group, which her socializing with them would solve.
We get one of those Rebecca-looks-through-case-files-into-the-abyss scenes next, with Paul showing up and snapping her out of it. He talks with her about what happened at Dugan’s, diagnoses her, and prescribes a course of action. Paul decides that Rebecca is isolating herself by creating a false persona, a cover story, if you will, that she uses when interacting with the group. He recommends that, in order for her to really connect with the other people in her “cage”, she tell them about “who [she] really [is].” He compares her to Margaret Alvarez, who hid her bipolar disorder from everybody in the group but Web. Rebecca is hiding the other pole of her identity from the group: Becky George.
Paul is close here, but misses the mark, I think. It is hard to tell, though, since this is all very subtle. Rebecca admits, at least to those who already know, what happened to her. She refuses to say to anyone that she is Becky George. I think Paul’s mistake is that he thinks Becky George is who Rebecca really is, and that Rebecca Locke is merely her cover story. She is both Becky George and Rebecca Locke. Rebecca is not merely a guise to protect Becky, though she does do this. She does not need to revert to being only one of them, she needs to integrate them. Sharing her story with the gang will help her do this, but will not accomplish it outright.
The next scenes become the lead in to Rebecca’s second social encounter of the episode, this time with Gary and his group. This second encounter takes place within the metaphor of the case, and so is a kind of reenactment of the first encounter, but with a few changes. First, though, how we get there: The team learns that all of the not-suicides contacted a suicide prevention center around the time of their murder. Rebecca is brutal with the founder of the group, Tracy Armstrong, and forces her to give them tapes of all the calls made during the period of the murders. The reactions to the listen-a-thon that follows are an example of how The Inside rarely misses an opportunity to strengthen its characterization of the principals: Mel showing her materialism and superficiality with her magazine, Danny “Love” showing the extreme sensitivity behind his macho exterior, Paul showing his deep sensitivity by falling asleep, and Rebecca as robot-girl unaffected by any of it.
Rebecca finds Gary’s call, and not unreasonably interprets “Can I show you my pain?” as the lure of a serial killer instead of the reaching out of a friend. We are thrown into the metaphor, beginning the process of reversing outside and inside, when Rebecca assumes the traits of the victims, isolated, on the brink, full of despair, for a phone call to Gary. Only, the reversal here is difficult to parse, because Rebecca is two people inside. She is simultaneously sincere and insincere during the call. We can see that Rebecca is isolated, and despite her almost Vulcan emotional state most of the time, we’ve seen her despair. The words that she’s saying about being nobody and falling off the face of the earth resonate. At the same time, however, she is faking. Her dry visage and the normal affect she snaps back into after hanging up creep me the hell out. Madison St. Claire, anyone? Here we can see “the part that thinks” cynically exploiting “the part that feels” (“Pre-Filer” [1×04]).
In the first scene, Rebecca arrived expecting to meet only Paul, and here she expects to meet only Gary. They talk about finding the place, like she and Paul did, and then Gary introduces her to the group. Her first time at Dugan’s with the gang and her first time at this cafe with the group both rattle her. First scene: “This is starting to seem like dinner. I wasn’t expecting- I’ve gotta go, I’ve got a thing.” Gary scene: “I didn’t realize there were going to be other people here.” This scene is a metaphorical reenactment of the first, but with a different ending. Instead of running away, Rebecca opens up in the way that Paul wants her to. Maybe.
Let’s take a look at Gary’s group. First is Gary himself. Gary is good looking, dark haired, and nice, while being ever so slightly an ass (really, you get her to shake your hand and then check her wrists?). Taken along with the similarities in the situations that I noted above, I think this indicates that Gary is a metaphorical Paul. That would suggest that the rest of the group should be analogous to the rest of Web’s team. Amos is Danny, who had a similar reaction to Rebecca’s presence in “New Girl in Town” [1×01]. Charlotte is Mel, who also uses “inappropriate humor” (“Skin and Bone” [1×13]). After this, things become less clear. First of all, no character is clearly an analogue of Carter, and Tanya seems a rather unlikely candidate for a number of obvious reasons. She could be Rebecca, but that would ostensibly make actual Rebecca’s presence redundant. Despite this, I think that she does represent Rebecca: so far this review, I’ve emphasized Rebecca’s internal duality quite a bit. There being two “Rebeccas” in Gary’s group makes sense. The final member of the group is dead: Amy Baxter. She died recently, in a suicide that turns out to be a murder, and Rebecca is essentially her replacement in the group. This all strongly suggests Margaret Alvarez to me, especially since Paul made reference to he earlier in the episode.
A brief note before I go on: there are two suggestions of sexual tension between Gary and Rebecca/Tanya, first the talk of thinking the meeting is going to be a date, and second Rebecca’s remark about “creepy scar sex” between Gary and Tanya. Mutatis mutandis, this is another subtle suggestion of sexual tension between Paul and Rebecca. It is also suggestive about the nature of that tension.
Gary: So what’s your story, Rebecca?
Rebecca: My story?
Gary: Everyone here has heard everyone else’s story. It’s the first thing you do as a part of the group.
Rebecca: I guess it started a few years ago when I met… Actually it started when I was ten. Or it ended there, I still can’t decide.
Like Paul, Gary encourages Rebecca to share her painful story with the group. She begins to use her cover story, but stops, and begins to tell her real story, the story of Becky George. This is one of the most important lines in the entire episode. The root of Rebecca’s problem, in this episode, in the series as whole, is that she cannot decide whether she is dead or not. This is the moment, the simultaneous destruction of Becky George, her innocent self, and creation of Rebecca Locke, her adult self.
Rebecca: We were at the state fair in Bangor, Bangor, Maine. My parents took us there every year. There was a man running the pony ride. He kept letting me cut to the front of the line, and I kept going around and getting on. And he pulled me to the side and he asked for my address. He said he wanted to bring one of the ponies to my house, to visit. And I guess I’m an idiot because I gave it to him. I didn’t think he’d come: we lived in Augusta, it was far.
Rebecca thinks it was idiocy to give the man her address: she trusted him, that was a big mistake. But was it really her fault? She was ten years old, an innocent child. She trusted a man who was kind to her, who offered her favors and who operated the ponies. And she didn’t even trust him completely. She gave him her address in part because she thought he couldn’t come. She still believed in the security of childhood, and she felt sure that distance would protect her (the world seems so much bigger when you’re little). She shares responsibility for her abduction in the sense that it wouldn’t have happened had she not made this mistake. But she should feel no guilt.
Now we hear how her innocence was taken (Becky George, her innocence manifest, is literally taken):
Rebecca: But he came. He came through my window and he took me. I was with him for eighteen months, until I-
Almost every phrase in this quote is a sexual innuendo: “He came”, “he came through my window”, “he took me”, “I was with him”. Based on this and other evidence throughout the series, Rebecca was raped, repeatedly, by the Pony Man during her captivity. She does not finish the last sentence, not just because it is a painful experience to talk about, but because of her first line: she can’t decide what happened then. (And as we learn in “Point of Origin” [1×06], she can’t exactly remember what happened then either. She won’t be able to decide until she can remember.) She could finish her last sentence either way: “I was with him for eighteen months until I died”, or “I was with him for eighteen months until I began”.
Rebecca shows up back at the van, again with dry visage and normal affect. Paul is again disturbed, and Web seems pleased, smug even. Back at the ranch, Rebecca postulates that Gary is attracted to women when they feel weak and powerless (ahem, Paul). In short order, Paul will be accusing Rebecca of an opposite disposition: contempt for weakness. Her “weakness” was taken advantage of in a way that may have destroyed her. Paul’s speech to her about how she can’t get inside the heads of the victims makes the same mistake as his earlier diagnosis: he thinks of Rebecca as a cover story for Becky. A lot of what he says is correct, though. It did take extraordinary courage for those people to pick up the phone and reach out for help. Rebecca sees only weakness in that act, and she identifies it with the act of giving the pony man her address. Paul exhorts her to work with the team, but she is not yet ready to become a true part of it.
I have a hard time with Web’s speech. He seems to be suggesting that the killer was present when Rebecca told her story, and used it to figure out that she was an FBI agent. He then tells her that getting caught in the truth can be more dangerous than getting caught in a lie, and that she should “remember that the next time someone encourages you to share everything, even someone with pure motives like Gary.” Web surely knows that Paul encouraged Rebecca to share her story, and he is identifying Paul with Gary. “He knew his killer, he trusted him. That was a big mistake.” This moment is replayed when Rebecca mistakenly decides that Amos is the killer. What I’ve had trouble deciding is whether a) Web is wrong; b) Rebecca misinterprets him; or c) Web is trying to push Rebecca into making a mistake. I tend to think that a) is the case here, and that he simply goes too far. But I’m honestly not sure. Web is very enigmatic here (especially given a moment later in the episode).
Paul repeats a bunch of stuff we already know, and it leads him to a profile of the killer. Essentially, Tracy Armstrong hates weakness, and identifies the reaching out for help of the callers to her hotline as an act of weakness instead of strength, as does Rebecca. Again, we have Rebecca identified both with the killer and the victims: the killer is like Rebecca, the victim like Becky. This makes perfect sense, given her internal conflict. Tracy’s name is also significant: Armstrong. She is representative of the part of Rebecca that feels that she needs to always be strong and never reliant on others. Relying on others would open her up to the risk of being hurt, like she was in her past.
We are now ready to look at the denouement, the confrontation between Rebecca and Tracy. Tracy paralyzes Rebecca, a powerful metaphor for how her contempt and fear made her feel in that first social situation: “It immobilized her, but she would have felt everything that happened to her.” Her self-isolation through contempt of making herself vulnerable by opening up and becoming a friend causes her to be unable to do anything about her scars and her pain, like sharing it, though she can still feel it, and causes her the new pain of loneliness. Tracy plays back Rebecca’s tape. “I could fall off the face of the earth tomorrow and nobody would notice, and if they did they wouldn’t care.” Tracy: “It’s true, isn’t it.” It sure feels like it to Rebecca. But fortunately for her, it’s not true. Rebecca has people who care about her, and they’re about to break the door down. Tracy calls Rebecca a “coward” because she wasn’t strong enough to kill herself. But she doesn’t want to kill herself: she’s obsessed with life, not death.
Is relating to other human beings a sign of weakness? Does Rebecca make a mistake in equating opening oneself up to a friend and her giving the Pony Man her address? My first answer was “Yes”, that of course friendship could never be the same as what the Pony Man did. But I don’t think it needs to be in order for her to be correct. It must simply require the same thing of her and carry the same risks. As I talked about in my reviews of “Pre-Filer” [1×04] and “Everything Nice” [1×02], the world is not a safe place. There is risk in being alive. There is risk in being alone, and risk in being in a relationship with someone. So, Rebecca is right in that she would be taking a very great risk in sharing her story and herself with others. She could be hurt very deeply. They could reject her, or humiliate her. She could become close to them and lose them. Or she could be betrayed and abused by one of them, as she was by the Pony Man. She is afraid that “two can be as bad as one”, and she’s right to be.
But what she is wrong about is that making herself vulnerable in this way would make her weak. Opening yourself up to risk is not weakness, but bravery. Given her history and her fear, it would be a truly and incredibly courageous act for her to trust someone again. Furthermore, there is just as much risk in her not trusting anyone. Love is the foundation of social interaction, and most people cannot live without love in their lives. The people who consider committing suicide in this episode (let me emphasize that I think this episode is not trying to generalize about suicide) do so because they have nobody to love them or to love, to share their pain or to share the good times with. And part of Rebecca is the same way. She cannot solve the case alone, because the problem is that she is alone, and it’s killing her. If she tries to save herself alone, she will kill herself.
Paul, Danny, and Mel burst into the bathroom, and a struggle ensues in which Tracy is killed. There is a lovely shot of the team members standing around Rebecca, who is as helpless and vulnerable as possible (she’s literally naked), and comforting her. They are not there to judge her or to take advantage of her, but to help her. They have her back, and she may finally start to believe it.
Of course, that’s not it. There are two more scenes, both marvelous. The first is short, all of five lines. Rebecca is sitting alone in the “cage” and Web appears in the doorway. “Does your arm hurt much?”, he asks her, very tenderly. “No. A ton.” “It’s late. Don’t you have some other place to be?” “Not really.” “Find one.” As always, it’s so difficult to tell what Web is thinking here. He may be admitting that he was wrong, that he pushed her too far, and trying to make up for it. Or perhaps the way things worked out, including her rescue by the others was part of his plan. I’m sure there are other possibilities. Regardless, he surely knows that the team goes to Dugan’s all the time, and that they will likely be there. He also must know that Rebecca might finally be open to joining them. Whether it is his redemption or exoneration, I can only interpret this scene as him telling her to go become a part of the team.
The final scene, of course, is at Dugan’s. It’s simple and beautiful. (Okay, as beautiful as any scene that involves people talking about finding the bodies of twenty boys in the basement of a piano teacher’s house can possibly be. What a show, what a show…) Rebecca shows up at Dugan’s, and everyone is surprised to see her, but they welcome her. She tries to make small talk. It’s painful:
[From the script, pg. 56:] Rebecca glances at Paul. He smiles at her, knows how hard this is. For her, a million times tougher than facing a homicidal maniac in a dark alley. She soldiers on…
I’ve been where Rebecca is here (if the homicidal maniac part is taken as metaphor), and I know exactly how difficult it is for her. But I also know what she will soon know, that it’s worth it.
Rebecca is no longer paralyzed:
[ibid, pg. 57:] As the wobbly conversation gains momentum, we PULL BACK, watching a group of four friends become a group of five.
Minor Pros/Cons (+/-)
+ +10,000 points for referencing the bloomin’ onion.
* The missing ending to Rebecca’s story of her abduction will be filled in next episode, in “Point of Origin” [1×06].
* Paul refers to the room in which the team works as a “cage”. Rebecca will find herself in a literal cage in “Skin and Bone” [1×13].