Saturday, June 15, 2024

Alice Isn’t Dead: Why Am I Alive?

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Review of Season 2, Episode 10 of Alice Isn’t Dead, “Why Am I Alive?”

So soon, we’ve arrived at the end of this season, and what a roller coaster this finale was! Now that my heart has recuperated, it’s time to dwell on the climax of this perfect climax to the second act of Alice Isn’t Dead. Time and time again, this story has proven that it is able to provide meaningful turns of events and disturbing plot twists that don’t solely rely on shock value, but rather add a layer of depth to this narrative deconstructing what America is, or is thought to be. This finale was an incredible and distressing episode that concludes this season’s arc masterfully.

It’s not all that often that Keisha allows herself to really think back to the fondest memories she keeps of Alice and their marriage. At her lowest point, however, captured by the Thistle woman I’ve been calling ‘the Officer’ and about to die gruesomely, she reminisces about the life they shared together, that beautiful and complex love story. She remembers her coming out, her meeting Alice, the slow progression of their relationship from friends to friends with benefits to lovers to wives… It’s an incredibly touching series of slices of life. If only it weren’t intercut with the present conversation with the Thistle woman.

Not satisfied with just killing Keisha and being done with her assignment, the Officer decides to sap the last bit of happiness Keisha holds and provides terrifying answers to questions Keisha has been asking herself. Putting an end to Keisha’s delusion that she must have a predetermined role to play in the war between Thistle and Bay & Creek, the Officer reveals that the two sides are one and the same. The war is an artificial conflict designed by the US government, allowing them to hide a lot of mess and confusion under the pretense of war.

Having told Keisha everything, she attempts to kill her, only for Alice to barge into the room and shoot her, saving Keisha from a violent death. Alice then apologizes, asserts that she was wrong and asks Keisha to come with her.

The duality of tone has never been more pronounced that in this episode. Keisha and Alice’s story is lovely in and of itself, of course, but even more so in context of the present day events of the episode. The conversation between Keisha and the Thistle woman is just so cruel. Introspective as ever, Keisha tells us her queer story, her first girlfriend, her coming out, then how she met Alice, and it’s absolutely gorgeous and raw and real. It almost makes up for how brutal the rest of the episode is. Almost…

But let’s talk about the elephant in the room. It’s not first time that this show pulls an Alice ex-machina. The same thing happened in “Thistle”, the finale of season one.

“So, my wife wasn’t dead. That’s good to know. That’s new information.” − Season 1, Episode 2 (“Alice”)

These two appearances could not be any more different. In “Thistle”, Alice barged into Keisha’s truck to warn her about the foolishness of her plan, but couldn’t sway Keisha from doing as she wanted. Despite her terror, Keisha was feeling empowered, maybe unreasonably so, and she was completely determined to launch her attack on the Thistle Men. She had nothing left to lose, and yet, one season later, she’s lost even more. In this encounter, she’s now completely helpless, her attacks against the Thistle woman amounting to nothing, and Alice is not a mere apparition to warn her of the danger, but a life-saving rescue. Rather than being the attacking party, Keisha has been captured and assaulted.

Yet this is only the culmination of the events of this season. Where season one was more focused on Keisha learning to accept her anxiety as a core part of her person, something that is going to accompany her no matter what, season two was a narrative of Keisha dealing, again, with the grief caused by Alice’s departure. Slowly, she’s been inching towards acceptance, and in the previous episode even reached the conclusion that she had to give up on her hope to find Alice again in the foreseeable future.

And now that she had accepted that, she’s found her again. A repentant savior who swoops in to kill the bad guy, and get the girl again? I found that a bit jarring, though not unpleasant.

Juxtaposed with that narrative, Keisha’s memories of how Alice and her got together are all the more heartbreaking. She used to be the one afraid of commitments. She used to want to be in the closet, to just be friends, to not really be dating. The added bitterness comes in with the fact that for all commitment-shy she was, Keisha was the one who got abandoned. Everything is so completely in line with Keisha’s restrained personality, and it’s an incredible story that so many queer women, including myself, can see reflected in their own lives in one way or another. Memories of intimacy slowly being created, of compromise and hope and learning to grow together into an adult relationship. If only it weren’t for the bloodthirsty assassin punctuating the memories with her threats of violent murder.

Just as an aside, I mentioned in my review for last episode that I had some reservations about the way the narrative treats Keisha’s homosexuality. They’re no more than reservations; this isn’t meant to be a callout or anything harsh of the sort. I think the writers and performers of Night Vale Presents have proven time and again that they care deeply about LGBT+ representation and have always provided it at the core of their stories. All gay characters on any of their podcasts are played by LGBT performers, including Keisha played by Jasika Nicole. They’re doing a lot already and I don’t mean to bash on any writer who tries, for fear that writers stop trying.

Alice Isn’t Dead is a horror story and by default, this means there is going to be trouble and that the character is going to suffer to some extent. That just comes with the genre. Keisha as a character has always been treated with respect by the narrative in the sense that her emotions are validated and her identity is acknowledged and explored.

Nevertheless, this episode was particularly difficult for me because this touching story around Keisha’s sexuality was being told at the same time as all of Keisha’s hopes were being broken down, leading to a violent assault on her. Not to mention that the Thistle woman specifically pointed out that Alice may very well have known about the horrible fact that Thistle and Bay & Creek aren’t really opposing sides, really nailing down once again how deep Alice’s betrayal runs.

There is a trope too often used of queer women suffering and this was toeing the line perhaps too fiercely for me. However, I won’t call this discomfort a real criticism in the sense that, just when I was really feeling uncomfortable as I was listening and wasn’t sure if I liked how much the narrative piled onto Keisha, Alice fell from heaven at the exact right moment. Probably the fact that Keisha’s troubles were specifically linked to her being a lesbian was hard to go through for me. Whatever, I lived, Keisha lived, and it’s all in the past. Stories about gay women suffering are of course allowed, but I think that the line between that and gay women suffering because of their same-sex relationship is hard to find and a narrative can appear to be trauma porn the closer one comes to that line.

Anyway, the story is getting grimmer and grimmer indeed. Throughout the season, Keisha had run on the idealistic vision that, if Bay & Creek opposed Thistle, they must have been at least overall on the side of good. This kind of dual thinking is also behind her description of Thistle,

“No, I-I mean you’re actually monsters. You’re not human. You’re something, I dunno what. You’re predators.”
“Mmm.. Well, that is close to the truth, I suppose. But very judgy. Just because we’re not human, we’re monsters? Humans can be pretty monstrous.”

Now that we know that there are not two sides, but rather one artificial conflict controlled by the government, what hope is there left? Keisha had been hoping to eventually find her role on the side of good, but if that side doesn’t exist and if that side sent the Thistle assassin to kill her, what more is there to do to survive?

Alice’s arrival is timely on all accounts. Even on this account, she might be able to provide sorely needed answers. Indeed, if Bay & Creek are not distinct from Thistle, then it means that they sent the Thistle woman to kill Keisha. But looking at the timeline, she has been following Keisha all season. The first time we heard of her was in the first season’s finale and she was already tracking Keisha before season two officially began. This means that Bay & Creek did not mean to kill Keisha just because she had seen their base. They intended to kill her even before that. Presumably just after the slaughter of Vector H, but maybe even before that, who can say? The Thistle men were already chasing her throughout season one. Alice has so much to answer for.

“I was wrong, I’m sorry, I’m… Will you come with me?”

In the same vein, we used to assume that Alice was on the Bay & Creek side, but now that it’s been revealed that the sides are an illusion, where does that leave her? When she killed the Thistle woman just now, was she going rogue or was she acting out her expected performance in the artificial war against Thistle? Was she doing what she was supposed to do? Was she ever even working for Bay & Creek, or has she been investigating the artificial war from the very, very beginning? Where is she inviting Keisha? What is the specific wrong she’s apologizing for?

Even now, we have many questions without answers. It felt like season one was more focused on Thistle and season two a bit more on Bay & Creek, but even as time goes on, we know next to nothing about either of them, much less of the larger conflict. It sometimes feels like we’re not supposed to know, as part of the atmosphere.

“Who knows what we want? We’re a blank force of terror, we’re groping hands in the dark, pulling you into the shadows. We’re snatchers. Who cares what we want?”

Then there’s the dark horse in all this: Praxis. We know absolutely nothing about Praxis. When Keisha tried to broach the topic with the Thistle woman, she was rapidly shut down. This wasn’t without reminding us of the intense, focused, and almost fearful reaction from the Bay & Creek worker Keisha spoke to earlier in the season. I’m guessing the answers to this mystery are to be found in season three, if at all.

Another element worth mentioning is once again how political this show is.

“We love the taste of blood, because it tastes like freedom. You people, you restrict yourself so much. We have no restrictions. Why would I ever hold back because it might harm someone else? Am I them?”

Just like Alice Isn’t Dead constantly peels back the layers of America and its many odd landscapes. Neither does it shy away from deconstructing even the most basic American values, like freedom. This has been the case from the beginning, with Keisha pondering how freedom is a neutral notion and not inherently positive. Such deconstruction is necessary, too. In a political climate such as the current one, we need stories to dive deep into what the country really is, what American culture is about at its core; Alice Isn’t Dead has always provided this angle of analysis, both the good and the bad sides, if there even are such things.

All in all, this finale is a strong closing point to an incredible season. It was a harsh conclusion to the chase that had been happening in both the background and foreground of the whole season, and the new beginning of Alice’s sudden return is a promise of an equally strong third season. She has a lot to answer for.

Featured Image Courtesy of Night Vale Presents

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