Vanessa unlocks the memory of her institutionalization -- and the unexpected bond that helped her survive it
He won’t tell Vanessa his name, but the orderly starts to open up, sharing that he learned the kindness of a wooden spoon when his son was a baby. As far as confessions go, it isn’t really a match for, “I have been touched by Satan,” but it’s a start. His son is sick; he thinks that Vanessa is ill, too, but she insists that her situation is different: “My faith was not strong enough, and Lucifer came to me. I didn’t fight him strongly enough. I don’t know that I fought him at all.” On his way out of the room, the orderly tells her that he believes her — then turns to face her, black in the eyes: “After all, I was there.”
Did the devil actually speak to Vanessa through the orderly, or is she just using the orderly’s face to make sense of that experience now? Either way, it’s more than Vanessa wants to relive. She asks Seward to pull her back to the present, but the doctor can’t do it. Vanessa has entered a fugue state, and there’s nothing left to do but keep going with Seward at her side — or across the desk. At least she has a friend.
Even at Banning, Vanessa wasn’t entirely alone. Sorting through her drug-muddled memories, she finds one she can cling to: During a time when her treatments have robbed her of the ability to speak, the orderly cares for her. In an effort to restore her sense of dignity, he takes out her gag, brushes her hair, applies some makeup, and tells her about his wife, whom he’s also told about Vanessa. All of this is against regulation, but when torturing patients isn’t against regulation, the rules become relative. The orderly fantasizes about a day when he and Vanessa can walk out of here together — then, even though he doesn’t like poetry (rich, coming from the man who will become the Creature), he pulls out a book of children’s poems and reads to her.
There’s something in this interaction that buys into the system Vanessa rallies against. Her humanity and identity are still being linked to her appearance. But there’s something in Vanessa that, maybe despite her wishes, buys into it as well. When the orderly holds a mirror to Vanessa’s made-up face, she flinches at first, but she needs to know that she can still be that person. Vanessa likes to dress to send a message — Seward saw that in 10 minutes — and she stopped caring about her appearance when she fell into depression. Her looks and her sense of agency are linked. There’s no shame in wanting to present yourself to the world on your terms.
WANT MORE? Keep up with all the latest from last night’s television by subscribing to our newsletter. Head here for more details.
But the really stunning thing about this scene is that the orderly is just as aware of his own limitations. He’s doing what he can to restore her personhood, but he can’t give Vanessa the ability to present herself on her terms; these are still his terms, even if they’re closer to hers than knotted hair and a gag will ever be. “I’m sorry,” the orderly says as he wipes off her makeup before he goes. “One day soon, no one will touch you when you don’t want to be touched, or put makeup on you or take it off, ever, ever again.” With tears rolling down her cheeks, Vanessa opens her mouth so he can insert the gag again, and it’s like the pain of everyone who’s ever been victimized is in that room. Ready for this? As the orderly opens the door, he turns back: “It’s Christmas today.” We linger on Vanessa, still crying (Vanessa, but also me), after the door has closed.
NEXT: O brother, where art thou?