Like Alice, I, too, am not dead. Just busy with family stuff. But I have returned with another recap.
In this episode, Sylvia and Keisha uncover some truths about Sylvia’s mother’s death.
We start with Keisha giving some details about the murder, namely that it happened at a Sunoco station in East Fishkill, New York, where Sylvia and her mother had stopped to get gas. This leads into some thoughts about the unpredictability of life:
We search for signs and prophecies of the great changes that are waiting for us, but most often they come suddenly, in mundane places while we do mundane things. A heart attack while watching Netflix. A phone call about the pregnancy while you’re deciding on which brand of granola to buy at the supermarket. A sudden act of violence when you’re stopped for gas.
We then get to the opening credits, after which Keisha tells us a little more about her companion. It turns out that Sylvia’s mother was also named Sylvia. Sylvia comments, “Folks don’t think twice if a man names a son after himself, or even if all the men in the family have the same name for for generations. But a woman names a daughter after herself and everyone gets so confused.” This is interesting to me as well, since I always found that particular double standard odd.
Anyway, Keisha explains that when Sylvia was little this oddity didn’t bother her too much, but started to bother her more when she got older and realized that other people thought it was weird. So she decided to go by another name, which, after some prodding from Keisha, reveals was Skip.
Keisha, amused, asks “Seriously?” Sylvia responds, “Seriously, Skip,” before telling her to stop being an asshole. Keisha apologizes, and kind of joking asks her if she wants her to start calling her Skip. Sylvia, subdued, says no, and that she’s gone by Sylvia since her mother was killed.
“I didn’t hold it against her anymore. I get it. I get her, so much more now that she’s gone. I wish I could tell her that.”
Keisha then holds Sylvia for a moment, commenting that it’s been a while since she’s comforted anyone.
After a break in the transmission, Keisha starts telling us what Sylvia says she remembers about her mother’s death. Sylvia had told her that, while at the gas station, she spotted a man twitching near the dumpster. At first she thought he was injured or an addict, but noticed something else: the man was crouched over another person. Who he was in the process of eating.
Sylvia, disturbed, whispered to her mother, who turned to see what was happening. She told Sylvia to hide in the gas station, before out her phone to call the police.
But of course the police wouldn’t have been able to help her. And anyway, just after Sylvia left was when the Thistle Man noticed her mother watching. If Sylvia had been there too, if he had known there were two witnesses…
But he only knew about one witness. One person who needed to be dealt with.
Keisha goes on, saying that Sylvia told her that there was someone else there with the Thistle Man.
Another break in the transmission, then Keisha and Sylvia are ate the aforementioned gas station. Sylvia is looking around, “putting on a show of careful investigation,” but Keisha can tell that she’s barely keeping it together. Sylvia despondently says that they’re not going to find anything, since this had happened years ago and any evidence would have been long cleared away. Keisha concurs, and Sylvia tells her again that there was a second person there, and that person had helped the Thistle Man kill her mother, and she needs to know what happened. Keisha assures her that she knows, and Sylvia says, “OK, let’s go.”
There’s another break, and Keisha comes in with a description of their surroundings:
The Taconic Parkway is beautiful. It feels like taking a walk in the woods. But taking a walk in the woods is something you wanna do slowly, on foot, not speeding in a car. It is a dangerous road. No streetlights, sharp turns, long periods with no shoulder, just a rock face on one side and a thin barrier on the other side. If life is in many ways a balancing act between beauty and danger, then the Taconic is parted down the middle.
Just north of Hudson, where we had delicious falafel at a kosher restaurant that advertises itself, almost certainly erroneously, as “the last kosher restaurant until the Canadian Border,” we saw something strange on the hillside by the road. A huge carving of a human face and, in front of that, a giant figure seated on a throne. Their head flattened and curved into the shape of a bowl. There are other statues all over the hill. It looks like a shrine to a god no one has ever worshiped.
Keisha then gives some more information about what happened to Sylvia’s mother. Sylvia, hearing her mother shouting, exited the gas station. The lights on that side of the gas station had dimmed.
The Thistle Man, “in a voice that oozed out of his throat,” says that Sylvia wanted to see, and “now you will see,” as he began to lurch towards her. Sylvia’s mother shouted at her to run and hide. Sylvia tells Keisha that she did, but doesn’t exactly remember what happened next. She does, however, remember being huddled in a bush on the other side of the road, hearing footsteps go by. “I guess the Thistle Man was looking for me, but he never found me. Still hasn’t.”
Keisha then points out the other piece of the puzzle, the one that they know the least about: the other person who was with the Thistle Man. Sylvia had told her she remembered someone in a hoodie standing near her mother as she died, but it was too dark for her to make out any details. She believes that this person had helped murder her mother, and she wants to know who they are.
A bit later, the two of them stop for lunch at a bar in Red Hook, where they are seated near a young man and an old man. The old man sadly shakes his head, and tells the young man that he lived through Nixon, but has never lived through anything quite as scary as this.
After having hit a block in their investigation, the two decide to go to the Duchess County Sheriff’s Office the next day, to see if they can find anything else. At the office, an older woman asks if she can help them. Keisha, as an aside, says, “Great question. I don’t know if anyone could.”
They tell the receptionist why they’re there, and she searches through her computer for the information they need. Eventually, she remarks that something isn’t right, and Sylvia asks her to explain. The receptionist tells them that the case was closed with no suspects arrested. Perplexed, she asks “Why would they close this?” while looking at the file. She then repeats the question, in a tone that indicates she knows why it was closed. She looks up at Keisha and Sylvia, and suggests that they go and eat lunch at a place called the Palace Diner.
Keisha and Sylvia take her suggestion, and have almost finished their meal when the receptionist arrives, carrying a filing box. She says, “I want you to know that there are some of us who don’t believe in it. Who believe that this is the wrong thing, what they’re doing. I want you to know that we aren’t all on their side.” She then puts the box under the table, saying that there isn’t much but they should take it, and leaves before they can respond. The waiter comes by and asks if they want more coffee, and they say that they’re OK.
Keisha then shares some thoughts about wine and climate change:
There are a few straight vineyards in the Hudson Valley among the apple orchards. There is here, as there are in many places not notable for their wines, a serious effort to create a wine industry. The best New York wine I’ve ever had was maybe OK. But then as the climate changes, who knows? Certainly the areas famous for wine will lose their climate, and so one of these places we laugh about will become the new Bourdeaux. Or everyone will be too busy being refugees from our drowned cities to worry about wine.
Back to the main story: Keisha notes that the box the receptionist gave them is almost empty, which indicates that there wasn’t a lot of investigating done in this case. There’s some paperwork, but it doesn’t tell them anything they don’t already know. There is, however, one item of interest in the box: a video cassette. Keisha wonders for a moment it it’s from a security camera at the gas station, and Sylvia says she hopes it is before asking if they have any way to play it. Keisha notes that the area is known for antiquing, and the idea of a VCR being an antique makes me feel incredibly old.
At any rate, they go to a dilapidated-looking antique store, where they find and purchase an old TV/VCR combo. They take the unit to a cheap motel, where they set it up. Keisha closes the curtain and starts playing the tape, which reveals that Sylvia’s recollection of the event in question may not be 100% correct:
Warped colors and digital static. Maybe all this for nothing. The tape decayed or broken. But then it resolved into a wide shot of the side of a gas station. There was Sylvia’s mother against the wall, and the Thistle Man stepping towards her. Not the same Thistle Man that had followed me last year, a different one. Just as misshapen and toothy. And there was Sylvia, coming out of the gas station, seeing what was about to happen, screaming. The Thistle Man seeing the younger Sylvia, breaking into a drooping, melted smile.
“That’s not what happened,” Sylvia said. “I hid. She gestured for me to run. He never saw me.”
On the tape, the Thistle Man turned back to Sylvia’s mother. He didn’t walk so much as fall into her, his hand on her throat. And there was, yes, a person in a hoodie. I didn’t see them emerge from anywhere, just nothing and then a person in the shadows, like they had always been there I had only now noticed them. The person rushed forwards towards Sylvia’s mother. In the tape, Sylvia made a sobbing scream that we couldn’t hear because there was no sound. She, too, ran for her mother.
Before anything else could happen, the Thistle Man tore Sylvia Parker Sr’s throat out. I don’t know how else to describe it. He took it, like someone might take a box of cereal off of a shelf. He moved his hand back and there was something wet in it, and Sylvia’s mother had a gaping wound where her throat had been.
Now Sylvia was screaming again, not in the tape, but in the room next to me. I held her tightly, and she screamed into my shoulder.m
The person in the hoodie reached the pair, and put their arms around Sylvia’s mother. They seemed to be easing her to the ground. The dying woman stared deep into the, to us, invisible face of the person, as though she had just seen something more astonishing than her own death, and then she was gone.
The Thistle Man tossed what he’d taken from the woman to the ground, and then, just as casually, picked up Sylvia as her run brought her in reach. He held her aloft, like a person looking at a baby. He was laughing, his jaw wobbling wider and wider.
And the person in the hoodies got up from their crouch, reached over and took hold of the Thistle Man’s head. They yanked backwards and their strength must have been incredible, because the Thistle Man flew like he weighed nothing. Sylvia collapsed to the ground and then, again, this seems like such a simple way to say this, but-the person in the hoodie took the Thistle Man apart. Tore off his arms and legs and then popped his head off. It was very quick. Sylvia was lying unconscious on the ground. The person in the hoodie picked her up and carried her out of frame, and the footage went black.
After the tape ends, Sylvia puts her hand on the now blank screen. She says that she had always thought the person in the hoodie had helped killed her mother, but had actually saved her from the Thistle Man. Keisha comments that that person must have been incredibly strong, and Sylvia remarks that they are, but they seem to be on their side.
Keisha asks Sylvia what she’ll do now, and Sylvia says that she’ll be leaving again. She says, “I’m going to seek out this person, whatever they turn out to be. There is a powerful force of good somewhere. I won’t chase after evil yet. First I will seek that good.”
The two share a tearful hug, and Sylvia says that she’ll see her again. Keisha responds “I beter…goddammit, I better.”
In this episode, we finally find out what had happened to Sylvia’s mother. However, this wouldn’t be Alice Isn’t Dead if they replaced a question answered with a new question: namely, that of the person in the hoodie. Sylvia thinks that this person is on their side, and a force for good.
But things usually aren’t that simple.