If you recall in the last episode, things started to go downhill for Keisha and Alice. Well, their situation is about to get a lot worse.
The episode opens with basically the end of the previous one: Alice and Keisha had come to a trailer in search of an oracle, only to find the oracle murdered. And, to top it all of, said trailer is now surrounded by Thistle Men. From here on, the episode is structured in an interesting way: Alice narrates her backstory, while Keisha narrates the stuff that’s happening in the present.
The episode proper begins with Alice describing her first run-in with a Thistle Man, and how that led to her working for Bay & Creek. Basically, while on one of her numerous business trips, she stopped at the Painted Rocks for a bathroom break, as it “seemed a more interesting stop than a fast food place.” After finishing her business, she decided she might as well do a little sightseeing while she’s there, noting that while the rocks in question looked better than the did when she came back with Keisha, the place was still pretty run down.
While looking at said rocks, she noticed something on a nearby hill: a woman being attacked by a man.
I have anxiety too. I don’t know if Keisha ever knew that. But my anxiety doesn’t turn inwards. I project it. I see the whole world as being as scared as I am, and I get this irresistible urge to come to its defense. So I ran up that hill and tackled the man.
His skin was baggy, and his teeth were sharp. He was strong. I had misunderstood my abilities in this situation. But the woman who he had attacked clambered to her feet and together we fought him. She pulled a knife from her belt, stabbed him through the throat. He gurgled, leaked yellow pus, and fell to the ground.
Alice panics a bit over the fact that she’d just helped kill someone, but the woman in question simply looks at her, introduces herself as Lucy, and asks if she’d be interested in a job.
We return to Keisha, and the present, where the Thistle Men are whooping and knocking the trailer around between them, because they can.
They were pushing the trailer back and forth, tipping it over just for the fun of knocking us around before the real violence began. The body of the oracle we had come to see fell sideways onto the mattress, and then slumped to the floor, as light and small as a child. I started toward them, but what was the point? They were gone. Soon we would be too.
Keisha takes Alice’s hand as the Thistle Men keep whooping and howling outside, still looking at the oracle’s corpse. Then she sees the oracle standing above their own body, hissing to the pair that they (the oracle, that is) are already dead before telling them to run before disappearing.
Keisha then pulls Alice by the hand and the two make for their rented SUV. To find that the Thistle Men have completely trashed it. They stand for a moment as the Thistle Men make their was towards them.
We then cut back to Alice’s story:
I took the job. If there are monsters in the world, then I couldn’t pretned everything was fine. I have the urge to protect, and so I followed that urge. It was torture hiding it from Keisha. But I had already been going regularly on business trips. I kept to the same schedule, but instead of selling bathroom supplies to large office clients, Lucy and I hunted down the Thistle Men.
Alice was pretty much given on the job training in hand-to-hand combat, tactics, firearms and first aid by Lucy, but as she puts it, “Most of all, she trained me to trust her.” Alice, however, ended up reaching a breaking point while she and Lucy were investigating the murder of a man named Bernard Hamilton. She noticed that what she was doing, hunting the Thistle Men and investigating their murders, was starting to become routine. And this realization freaked her out a bit.
And I didn’t recognize myself, this person who was so used to violence. My heart surged. I couldn’t breather. I was in a panic over how calm I was. I didn’t let it show. I kept doing the job. It went on this way for years. Maybe it could have gone that way forever, but circumstances changed and my double life became untenable.
Back to Keisha, as the two try to fight off the encroaching Thistle Men. Keisha then notices a beat-up old car, that seems to be the vehicle that the Thistle Men had come to the trailer in. They run towards the car and Keisha gets in, noting that the keys are still in the ignition. Alice fights off a Thistle Man and manages to make her way into the car just behind her.
Keisha notices that the old car doesn’t have four-wheel drive, and wonders out loud how they even managed to get it out there. However, she realizes that time is something that they don’t really have right now and they drive off. They manage to get about a mile away when Keisha comments that this whole thing has been “foolish,” to which Alice responds, “At least we’re safe.” And, naturally, as soon as she makes that comment they crash into a hole and the car just stops completely dead.
We get some more narration from Alice, saying that Thistle had been attacking the family members of Bay & Creek agents:
Lucy told me plain with a minimum of emotion. She never got emotionally invested in much. She wasn’t cold, just…practical.
The family members of Bay & Creek operatives were being found and murdered. Word wasn’t coming down from the top because they didn’t want panic, but Lucy thought I should know.
This was the point where Alice decided that she needed to leave Bay & Creek in order to protect Keisha from Thistle: “I believes in what we were doing, believed in the importance of our fight, but Keisha was all of it for me, and I wasn’t going to give her up.”
Lucy, rather dryly, pointed out to Alice that leaving Bay & Creek wouldn’t stop them going after Keisha, since this isn’t a part of some grand strategy but rather something that Thistle was doing for fun. She also told her that without Bay & Creek’s protection, it would be a lot worse.
Alice ends up in a conundrum:
I didn’t know what to do. I stopped sleeping, mostly stopped eating. I had joined because I wanted Keisha and everyone like her to be safe, and now my actions had put her in even more danger than before.
Lucy kept bringing me stories, more Bay & Creek operatives dead. Chaos in the head office. No one knew what to do.
The last time I left home, I thought I would come back. But I couldn’t stop thinking of Keisha, who was frightened by the minutiae of everyday living. Having to face one of those boneless, loose-skinned boogeymen? She would be helpless, and it would be my fault. I would indirectly be her murderer.
After this last time, she simply didn’t come home, and let Keisha think she was dead. This is something that caused her a great deal of pain, but she couldn’t think of any other way to keep her wife safe.
Back in the present, Keisha and Alice have left the wrecked car and have started making their way through the Texas desert heat. At this point, they’ve been walking for two hours, with no indication that the highway is nearby, or if they’re even heading in the right direction:
The afternoon heat was brutal. We had no water, so we carried our thirst in our bodies. Thirst is heavy. It made us slow, made us stoop. The howls of the Thistle Men came from all sides. Hooting and laughing and whooping. We couldn’t tell distance at all. They could be right upon use or miles back.
Keisha stops for a moment and turns to Alice, wondering what they’re doing here. Alice tells her to keep going, and Keisha responds, “Keep going where?” Then Keisha sees a glint off in the distance, which she points out to Alice. Alice, with no small measure of relief, recognizes it as the sun reflecting off of a car, which means that they’ve almost made it to the highway.
Of course, they can’t be that close to their goal without something happening to fuck it up. Keisha hears Alice gasp and turns to see a Thistle Man behind her, who promptly grabs Alice by the throat.
And with that, we get another interlude of Alice’s story:
It felt as though the part of me that was human was gone. What is a person outside of the context of others? As George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult to each other?” I still ate and breathed and shit, but I was not Alice. I wanted nothing more than to be Alice.
I took to comfort in my hollowness. There was nothing romantic about it. It was a sickness, and I had left the only cure behind. Home was a person, and I wanted to go home.
She brought this up to Lucy, who was pretty dismissive. She asks Alice exactly how she plans to explain where she’s been to her wife. Alice responded that she doesn’t know, but that she’ll figure it out. Lucy, however, was insistent that Alice tell her, right then, exactly what she was planning on telling Keisha when she gets back. Alice, naturally, couldn’t, and that was the last she brought it up.
Alice continued with Bay & Creek for several months after that, before considering one of the film crews that were covering the site of one of Thistle’s latest atrocities.
In my despair, I stopped and watched the crew film. Without allowing myself to think about what I was doing , I pused my way through and stood at the front of the crowd of onlookers and I stared straight into the camera. Hoping that somehow, Keisha would end up on the other side of that stare.
This, of course, pissed off Lucy. However, Alice did not care and she kept doing it whnever they came across a film crew, in the hopes that Keisha would happen to be watching and know that she was alive. Of course, she also didn’t think that it would have led Keisha to follow her, and she admits that she probably would not have done what she did if she knew that would be the outcome.
Keisha takes over the narration again, and Alice, still in the grips of the Thistle Man breathlessly tells Keisha to run. The Thistle Man, of course, would be perfectly happy with that: “‘Yeah, run chipmunk,’ he oozed. ‘Run away.'”
Keisha hears a lot of noise in the brush nearby: “Branches cracking in the brush around us, yelps close by. Alice was sobbing and she was mouthing “go” over and over as the ropey arms circled her tighter and tigher.”
She decides, at this point, “fuck that, and fuck the Thistle Men” before rushing and tackling him. Once she has him, she then proceeds to drive both of her thumbs into his eyes and squashes them.
As one can imagine, this is pretty effective, and the Thistle Man lets go of Alice, screaming on the ground. In the midst of his thrashing, however, he manages to hit Keisha in the head and stun her for a moment. Alice tries to kick him, but he catches her with an arm and knocks her down. He’s about to go after her again, but Keisha manages to shake off the earlier blow, grabs a rock, and beats him to death with it.
After all that’s over, Keisha goes to help Alice up, telling her that they need to go now. Alice, weirdly, says that she’ll help Keisha. Keisha barely avoids laughing as she tells Alice that she’ll be the one doing the helping here, as she can barely even walk. In the meantime, the two can hear the Thistle Men still coming behind them.
Thankfully, it turns out that they weren’t that far from the higway at all, and they manage to flag down a fellow trucker and convince him to give them a lift to the nearest town. Once there, they rent a new car:
We got the nicest on they had, because we knew that our line of credit would be burned anyway once the other rental company realized they weren’t getting their car back. So might as well run up the bill if we were going to skip out on it.
The “nicest” car there turns out to be fairly middling, but it gets the job done and the two make it to where they had left their truck. Once there, Keisha turns to Alice because she has something to say to her:
“I saved you,” I said. “I saved you, OK? So go ahead, kid yourself that everything you did was because I needed protection, so that justifies it somehow. But you remember this. You remember that I saved you, and not the other way around.”
With that, they go into the truck and make their way out of Texas.
First off, it’s good to finally hear Alice’s side of the story, and get more of an idea of what she was up to while Keisha thought she was dead. Then there’s the fact that I thought Alice was going to die in this episode, thus rendering the title untrue.
And, of course, this episode reinforces what we learned throughout the course of the series: that Keisha is not as helpless as Alice thought she was. Y’know, seeing as how she gouged a Thistle Man’s eyes out with her thumbs. Pretty badass.