When I was a kid, my mom gave me this great, dusty version of Grimms’ fairy tales. One of the stories that’s always stayed with me was “The Fisherman And His Wife.” A fisherman and his wife live in a shack, until one day the fisherman catches a magic fish that offers him whatever he desires. The fisherman asks his wife, who first wants a house instead of a shack. Then she wants a castle. Then she wants to be queen. Finally, she wants to be pope. That last request appears to be too much for the fish, and the fisherman and his wife are then back where they started, in the same filthy shack.
Like many of the Grimms’ tales, that one has a valuable message: about being content with what you have in life. Part of the problem of getting what you want—that thing you’ve pinned all your hopes on, thinking it will solve all of your problems—may mean that you just end up wanting more when you get that job, that spouse, whatever, and all of your problems don’t immediately disappear.
It’s a parable that can apply to both Alma and Rita, especially in this episode. After not only framing Rita to put her in prison but committing cold-blooded murder to get rid of Isabel, Alma is now safely ensconced in the Elysium Park Garden Club. As she told her daughter Dee last episode, all she wanted with a workaholic husband and a grown-up daughter was some vibrant friends to give her life a bit of glamour. And she’s obviously accomplished that by the start of this episode, fitting right in with the garden club elite. But, as the dulcet tones of Jack Davenport warn us, Alma realizes that she still wants more. (With a now-destroyed Bertram fitting into the formerly contented fisherman role.)
This sets her on a path possibly even more precarious than the ones she’s already taken. Alma becomes even more manipulative, and this time without Bertram or anyone else in tow, pumping Joan’s fired maid for information and using that scandalous info (Joan’s affair with Grace) to secure her position as garden club president. She’s downright giddy about it, too, telling Joan that “My entire life has led up to this moment,” that she’s finally in charge of her own destiny. At long last, Alma has actual power—ill-gotten, to be sure, but she has it. And such is Allison Tolman’s delectable performance that you can actually her savoring this miraculous feeling, leagues away from the dowdy, drab housewife we saw spying through the window at the ladies in episode one. Now she’s not only one of them, she’s about to become their new leader after (figuratively) chopping off the head of their old one.
But Alma is so starry-eyed that she apparently she failed to process how blackmailing Joan would affect her relationship with Grace, probably her only true friend in the entire club. The scene where Grace turns her back on Alma while the crowd reluctantly claps for her as the sole garden club president candidate was heartbreaking; it was as if Grace was walking away with Alma’s last shreds of humanity. Alma may be the imminent president of the club, but now she doesn’t have any of the friends she longed for; just like Rita, she has power but no actual human connection. When we first met Rita, we might have wondered what makes a woman like that be the way that she is; after witnessing Alma’s transformation, we’re no longer wondering.
Because now it’s Rita’s turn to skulk around glamorous windows, post-prison, her reversal of fortune with Alma complete. (And kudos to the WWK team for making Lana Parrilla appear as dowdy as possible.) Rita is on the downside of the power arc, realizing that her friends weren’t really her friends at all, and she no longer has any influence over anyone. Except for Scooter, of course. Not sure that the actor/character of Scooter really sells the premise that he still loves Rita; also wobbly is Rita’s Hallmark proclamation that “No one is truly beautiful until they learn to love unselfishly, and those who receive such love are the richest people of all.” If we can get past that purple prose, we can discern what Rita was trying to convey: She thought she’d have everything with money and (especially) power, only to find that her position meant nothing without anyone to share it with. Alma and Rita both lose their partners courtesy of Catherine’s bullets by the end of the episode, leaving both ultimately alone. But even more unfortunately for Alma—thanks to her savvy son-in-law—the jig may finally be up, creating an intriguing setup for next week’s finale.
- When I wondered a few weeks ago who Grace was likely having the affair with, someone in the comments predicted that it would be one of the other ladies in the garden club (makes sense, since we haven’t really met anyone else). So kudos to that person!
- Favorite frocks: Was almost too distracted by the goings-on this week to focus on the clothes! Loved the sensational matching neutral metallic tones of all the ladies at Mavis’ birthday party. But since we haven’t featured her yet, let’s give it up for Catherine’s flattering dark blue dress topped with the silver fox fur of some sort? (I am no furrier, sorry). The perfect ensemble for tracking down your lover right before shooting him in the heart.
- Next week: The finale! Hoping against hope that we get one more Alma/Rita scene for the road (gotta be inevitable, right?)