This episode finds Nina in a boarding school for the blind in America. Her father has kept her survival a secret to keep her safe from the Voi. Her maternal aunt checks in on her periodically, while Nina and her father speak on the phone every Sunday. In the opening scene, the blind students are holding white snakes. Nina is comforting her snake, trying to make it more comfortable with being held. She can hear its heart beat.
Nina plays violin for her father during their weekly phone calls. He loves her playing, and would recognize her unique playing style anywhere. They both live for those phone calls. Every week they shed their skins and renew each other. Her father is in hiding from the Voi, and tells her she must be careful as well. She must stop speaking Russian until he tells her it’s safe again. He’s trying to find a safe home for them, but doesn’t know how long it will take. Until then, they both have to hide.
Nina gets called to the Headmistress’s office. Her aunt is there, and tells her that there was a terrible accident. Her father is gone, and Nina needs to leave the school. Nina insists that her father has gone into hiding to escape the Voi, and he will come for her. She goes to live with the aunt, but without the money Nina’s father was sending for her support, the aunt can’t really afford to take care of a blind child.
Nina ends up lonely, in a cold, dark house. Her aunt runs a private adoption agency, and the only bright spot in Nina’s life is helping with the babies. The couple who will end up adopting Nina come to the agency to adopt a baby. Nancy uses the bathroom, then hears a baby crying. She follows the noise, and finds Nina comforting the baby. Nancy recognizes how special Nina is, and wants to adopt her. Her husband, Abel, agrees. The aunt reluctantly allows it, since they can give her a better home, but they can’t tell anyone. The Johnsons agree, and change Nina’s name to Prairie. They shouldn’t tell anyone because it’s technically an illegal adoption, or because Nina’s still in hiding from the Voi, or both? Or because when Nina’s father finds out, he’ll come looking for her? If it’s a traceable adoption, he can find her and take her back.
Prairie settles in with the Johnsons. Eventually she starts sleepwalking and talking in Russian in every night. Abel records the dreams so that he can show a doctor. The psychiatrist tells the Johnsons that Prairie believes that her father is still alive and sending messages to her in dreams telling her where to find him. She also believes that her dreams are premonitions, and that the Voi are still after her. The psychiatrist tells the Johnsons that Prairie is showing early signs of serious mental illness. He suggests medicating Prairie since she shows signs of developing psychosis. He asks if either of her birth parents were mentally ill, but they don’t try to contact her aunt for any information. Is that because they are hiding the connection?
Prairie took the medication for 13 years. It numbed her, but didn’t stop the premonitions. She still had nosebleeds from the dreams that were messages. She continued to get messages from her father. She eventually dreamed of her father holding a cake with 21 candles, symbolizing her 21st birthday. They were to meet on that day at a place with the face of a giantess surrounded by water. The Statue of Liberty. Prairie left home and made her way there. She waited for her father all day, but he never showed up. Rather than give up, Prairie decided to play her violin in the subway until her father heard it and followed the sound to her. Her father never found her, but someone else did.
We return to present day Prairie telling her story. It’s morning now, so she and everyone else head home. Nancy sees Prairie arriving back at the house, and gets upset. She wants to have Prairie committed, since Prairie isn’t following the rules. Prairie begs her to reconsider. Abel advocates for Prairie. Prairie promises to try harder and to talk to someone from the FBI in exchange for being allowed a one hour walk each night. Nancy is worried that Prairie could disappear again without warning, and would rather lock her up than risk losing her. Not okay, Nancy.
Alfonso is getting himself and his two little brothers ready for school. He snorts a little something on his way out the door. There’s no parent helping them get ready. At school, he discovers he’s won a big scholarship. It has a character clause, so he needs to stay out of trouble, or risk losing it.
Steve and Jesse are fact checking Prairie’s story. The bus accident is real, but they can’t find any evidence of Nina Azarov. Buck offers to help, but Alfonso wants no part of it.
After school, Alfonso tells his mother about the scholarship. It allows him to go to any school in Michigan for free, so he can stay nearby and continue helping with his brothers. His mother isn’t particularly excited, and asks about Harvard. He hasn’t heard from them yet. She appears to have some form of mental illness, and her grasp of reality is tenuous.
Aflonso and Buck run into each other at the grocery store. They talk about Alfonso’s scholarship, and the pressures and expectations on them as Asians. Alfonso doesn’t plan on going to meet the others, but then he changes his mind at the last minute. When they get to the house, Steve is getting high. Buck tells him to stop. Steve says if he can’t do drugs at the house, everyone’s else’s supply is cut off, too, including Buck’s testosterone. Steve’s not exactly the altruistic sort. Buck looks upset, but sits down.
Prairie continues her story.
She plays her violin in the subway and ignores her own needs. Doesn’t eat or sleep enough, doesn’t stay warm. She dreams that if she casts a beautiful net, she’ll catch only beautiful things. One day, a man hears her playing, and is drawn to her. He recognizes her music as Russian, even though he’s American. He can tell from her playing style that she’s had a Near Death Experience (NDE). She goes to dinner with him, and the man, Hap, tells her his story. He’s a doctor who was always curious. He’s an anesthesiologist. One day, one of his patients flatlined. He heard something whoosh out of the patient, then whoosh back in. He became obsessed with figuring out where that something goes. He’s spent his life studying people who’ve had NDEs. He tells her that she should never have been medicated. The medication takes away what makes her special. Prairie is overwhelmed by having someone validate her for the first time since her birth father. Prairie asks Hap to take her home with him and study her as part of his research. He flies her home with him on his private plane. Oh, Prairie. No flight records for anyone to follow. No wonder no one could find you.
Prairie asks to call her parents from Hap’s house to tell them where she is and that she’s okay. They don’t answer, of course, because that phone line is undoubtedly fake. The jerk has the nerve to put Jim Croce’s Operator (That’s Not the Way It Feels) on the stereo while she calls. Prairie has apparently lost any survival instincts she ever had, but then she’s been drugged into not trusting herself for the last 13 years. Hap leads her to her “room,” down two flights of stairs, across a free-flowing spring that he left in his basement lab when he built it, and into the cell which she’ll call home for the next seven years. Prairie is smiling the whole way. Hap sits her down gently on the bed and tells her how happy he is to have her there. Then he closes and locks the door. Prairie finally becomes alarmed when she hears the door lock.
She jumps up and rushes to the edge of the room, bumping into the glass cell wall in a couple of steps. Hap ignores her, takes her backpack, and walks away. The man in the cell next to her explains the reality of her new situation. She’s awake, this is real, and there’s no escape. Hap might not come for her right away, but he will eventually. The only escape is in sleep and dreams. She’ll realize before long that she has no one to blame but herself.
He asks what her name is. She tells him it’s Prairie. He says his name is: “Homer.”
With that, present day Prairie jumps up and runs back home. Storytelling is done for today. She spends the rest of the night lying in the fetal position on top of her bed, rocking.
-No dolls in this episode. Prairie was the doll being toyed with.
-The blind children are holding and learning about white snakes. Snakes are symbols of healing, rebirth and regeneration. White snakes, in particular, are associated with immortality, and especially with the Chinese fairytale The Legend of the White Snake, in which a magical white female snake gains immortality, takes human form, marries a human man, brings him back to life after he dies due to the actions of a jealous rival, is imprisoned, and has a child. It’s an ancient, popular story that has many variations, right up to modern adaptations in popular culture.
-The Legend of the White Snake began as a horror story, but evolved into a romance, as the Madam White Snake evolved from an evil demon to a woman in love. Something to keep in mind as Prairie’s relationships evolve. She’s certainly paid her dues by being seen as mentally ill/possessed by a demon. She’s also spent most of her life being imprisoned one way or another: She spent her early childhood living in the Russian enclave in hiding, then moved to hiding in the school for the blind. Her aunt’s house had the most freedom in some ways, but felt more like a prison. Her adoptive parents imprisoned her mind with medication, rather than searching out answers to explain her behavior that made sense beyond “she’s developing a severe mental illness.” They went straight to psychosis, and skipped past trauma and PTSD, the probable causes of the dreams that weren’t premonitions. Her small town doctors and parents couldn’t imagine there being any truth to her stories. We still don’t know for sure if all of it’s true, either. We heard a snippet of Abel’s recording, so that much is true.
-The association between Prairie, Homer, immortality and resurrection is obvious. Prairie/Nina has always been magical, like Madam White Snake was even before she became immortal. Hap is the jealous rival, who is dangerous not only to Madam White Snake, but to her friends and loved ones as well. In the legend he drives her to violent acts of destruction as she’s trying to save those she loves. Madam White Snake is blamed and imprisoned for those acts of destruction.
-The aunt says, “There was an accident, a horrible accident and your papa is gone.” And the headmistress says, “Something has happened to your father.” No one ever says that Nina’s father has died, just that he won’t be in her life any more after this “accident.” The omission of words like dead and died, or even euphemisms like “passed away,” is glaring. Did the adults leave it out, or is that Nina leaving it out of her memory? Is it a hint that her father is still alive? I’m betting that he is. He had to go much deeper into hiding from the Voi, and never dreamed that his sister-in-law would sell his daughter. Even if she knew he wasn’t dead at first, after a while she gave up hope.
-Homer is not the optimistic person we met in his post-accident Youtube. His speech to Prairie is cold and cynical. Hap has broken him.
-Hap built his mad scientist lab himself, deep underground, which means no one knows it’s there, and no one would think to look for the sub-basement if they searched the house. Because it’s deep underground and surrounded by rock, it’s unlikely anyone outside on the surface would hear his captives scream. Classic.
-Jason Isaacs is at his cold and predatory best here. I haven’t enjoyed him being smooth and reptilian like this since he played Lucious Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies. I’m glad we know where we stand with him right away.
-Alice Krige and Scott Wilson are also fabulous as the meek parents who are trying to do the right thing for their complicated daughter, but have no idea what that might be. Nancy, in particular, is ending up becoming an accidental villain, as she tries so hard to hold onto normalcy that she smothers any chance at survival Nina might have. Alice Krige is amazing at playing characters who can’t understand why you would have a problem with them, when they’re just doing what’s right and best. I hope we get to see her find out the truth and become a fierce, protective mama bear.