Episode 4, Furs by Sebastian, is entirely comprised of one of Annie and Owen’s immersive “B” pill experiences. This one is driven by Annie, with Owen as a loyal sidekick, though his issues do bleed into the scenario as well. They begin as a seemingly normal, working class couple, but that doesn’t last long. Neither of the subjects really has “normal” coded into their genes. They couldn’t make “normal” work if they tried.
Normal is overrated anyway.
We begin with Bruce Marino (Owen’s alias in this reality), who’s waiting in his car outside of the Department of Motor Vehicles and reading a marriage advice book by Dr Greta Mantleray titled See Her, See You, See We. He’s worried that his marriage is failing and hopes that Dr Greta can help him fix it. He underlines a passage in the book: “She’s often telling you what she needs. Your job as her husband is to hear it.”
Annie/Linda Marino is waiting in line inside the DMV. She waits until the worker who’s wearing glasses with giant lenses is available. Annie claims that a particular van that’s driven by a bad driver is terrorizing her street, and she wants to file a complaint. All she has is the license plate number from the van. The worker says that she can only file a report with that information, she can’t give the driver’s name and address to Annie. When she brings up the driver’ information on the computer screen, it reflects onto her glasses and Annie surreptitiously writes it on her arm. Now that she has what she really came for, she decides to withdraw the fake complaint and leaves.
When Linda gets in the car with Bruce, her husband, she lies about what she was doing inside, telling him that she failed the written test again. She wants him to take her to the address that she copied, 534 Ashton Place. The address turns out to be a fur store, the titular Furs by Sebastian. As Linda and Bruce go into the shop, Linda asks Bruce to distract the front salesman while she snoops round the back. She asks Sebastian, who takes care of Bruce personally, where the bathroom is.
In the backroom, behind a locked door labelled with the code “1,2,3,4”, she finds
what who she was looking for: A live lemur named Wendy, in a small cage.
Sebastian is busy trying to sell Bruce a long bullet-proof fur coat in the front showroom, but his two moronic sons, who appear to live in the back room, wander in to practice their boy band moves. Linda nearly gets caught by them, but she sneaks out of the room during a distracting dance sequence. She grabs Bruce and they get out quickly. Linda has to leave Wendy the Lemur behind in order to save herself, but she promises to return.
Dance photos, just because I can. Joseph Sikora (JC) wins the unsung hero award for this episode. Lance just can’t keep up with JC’s level of talent and commitment. If only JC weren’t such a deplorable person.
According to JC, Wendy is a very rare, very valuable ring-tailed lemur with 31 transverse rings on her tail. She’s worth $20k, so JC tells Lance not to leave the security code stuck to the wall above the keypad. Sebastian is planning to kill Wendy tomorrow to begin the process of turning her into a hat. JC is put out by his father’s plan because it interferes with his dance rehearsal.
Sebastian finds that bullet-proof furs come in very handy. He has a safe full of guns. Thinking this isn’t the first animal he’s stolen for its fur. At least there aren’t 101 lemurs.
Once Bruce and Linda are back in their car, he demands to be told what’s really going on. Linda explains that the furriers have her patient’s lemur, Wendy. Linda, a caregiver in a nursing home, had gotten close to one of her elderly patients, Nan, who was dying. Just before she died, Nan asked to be alone with Linda, then charged her with bringing Wendy to Nan’s estranged daughter. Linda assumes that the lemur is a peace-offering and gesture of love and reconciliation from the dying mother to her child.
Two days ago, someone tried to buy the lemur from Nan, but she refused to sell. Nan passed yesterday, so Linda took charge of Wendy and prepared to bring her to Nan’s daughter. She stopped for two minutes to pee at Bagel Boss, and the dastardly folk who drive the Furs by Sebastian van, which is currently across the parking lot from them, swooped in and stole her, with plans to turn her into a hat tomorrow.
Linda didn’t tell Bruce about it at first because she’s embarrassed that she messed it up, just like she always does. Bruce doesn’t think the situation is messed up, but he does think that they should call the police. Linda refuses, because Wendy is an illegal immigrant who’ll be detained and deported if she’s discovered by the authorities. Nan wanted Linda to be the only one who tackled this mission. “She was very specific.”
Bruce, the best husband and sidekick ever, realizes that they have to break into the store tonight and save Wendy from certain doom. Linda is surprised he doesn’t think she’s bonkers. He says, “That’s why I married you, babe. You’re a force of nature.”
Aw. 1) We need this treatment to work so that Owen can be the best husband and partner ever in real life. 2) Everybody, find a partner who thinks your crazy is so charming and exciting that they can’t wait to see what you do next. That’s true love.
Linda gives Bruce an adoring look, then sneezes. She was exposed to a Chinchilla at Sebastian’s, and she’s allergic.
Later, Linda leaves for work while Bruce has dinner with their 3 kids. Bruce is momentarily disappointed, because he thought they were leaving together. Their daughter, Danielle, tells jokes at the dinner table, which Bruce loves. A babysitter arrives to watch the kids during the heist. Bruce says, “Love you,” to Linda as she’s on her way out, but she doesn’t respond. She’s wrapped up in her own issues, while he’s wrapped up in her.
Linda reads Don Quixote to Harriet, Nan’s former roommate. It’s a passage about bringing Don Quixote home and curing him of his madness. When she’s done, she asks if Harriet misses Nan. Harriet says that she’s glad it was Nan and not her. Not that she wanted
Ellie Nan to die, but she’s grateful to be the one who survived.
Yikes. That’s quite an honest admission from Annie’s psyche, seemingly offered without guilt, even though in the real world she’s been punishing herself for surviving for 5 long years.
But wait. As Linda leaves Harriet’s room and goes out to the nurse’s station, she finds Agent Lopez, a NY Fish and Wildlife Services officer, waiting for her. He wants to question her about Nan and Wendy.
When she asks if he’s a cop, he says that there’s not much of a difference, authority-wise, which is what the Milgrim Industries security guard, played by the same actor, Jojo Gonzalez, said to Annie when he told her to move on from perusing the discarded office supplies. The feeling that something bad is chasing her, and she’ll never escape it, is creeping into this reality.
Agent Lopez verifies the known facts in the lemur case, and explains to Linda that there’s a zesty black market in ring-tailed lemurs. It’s up to him to make sure that Wendy is safely reunited with her family in
Salt Lake City Madagascar, because family is important. Linda appears cooperative, but doesn’t tell Lopez anything.
Bruce waits outside the nursing home for Linda’s shift to be over. He listens to Dr Greta Mantleray’s talk radio show, which has the tagline, “What’s giving you pain today?” Her first questioner is Hank, from Cold Harbor, who says, “Hi Greta. I love my wife and we’re raising two amazing little girls. But I’m afraid of her and she’s really bothering…” Bruce switches to a station playing “Out of Touch” by Hall and Oates.
The caller is Annie’s real life father, Hank. He must have a phone in the A-Void pod. 😘
When Annie gets to the car, Bruce gives her a bottle of antihistamines so the chinchilla won’t make her sneeze, but she says she heard somewhere that antihistamines are bad for you. “They stop your body from defending itself.” Bruce says not to take it if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t. The antihistamine is the “A” pill.
Bruce sounded slightly annoyed that she refused his thoughtful gift. The “A” pill and antihistamines do weaken the body’s defenses (the immune system and the mind’s psychological armor, its defense mechanisms), but only the parts that are out of control and harming the body and mind.
Linda isn’t ready to face her demons.
Linda takes out a squirt gun that she’s painted black to look like a real gun, and a brick, the poor man’s key to the city. Now Bruce is alarmed. Linda hasn’t even told him about Sebastian’s safe full of real guns or the brothers who live in the room with Wendy.
They aren’t ready for what they’re about to face, either literally or figuratively.
Figuratively, the fur store represents Annie’s mind and issues (in case you haven’t figured that out), with a relatively socially acceptable but menacing and bullet-proof exterior (Sebastian) and a subconscious which is ruthless and calculating, but keeps messing up (the boys in the back room). Her mind is holding onto her grief for Ellie/Wendy, as the small kernel of hope that she’ll find familial closeness with anyone, ever.
She’s afraid that Ellie held the key to her humanity. If she lets go of Ellie, she might lose the last of her ability to care about others and become completely self-absorbed. That’s why she has to be the one to take care of the lemur. Agent Lopez is her conscience/superego/the mentally healthy part of her that’s trying to get her to do the right thing and move on from her trauma.
When they get to the strip mall, Linda throws the brick through the front window of the fur store, then crows that she knew these guys weren’t smart enough to have an alarm. Don’t silent alarms exist in this reality? Bruce is shocked and says that he doesn’t know who she is any more. This might be too crazy for him.
They couldn’t have, maybe, jimmied the lock on the back door?
Linda leads the way in. When they get to the back room, the code’s been changed. After a moment, Linda figures out that it’s the next 4 steps in the dance sequence, “5,6,7,8”. They hurry in and grab Wendy, but Lance is asleep on the couch and Linda has to sneeze.
This is why we leave robbery and psychotherapy to the professionals.
Meanwhile, JC has driven the van up to the front door and noticed the giant broken window, and the brick. He takes the brick to the back room. When Bruce opens the door so he and Linda can make off with the lemur, JC pounds them both on the head with their own brick.
Next thing Bruce and Linda know, they’re tied up on the couch, Sebastian is there, and he’s contemplating ways to murder them after he’s made them watch him skin Wendy. They’re saved, maybe, when Agent Lopez arrives and uses a bullhorn from outside to instruct Sebastian to free the hostage, Wendy the Lemur.
Sebastian forgets about Bruce and Linda, now that he has a bigger battle to fight. He tells his boys, “Your grandfather always said, ‘The American Dream is like a giant tree. You just keep climbing and climbing until you can almost touch the sun. And if someone tries to chop it down, you [screw] them in the face.”
He weapons up and puts on his bullet-proof fur as he talks, then kicks the door down as he stalks out to confront the authorities. We get another version of the “not much difference authority-wise” conversation, which means it’s an important concept to Annie for some reason.
Sebastian and Lopez posture and bait each other, then open fire with everything they’ve got. Both have obviously been waiting for the chance to fight a “real” battle. This is Annie’s self-destructive tendency to blow it all up rather than face something uncomfortable.
Lance and JC argue over guns (Lance represents basic bodily functions and drive for comfort, while JC represents the drive to protect oneself by any means necessary, such as ruthlessness and selfishness) then join the fight, leaving Bruce and Linda alone in the back room.
Bruce tells Linda to untie him so that he can get them out of there. Uh huh. Then he has trouble untying her, and for a moment he considers leaving her there. Maybe not the perfect husband.
Symbolically, Bruce is both a potential real life partner and Annie’s soft emotional underbelly. She appreciates the existence of both, but can’t get too close, because she’s as dangerous to them as they are to her. She can’t handle another loss like the loss of Ellie and her mother, and she’s afraid she’d bring it on through overemotional, out of control behavior if she lets herself feel too much.
Her father was afraid of her mother- Of her emotional outbursts? Of drunken rages? Annie is afraid that she’s too much like her mother to have a successful, close relationship with anyone.
So most of her mind fights a pointless battle (tilts at windmills), while she tries to convince herself that she can complete her mission with Bruce and Wendy.
They try to escape out the front, through the thick of the battle, but the violence is so bad that Lance is shot at least a dozen times, so they find a back door instead. As the shooting continues, they carry Wendy to the car unnoticed and race out to the highway. Oops, Lopez notices them just before they leave the parking lot.
When they pull up in front of Nan’s daughter’s house, Linda says that she’s sorry this has all been so weird. Bruce says it hasn’t been weird at all. She has a way of making life exciting. She says, with a flirty smile, “Excuse me while I go deliver a lemur.”
Once again, not a negative response, but not equal to his affection. A reference only to herself, in fact. Within the dream narrative, she takes him for granted. I don’t think she’s paid him a single complement, shown him any physical affection, or said that she’s glad she’s married to him, while he showers her with praise and thinks about her needs. This marriage is all about her.
I think that Annie’s basing her main characters on her parents, exploring how it would feel to give in to her worst personality traits, both in their potential to drive her to make connections and to drive her to break them.
And now we get to the wildcard portion of our drug-induced vision.
Linda takes Wendy to the front door of a typical Cape Cod suburban house, with a sign on the front door that says The “Nazlunds” on it. Nan’s daughter, Paula, answers and lets Linda and Wendy in. She’s been expecting them, but she’s not happy to see them. Linda wants to explain why Nan had her bring the lemur, but Paula tells her that she doesn’t actually understand the situation.
Linda tells Paula the story anyway, about the dying mother, and her deathbed love and desire for reconciliation. When she’s done, Paula looks at her and says, “No, that’s not an “I love you” lemur. That’s a “go f— yourself” lemur.”
Paula takes out the letter from her mother that she received yesterday, and reads to Linda from it:
I’m close to dying now and I’ve been thinking of that terrible argument we had. Tempers flared, you said things I’m sure you regret, but now that death may separate us forever, maybe you’ll finally come to your senses and realize lemurs are better than human children. Here are the reasons why: 1) Lemurs don’t talk back. 2) Lemurs aren’t selfish. 3) Lemurs don’t destroy what you hope to make of yourself. 4) Lemurs like to cuddle. 5) Lemurs are not capable of operating large vehicles or heavy machinery. A lemur will bring you far more joy than a child ever will. Please take Wendy, and avoid making the same mistake I made by having you.
Love, your mother, Nan
Nan was wrong. Everyone knows that it’s reindeers who are better than people.
As Paula reads numbers 4 & 5 from the list, Greg F.U.N. Nazlund’s semi truck barrels down Paula’s street at a speed that has to break the neighborhood speed limit. Bruce is broken out of his reading spell, just as he’s reached a page showing a photo of Olivia Meadows, which says that she’s his emotional poltergeist. This is the Olivia who was involved with his first, catastrophic, psychotic episode.
Annie Linda says, “Maybe she’s right. You shouldn’t have children.”
Paula sarcastically tells Linda that she seems exactly like the sort of person her mother would be friends with. Then she says that she’s already pregnant, so Linda and Nan’s wishes are too late. She’s going to name her baby boy Greg “F— You Nan” Nazlund, as a tribute to a woman who wanted a lemur more than she wanted her daughter.
Linda leaves, and takes Wendy with her. Bruce wants to go in and give Paula a piece of his mind, but Linda stops him.
As they drive home,
Annie Linda tells Owen Bruce a story:
This one morning, it was back when we lived upstate, my sister and I woke up and no one was home. Not my mom, not my dad, the whole house was empty. And my sister got scared. And so I took her hand and I said, “No problem.” We’d go out and find ’em. Like an adventure. And so, we went out, and we started walking down this driveway. You know, we had that long driveway that went on for almost a mile? And after a while, I saw my dad’s old, gray pickup truck. And I could see it was on because of the exhaust. And, as we got closer, I could see it was just one person in the car, in the driver’s seat. I could see it was just my dad. In the front. Sitting there. I saw that he was crying. He was crying, and he saw me in the rear view. When I looked at his eyes, I knew right away, that my mom was either dead, or gone forever. Somethin’. And I had my sister’s hand, cause all I cared about was keepin’ her away. And she stopped. And I said, “Come on. Let’s go back and let’s make a cake. We’ll pretend it’s your birthday. And she looked up at me and she said, “Okay.” And we walked back, and we made a cake.
Bruce is confused. Linda’s parents aren’t divorced. They agree that she’s confused because she’s tired and mildly concussed.
This is when Annie’s childhood ended. She put aside her own developmental needs in order to raise Ellie, and she did a good job. Ellie turned out well-adjusted and “normal”. And then it was all gone in the blink of an eye, because a guy whose mother should have had a lemur instead of a baby didn’t pull over and take a nap.
Annie can try to avoid being like her mother, but she can’t avoid suddenly losing another loved one. No matter how far she runs with little Wendy, the lemur will still be rare and valuable, with a price on her head and authorities waiting to deport her to a “better” home. Like in
Salt Lake City Madagascar.
Being abandoned by her mother and having to become an adult too young, and losing Ellie so horribly and unexpectedly, with so much unfinished business, are the two wounds that Annie needs to confront. Her ingrained behavior all has to do with not having dealt with those two traumas.
Linda and Bruce get back to their house and relieve the babysitter. Bruce pays the sitter while Linda lays down on the couch and tries to fall asleep. Is that where she normally sleeps?
She says that she wants to keep Wendy. Bruce replies that he’s sorry he can’t make her happy. She keeps her eyes closed and says of course he makes her happy, he’s always made her happy. We’re seeing Bruce reflected in a multipaneled wall mirror, rather than the real person.
Bruce says, “Okay,” in a voice that says he doesn’t believe her, but she doesn’t notice. He takes out the trash.
While he’s dragging the trash can to the curb, Agent Lopez shows up at the house with reinforcements, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Bruce immediately puts his hands in the air and starts yelling that he did it and it had nothing to do with Linda. As he’s being cuffed, he’s sees Grimsson watching him from an old Rolls Royce.
Has his marriage to Linda been a sham all along? Did his parents pay her to marry him? Is that why she withholds affection?
Linda lies on the couch, wide awake, and lets her husband take the fall for her. Did she phone Agent Lopez and turn him in to get rid of him? Did Annie’s father turn in her mother for committing a crime, or force her into rehab?
If Lopez symbolizes Annie’s rational mind, then her healthy side won and brought
Wendy Ellie out into the light, along with Annie’s underbelly of vulnerability (Bruce). But she still has a knot of darkness to work out, which is why her own avatar stayed on the couch.
Bruce says “fudge” instead of swearing, but he says it a lot. Linda just swears.
When JC goes to hit Linda with the brick, Linda drops Wendy and protects her face/looks.
As Bruce and Linda are putting Wendy in the car, Sebastian is yelling about Lance in the background, “You killed a star! A big, bright, burning star! A full burning star! Don’t stop burning!” Lance is the representation of physical experiences. Robert freebased (burned) himself to death by wallowing in his demons and sensory experiences. Annie could have done the same, had she taken his 2nd bottle of “A” pills and continued her addictive behavior.
Both Lance and JC were in episode 1, going to have to check to see who they are in “real” life. ETA: In episode 1, JC/Joseph Sikora is the man in the deli who doesn’t know how he got to Poland. Annie gets coffee and avoids making eye contact. When she breaks into the paper box to steal quarters, the big headline is “Bladdergate.” There are a lot of guys in the background who look like Lance/Leo Fitzpatrick. If anyone figures out which one is him, let me know!
There’s a prominent owl on Olivia’s shirt in her poltergeist photo.
Was Annie’s dad trying to kill himself by running the exhaust into the truck when she found him in the driveway? She mentions knowing the car was running because she saw the exhaust, but that could have been a lie. The first time we “see” him, he’s in the casket like A-VOID pod, with hoses running into it, and she asks him if he’s dead. No symbolism there. Is that a standard question between them? He still owns the old truck that she found him in that day. He also has a gun in his safe, leaving himself another viable suicide option. At the very least, he’s emotionally checked out, and seems to have been for a long time. Since his wife left and Annie took over with Ellie?
Dr Mantleray’s Secret Study Parameters from the episode 1 opening video:
Hypothesis: All souls are on a quest to connect. Corollary: Our minds have no awareness of this quest. Hypothesis: All the worlds that Almost Were, matter just as much as the world we’re in. Corollary: These hidden worlds cause us great pain. Camaraderie, communion, family, friendship, love, what have you. We’re lost without connection. It’s quite terrible to be alone. Put simply, my goal is to eradicate all unnecessary and inefficient forms of human pain. Forever. We must evolve past out suffering. My research into this matter is, of course, ongoing.
In this episode, the way that the therapy explores the hypotheses begins to become more obvious. The “B” pill hallucinations are examples of the “Almost Were” Worlds that still hurt. All of our potentials, our “might have beens” and “if onlys”, haunt us as much as the things we did do.
Owen can’t help but give in too easily and allow himself to be used, in order to avoid confrontation and pain. He assumes that he’ll lose if it comes to a fight, either because he’s physically weaker than his opponent and doesn’t have the guts to hit hard and do real damage, or because, in a verbal argument, the real feelings of the other party, and how little they care about him, will be revealed. Owen’s behavior pattern is probably honestly based on long hard experience and has likely been beaten into him by his parents, brothers, friends of the family, and school. Kid never had a chance.
In this scenario, Bruce/Owen still sacrificed himself to keep his family safe and happy, and to avoid arguing. He still asked for and expected nothing in return, because he doesn’t think he deserves having a safe, happy life in which he is loved, so he’s sure that it’s an impossible dream.
In his real life, discovering 7 months ago just how far Jed was willing to go to hurt him, and just how much his family despises him, had to be a wake up call. His first reaction was his suicide attempt. His second reaction was to establish as much independence in his life as possible, but he still didn’t either break away completely or make a show of strength to scare them off.
Annie actually means well, and tries to take care of the other adult(s) in her charge. She doesn’t seem to be particularly interested to kids, her own or anyone else’s (whereas we saw Owen choose kids over adults at the recital). But it frequently comes down to a choice between taking care of herself or someone else. She chooses herself, every time. She’ll lie, cheat, or steal her way through every situation, and throw her allies to the wolves if necessary. She learned young that no one else was going to take care of her, so she’d better do it herself, and do it right the first time.
This is what happens in episode 4. She has a decent job and family, but decides that something else, a favor for a woman she hardly knows, is more important, and she has to risk everything for it. And in the end, she lies there on the couch while Owen/Bruce is arrested for the crimes she masterminded.
It’s symbolic of the way she blames herself for lying at the top of the cliff while Ellie and the car went over it.
I realize that this is a tangled and probably contradictory interpretation. Annie’s mind is a complicated place, and I did my best to pare down the threads to make it make sense. That meant leaving out some aspects, like Groucho=Wendy and the lack of a fantasy father figure to replace Hank (Sebastian and the goons are mostly Owen’s creations), while Nan replaces the mother who in real life left her with insurmountable burdens (for a child).
Images courtesy of NBC.