In episode 7, Fatal Exception, Emily makes a move to take Jo’s place as Piper’s mom. She forces Alan Wilkis to help her as she slowly replaces Piper’s memories of Jo with memories of herself. Jo races to find Emily and Alan while protecting the people Emily threatens. Ed and Alex remain angry with Jo over the secrets she kept from them about Piper.
Jo is trying to avoid the Fatal Exception of having Piper learn that she’s an AI, since knowledge of the truth about what she is would set up a cascade failure in her brain. Or at least that’s the way she’s designed. The fact that Piper continuously moves beyond her programming and has already been gradually learning that she’s different suggests that she can evolve past the fatal exception.
Now that Piper knows that she’s been meeting with Emily in her mind instead of Kindred, Emily sets out to win Piper over. The pier where they’ve been meeting turns into an amusement park and cotton candy appears in Piper’s hand. Except Piper isn’t interested in any of Emily’s fun choices. Emily tells Piper that she knows what Piper likes, and everything else about her, because she’s her real mom. Piper rejects Emily and insists that she’ll remember Emily when she wakes up this time. Emily almost dares her to try, but doesn’t think it’s possible. Piper calmly states that she will and that she doesn’t want to talk to Emily anymore, then leaves.
Back in the real world, Emily pulls off a virtual reality mask, then asks Alan Wilkis if he understands what she’s been trying to show him. While Piper is amazing, she’s also a catastrophic failure, because she doesn’t love Emily the way she’s supposed to. Emily kidnapped Alan and he was injured in the process. He doesn’t want to help her, since he still sees Piper solely as a dangerous weapon and he doesn’t like or trust Emily.
Ed is still being snippy with Jo because she withheld information about Piper from him. He insists that he’d never hurt Piper on purpose so there’s no justifiable reason for the chief of police to keep information from family members, which is a completely ridiculous storyline, but whatever. Besides Piper being part of multiple ongoing investigations, we just finished the storyline where Ed withheld his own medical information from the whole family for weeks and almost got in a car accident while the kids were in the car with him.
How can he now argue that Jo has to tell everyone everything? This secret actually relates to Piper’s private medical information, the exact kind of information Ed withheld and the type that everyone has the legally protected right to keep private, even from family.
Alex and Mia stop by to pick up some things and Mia complains to Jo about being kept away from home and Piper. Jo tries to explain the situation in a neutral way that backs up Alex. Alex thanks her, but is still angry with her. Jo takes it in stride, even though she’s frustrated, because Jo is an actual saint.
Next Jo talks to Piper, who feels bad about the situation. She’s determined to learn to control her powers so Mia can come home.
Jo brings Piper to work with her, where Piper makes fingerprint pictures based on her time in the imaginary amusement park with Emily. She tells Jo that she knows Emily from a dream, but she doesn’t like her. Chris calls in to say that they’ve found Alan’s truck, which has been in an accident and shows signs of a struggle. Since Emily is one of the few people who knows he’s alive, they send a car to her house.
Alan figures out that Emily stole his research from his backup server before he erased it. She’s also holding his wife, Maria, hostage to get him to cooperate.
Benny stops by the station and Jo fills him in. Emily has emptied out her apartment and Jo has realized that she’s been leading them to do what she wanted all along. As they talk, Jo figures out that Emily put Kindred in jail and he allowed it to happen. He must be protecting her for some reason. They have all of the electronics in the police station scanned for any spyware Emily might have left behind.
Jo visits Kindred in prison after doing some research. He won’t admit to anything until she shows him that she can prove that Emily is his illegitimate daughter. He didn’t help raise her but did give her a job once she grew up. He tells Jo that Emily is broken and can’t be helped. He considers Piper, the object of her love, to be a thing and a sick obsession. He won’t help the police find Emily because she’s his daughter, even if she’s criminally insane and he doesn’t care about her very much.
It’s the principal of the thing.
Alan helps Emily with the code she wanted him to write. Then she tells him he’s an idiot for expecting she’d let Maria go after he did what she wanted. She draws Piper into the program, then uses library imagery to rewrite her memories. Each book that Piper opens replaces a memory of Jo with a similar memory of Emily instead.
The first memory to be replaced is the one from the hospital on the night of the plane crash, when Piper told Abby that she wanted to go home with Jo. Now it switches to Piper saying she wants to go home with Emily. Piper knows the memory has been altered, but Emily praises her like she’s accomplished something, confusing her.
An IT guy takes Jo and Benny’s phones to check to see if Emily left malware on them. Chris has been using the town library’s computers to search Emily’s financial information and for potential hide outs, but he’s come up short on both. She doesn’t have any credit cards and isn’t registered anyplace. Benny suggests checking obscure properties owned by Kindred, then heads off to the library to do it himself.
Daphne brings Jo the results of the sweep of Alan Wilkis’ car, which shows one unidentified set of prints. Jo asks if Chris ever talked to the Widow Wilkis, but she hasn’t been answering her phone. Jo orders him to knock on Widow Maria’s door.
Emily and Alan are having some difficulties in working together. Alan still thinks he’s the boss and can trash talk Emily all he wants while maintaining his rich male arrogance. As is typical of that type of man, he blames Emily for the issues with Piper’s programming that are likely his own design flaws.
He implies that the problem is that Emily is unlovable.
We saw in the training videos that Piper was meant to be inserted into new situations for missions, so she should be able to fake emotions. But he’s unable to get Piper to act like she loves Emily, which means she couldn’t be inserted into a new situation now that she’s acclimated to Jo and her family. So, design failure, at least according to his parameters, which view Piper as an easily programmable machine.
If you view her as a child who can be asked to do things, it’s a whole different story. Then the problem is that he’s trying to force emotions onto Piper, when he could just ask her to play pretend for awhile.
Emily quickly disabuses him of the notion that he’s in charge by threatening the Widow Maria. Thankfully, Alan still cares about Maria and suddenly remembers that he might be able to help. But he needs access to all of Piper’s code. It’s a bold counter move, given what Piper is capable of and the fact that Emily only understands a fraction of it. He could sabotage her and Emily might not catch it until too late.
Chris knoocks on the Widow Maria’s door. He asks if she’s heard from Alan. She reminds him that her husband is dead. He tells her Alan might not be as dead as they thought. She’s surprisingly uninterested in that information and slams the door in his face. Chris gets the hint that he should investigate the situation further.
Alex drops Mia at the library so she can study. She’s working on a project on the human reproductive system. He thinks Jo should help with the finer points of the project, because, ew, girl parts. Or maybe ew, diagrams. It’s left unspecified.
Mia asks how long the argument over Piper is going to last. Alex reiterates that he’s trying to keep her safe. Mia tells him the story of how Piper saved her and Ed’s lives when he almost killed them by passing out while driving and a truck almost hit them.
Everyone remembers the truck. No one remembers that they would have had an accident anyway, because their car was driverless. Ed didn’t feel his fainting spell coming on and pull over. Or, even worse, he couldn’t feel it.
Before she gets out of the car, Mia makes sure to drive the point home that because of her grandfather, she would probably be dead, if not for Piper.
Chris goes to the back of Maria’s house and sees that she’s being held hostage. He breaks in, then sneaks up on the henchman and subdues him after a brief fight. More excellent police work from Officer Chris. He takes Maria to the police station for safekeeping.
When Jo gets home, she finds Piper in her bedroom, reading. Piper wants to visit Mia, but Jo says that she and Alex are coming over for dinner. Jo is leaving the room when Piper suddenly stands up and speaks in a strange, machine-like version of Alan’s voice: “This is Alan Wilkis. I don’t know where I am. Emily’s having me reprogram the AI. I will delay as long as I can. Find me.”
Piper comes back to herself and doesn’t remember what happened. Jo calls Benny over to stay with Ed and Piper while she goes to deal with the Alan-Emily situation. She wants someone at the house who knows the whole story so that she doesn’t have to fill her dad in yet. Ed isn’t impressed with Benny and exerts his alpha male status by a foisting basket of laundry on him that needs to be folded.
Jo questions Maria at the station. She thinks she heard a train whistle while on the phone with Alan. Jo and Chris realize it must have been a ferry horn, which tells them which one of Kindred’s abandoned properties Emily is hiding out at.
Emily has converted almost all of Piper’s memories of Jo into memories of herself. The last memory is the one of Jo telling Piper about losing her mother. Emily replaces it with herself telling Piper about her sadness at her father’s rejection. She tells Piper that it’s okay, because now she has Piper. Then she tells Piper to wake up.
Piper comes to awareness on the couch, with Ed calling her to dinner. He asks if she fell asleep sitting up. Emily, Mia and Alex come into the room. Mia says everything is fine now. Alex says he’ll work things out with Mia’s mom, referring to Emily. Piper knows something is wrong. She continues to be confused during dinner, but Mia assures her that Emily is her mom.
Jo and Chris find a henchman driving Alan away from the suspect property in an SUV. He tels them that Emily left hours before.
Back in the real world, Piper is sitting on the couch in a catatonic state. Ed is more worried about his own bruised ego than the catatonic kid on the couch. Benny looks concerned about Piper, but Ed distracts him with an argument, complaining that Benny is there to babysit him and won’t tell him the truth about Piper. Benny tells Ed that Jo would only keep something secret for a good reason, which Ed can’t argue with. So finally Ed turns to Piper and notices that she’s zoning out.
Piper startles when Ed touches her and says she’ll answer the door, even though the doorbell hasn’t rung. Benny tries to stop Ed, then to stop Piper. Emily is at the door and Piper hugs her. Benny tries to stop her, but Piper doesn’t understand why. Ed is confused about who Emily is and Benny says she’s not allowed in the house. Piper says that it’s Emily’s house.
Emily and Piper start to leave together, but Benny grabs Emily’s arm. Emily tells Piper that he’s hurting her. Emily makes the house shake and everything fall off the shelves. She throws Benny into a wall, then says she didn’t mean to do it. Emily is thrilled and tells Piper she was just protecting her, so it’s fine.
Mia and Alex pull up in front of Jo’s house just as Piper and Emily come outside. They’re happy, because they have plans to have dinner with the family and work things out with Jo. When Alex sees Emily and Piper, he jumps out of the car to stop Piper. She doesn’t remember who Jo is. Emily urges her to keep walking, but she’s confused and stuck between Emily and Alex.
Jo takes Alan back into the abandoned house, where the computer he used is still running, and tells him to fix whatever he did to Piper. He refuses to try, saying Emily hijacked all of the algorhythms. Jo points out that Alan did, not Emily, so he can undo it. Jo can’t believe that there isn’t a safety or a reset that Alan can use.
He’s back to his usual arrogant, uncooperative self. He remembers that he could break down the firewall that keeps Piper from knowing she’s an AI. It’s a fatal exception rather technically fatal to Piper. More like a factory reset than true death. Her hard drive would be erased and she’d lose her personality and memories, but she’d live.
Or at least that’s the theory. Since Alan had nothing to do with Piper’s creation other than creating an early version of her code, he’s actually whistling in the dark, despite the way he sounds so certain of everything.
And she wouldn’t explode. Which is odd, because he keeps acting like she’s going to end the world any minute now. Like, he pretty literally says, repeatedly, everytime we see him, there’s no ghost in the machine, she’s not real, so why do all of you crazy women care so much about a little girl who could destroy the world?
Just what is it he’s afraid she’ll do?
Vote a progressive democrat into office who’ll tax his hidden billions in stocks and bonds? Is she going to end his misogynist, capitalist world by compassioning everyone into a social democracy? Oh, the horror.
Alan points to Piper’s code and asks Jo if that looks like a little girl to her. I guess he’s never looked at his own medical test results. People are reduced to numbers all the time, too. And dismissed because of it, the way he’s dismissing Piper. He tells Jo that Piper doesn’t remember her, anyway, as if the only thing that matters to a mother is what her child thinks of her.
No one would ever make it through the teenage years, if that were true.
Jo: “It doesn’t matter if she knows who I am. I know who she is. I’m not letting you destroy her.”
Alan: “I’m not asking permission.”
Well, that says it all, doesn’t it. No consent necessary.
Jo pulls out her gun, because she is the best mom and police chief ever.
He laughs at her, because he’s the biggest *ss ever. He can’t believe she’d shoot him, HIM! to protect a child. But Jo is better and smarter than that anyway. She shoots the computer instead.
I would have been okay with her shooting him, but Maria should really be the one to do it, on the stairs of that big house, with a drink in her other hand, like something out of a film noir. He should be returning home for the first time, unannounced, at night, and she should say she thought it was another kidnapper. It would be beautiful poetic justice in so many ways. Jo would totally make sure she wasn’t even charged with anything.
Back at Jo’s house, Mia gets out of the car while Emily and Alex are each trying to influence a very confused Piper. Alex tells Mia to get back in the car, but she doesn’t listen. She looks Piper in the eye and worriedly asks if Piper’s okay. Piper focusses on her sister and breaks through the mental fog. Inside her mind, she goes back to Emily’s library and returns all of the memories to their original form.
In the real world, she goes to Alex, who puts an arm around her and hurries her and the rest of the family inside.
He becomes her dad in that moment, whether he knows it or not. You don’t rescue the princess from the witch without it meaning something.
Emily runs to her pedophile van and drives away.
When Jo gets home, Benny is waiting on the sidewalk and Alex is on the porch. The Queen has too many princes to choose from, and running the kingdom has to come first anyway. She stops to talk to Benny and Alex steps inside to express his disappointment that she still hasn’t shared the whole truth with him.
Upstairs in Piper’s room, Mia and Piper tell Jo their dramatic version of the encounter with Emily. Then Piper says that Alex told her she was brainwashed, which they explain means Emily mind controlled her. She says her mind was telling her to go with Emily but the real her didn’t want to, so she stayed. Mia says she’s excited to be sleeping at home again tonight, and they move on to the next adventure.
Downstairs, Jo checks in with Ed, who’s friendlier than he was that morning. Then she thanks Alex for letting Mia spend the night. He’s not ready to say that everything is okay, but he also doesn’t want Jo to find another place for Piper to stay, and he knows she wouldn’t let Piper go anyway. He doesn’t know how to fix their issues or if they even can.
A prison guard brings Kindred a package with a phone. Kindred calls the number that’s programmed into it and Emily answers. She cries that she’s lost Piper. Kindred promises that he’ll be out of prison soon and then they’ll clean up this mess and start over, one more time. But Emily doesn’t want the man who broke her, she wants Piper. She doesn’t want him to clean up her messes anymore, either. She’s a big girl now and can do that herself. She hangs up on her father. The guard returns and shoves a capsule into Kindred’s mouth. As the guard leaves the cell, blood oozes out onto the hall floor.
This is your weekly reminder that Jo and her crew are fighting a David vs Goliath battle, and they’re doing it from the computers in the town library, like it’s 1999 or Stranger Things. Not that I’m complaining. I love the small town hokiness and teamwork of this show. Bring on all the family warmth you can give me.
Maria Wilkis will always be “the widow” in this town, even though Alan is alive. Charming as that is, I’m going to give Maria her name, too, when I refer to her, since it’s not actually the 19th century.
It’s a cruel, cruel world and a cruel writers room that keeps Alex and Jo apart. The chemistry between those two feels like a couple of magnets who can’t stand not to throw themselves into each other’s arms or crack jokes and laugh out loud at the worst times, because they know they’ve got each other, no matter how bad everything else gets. Benny is never going to be able to compete with what they have, no matter how well he folds the laundry for Ed.
Ghost in the machine confirmed. Piper can take a step back and see her own code working, then make decisions about how she wants to react to it, including whether or not she wants to override it. That’s as much or more than a human can do. Alan might be afraid that she can do more than a human, but the fact that she can override her programming and is self-aware confirms sentience. His fear of anyone who’s more than him, which doesn’t just apply to manufactured humans, is his own problem. Piper is sentient, therefore she deserves human rights. End of story.
Emily Is A Classic Child Abuser, But She’s Also an Evil Genius Who Was Abused Herself
Emily uses Alan’s programming code to find a backdoor into Piper’s mind, since the little girl is an AI, but she also uses the tried and true manipulation techniques that abusers use.
1- Emily searches until she finds some common ground with Piper so that Piper will want to spend time with her. She’s persistent and intense in her search for a connection, even if it takes a few tries. When the amusement park doesn’t work out, Emily moves on to books and reading as a shared activity to lure Piper in. In real life, abusers slowly and methodically find ways to “groom” their targets, gradually lowering their defenses.
2- She’s already been slowly finding ways to separate Piper from her family and making sure that Piper keeps their meetings a secret. In real life, the meetings start out innocent, and the secret is a fun thing to make the relationship special. Emily used a variation of that, with their relationship appearing to be something just for Piper and Kindred to get to know each other.
3- In real life, when the abuse starts, the child is often already deep into the “special relationship” and can’t figure out how to tell the truth to someone else after lying about it up until now, plus they don’t want to betray a beloved person (they’ve been “groomed”). Emily tried for a forced variation of that by programming herself to be Piper’s mother and the only person with knowledge of Piper’s past. Plus she counted on Piper being unable to remember their meetings until she was ready to flip the switch on the memories.
4- Some abusers go so far as to make themselves the center of the child’s life instead of the child’s family. That’s what we saw in this episode, as Emily replaced the memories of Jo with herself and eventually triggered new, hallucinatory “memories” featuring herself. A real life abuser may kidnap the child or they may use psychological tactics so that the child is preoccupied with them and the abuse.
If you think back on the previous episodes, now that we know for sure that Emily is responsible for a large share of what’s happened, it’s clear that she enjoyed making everyone jump through her hoops, not just Piper. Emily loved the control and feeling of specialness she got from having Jo’s whole family and the police force doing whatever she wanted, including the fact that they didn’t guess that she was the puppetmaster. Once she was done with that, she was ready to separate Piper from her family.
In real life, a child will have the same cognitive dissonance that Piper had, knowing that the abuser isn’t really the one who is best for them, even though the abuser is using strong manipulative tactics to convince them that they love the child more than the family does. But separating themselves and overcoming the brainwashing that an abuser had insidiously placed in their brains through gaslighting and other techniques isn’t as easy for a real children and families as it was for Piper. She had the luxury of quickly rewriting her programming in a way that the brain can’t be rewritten.
You could insert the word cult every place that I’ve said abuser, or adult every place I’ve said child, and it’s all still valid. Manipulators come in many forms and can take awhile to spot, because their whole stock in trade is to appear to be your new best friend or the perfect lover, until you’re in too deep to extract yourself easily.
Alan and Kindred are, unfortunately, typical bystanders who enable abuse because they don’t want to see what’s right in front of them; don’t want to get involved because it’s not their problem; don’t think what’s happening is a problem because they have outdated notions about gender, sex and/or punishment; or they are abusive themselves so they don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.
Alan clearly is a misogynist. He treated his wife terribly and treated both Jo and Emily like dirt. You could argue, like he and Kindred do, that Piper isn’t “real”. That argument doesn’t hold much weight after Piper overcame her programming and proved she’s sentient.
But the show is very clearly using her as a metaphor for the way intelligent little girls are treated in our culture. Piper will likely appear to be a genius according to normal human standards, so it makes sense that she’s homeschooled. She’ll be much more free to learn the way she needs to without any social stigma attached. And being in school would only slow her down. If the show gets a season 2, they might put her in school, because Piper wants to be like Mia. But the reality is that she’d probably do better continuing at home and finding other ways to make friends. She doesn’t need to be broken and dismissed the way that Emily has been broken and dismissed.
Frequently, girls like Emily are put down and dismissed and told they’ve only succeeded because of all of the reasons listed in this episode– she was the boss’s daughter, maybe she slept her way to the top, and she was accidentally brilliant, but it didn’t count because she was also emotionally disturbed. Or her intelligence doesn’t matter, because she’s not beautiful, funny or nice enough besides.
Or maybe they think, “Even if she did what she says she did, she doesn’t understand everything about the project, so she’s not really that smart, is she?”
Kindred and Alan Wilkis were also emotionally stunted. No one belittled Alan’s technical genius and it was made clear that, while Kindred didn’t have technical skills, he was a business genius. Meanwhile, Emily has outsmarted everyone on this show. Whatever else she is, she’s also an evil genius and deserves the respect a supervillain would get. She’s not just some psycho running around out of control, as Alan and Kindred would have you believe. She’s used forethought, strategy and her victims’ own prejudices against them. She’s also taken advantage of and murdered innocent people, so she derserves to go to prison.
Which brings me back to Kindred. While Alan was dismissive of Emily and her abusiveness because he’s a misogynist and also a speciesist when it comes to AI/manufactured humans, Kindred was outright abusive and neglectful of his own child. He withheld love from Emily and taught her that she was worthless. He taught her many of her methods, including treating others as objects and possessions.
Though Emily thought she could fill the hole inside her with Piper, she had no idea how to do so, because she knew that her father had rejected her even though he had everything else a man could want. In her mind, there was nothing in her father’s life that should have kept him from his daughter, so it had to be something about her. Which she took to mean no human could love her, only a manufactured human, programmed to love and depend on her.
As an adult, she might have understood, intellectually, that Kindred was incapable of love, so it wasn’t her fault, but she obviously has a complex psychology driving her to replace the love she was missing and get revenge for the love that was withheld. She also thinks, “If I can’t have it, nobody can.” So she kills her father both out of revenge for his neglect and so that no one else can have the love he denied her.
Alan could have helped Emily by becoming a substitute father figure and praising her work during the time she was his employee, but instead he seems to have barely tolerated her and seen her as an extension of her father. In tonight’s episode he praised her ability while humiliating her in the same breath.
He’s incapable of listening to anyone else’s ideas and has insulted everyone we’ve seen him with or heard him talk about, to the point where he makes Kindred look like a good guy. At least Kindred bought Jo lunch and gave his daughter a job, then tried to protect her. What did Wilkis ever do for anyone?
Images courtesy of ABC.