There’s a lot to unpack in this episode when it comes to James and Alyssa, but because it takes some very heavy detours before it arrives at somewhere sweet, let’s start by talking about my new favorite pair on TV: Teri Darego and Eunice Noon.
Teri and Eunice have the unenviable task of visiting both James and Alyssa’s dysfunctional homes and informing their parents that their children are involved in a murder investigation. At Phil’s house, they learn that although he reported James missing, he didn’t report the fact that he’d stolen his car. Not wanting to get James in trouble, Phil didn’t report the fact that his son punched him in the face, either, and he lies when the detectives ask him about his black eye.
At Alyssa’s house, stepdad Tony keeps speaking over Gwen, and when the detectives ask him to let her talk, he walks out. (“Not my daughter, not my problem.” God, Tony is a dick.) It seems that Teri and Eunice have pieced together a story of their own, casting James as the murderous bad boy who swept damaged Alyssa away and then made her watch as he took someone’s life. It’s a version of events that isn’t totally detached from reality — James initially went along with Alyssa’s scheme because he “thought she might be interesting to kill,” after all — but one that sounds almost … funny? It’s the easy explanation, but not the true one, as things on this show, and life, rarely are.
We also learn what, exactly, the relationship is between Eunice and Teri. Eunice shyly brings up the fact that she and Teri got drunk and slept together, but admits she doesn’t regret it. When she asks if Teri does, Teri responds, “I don’t regret it. I just wish it had never happened.” Ouch, Teri. Eunice looks disappointed, and I’ll admit that I am, too.
Meanwhile, Alyssa and James are learning that they don’t do so well without each other. In a flashback, we learn what happened to James’s mom. Unfortunately, she did commit suicide in front of him, when he was 6. They went to the pond to feed ducks, even though she had felt too depressed to want to leave the house, and after James got out of the car, she drove herself into the water.
In the present day, at the police station, James is unable to bring himself to tell the cops what he’s done, so instead, he tells them about watching his mother’s suicide. He breaks down, and when the police officer asks if he has someone to look after him, the first person he thinks of is Alyssa. (Aw.) When the officer’s back is turned, James makes a run for it. He knows he needs to try to find Alyssa, but has no idea where to look, so he goes back to the café where he last saw her.
Elsewhere, Alyssa is determined to not go back to James, even though he has all of their money. But her plan to get out of town is sidetracked when she gets her period, has to steal tampons, and gets caught stealing a pair of replacement panties. When the security guard who catches Alyssa goes to pat her down, she flinches, and tells him she’s not going to have sex with him. It’s as unsettling a moment for the guard as it is a telling one for Alyssa, whose unprocessed trauma is clearly bubbling to the surface. The guard notices that Alyssa’s wrist has bruises on it, but he’s sidetracked by another emergency — a little girl has gone missing from the store and her dad is freaking out — and Alyssa sees an opportunity to run. She doesn’t get too far, though, before she sees the little missing girl. Knowing it will lead to her getting into further trouble, Alyssa brings her back to the shop anyway.
The security guard takes Alyssa into the back and gives her something to eat. He asks if her boyfriend gave her those bruises, and if she needs help. She tells him it wasn’t her boyfriend, but doesn’t offer any more details. The guard decides to let Alyssa go, and she brusquely leaves. On her way out, Alyssa starts wandering around and realizes that she misses James. She muses that he was just protecting her, and that she feels bad about jumping to anger after he stepped in to defend her. She goes back to the café, where James is sitting exactly where she left him. James tells her that he doesn’t have the money anymore, and Alyssa tells him that’s not why she came back. She sits down next to him, on the same side of the booth, and puts out her hand so he can hold it. “Not the weird hand,” she tells him. He offers up his other hand, and they sit there in calm silence, in maybe the last time for a while. James smiles.
It is nice that there are kind adults in this world. The security guard, Phil, Teri, and Eunice: These are the antidotes to the Clives and Tonys and creepy hitchhikers of TEOTFW. They provide glimmers of hope that James and Alyssa don’t need to grow up to be completely awful. With that in mind, my biggest hope for the series at this point is that we get a moment of retribution from Alyssa’s mom — a punch in the face for Tony would be cathartic, and well-deserved for her. Even though she’s a grown-up, she is a victim, too, and serves as a powerful reminder of why cycles of abuse need to be stopped. She is clearly afraid of Tony in the same way that Alyssa is reflexively afraid of the security guard. She has suffered obvious trauma, and I hope she is able to break away from Tony, get the help she deserves, and maybe even get some revenge.