Bad Sisters weaves details of character into even the most seemingly mundane of moments. Because of this, we already know something about Ursula Garvey (Eva Birthistle) heading into “Chopped Liver,” having gotten peeks into the life of this nurse, mom, and (ahem) burgeoning photographer in previous episodes. But Bad Sister’s third episode puts the focus firmly on the sensible sister and how she gets reluctantly pulled into the JP murder plot.
If Bad Sisters were working off of the Pride and Prejudice model, Ursula would probably be the Jane of the group: practical, steady, and dutifully devoted to her husband and kids. But Bad Sisters throws some Lydia into the mix, allowing Ursula to make a decision that probably won’t work out well for her in the long run but makes her giddy in the meantime. Ursula doesn’t want to upset her husband or kids, but she also doesn’t want to stop banging her photography teacher — which, fair enough.
We learn in “Chopped Liver” that Ursula’s affair with Ben has been going on for more than a year, and it might have continued unnoticed for much longer if not for JP’s scheming. After running into Ursula and Ben in the previous episode, JP goes full Thomas Claflin, blowing off work to become an amateur detective and stalking his sister-in-law at a hotel. (JP is notably much better at being a detective than Thomas, whose latest off-base theory is that Ursula may have been having an affair with JP prior to his death, which Bibi straight-up laughs at.)
After confirming that Ursula is having an affair with Ben, JP sets about getting evidence to further coerce her into facing consequences. In a disgusting and invasive act of manipulation, JP manages to replace Ben’s contact information in Ursula’s phone with his own, then tricks her into sexting him during Easter family dinner. He then texts the information to Ursula’s husband, Donal, with a show of bros-over-hoes “respect” and concern. As if, in JP’s eyes, finding out his sister-in-law is cheating on her husband isn’t the best thing that has happened to him all year.
There’s something incredibly sad about JP’s attempts to make his sisters-in-law as miserable as he is. They are a close, loving family, and he could be a part of that too. Instead, he sees it as something outside of himself, something to be conquered, and he sets about trying to chip away at the Garveys’ sea-rock-solid bond piece by piece. We catch a glimpse of this in Claes Bang’s excellent performance in this episode. Before tampering with Ursula’s phone, we see him watch from the hallway as the sisters reminisce fondly about their Easter Sundays growing up before their parents died. When JP is unobserved, he looks like a lost little boy. Elsewhere in the episode, we learn from a conversation between JP’s mother and Becka that the patriarch of the family had abandoned them. It’s a source of pain that JP has obviously never properly dealt with and that seemingly drives much of his cruel, emotionally violent behavior as an adult.
JP is trying so hard to break up the Garvey sisters in the same way he seems to think his own childhood family was broken — mostly to no avail. Ironically, it is JP’s death that seems to be the only event that could actually break these sisters apart. For me, this is the main question driving the story of Bad Sisters: Will the truth of JP’s death cause irreparable damage to the relationship between Grace and her sisters? Will it break her heart? Are Eva, Bibi, Ursula, and Becka bad sisters, or are they — in fact — very, very good sisters?
By episode’s end, JP has driven Ursula to throw her considerable expertise as a nurse into Eva and Bibi’s murder planning. After failing to blow JP up last week, they have moved on to poison. (“If we’re doing it again, we’re doing it with cuisine this time … like normal women,” says Eva.) Bibi has stolen books from the library — she is probably my favorite — on death cap mushrooms, but, even before officially signing on, Ursula nixes the idea. They’ll definitely get caught, she exasperatedly tells her sisters.
Even more than Eva, Ursula is initially extremely reluctant to murder JP and incredibly angry with her sisters for even telling her about their plans. Her life is enough of a stressful mess without throwing murder plots into the mix, and she really doesn’t want to lose her three children — either to an embittered ex-husband or because of a prison sentence. But when JP threatens her family with those texts (he’s really his own worst enemy), she gives Eva and Bibi the drug, syringe, and instructions to force a heart attack.
Similarly to the first failed attempt, it’s an ill-timed phone call that ruins the poisoning. Ursula calls to check in on Grace while she is preparing the poisoned liver for JP’s dinner, prompting Grace to drop the food onto the floor while she is hanging up. It’s the poor dog that gets the liver instead.
Back in the post-JP timeline, Ursula, Bibi, and Eva gather for some nighttime wine — seemingly a way to set up what is surely going to be a Becka-centric episode next week. “As long as Becka keeps her mouth shut,” they’ll get away with what they’ve done. Cut to Becka making out with Matthew on a pier. Whoops! And it’s not only Becka’s mouth the sisters have to worry about. Thomas, through sheer force of will, has successfully managed to convince a detective inspector to exhume and do an autopsy on JP’s body. Better enjoy that summer wine and those make-out sessions while you can, Garveys.
• While this week’s episode is not Becka-focused, we get more insight into her life. In many ways, she seems disconnected from her sisters — perhaps because she is the youngest and they treat her like a naïve baby. She dreams of having a successful business of her own but has struggled to manifest those dreams. She confides this to Matthew, making him stop his motorcycle on their first date so she can point out the seaside building she used to dream would, one day, house her business. In this episode, she tells her sisters of her plans to ask JP and Grace for a loan. Something tells me JP’s (probably not empathetic) response to this may be the very thing that drives Becka into the murder plot.
• “You’re vile, do you know that? Disgraceful — that’s what you are. And disgusting.” Later, Ursula echoes JP’s judgments out loud to Eva. As we saw with Grace in the previous episode, JP’s voice has a way of getting into the Garvey sisters’ heads, burrowing into their most vulnerable spots.
• “They’re all assholes, right?” “No, dear, they’re not.” Like all of the best, truly feminist shows, Bad Sisters doesn’t actually hate men; it hates patriarchy and the violent misogyny that stems from it. This series has many complex male characters, all of whom have been hurt by patriarchy in different ways. Perhaps most of all JP.
• Becka mentions to JP’s mom that George, her husband and JP’s father, just left. “No, that is not the story. He will be back very soon.” Did something happen to George? Like murder?! Or am I being paranoid?
• RIP, Oscar. You seemed like a good dog.