It’s Becka’s turn to get a deep dive, as we learn what inevitably pushes her over the edge from hating her brother-in-law to helping to plan his untimely death. Like Ursula in last week’s installment, we already know a lot about Becka heading into her episode — both how she is and how other people see her.
Around town, Becka is known as a bit of a slag because she likes to have casual sex with men and doesn’t exhibit the kind of shame around it that is considered appropriate by “polite” (read: misogynistic) society. To her sisters, Becka is the baby of the family, and isn’t invited to all of the wine nights or murder plotting; presumably in behavior that is a holdover from when Becka was an actual baby, her sisters don’t always treat her like a full adult. Eva in particular has a habit of making decisions on behalf of her youngest sister, all under the auspices of “protecting” her. Maybe there was a time when that was the right thing to do, but now that they’re all adults, it’s just another example of someone trying to control Becka. “You’re not protecting me. You’re isolating me,” Becka tells her sister. It’s paternalistic, and demonstrates how it’s not just men who can wield their social power in problematic ways.
The Becka we know as viewers is wonderfully complex. She does like sex, and she does not care when other people judge her for it. She is the baby of the family and she sometimes falls into the habit of thinking only of herself first, as we see with her reaction when Ursula tells her about her extra-marital affair; but she is also able to move past her first, self-involved reaction to be there for her sister too. It’s notable that, when Becka finally gets angry enough at JP to scream at him at pub quiz night, the final straw is his treatment of Ursula.
Becka is also a smart, ambitious entrepreneur. She wants a business of her own, and she isn’t afraid of the hard work that will come with it. As we see in her business plan proposal to JP, she has done her research. She knows what it will take to run a successful massage business, and she has the confidence and commitment to get it done. JP probably sees it too, and it’s unclear at what point in Becka’s leasing process he decides to backtrack on his verbal agreement to be the chief investor. Was it always his plan to screw Becka over? Maybe, but it’s also possible he changed his mind only after he realized Grace wants to work outside of the home. Or perhaps the change came even later, when he sees Becka getting closer to his mom and to their family secrets.
Whatever the reason, JP’s about-face on the loan is a dick move. It serves to seriously mess up Becka’s financial health, but also to reinforce the community’s opinion of her as irresponsible. (You know that estate agent is probably going to tell at least one person that Becka blew her off — which, while technically true, is only one part of the larger story.) In an unequal society, some people have more power than others in deciding what is right and what is wrong, and in enforcing those rules of conduct. Broadly, this is how patriarchy works. White, rich men get to define reality for everyone else. Historically, those in power have worked to keep the status quo as it is, which is to say with the distribution of power as it is. It’s why JP is able to get away with being such a jerk at work, even though he doesn’t seem to be particularly good at his job. It’s also how he is able to control Grace so effectively. When he tells her that she misunderstood, and he never promised Becka any money, he can get away with it because he has centuries of rich, white men who have shaped the rules of society behind him. He must be right, for he is A Respectable Man. All of the other rich white men (dead and alive), and the society they have built to stay in power, say so.
But the world is changing, and the Garvey sisters are not having any of it. “No, I’m not a wreck. I’m angry. And that doesn’t make me mad, or drunk, or hysterical. That just makes me angry!” Becka screams at JP, when he tries to imply she is overreacting — a frequent tactic men employ to discredit the valid, appropriate emotions of women. Becka is armed with a firm understanding of the world and her place in it, and she is armed with the love she has for her sisters and the love they have for her. JP sends Grace to tell Becka she can’t have the money because he wants it to drive a wedge between the sisters because their relationship is a threat to his dream of absolute control over his wife. But Becka refuses to let JP’s manipulations cost her more than they already have. She is angry at Grace, sure, but, more than that, she is worried for her. She sees JP’s machinations for what they are, and she wants in on stopping him, of taking away the power he abuses on a daily basis in the most cruel of ways.
In the post-JP part of this story, Becka and Matt finally understand the other connection they have with one another, and it immediately pops the post-date bubble of giddiness these two had been blissfully living in. When Matt shows up at Becka’s house alongside his brother to question the final Garvey sister, the truth comes crashing down on both of them. The scene, cleverly, is played for laughs more than it is for drama — though, like the rest of this show, there is a brilliant balance of both. Previously, Matt has shown little enthusiasm for questioning the Garvey sisters; he’s here to keep an eye on Tom more than to uncover a murder. But, fueled by messages on Becka’s phone that imply she is chatting with other guys too, he immediately and passionately launches into questions about her character, using information about her life she has shared with him on their date.
It says a lot about how well we already know and like Matt that this display comes off as out-of-character and driven by how upset he is that this burgeoning relationship is threatened, rather than a complete betrayal of Becka’s trust. It helps that, later, when Becka calls Matt out on his controlling behavior, he says: “I’m not controlling … I’m not trying to be.” He understands there is a world of difference between those two statements — between conscious intent and action. It’s one more example of how good of a man Matt is always trying to be. When he stops himself from sleeping with Becka, we get the feeling it’s not just because his brother and his wife are just upstairs; it’s also because he doesn’t want to betray her trust again and what Tom is asking of him — to stay close to her in order to get information — would be far worse than anything he’s done so far.
In some ways, not a lot happens in “Baby Becka.” Plot-wise, no murder is attempted and Tom continues to hit dead ends in his efforts to have JP’s body exhumed and autopsied. But this story isn’t driven by plot; it’s driven by character and theme, by an exploration of what, in a “civilized” society, could drive people to murder. In those ways, it’s as good as Bad Sisters has been so far (which is very good). It’s a treatise on how unacceptable it is that we have created a world where women have to resort to murder to keep their family safe from bad men who are ostensibly in their family.
“What we’re doing, it’s really, really bad,” Eva tells Becka, and you can see that it is breaking her heart to have her baby sister pulled into this too. But Becka is stronger and smarted than her sisters give her credit for. “No, it’s not,” she tells Eva, because it’s not just big sisters who have things to teach little sisters. “It’s survival. Someone’s not coming out the other side of this, and it’s not going to be me and it sure as shit is not going to be one of my sisters.” Some forces are stronger, deeper than the violent torrents of patriarchy — the bond between the Garvey sisters is one of those forces.
• This week, off-screen, on Insurance Bros, Matt goes to the pub where JP was the night he died. According to the barmaid there, he ate a bunch of sandwiches, kept to himself, and tried to get money taken off his check. None of this sounds suspicious, but this show doesn’t give us details for no reason.
• After four episodes, the main character we probably know least is Grace — obviously, an intentional withholding on the part of the show, and I look forward to the presumable future episode when we get to see more of this world from Grace’s perspective. But we do get a bit more insight into the character’s interiority here. After she relays JP’s message to Becka, we follow her as she walks through town. She is obviously miserable, and made even more miserable when Blánaid pretends not to see her. Lanter, when she asks Blánaid about it, her daughter expresses frustration. “Can you just stand up, Mom?” she pleads, as her mother cleans the bathroom floor. “You never stand up. You never do anything.” Blánaid is growing up, and she sees the way her father treats her mother, and the way her mother seems unable to take up space.
• “Are your family not supportive of your massage work? … All those nice houses and no one could give you a hand?” Matt has an excellent point. I know JP has the most money in the family, but could the rest of Becka’s sisters not have figured out a way to help Becka financially?
• “Periods and gin isn’t gonna cut it.” JP’s imagining of how the Garvey sisters spend all their time.
• We get more insight into what JP’s family life was like when he was growing up. Apparently, he used to drown frogs in milk and he once had a sister named Laura who had a cat named Miso. Then, his sister was gone and JP had Miso the Cat for himself. Strongly implied he killed the sister and took the cat.
• “It’s not safe, in general, to send pictures of your pussy, though.” Bibi, on Ursula’s sexting.
• “Don’t shame her. It’s your fucking vulva, you can do what you want with it.” Becka, on Ursula’s sexting.