Humans are adaptable. If you need any proof, look at Bibi. Early on in “Eye for an Eye,” the insurance bros come to question her. They ask her about the accident. “Which one?” she bites back, having precisely zero time for their bullshit. “The crash that killed my parents or the one where I lost my eye?”
When the Garvey sisters lost their parents at a young age, they adapted. Eva became the “parent” of the family, but they all learned to live and love in a healthy family unit without them. Likewise, when Bibi loses an eye in a horrific car crash with JP, she learns how to live a good life without it. She gets married to a very cool lady named Nora, and they have a very cool kid named Ruben. Sure, she’s bitter sometimes — about the loss of her eye and the general homophobia of modern society — but she’s able to recognize the good things in her life. When she can’t, she has her sisters to remind her. “You’re one of the best parents I know. Probably the best,” Eva tells Bibi when Bibi starts doubting herself and wondering if she is the JP of her marriage. “Do you think for a second he’s assessing his parenting skills? Wondering how he can do better? Not a chance.”
Humans are adaptable — for better and worse. Grace has adapted within her marriage to become as small as possible in an attempt to stay safe from the many forms of emotional violence JP wields daily. We know Grace’s marriage to JP has changed her — it’s one of the chief reasons her sisters give for wanting to kill JP — but “Eye for an Eye” makes it clear that Grace is starting to understand that too. When she signs up for a dance class, an obvious (and lovely) attempt to demonstrate to both Blánaid and herself that she can do things, she has an anxiety attack during warm-ups. She has adapted to live her life in such tight, restrictive control — in a constant flinch ready for the next attack — that she panics at the mere attempt of letting it all go.
Presumably, JP’s terribleness is a form of adaptation too. Although he has seemingly always been miserable — famously drowning frogs in milk from a young age — we know that he experienced a fair amount of trauma as a child and didn’t have the kind of support system that the Garvey family did to express his emotions in healthy, productive ways. Like with so many puzzles in this show, we are learning about JP’s family piece by piece. He had a sister who died, a father who left, and a mother who lived in supreme denial about both. After JP’s sister died, his mother would dress him up in his sister’s clothes. A form of adaptation, sure, but not a particularly healthy one for a grieving boy.
Whatever JP’s forms of adaptation as a child, he has seemingly stopped evolving in any positive way as an adult — a choice made possible by the immense privilege that buffers him from societal consequence (you know, other than murder attempts). By traditional standards, JP is successful. He has a good job, a dutiful wife, a beautiful daughter, and a boat to boot. But if you look past the surface, he is so much worse at being human than anyone around him. If we measure “success” by a human’s ability to be healthy, loving, and able to learn, JP is not only an utter failure but unwilling to take any opportunities to grow.
JP’s example stands in stark contrast to someone like Eva, a goddess among us mere mortals. One of the most powerful moments in this episode — and in this show as a whole — comes when Gabriel tells Eva that he is not interested in her sexually or romantically because he is gay. At first, a quasi-drunk Eva storms off of Gabriel’s boat embarrassed and disappointed.
Earlier in the day, during her museum date with Gabriel, she ran into a significant ex. Their relationship had ended because Eva can’t have her own biological children, so seeing him with his adorable family understandably wasn’t easy. But she was kind to them, and she was vulnerable with Gabriel, sharing the truth of her pain. Now Gabriel is honest with her too, but much later in their relationship than he could have been.
At first, Eva storms off. Bad Sisters seemingly takes the well-worn, simple character-reaction route. It’s not hard to believe that someone — especially a drunk someone who had been emotionally cut open earlier in the day — might take this news poorly. But because Bad Sisters is a story built by women, it understands better than most TV shows that there are other realistic and much more interesting narrative routes to follow. It knows that most women are socialized to have a complex understanding of both their own and others’ emotions — as a way to survive in a world that isn’t built for us as individuals and to provide emotional support for the men for whom it is built. Eva is able to quickly process her emotions. She both holds space for her own, valid feelings and empathizes with Gabriel. She goes back and listens the same way Gabriel listened to her earlier. It’s moments like this one that set Bad Sisters apart from other shows.
It’s the kind of choice we can’t imagine JP ever making. When he is humiliated and hurt, he commits to lashing out. We have never once seen him make a choice to be vulnerable, and that must make him incredibly lonely. We see other characters choose human connection, and they are better for it. Even the hot mess of a human Thomas is able to be honest about the deep source of his pain when Matt backs him into a corner.
In the other most surprising, affecting scene in this episode, Matt confronts Tom after finding their father’s suicide note in a locked office drawer. (Bad Sisters probably didn’t need to raise the counter-stakes this way, but it does.) If the insurance bros can’t find a way to prove fraud in the JP case, not only will the business go bankrupt but Tom and Matt will probably go to jail. It turns out that their dad had built the company on a foundation of fraud. He died by suicide because he’d thought it was the best way to avoid the consequences. Like JP, he chose something other than human connection.
Unfortunately, rather than reporting his father’s crimes, Tom decided to inherit them. “Why’d you have to go and play the martyr?” Matt screams at his brother in the alley next to their father’s office. “I could have hit you over your stupid head and told you that your father had no right to ask you that.” Tom has inherited his father’s habit of keeping secrets rather than being open and vulnerable with the people in his life. “You brought the sunshine. I was there all seasons,” Tom tells Matt of their respective roles in the family. It’s a lovely summation of how he has apparently always seen his brother, but it’s a paternalistic, mostly unhelpful perspective. Matt rightfully points out how keeping this a secret was the wrong decision.
The emotional bomb drives Matt to Becka’s house. Becka may have promised Bibi that she would stay away from Matt, but his puppy-dog eyes and six-pack are too much to resist. They have sex, and while the story doesn’t linger to show us whether this is an act of vulnerability for both of them, it certainly implies that these two have found, er, human connection in one another.
The episode ends on the paintball field with the Garvey sisters’ latest attempt to take out JP. After all the complex emotions, it feels a bit dull despite the obvious external action. The big emotional climax comes when Bibi, shoved by Becka at the absolute worst moment, hits a paintball worker’s eye rather than JP’s “head hole.” Presumably, the man will lose his eye, but even if he doesn’t, it is a deeply traumatic moment for Bibi. While her attempts to kill JP have not been chiefly motivated by revenge, it’s obvious that revenge is a factor. She spends the episode worried that she is too much like JP — only to take out someone’s eye in the same way JP was responsible for taking out hers. She punches Becka in anger, then breaks down on the field.
I’m not particularly excited to see Bibi suffer more after an episode of watching her get her confidence back, but the moment will no doubt fuel whatever comes next. It will perhaps cause tension between Becka and Bibi, which could factor into Becka’s present-day relationship with Matt. And in the past timeline, it could have Bibi rethinking her commitment to killing JP. Thus far, the Garvey sisters’ attempts to kill JP have caused collateral damage but only to pets and cabins. The more they hurt others, the more they will wonder what cost they are willing to accept for the death of their brother-in-law. They’re that kind of human.
• Did anyone else find the use of the phrase “head hole” incredibly funny? I imagine this was intentional, but every time the Garvey sisters used that term to describe the fontanel JP got in the car accident with Bibi, it made me laugh.
• We get to spend more time with Nora, Bibi’s wife, in this episode, and she is amazing. Things she said about JP to the insurance bros: “You draw a line from that man in any direction and you’ll find nothing but misery.” “I won’t lie. I felt like punching them every time I saw them.” “I’m glad he’s dead. I really am.”
• Matt never would have found his dad’s suicide note without Theresa’s prodding. Unable to get out of bed because of her pregnancy, Theresa sends Tom on a kebab run, then gives Matt precise instructions to snoop in Tom’s office. I hope Matt tells her what’s up, because she made this all happen and deserves to know why her husband has turned gray.
• This is perhaps the longest we’ve gone in an episode without JP. We spend 17 minutes in the present-day story line before flashing back. It’s nice.
• Never one to miss a chance to sabotage a Garvey sister’s happiness, JP shows boss Gerald a photo of Eva seemingly passed out from drinking on his boat. Yeah, that could impact Eva’s potential promotion, which she is already at a disadvantage for on account of being a woman.
• The flashback to Bibi and JP’s car accident feels out of place in a series that usually only transitions between the two main timelines. That being said, we learn more about this family — including that there was a time when the Garvey sisters trusted JP enough to ask him for a ride in a pinch.
• “But you’re not a showgirl. You’re a queen. This is your kingdom, and when you leave, bad things happen. We need you here.” Grace is trying so hard for human connection with JP, and he refuses to oblige in any way. He delivers this “comforting” line, then shrugs off Grace’s attempts at sex. She cries silently into her pillow as he “gets up to speed on these accounts” next to her in bed.
• JP switches the paintball game so that it is everyone ganging up on one person, “the bunny,” who happens to be Grace. Before a man loses his eye, JP is delighting in nailing Grace with paintball pellets, which sucks! Paintballs hurt even when they’re not frozen and you have the normal number of head holes.