As an adult who can admit when she’s wrong, I’ll happily come out and say it: Wow, was I wrong when it came to Roxanne. Like, so wrong. In fact, after this week, I think it’s safe to say that one could comb the entirety of what I wrote a few weeks ago about Roxanne being Victoria 2.0 and do a clean find-and-replace, supplanting every description of Victoria for Roxanne. As it turns out, it’s Roxanne, not Victoria, who has been clinging to old-world ideas about a common enemy all this time.
In my defense, I have one criticism, if you can even call it that: Roxanne the PriceMax assistant manager plays like a completely different character from Roxanne the Law & Order cop (or should I say Roxanne the scammer?). She speaks differently, carries herself differently, even manipulates people differently — actually, that last bit seems to be a brand-new skill altogether. We never once see the vulnerable, 2004-Kohl’s-sales-rack-wearing woman Roxanne embodied for 45 years slip through the cracks in Detective Roxanne Benson’s façade. (How did she learn how to shoot, let alone well enough to teach a roost of 20-somethings? The answer can’t just be television, right?) Is it possible Missi Pyle is simply too good an actress? If Roxanne had been that good at changing her entire personality, she probably would have been an actress herself. At the very least, she’d have gotten somewhere with her good-for-nothing boss.
Then again, maybe murdering multiple strangers to defend your Caucasian PriceMax changes a person more dramatically than I previously assumed. Written by co–executive producer Coleman Herbert, this episode employs the tricky but effective stratagem of walking backward through one of the show’s major revelations: How did Roxanne pull off such a huge grift? For folks who lost the thread, let’s recap in normal chronology.
First off, most of Roxanne’s stories were true. She did get breast cancer. Her husband, Eddie, did leave her, both physically and financially. And her (teenage) female co-worker (probably) did tell her to mind her own business when she (probably) told her that their male colleagues were objectifying her behind her back. Her PriceMax boss, the manager, lets a male employee off with a slap on the wrist for overt sexual harassment; then, when she complains, he threatens to fire her — a recent cancer survivor — for shoplifting a bargain-bin season of Law & Order. After the Event, she camps out in her warehouse; at some point, two women with guns barge in and shoot each other before they notice her. By the time a third armed woman bursts in, thinking she has found shelter, Roxanne has pulled a Glock off the first two and fires before she gets past the foyer. From the look on Roxanne’s face, whether or not the fourth woman was armed was beside the point.
Later, as she is attempting to burn the bodies in the parking lot, a horse appears. When she approaches, it leads her home to St. Anne’s. Inspired by all the impressionable young women she discovers there, she rushes back to the PriceMax, drags rugs over the bloodstains, pulls a gun holster from a display, and snatches the gun and badge off a state trooper’s decaying body parked outside. She gets the cop car 80 percent into the nearby river, decides that’s good enough, and leaves her PriceMax vest in the car with the body. (Yes, she literally drops her name tag onto the evidence.) Staging a scenario in which shots fired (by her) led Detective Roxanne to their doorstep in pursuit of the (nonexistent) shooters, she entices her new flock back to the store, where she sells most of them her schtick. At some point, Kate — the sole survivor in the group who seems even remotely distrustful of cops — somehow stumbles across her true identity. Roxanne shoots her in the back when she tries to run, then rushes back to the PriceMax, again crying wolf.
These aren’t exactly supervillain schemes, but her victims have been vulnerable, traumatized women, almost all of whom were desperate for a new worldview. The Daughters of the Amazon — because this week, they finally embrace that absolutely cringe name — have been taking on a life of their own. Previously, I’ve written about how Roxanne’s followers enthusiastically shored up her supremacy as a cult leader, but that wasn’t quite right either. What they’ve really been shoring up are the rules of their own groupthink regardless of who is in charge. This cult has grown organically in isolation to reflect the countless cults that have come before it, undoubtedly due to the toxic relationship models so many of these women were accustomed to. The recipe for new members:
So when Sam speaks to the Hero she actually is — the one who exists in the same universe as her many sins but whom he nevertheless loves fiercely, mess and all — she accuses him of holding her back. Sam is “not a gun guy,” while New Hero is a natural. Sam means promises Old Hero doesn’t want to keep, promises New Hero doesn’t have to honor. Worst of all, Sam is in the process of becoming a different, if not new, Sam. He’s not the unchanging, back-pocket mainstay Old Hero could indulge in without consequences when it suited her. What Sam offers — with crushing sincerity; just rip my heart out, Elliot Fletcher — is reality, imperfect as it is, and, frankly, it is a far better deal than she has earned. So she turns away, toward the much shinier New Hero everyone else keeps telling her she is — the one beckoning her like a siren toward the rocks.
There is only one person here on her way up in this new world. The evolution that I previously wrongly ascribed to Roxanne — that new, refined insight into what consolidates power in this new world — belongs instead to Nora. Nora, whose hair has been red and wavy this whole time. Nora, whose jacket has been green khaki this whole time. Nora, who may have been a prime candidate for cult membership in the before times, but who, in this new age — in which old rules don’t apply and in which existing demagogues are very, very bad at covering their tracks — is far better positioned for leadership. (At least she’s not a chess master.)
And perhaps none of this would have happened had Roxanne simply recognized how valuable she could have been to her — had she invited her and Mack into the fold instead of accusing her of being “angry” and “not our people.” Maybe on some level, Roxanne recognized her as a potential rival. Whatever the case, her rejection — coupled with similar rebuffs from Sam, Hero, even her own daughter, who in typical tween fashion blames her mother for robbing her of this paradise — finally sends Nora over the edge. It’s a classic villain-origin story: A chronically underappreciated, sidelined brilliance gets snubbed one too many times, then sours into something darker. Unlike Roxanne, this former presidential lackey is quite good at making sabotage look like an accident: a fire brought on by youthful, drunken negligence. Even her supply hoarding goes unnoticed amid the more obvious tension between Roxanne and Sam. All she needs is a little leverage — that cop car, that name tag — and she’s suddenly on top.
For now, she is content being a Littlefinger, a Gríma Wormtongue, giving Roxanne the glory she wants while puppeteering from the shadows. It’s a pretty generous deal, one that, frankly, Roxanne — who is suddenly looking a lot smaller — would have to be an idiot to resist. “The only thing that will keep you safe out there is numbers,” Nora tells her calmly, demonstrating in one conversation how much more qualified she is for this job. “You don’t need the building; you need the people. But to keep them, you’re gonna need more than ‘Men suck.’” Arriving in a cultural moment when doubling down on spite and denying people basic needs is proving to be a terrible way to maintain dominance, Dear Leader Nora might just be the right kind of ruler for the job.
• Man, that scene with the PriceMax employee had me reminiscing on my own halcyon days working as a teenage hostess at a chain restaurant, getting hit on by 30-year-old servers in full view of the managers. Ah, memories!
• I liked Nora and Sam’s little tête-à-tête, but why couldn’t Sam’s dislike of Nora have been about both her being a jerk and her having worked for a transphobic president? ¿Por qué no los dos, Samuel?
• Speaking of Sam, his encounter at the abandoned school after he leaves PriceMax feels kind of … random? An exceedingly chill Black woman appearing out of nowhere, by herself, claiming to be the principal, insisting that “one day the children will be back,” then telling Sam exactly what he wants to hear? Seems a little too magical to me.
• Good-bye and good riddance, freaky cat toy. No one will remember your uncanny-valley meows.