Carter exits Chill Castle and finds his mother leaning against the wall, wrapped in her fur coat and painted to look vaguely human. She's done up like a male Russian figure skater. Run, sweet Carter! She's an ice troll in disguise! He appears in The Turtleneck to inform her that the car is ready. "I managed a flight to Looogan, but I'm on staaaandby. Can you imagine?" Eleanor enunciates, back to the diction I know and loathe. The Turtleneck of Quiet Disappointment gazes sadly at her. Eleanor apologizes, and Carter points out that children have short memories -- Mickey would probably forget all about her abrupt disappearance if she returned to his side in short order. "No, you were right -- I became too involved," she muses. Carter admires his sweater for a second and then softly admits that perhaps he wasn't right at all. Eleanor stares off into space and tells a story about when Carter and Bobby used to play Tarzan, except she says "Tarzn," as if frosty patrician women don't believe in gratuitous vowels. "Bobby played Tarzan. I played Cheetah," Carter corrects wryly. The Turtleneck cuddles him. Eleanor continues, explaining that she always knew Carter sprained his wrist because Bobby pushed him, although Carter never squealed because he and his brother had their special secrets and stuck together through everything. "I didn't spend much time thinking about how your brother's death affected you," she confesses, choking up. "I didn't spend much time on anyone." Carter's eyes fill. "Do you have time now?" he asks, twelve again. He looks adorable. I think the legislature should make it illegal not to hug him. Eleanor shakes her head. "I won't betray another little boy," she swears. "Hope is all either of you have. Your brother believed me when I told him he'd get better....He died believing me." Carter shakes his head and says earnestly, with real emotion, "No. He was pretending for you. That was another one of our secrets -- I was supposed to not let you be sad." A tear threatens to dampen The Turtleneck. "I was supposed to make you happy," he whispers. "I'm sorry, Mom." Eleanor, her eyes wide and wet, throws herself into her son's arms. "I love you," she shouts into the night air. "Do you hear me? I love you!" Words cannot express how shrill and terrifying her voice sounded just then. Our giant black stuffed bear, Michael Clarke Duncan, just dove under the coffee table out of fear. And he's, you know, not alive. Carter and his mother weep with abandon.
At home, Abby puts the kettle on the stove and sips casually from a glass of red wine. She's wearing a bathrobe, buzzes up the food delivery man, and appears to be diffusing the day's stress while telling Joyce via telephone that she can stop off at the apartment when she knows Brian isn't there. She doesn't sound drunk to me -- I'm guessing that she's not perilously off the wagon, but slipping gradually from it. A beer here, a glass of wine there, and then it becomes two beers, two glasses of wine, etc. So it's a slow build, and I'm glad of that: if they're really having her falter, I'd rather it was thoughtfully mapped out instead of rushed. Responding to a loud knock at her door, Abby opens it without checking the peephole and discovers Brian on the other side. Her eyes glaze, and she abruptly hangs up the phone without telling Joyce what's happening. Brian is carrying her food, having paid the delivery man, and weasels inside the apartment to place the brown paper bag on a table. "Listen, I screwed up," he begins. "I have a problem, I need to get some help for it, but I love my wife." Abby says nothing, opting instead to dart him a series of looks from The Withering Collection. "I just have these strong feelings, you know?" Brian babbles. "It's not an excuse, and she might not talk to me, and I understand I don't deserve to have her forgiveness, but I just want to tell her I'm sorry." This comes off as quietly troubled, but mostly by rote, as if Brian's either given this speech before or is making a half-hearted effort at sincerity. He probes Abby for information about Joyce's whereabouts, but Abby remains cool and only assures him that the county's Social Services people can get Joyce a letter. Brian tries another tack -- concern for his wife's health. It doesn't work. "She's my life, don't you get that?" he pleads, hysteria mounting behind his inscrutable dark eyes. Abby hightails it to the telephone and brandishes it, threatening to call the cops unless Brian promptly leaves. "I'm pretty sure you're not interested in talking to them again," she sasses. Lord. Maybe she is drunk. Why else would you give lip to a known loose cannon? She probably watches Dawson's Creek and figured that all criminals are really just sarcastic and sassy heroes with hearts of gold who've fallen on mysterious hard times. Brian takes a menacing step toward Abby, but then calms himself and exhales a very measured breath. "You're right," he sneers. "I'm sorry. Good night." It's odd that Abby's being so sassy to this brute, but I don't think it's the alcohol -- she stood up to him just as firmly in the hospital, for better or worse. ["I did think that if Abby were totally in her right mind, she would do a better job of at least pretending deference to him, knowing that he's a complete maniac and all. The explanation that the wine lowered her inhibitions (advanced to me by Sars, since I have to say I'm so used to seeing characters drink casually on TV that I didn't even take note of the wine or remember that she's an alcoholic) makes a lot of sense to me." -- Wing Chun]
As soon as he's gone, Abby bolts and chains the door. Turning away, she jumps out of her skin when there's another loud series of knocks. She nervously picks up the phone and dials 911, and then Abby makes the most mysterious mistake -- she opens the door. To a wife-beater. With fists that have no shame and a volatile personality that has no "Mark" button. The kettle whistles, as if to say, "Perhaps you should reconsider inviting any contact with such a strange and violent man, and also, you are dumb." Through a tiny gap the length of the chain lock, Abby sees one angry Brian eye. Cut to a shot of one frightened yet defiant Abby eye. He breaks down the door, snapping the insufficient chain lock. "Brian!" she shouts. Brian hauls off and slugs her almost square in the face. She lands with an unforgiving thud on her hard floor, and the phone falls from her open palm and skids into the kitchen. The thing about this story is, it's been pretty clear since it began that it would end this way, yet the show did a good job of making me nervous every time Brian was in Abby's presence. I figured it was coming, but I didn't know when, and I got tense. Even in this episode, I knew she'd get beaten, but I still found myself on tenterhooks. Nicely done.