“Some things break, and they stay broke.”
Disclaimer: I’m feeling a little bit emotional now, so I am not guaranteeing the quality of this post.
Mind the Bugs Don’t Bite was an excellent episode, you see. It’s here that Alison finally confronts her mother’s ghost, the anxieties of her childhood unwinding to paint a terrible picture. It’s claustrophobic, and spooky, and heartbreaking.
It also rather nicely illustrates the gender binaries that I wittered about in my last Afterlife post. See, in a classic bit of invasive douchebaggery, Robert invites Alison’s father down to Bristol to come and help her work through her issues (without telling her, of course). He also spends much of the episode barging into her actual house (“MY HOUSE!” screams Alison, quite understandably), shouting at her, forcibly holding her. And the flashbacks to Alison’s childhood sees male forces – namely, her father and a fearsome Catholic priest – opposed to a gossipy, mutually supportive female circle who, crucially, accept Alison’s visions rather than branding her a freak. They are happy; her father is not.
So far, so (sort of) feminist. Female madness has long been a metaphor for oppression, for a reaction to misogyny, choosing not to conform to male models of the world. But what are we supposed to make of the final revelation of the episode, and of the fact that Robert’s methods, invasive as they are, eventually work? Does this excuse his behaviour?
I don’t know. I keep coming back to the fact that Alison’s mother is an inherently destructive figure of female madness: an obsessive compulsive whose ghost takes over her daughter’s life, whose death (it’s implied) gives rise to another kind of madness in Alison. But Alison’s mother isn’t haunting Alison because she’s evil; Alison is being haunted because she feels guilty (we remember Gemma from Mirrorball here, I think). And, in the end, I think the episode refuses to pass a judgement either on Alison or on her mother (just as Mirrorball refused to pass judgement on Gemma). It’s also worth remembering that Robert and Alison’s father are both required to accept Alison’s worldview – even if only provisionally – before they can start to understand her; before they can be brought into her world. I feel like Mind the Bugs Don’t Bite is at least partially a narrative of reunion, one that at last allows gender binaries – madness/rationality – to bend, to meet, to reconcile.
And that’s why it’s hard to read Afterlife; why its significations seem to shift and change from scene to scene. It constantly refuses constants: it does not state, it only suggests; we’re never allowed to see anything singly. It’s why it’s interesting to watch, why it holds such power over the imagination. In the end, it refuses to judge.