“I thought it would all be clear, but it isn’t. I thought all the questions would be answered, but they’re not.”
A Name Written in Water is, it turns out, the last episode of Afterlife, and I found it…curiously disappointing.
It’s set almost exclusively within the confines of a hospital, where Robert is lying in a coma, because brain tumour. Though this rather claustrophobic setting doesn’t allow for a huge amount of plot, the real issue here is that the show struggles to find an appropriate supernatural signifier for its tale of woe and grief – Jude’s anger at Alison, Alison’s misery at her friend’s passing, Robert’s own fear. The image of the night nurse gliding around the hospital to help its inmates to a peaceful death is simply too obvious and too irrelevant a figure to bring out the subtleties of perception and emotion that earlier episodes have been so good at delineating.
I suppose, perhaps, that what our night nurse does do is bring some resolution to the supernatural vs. psychological plot. She cures us of our belief in miracles. Alison offers her life to this supernatural guardian in return for Robert’s – and in any other tale, this might work. In any other tale, Robert’s announcement of his unreadiness for death would save him. But Afterlife eschews narrative logic. Life, whether ghosts exist or they don’t, does not work like a story, and there are no miracles. If there is no comfort in Robert’s rational worldview, then there is none in Alison’s either. And it doesn’t, ultimately, matter which one we choose – because either way we can’t know.
Clever, but not very well pulled off. There’s something very maudlin about all of these scenes: Alison’s tearful encounter with the night nurse, and then with Robert’s ghost, and Jude reading the fairytale to Robert. Frankly, the episode feels drawn-out and unnecessary – a chance to say a long goodbye. And I wonder if there’s something troubling about the way that Afterlife, for all its interest in Alison’s experience, becomes in a way not her story but Robert’s. A Name Written in Water is populated pretty much entirely by women, but they revolve around a man. There’s a hushed, whispering core of femininity which surrounds and flouts the rational authority of man, I think – but I don’t know if this is a feminist statement or an adherence to gender types. And I suppose that’s the point: we don’t know. The world doesn’t work like that, and trying to read it only leads to gaps, hesitancies, wrongnesses in the fabric of reality. That’s one of the things that Gothic narratives like Afterlife bring to us, I think. For all their imperfections, they remind us of what is beyond explication.