Why Women Kill switches its hero and villain

·5 min read

Why Women Kill has an ominous—and intriguing—title. But having the answer to that question be “to get into a garden club” seems a bit cavalier. Allison Tolman’s Alma started out the series as the ostensible protagonist, drab and dowdy on the outside, humiliated by the mean girls gardening group she was so desperate to join. Lana Parrilla’s Rita was the Regina George of that mean girl group, her momentary sympathy for Alma squashed when she realized that her lover Scooter had been sleeping with Alma’s daughter.

It’s a tight little plot package, glossing over how someone as sophisticated as Rita would possibly fall for someone as insipid as Scooter. We get a thankful hint of that this episode, with Rita’s flashbacks from jail to her humble origins with Isabel in Texas. Parrilla’s southern accent was a bit wobbly, but the transformation from innocent Texas Rita to hardened L.A. Rita was clear. Rita married Carlo to escape her meager beginnings, but the price was steep, and her time with Scooter might have been the first moments of true happiness that she’d ever known after waiting around for years for Carlo to die. It becomes more understandable why she’d become even more vindictive when she was robbed of even that by Dee’s dalliance with Scooter.

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Not that any of that would matter to Rita, though, who becomes as malevolent this episode as we’ve ever seen her. That moment when she jabbed the poisonous needle into Isabel’s neck was nothing short of startling. Her entry into murderess status may have been inspired by her garden club aspirations, helped along by the reveal of her own husband’s deadly hobby. But what Alma soon realizes is that a life of murderous crime (even more reactive than the carefully plotted-out schemes by her husband) quickly gets complicated. When Mrs. Yost dies accidentally, Alma and Bertram can’t go to the authorities because of the possibly ensuing scandal, causing an awkward coverup and a dead body in their garden (now discovered by Dee). Alma gets caught on film by Vern the night of Carlo’s death, so then in her mind she now has to kill Isabel, who’s blackmailing her. Which still leaves the question open of who took the picture, and what will happen when she realizes that it’s her future son-in-law? Perhaps Vern has an extra set of negatives or something to find out what he failed to notice in those photos. But as Bertram points out, all Alma has been doing is creating more crimes to cover up her other crimes.

Tolman does offer a valuable glimmer of how Alma fell so far, so fast, when she cautions Dee about how fast children grow up, how late husbands work, and what a dose of glamour can mean to such a humdrum life. It’s a moving speech, but it still falls a bit short of fully explaining how a typical post-war housewife could stab a fatal hypodermic needle into someone’s neck. Between Isabel’s death and the reveal of Mrs. Yost’s corpse, Why Women Kill takes a turn for the camp macabre this episode, almost cartoonish in its cruelty.

Under the titular category of Why Women Kill, Isabel had a much better reason for offing Harry, who was about to hurt Rita again (and called her ugly to boot). In the show’s roster of murderous women, Isabel is fairly blameless (give or take some blackmail), which makes her death all the more shocking. Why Women Kill may have a warped moral compass, but it still has one, which means that Alma, and likely Bertram, are headed toward a horrible end. Alma has strayed so far from a conscience-led path, it seems extremely unlikely that she’ll be able to find her way back.

Stray observations

  • Why did Bertram head to the previously unmentioned guest room when he was mad at Alma, when he went to the couch last time (necessitating her chat with Grace on the front porch)?

  • I love Alma’s posh voice, she sounds like Julia Andrews. It makes lines like, “Crushing one’s enemies is the best cosmetic” resemble actual poetry.

  • Dee’s hat, on the other hand, is so awful it’s actually distracting, even if it did happen to be the fashion at the time.

  • Nice parallel between Isabel’s gift of the red dress to Rita to help her snag Carlo, while Rita’s gift to Isabel is a maid’s uniform.

  • I don’t believe Scooter’s profession of love to Catherine, but not sure if that’s because of the actor or the character.

  • Does Scooter really seem like the kind of guy who would write love letters, especially to someone he didn’t even love? He only reads the comics section of the newspaper, for heaven’s sake.

  • Favorite frocks: Definite floral theme this week, with all the dressed -up ladies looking like blooms themselves. But I have to go with Grace’s pink rose bouquet dress and matching hat when she arrived to tell Alma that she’d gotten into the club.

  • Next week: We move on this Why Women Kill season’s penultimate episode with “An Unguarded Moment,” as Alma sets her sights on the Garden Club presidency, and Rita gets out of prison.