Netflix’s 2017 historical drama show ‘Alias Grace’ takes the viewers on an investigation conducted solely through the suspect’s own account. Grace Marks, a fresh-faced Irish immigrant, finds herself facing trial for the murder of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. While Grace’s assumed accomplice, James McDermott, sees the noose for his crimes, the girl collects a simple life imprisonment sentence. However, 15 years into her court-mandated penance, a curious psychiatrist, Dr. Simon Jordan, arrives to asses not Grace’s guilt or innocence but instead her sanity and memory.
The show employs an intriguing narrative with its protagonist as a well of mystery. Therefore, perhaps, like the characters within the show, the viewers also have questions about Grace Marks’ perplexing life. Let’s delve into the same for some answers! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Alias Grace Recap
Grace Marks has spent years of her life with the public’s judgemental eyes on her. Branded a murderess yet curiously evading a hanging, Grace remains a prisoner in the Kensington Penitentiary for years after her initial arrest. However, in 1859, a committee of people sought to afford Grace a pardon. As such, they bring in an American doctor, Simon Jordan, to draft a report on her health that may shine an illuminating, preferably sympathetic, light on the woman.
Jordan and Grace’s first meeting in the penitentiary goes unwell since the former refuses to divulge anything from her past for fear of being sent to the horrible Asylum again. Nevertheless, once Jordan manages to set up daily meetings with her at the Governor’s Estate, where Grace occasionally works, the woman opens up to the doctor and his gentle methods. Unlike those who came before him, Jordan keeps a kind demeanor and encourages Grace to share only her account regardless of its reliability.
Thus, Grace begins recalling her life’s story during their regular visits. Grace loses her mother early in her life when her Protestant family sails from Ireland to Canada alongside a boatful of other poor people. With her mother gone, Grace’s father turns his vile behavior to his eldest daughter, beating her and attempting to assault her. Eventually, he sends Grace away to earn money for him in Toronto. At the time, Grace wholeheartedly means to return for her young siblings but never sees them again.
In Toronto, Grace finds work at the Parkinson’s estate, where she meets Mary Whitley, one of the numerous servants working for the family. She quickly takes Grace under her wing, and the two become dear friends to one another. Mary is a bold young woman, letting her unfiltered, rebellious thoughts run free for Grace. However, things take a turn when a Parkinson’s kid, George, visits home from his university. Soon after the man extends his stay, Mary’s demeanor changes and she becomes more subdued.
As it turns out, a man has tricked Mary into bed with fake promises of marriage, leaving her with a child. Worse yet, he refuses to take responsibility for it after Mary discloses the same at Grace’s insistence. As a result, Mary resorts to seeing a shifty doctor to rid herself of the baby, knowing that if she kept it, only a destitute future would be in the cards for them. Nonetheless, the abortion, unsafe as it was, leaves Mary weakened. The following night, Mary dies in her sleep, and Grace wakes to find her dearest friend dead on the bed beside her, soaked in her own blood.
Consequently, Grace accepts a position at Kinnear’s house when his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, who bears a resemblance to Mary, offers it. Grace meets a haughty worker, James McDermott, and a young part-time farmhand, Jamie Walsh. The young woman, barely 16, fails to notice anything amiss during her early days at the house. Jeremiah, an old peddler she knew from her time at the Parkinson’s, tries to warn her about Kinnear’s inclination toward maids and his relations with Nancy. Yet, having learned a lesson from Mary that a man’s words are not to be taken on their own, Grace declines the offer to escape with him to America after he confirms he has no intentions to marry her.
Eventually, Mary comes to regret that decision a few days later. Nancy had fallen pregnant and was trying to hide it from Kinnear, unsure of the man’s reaction. Furthermore, she starts to notice his attraction toward the young Grace. Consequently, she plans to fire Grace alongside McDermott, who continues to be bad-tempered about working under Nancy. Thus, once she breaks the news on Thursday morning after Kinnear leaves for a day, McDermott tells Grace he plans to murder the two and steal their fortune. Moreover, he wants Grace’s help with it.
Alias Grace Ending: Did Grace Commit The Murders?
As Grace divulges her story to Jordan, the doctor listens to her tale, hanging off her every word. Although he frantically takes notes, asks follow-up questions, and empathizes with her at every turn, the doctor remains perplexed about the nature of her words. Even though Grace can recall moments of her life in vivid detail as she shares them chronologically, she avoids speaking of her time in the asylum. Even more infuriatingly, she claims to have no memory of the day Nancy and Kinnear died.
As such, the question remains: is Grace lying because she’s guilty of the murders, or does she truly have lapses in her memory regarding the murders? However, as stated earlier, Jordan isn’t interested in Grace’s guilt or innocence but rather only her truth. He becomes obsessed with finding the truth, growing more desperate as he uncovers more about Grace Marks with each passing day.
Although Grace confessed to a certain truth in court, she shares that it was only a fabrication her lawyer, Kenneth Mackenzie, made up for her. According to Grace’s account, she tried to put McDermott off of the idea of murdering Nancy and Kinnear. Still, the man went through with it, entering the house with an axe. After that, Grace can remember nothing until Kinnear returns, and McDermott shoots him as well. Later, the man used Grace’s help to stow the body in the cellar and tried to shoot at her, but she passed out again.
Nevertheless, McDermott had a different tale to tell. In his account, Grace seduced him into doing her bidding, encouraging him to kill Nancy and Kinnear, both as sinful and unworthy as them but living better lives. Furthermore, young Jamie’s testimony about finding the duo in the house acting inconspicuously after the murders cements their guilt.
Still, none of these are the actual truths, only what each individual wants the others to hear. Consequently, Jordan agrees to resort to unconventional methods and employs help from Dr. Jerome DuPont, a hypnotist. However, unbeknownst to him, DuPont is really Jeremiah’s new trickery gig, something Grace plays along with.
Yet, Jeremiah’s hypnosis session brings a new narrative to the table. While Grace is under, a new spirit takes over her body and speaks to the committee and Jordan. The spirit is Mary Whitley, Grace’s dear friend. When Grace’s mother died, the girl learned of the belief that if a window is not opened at someone’s death, their spirit gets trapped in the mortal realm.
Therefore, after Mary dies and Grace hears a whisper asking her to let someone in, she assumes it’s Mary asking to be let out and opens a window. Interestingly enough, the next day, Grace woke as if possessed by Mary’s spirit. While the woman assumed it was a one-time thing, Mary reveals she returned during Grace’s employment at Kinnear. Hence, Grace doesn’t remember parts of it.
Mary also admits to having tricked McDermott into killing Nancy with the handkerchief around Grace’s neck, one given to her by Mary as a Christmas present. Since Grace told Jordan about the handkerchief passed down to Mary by her dead mother, the cloth becomes the key evidence in proving her story. Such is the truth Jordan receives about Grace’s involvement in Nancy and Kinnear’s murders: while Nancy’s body had committed the crimes, it was really Mary’s soul inside her.
Was Grace Really Possessed By Mary’s Ghost?
While the narrative certainly provides an answer to Nancy and Kinnear’s murders, it is barely a satisfactory one. Jordan recognizes the same and decides he cannot be sure about the truth behind Grace’s case, abandoning it in devastation. Even though science had a long way to go at the time, Jordan remains skeptical of DuPont’s hypnosis. Since the man is a peddler, unbeknownst to Jordan, the doctor ends up making a sound decision.
Furthermore, the interaction comes across as highly suspicious since Grace was previously acquainted with DuPont and still covered for him. Yet, even though the sudden supernatural revelation comes out of left field for the show, there is something that the narrative maintains throughout its run: Grace’s position as an unreliable narrator.
Much of the story is told as a narration from Grace as she shares her memories with Jordan. Consequently, everything the narrative tells us about the truth remains incredibly tainted by Grace’s own biases, omissions, and lies. Grace can spin whatever story she pleases for a number of purposes and feeds lies to Jordan, whose curiosity will sate its hunger even as he knows how unreliable the information is. As a result, Jordan, acutely aware that Grace’s recount is as likely to be a manipulation as it is the truth, decides to give up on the case, recognizing his limits.
Years later, Grace, now with gray hairs, receives her pardon due to her stellar behavior and travels to meet an old friend who requested her presence. The friend turns out to be Jamie, who admits he lied in his testimony, urged by the lawyers, and expresses his regret over the same. In the end, Jamie and Grace end up married.
During the course of their marriage, the frequency of Jamie’s request for forgiveness is only rivaled by his request to hear about the pain Grace has endured in her life. Grace notes how the man seems to hold a childlike fascination with her trauma and seeks it out to offer his comfort. Therein lies the crux of the story.
Similar to how Grace shared her story with Jordan— and, by extension, the audience— she shares the dark times of her life with Jamie. By her own admission, she tampers truth’s details according to what she assumes Jamie would want to know, which she has been doing all along.
Thus, the possibility remains that Grace has been lying about everything the entire time. The hypnosis session is likely a ruse that Jeremiah and Grace craft to present another angle about Mary’s possession. Even if people were reluctant to believe Grace got possessed, the idea that she developed a personality disorder due to the traumatic loss of her friend seems likely enough. And yet, there’s nothing to disprove this theory either.
The narrative is entirely disinterested in tying up the loose ends about the reality of what happened to Grace before she came to the Kingston Penitentiary. Jordan, the established stand-in for the audience, dismisses Grace’s guilt and innocence in favor of the truth, and the narrative refuses him both. Instead, it asks why the terrors Grace has suffered in her life are such an object of curiosity.
While Grace lies about certain aspects of her life, it isn’t simply for the sake of it. She only embellishes part of the truth and likely underwent a traumatic upbringing and recurring tragedies. In doing so, she also realized that people were seldom interested in the truth and only wanted a narrative they could paint.
When Mary died, no one cared to seek out the actual truth about her death, which would have brought justice to her killer, the unborn baby’s father. Instead, people did what was convenient and buried her under a lie, satisfied to live with it since it painted a prettier picture. Mary knows the people have condemned her in their eyes. Therefore, she only cares to give them a truth they can concile with. Everyone is keen to know the details of her life to pass their judgment. As such, these are the details she chooses to give them.
What Happens To Dr. Simon Jordan?
After failing to puzzle Grace out, Jordan returns home and gives up on the woman’s case. Nevertheless, her memory continues to haunt her. In his time with her, Jordan had become entirely obsessed with Grace because he was intrigued by the mystery and trauma surrounding her. Even when he knew the woman could be lying to him, she continued to plague his thoughts, steadily becoming an infatuation.
In fact, Jordan sinks down to using another woman, violating her emotions and body, to chase Grace out of his mind. The instance presents a bizarrely different face of the doctor who has been gentle, kind, and polite with Grace. Furthermore, his decision to pursue the army following his previously failed undertaking of Grace’s case poses another intriguing idea. Perhaps the doctor truly was only eager to hear Grace’s truth because he wanted to hear about her sufferings.
Regardless, in the end, Jordan sees a dark fate, having gotten wounded on the battlefield. Years later, when Grace achieves freedom and marries Jamie, Jordan remains bed-bound with no memory of recent events and barely a shell of his older self. Eventually, Grace writes a letter to him, divulging her thoughts about their sessions together but still holding the truth at bay. Although Jordan’s mother reads the letter to him, the man can’t give an indication of his recognition or understanding of Grace’s words to him.
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