You gotta give The Lizzie Borden Chronicles credit; the only thing predictable about this show is how unpredictable it is (and, ok, the fact that Lizzie will off at least one other character per episode). In episode seven, “The Sisters Grimke,” the Borden sisters flee Fall River and Lizzie adopts a more fun-loving hair color.
The blonde doesn’t work so well as a disguise ... or as a fun magnet, for that matter ... but it proves useful in other ways, as we’ll see. Spoilers follow!
We open at Maplecroft, where a half-crazed Siringo met his bloody end thanks to Emma’s quick thinking. But she’s still the more sensitive of the two Bordens, and has a total breakdown at the sight of Lizzie matter-of-factly dismembering his corpse. “I’m gonna need your help with some of the bigger pieces,” she says in a flashback. But Emma can’t even help herself just yet.
So it’s off to Cumberland, Maine, where the melancholy “Miss Grimke” is checked into an asylum for treatment, under the care of a doctor whose mustache is clearly filled with secrets (bad ones), and the chipper other “Miss Grimke” is hired on as the new schoolteacher. In a nice parallel to the episode’s opening scene, in which a group of Fall River rapscallions dare each other to knock on the front door of the newly-abandoned Maplecroft, her charges are mostly mischievous tween boys. Like, the kind who shoot slingshots at each other in class. But Miss G, who actually seems like a pretty chill teacher, isn’t having that. She confiscates the toy after slapping her ruler onto a fly, leaving a bloody splotch on a student’s desk. “All weapons in the classroom will be used by me,” she assures them.
Soon, though, it becomes very apparent that while Lizzie may have made an escape from Fall River, she’s not out of the woods yet. We meet a pair of Siringo pals, fellow Pinkertons, who’ve gotten wind of their buddy’s murder convictions and his subsequent disappearance. The whole thing sounds fishy enough (“This is a bunch of crap. Charlie wouldn’t cut up no woman!”) for them to mount up and ride to Fall River all the way from Virginia City, Nevada. (It took me almost the whole episode to place the more cowboy’d-up of the two: it’s Chris Bauer, who played Sabotka on season two of The Wire!)
When they make it to Fall River, the reception at the Danforth Hotel is colder than the snow on the ground. Don’t forget, that innkeeper hated Pinkertons even before his wife had an affair with one (plus, he seems to believe that Siringo also killed her, as he was wrongfully accused of/framed of doing). But Team Siringo is here for information, and information is what they’ll be having, good sir. Please enjoy being tossed out of your own establishment as payment!
“We’ve had enough killing in Fall River,” he tells them, sadly and not incorrectly. And really, he doesn’t have any information on Siringo. The only person who does — this Lizzie Borden that everyone keeps talking about — has ghosted out of town. But where?
Back in Maine, we see that while you can take the Borden out of Fall River, you can’t take the Borden out of the Borden, and Lizzie just can’t stay out of trouble. There’s the happenstance of a murder, not her doing (for once), but she’s tangentially involved (for always). Seems one of her students, fed up with his stepfather’s abuse, has killed the man, and his own mother, too, just hours after Lizzie broke up a fight between birth father and stepfather in the local dry goods shop. (We meet another student’s father, too, a widower whose awkward come-ons to Lizzie couldn’t be more misguided. Wrong tree, dude.)
The dry goods store is also where Lizzie learns a bit of information that’s presented as an aside but will SO OBVIOUSLY become important in like 15 minutes: to cover one’s grey hairs and keep the blonde bright, the friendly shopkeep advises Lizzie, one need only assemble a simple concoction of ingredients available right here in the store. One of them is “a touch of yellow cyanide.” Yep. Filed.
Back in Willowdale Asylum, Emma is having a hell of a time. In addition to being subjected to a particularly barbaric-looking shock treatment, she’s started to suspect that Dr. Mustache is not a follower of “first do no harm.” It’s confirmed when she sees him injecting her hospital roommate with something out of a huge needle, then wheels her off for (it’s implied) rape or even worse.
But she can’t rely on Lizzie, not anymore. The first word she speaks in months is “mur-mur-mur-der,” which the doctor seizes upon. He’s cruel, but he’s no dummy; these Grimkes are rich and he’ll be squeezing every penny out of this sick woman and her sister who may have done something terrible (and who is, if you think about it, actually the sicker of the two). He takes Lizzie to see the part of the facility where the dangerously mentally ill reside. It’s absolutely terrifying, and it’s where big sis will be moved, he tells Lizzie, if she doesn’t pay up. “Looks like you’ve severely limited my options,” she agrees. Obviously, this is far from over, and both sisters are getting awfully tired of Maine at this point, but Emma doesn’t need Lizzie’s help to gain her release, as we will soon find out.
But first, Lizzie just can’t help getting involved in the biggest crime to hit Cumberland probably ever. She’s questioned by the police about her murderous student, and (kinda like the abused dog she murdered her neighbor to save ... hey, what happened to that little dog when she left Fall River?) she feels bad for the boy. Perhaps she relates to his uncontrollable urge to kill his parents. Intent on helping him as only she can, she goes to pay the boy’s birth father a visit.
Ooooohhh, but there’s this pesky reporter she needs to dispatch first. See, he’s recognized her, even snapped her photo, and it’s too late for her to even bribe it out of him. (It indeed gets published, and alerts the Pinkerton bros to her location. Incoming!) But because he’s a smug bastard, and because she’s Lizzie Borden, she buys him the newspaperman beer for his troubles. “You aren’t even a little afraid of me?” she asks. Nah, he ain’t. Meanwhile, everyone who’s been watching this show for weeks knows there is absolutely, 100 percent, a hefty dose of cyanide in that drink. “My god, I think this man is choking!” Lizzie deadpans as the latest man foolish enough to cross her hits the dirt.
In rapid succession, both sisters prove their mettle in the episode’s final scenes. A scheme involving a fake suicide/confession note, a thwack on the head with a typewriter, and a pair of slit wrists in a bathtub seems like a good way to get Lizzie’s favorite student off the hook by framing his pops for the boy’s impetuous crime. Plus, Lizzie does so enjoy staging her crime scenes.
And Emma, who’s not about to be molested by Dr. Creeper when it becomes apparent that’s about to happen, springs out of her trance, bellowing “I AM A BORDEN!”, and jabs her captor with his own vial of rape juice. When he comes to, he’s tied to a chair in the asylum’s locked wing amid its most dangerous and mistreated patients, who fall upon him like a pack of hungry zombies.
Emma escapes into the night, having found a clever way around Lizzie’s declaration to her latest victim that “a person should do their own killing.” Free at last?