Although the first part of Alias Grace is mainly expository, Grace Marks is an instantly intriguing character.
Alias Grace Season 1 Episode 1 establishes the potential for a striking commentary on feminism, patriarchal society, and truth.
From Grace's early interactions with Dr. Jordan, it's clear she's learned to be meticulous with her words. When he asks her what an apple reminds her of, though her mind goes to a game with an apple peel, she replies, "Apple pie."
She's careful, her sentences calculated. She seems to know how her words will be received. She doesn't give too much away.
As we learn at the end of the episode, she's accustomed to her words being twisted. The trauma she's endured and her years in prison must have taught her to reveal little.
As Grace explains at the end of the episode, however, things are different with Dr. Jordan. The feelings she describes seem almost romantic, but perhaps they are simply relief at finally finding someone who will listen to her without outright judgment.
When you write, I feel as if you are drawing on me, drawing on my skin with the feather end of an old-fashioned goose pen. As if hundreds of butterflies have settled all over my face and are softly opening and closing their wings.Grace Marks
Dr. Jordan's method of building trust before diving into the deeper questions seems to be working. Throughout their two meetings, her answers grow more and more detailed.
Despite her wariness, Grace tells him about coming to Canada as a young teen, including the death of her mother aboard the ship and about her verbally, physically, and sexually abusive father.
She even goes so far as to reveal some of her darker thoughts: she considered pushing some of her siblings overboard, and one day pondered killing her father.
I did not want to be led into a grave sin of that kind, though I was afraid that the fiery red anger that was in my heart against him would drive me to it.Grace Marks
Sarah Gadon's portrayal of Grace is riveting. Her Grace is an enigma. Her stares give nothing away, but she seems to be constantly reading people.
The viewers have no idea how much of the story is true. Grace may have committed murder, but it's also possible she was framed or forced into a false confession.
We are put in the same position as Dr. Jordan. Though we know many contradictory things have been said about Grace, our focus is on the story she sews together.
Interestingly, Grace's voiceovers at the beginning and end of the episode are addressed to Dr. Jordan. Though they at first seem to be her inner monologue, they are things she's telling Dr. Jordan. It's likely, however, that they are reflections after the timeline of this episode.
This leaves the audience unsure of how much, if any, of what Grace says is true. Is she trying to manipulate the doctor by earning his trust? Is that very question, and the corresponding attitudes of those who believe her to be evil, a reflection of the toxic patriarchal society in which Grace lives?
I'm eager to see how the feminist themes develop throughout the series. Grace explains that newspapers described her as a "celebrated murderess."
It seems being a woman adds to other people's fascination with her story. Whether or not she committed the crimes, she's branded with this title, "murderess."
Her femininity makes her an object of curiosity. The women at the governor's house watch and discuss her, curious and perhaps a bit thrilled to be in her presence.
She is likewise dehumanized by the men in her life. Dr. Jordan is one of the only men in the story we see who does not exert physical power over her in some way.
The prison guards jerk her around as they grasp her arms, leading her to the governor's house. Her father beats her, and, when he "apologizes", climbs on top of her. In her memories of the asylum, men restrain her in a chair.
She is the victim of a patriarchal society, but whether she committed the murders or not, the title of "murderess" is in itself at odds with the expectations of a woman in the 1800s.
Grace is confined to prison, but if she did commit murder, it may have been her own rebellion against the men in her life.
I thought, he wishes to go home and say to himself, "I stuck in my thumb and pulled out a plum, what a good boy am I." But I will not be anybody's plum.Grace Marks
Inevitably, Alias Grace will be compared to the other television adaptation of a Margaret Atwood novel earlier this year. The Handmaid's Tale received wide acclaim, adding pressure to Alias Grace to live up to the same standard. Though it's a bit early to say, it seems Alias Grace will have no trouble holding its own.
Part of the show's power lies in the understanding that although we don't know the truth about Grace's past, she's a likeable character. Seeing the trauma she's endured only makes me want to root for her more.
What did you think of Part 1? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and continue to watch Alias Grace online here!
Danica Leninsky was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in April of 2018.