Alice Isn’t Dead: Part 2 Chapter 1, “The Last Free Place”

AID

Alice Isn’t Dead returned on Tuesday, and I for one couldn’t be happier.

We begin with Keisha trying (and, at first, failing) to recap the events of the previous season. She says, “Oh, shit,” then turns of the radio for a moment.

She turns it back on, and starts by saying that there’s a lot to go over. She starts by saying that Alice isn’t dead, but she’s stopped looking for her, since she asked her to:

What she did was wrong. Someone doesn’t have to be perfect, or even good, to deserve not to be followed if they don’t want to be. The threshold for deserving that is just being a human being that isn’t a danger to anyone.

She goes on that she’s still driving the truck and while she’s no longer looking for her wife, she’s still looking for understanding. She goes into the recap, about her employers Bay & Creek and their war against the Thistle Men. She questions why she’s still doing this, and states that she should go home, but says she can’t. “But I can’t. Alice isn’t dead, and neither am I.”

After the opening theme, Keisha says that the had seen the commander of the group that rescued her two weeks after the raid on the Thistle Men.

I would have thought they would try to keep our routes separate, but maybe I’m below their worry, or even below their notice. And so the woman who led the Bay and Creek army that saved me back in the town of Thistle Men, I see her chatting at a distribution center outside of Omaha. She seems at ease, a truck driver on a smoke break. Talking, flirting maybe, with a warehouse worker. As she leaves, he hands her a piece of paper, which she puts in her pocket without reading. I don’t think they were flirting.

She then says that she saw her a month after that in Los Angeles, sitting in her truck, staring straight ahead. At this point, she decides to start following her, saying it would make her late for her next delivery, but that she doesn’t believe that they’ll fire her for it.

The radio cuts out, then comes back on again with Keisha describing a stop in “the valley,” somewhere in California. She describes three small birds sitting on a power line, “swaying as the line sways,” and that they could fly away from the line at any moment. She goes on, talking about the slowness of the traffic in front of her.

Eventually she comes across a suburb, and muses a bit about the significance of parking lots:

An hour later, we come over the hill and there is an entire plain of suburbia laid out for me. Orange tile roofs, and the signs for Targets and Wal-Marts arrayed out into the distance like the flags of nation states, each one marking a place that is, in historical terms, mind-bogglingly huge. Forget the cavernous spaces inside, the aisles of products and the employee areas in the on-sight warehouse. And forget the roof of each of these megastores, maces of tar and ducts. Instead, just consider the parking lots. Acres and acres of lot for every acre of store. Entire medieval cities could fit into each one of these parking lots. At night, in the least lit corners, teenagers learn the best secrets of being an adult, before drudging the next day to their cashier jobs in Target or the cell phone stores, to learn the worst secrets of being an adult. We give so much space to these lots, without considering what kind of space they take in our culture.

Keisha cuts the radio again, and a bit later comes back on, saying that she’s following the Bay & Creek commander east. She talks a bit about how the drier and hotter it gets where she is, the more snow she can see on the mountaintops. She talks about how there are patches of green, which seem wrong given the surroundings but are “extravagant in their wrongness”:

They are not like an ill-fitting toupee but.. like a towering purple and silver wig barely restrained by cavity. The green on the desert revels in its artificiality.

She goes on about the sunset on the mountains, talking about how they go from pink to “a candy avalanche in reverse” before finally going to a silhouette as the sun goes down.

Eventually, Keisha goes past Palm Springs and heads towards the Salton Sea, “An expanse of salt water created accidentally by a flood and maintained by agricultural run-off.” She talks for a bit about how the lake is destined to eventually evaporate as there is no water coming in or out, increasing in salinity as it does so, with the algae blooms from fertilizer runoff causing the fish to die.

This causes her to reminisce about a time, when she was a kid, she and her friends snuck out to swim in a local pond that wasn’t quite right:

The entire bottom was lined with black plastic, something I realize only now was because they didn’t want whatever was in that pond seeping into the groundwater. We swam for a couple hours, went home, showered and agreed that there was something wrong about the water there, and that we would never go back.

She then links this to the Salton Sea, and how the resorts there eventually died: the people who had gone there decided that there was something wrong with the water, and collectively decided to never go back.

She then mentions that she’s driving along the sea coast now, before swearing. She explains, saying that there are a lot of dips in the road, which are jarring when you’re in a semi. Keisha then talks a bit about how she’s passed by a number of small streams called washes, one of them called Butter Wash (which she says sounds good). She then passes by Bug Wash, which she decides sounds a bit less good.

And now we come to the meat of the episode as Keisha comes across a town called Niland. She describes seeing a dog, pony, and horse all tied together near a broken wall, as well as a number of trailers and houses. She then sees a sign that says “Slab City-The Last Free Place.” She calls it a squatter’s city:

A mixture of gutter punks and anarchists and artists and, just retirees looking to make their pension stretch. Anyone who wants a patch of land without worrying about paying for it. The last free place.

She says that she’s keeping back, since there’s only one road in or out and her truck would stand out. She says that she’ll have to be careful, when she sees flashing lights and hears a police siren behind her. She start swearing, obviously nervous, as the radio cuts out again.

Keisha then comes back on, saying that it’s been a few minutes and the police officer who pulled her over hasn’t moved. She mentions that there are no people about, theorizing that they must have scattered with the officer showed up, saying that she would have in their shoes. The radio cuts out again.

It comes back on, with Keisha saying that the officer has left her car, and is coming towards her. She says that she’s going to leave the radio on, just in case, as we hear another female voice saying hey.

Keisha anxiously asks the officer if she can help her, and the officer asks if she knows how fast she was going. Keisha responds that she doesn’t, and asks the officer the same question. The officer responds, “I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”

Keisha responds that her truck’s on cruise control, and should be set around the speed limit. The officer says, “Like to give up control?” Keisha, confused, responds with “I’m sorry?” The officer tells her not to be, since that’s a very common wish. Keisha asks again if she can help her. The officer asks her for her name, as well as her license and registration, which she gives. The officer tells her that she’ll have to run them through the system, and that she’ll be right back. As she leaves, Keisha sighs and says, “Oh, Jesus,” before cutting the radio.

The radio comes back on, and Keisha says that the officer has been in her car for a while. She says that there’s something off about her uniform, that it seemed somehow sloppy and the badge looked like it was plastic. She cuts this line of thought short as the officer comes back.

The officer returns Keisha’s papers, and Keisha thanks her. The officer then goes on a tangent about the beach around Salton Sea, talking about how the sand seems to be the wrong texture, before she realized that it was made of fish bones. Keisha asks the officer if there’s anything wrong, before the officer goes on another unsettling tangent:

I used to have this thing as a kid, I didn’t like uncovered windows. Mostly after dark, but sometimes during the light too. At night, I thought there was something out there watching me. Even if just a little sliver of the window wasn’t covered. I’d picture an eye pressed up against it. and then during the day, it was different. I would instead imagine some horrible creature shuffling around the house and they would be arriving that window soon, and they would see me but worse, I would see them. It’s a childish fear, but as you and I both know, not an unfounded one.

Keisha, quite clearly unsettled, asks the officer if there was a particular reason she pulled her over. The officer tells her it was because she was going fast; Keisha asks if she was going over the speed limit. The officer says she doesn’t know, but that it a “[b]ig truck going fast, it’s exciting. Anything that big and fast, you wanna chase it.” Keisha asks her what department she works for, and the officer tells her she doesn’t know, since she forgot what the car said when she got into it: “It was dark. I’ve gotten more used to the dark. I’ve grown as a person. I would have thought you’d be proud of me.”

At this point, Keisha (and the audience) realizes that she’s not speaking with a real police officer, that she’s some “weirdo who stole a police car.” The officer tells her that’s an interesting theory, and presents Keisha with her badge. Keisha notes that the badge doesn’t have a department listed; it only says “Police Instigator.” The officer responds by casually telling Keisha that she could rip off both of her arms.

With my own hands. No tools, I could take them off. I’ve done it before. It was easier than I thought it would be.

Keisha, quite understandably freaked out by the turn this conversation has taken, tries to start her engine, but it won’t start. The officer tells her that trying to leave would be a mistake, since she’s just there to talk. Keisha angrily asks her what she wants, and the officer responds that it’s been a long time since anyone’s asked her that question, and she was just thinking about that on the beach She laughs, and says she doesn’t know what she wants, but wants to talk about what Keisha wants.

Keisha asks, “What do I want,” and the officer, becoming more aggressive as the conversation continues, responds:

To be careful. You’ve seen things. We don’t like people who have seen things. I would say it makes us nervous, but we don’t have the capacity for nerves, so more it makes us agitated. It makes us wild. Have you ever been made wild?

Keisha starts to respond, but the officer cuts her off, saying that was a rhetorical question: “Or not a rhetorical question, what’s that word? Threat! I’m threatening you!” Keisha, who’s still scared but also kind of beginning to grow tired of this bullshit, proceeds to tell the officer off:

OK, I… Now your turn to listen. I’ve faced fiercer dangers and walked out alive. I’ve seen things that I could never explain, not if I spent 100 more years talking into this radio. You want me scared? Officer, you have no idea. I’m always scared. You think fear is new to me, you think fear is the novelty that will change my behavior? For me, fear is living. And I’ve lived this long, haven’t I? I said haven’t I?

The officer pauses for a moment, then says she likes Keisha. She says that she’s “the most interesting one yet,” and that she can see why “they” sent her for this, since she likes the interesting ones. Keisha asks if the police sent her, and she scoffs, asking her if she thinks “the highest it goes is some thugs in blue?” She goes on, pointing out that the Thistle Men weren’t allowed on that Air Force base because of some agreement with the state troopers, before telling Keisha that she “feeds on the police.”

Keisha tells her to feed on her then, and that she wouldn’t be the first. The officer responds:

Feed on you? We just met. We have so much more to get through first, Keisha. I take my time. Drive safe now, I’m letting you off with a warning. But remember I could dismantle you with just my teeth. I’ve done that, too. I’ll be seeing you around, Keisha. This is gonna be a good time, I think. Isn’t it so nice, you know, you love your job?

She then leaves, and Keisha shakily asks what just happened before laughing nervously. She then addresses Alice, saying that she believes what she just encountered is so much worse then the Thistle Men. She says that the Thistle Men were hungry, but that the officer is also smart. She says that she’s in a bad position, and hopes that Alice is safer wherever she is. Keisha then says that the person she’s been following is out of sight, but there’s only one way in or out, so she’ll just have to wait before cutting the radio.

Unfortunately, as indicated when Keisha comes back on, she is unsuccessful:

An entire day, by the way. An entire day I spent waiting and searching. A sculpture garden made of discarded junk. A library tucked away back among the sage and trailers. A towering monument to Jesus made of hay and latex paint. A squatter’s shack on a hill with a big yellow eye watching me. I don’t know how, but the woman from Bay and Creek and her entire truck vanished in the Last Free Place, among the trailers and abandoned military structures. I don’t know.

She closes out by saying she’s going to head north and lay low for a bit, and try to fly under the radar, before noting that “[t]here’s some truly bad trouble coming.”

So, here we have a new season, and a new mystery: the “officer.” This character (played by Roberta Colindrez) actually appeared in a short bonus episode that Night Vale Presents released in the lead up to this episode. And holy god, is she effective. There’s this sense of casual menace coming from her. She’s also obviously a more effective predator than the Thistle Men were, and I can’t wait to hear more about her.

At this point, April 18 can’t come soon enough.

 

 

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