‘Mrs. America’ Episode 8 Review: Sarah Paulson's journey of self-discovery makes it the best so far
The struggle between Alice’s slowly-forming opinions and beliefs and her life-long conditioning is remarkable
Spoilers for ‘Mrs. America’ episode 8 ‘Houston’
The penultimate episode of the FX biographical miniseries ‘Mrs. America’ was undoubtedly the best one so far. The episode revolves around the National Women's Conference in Houston, Texas, held from November 18 to November 21, 1977.
Unlike the other episodes of the show, which have concentrated on the more historically famous names like Gloria Steinem, Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, or even Phyllis Schlafly, episode 8 was about relative nobodies in the anti-feminist movement started by Schlafly - Alice Macray (Sarah Paulson), Rosemary Thomson (Melanie Lynskey), and Pamela (Kayli Carter).
‘Houston’ is about the Conference. But it’s equally about Alice, who has far too long lived under the shadow of Schlafly. She’s timid. She’s scared. And she’s unsure of things. Which is a far cry from most of the other characters on the show, whose self-doubts are just part of their personalities, and not the entirety of it. It’s also prudent to note that it’s a bit of a crime to have underutilized a powerhouse of talent like Sarah Paulson in the show so far. But this episode rectifies it and how!
At the Houston conference, Alice, who considers herself the right-hand of Schlafly, finds herself bumbling at every step. And that makes sense considering she has never had to speak to the press, address people, or do anything of consequence before. Throughout the series, she has been comfortable standing behind Schlafly, parroting her opinions, smiling through crises.
But through the bumbling missteps, Alice discovers her voice.
There are four instances in the episode where we see the many shades of Alice. One, at a bar, while having a drink, she gets into a conversation with a fellow Christian woman. They discuss families and marriage and faith. They bond. But only until she realizesd that woman is not against the Equal Rights Amendment, but for it. Years of Schlafly’s brainwashing kicks in, and in an almost Pavlovian fashion, Alice walks away angrily.
Before the abrupt end of their conversation, Alice had taken a pill the other woman gave her. Undoubtedly, it was a narcotic that made her feel inebriated, hazy, and she let her guard down. As she walked around, stoned and hungry, she landed at a place where a group of lesbian feminists was singing and eating. She joined in with the merrymaking, singing loudly the verses of Woody Guthrie’s iconic song ‘This Land Is Your Land’.
Here, despite knowing they were the enemies to her cause, Alice couldn’t help but like them, and she is surprised, but not angry when she learns that her favorite song that she had just sung was Marxist in its ideas.
The third instance where we see a different shade of Alice is when she returns back to her room to find Pamela waiting outside. Pamela is, perhaps, even more helpless than Alice and the helplessness angers her. Despite knowing that she was trapped in a loveless marriage (the show throughout its run hints that it might even be an abusive one), Alice shouts at her and berates her for not wanting to return home. The struggle between Alice’s slowly-forming opinions and beliefs and her life-long conditioning is remarkable.
And lastly, we see her take a stand with the other antifeminists, saying that they shouldn’t oppose all the points discussed in the conference, reminding them that they were against something specific, not all things. While the other women dismiss her, she seems to have finally found a voice and a fair one at that.
Alice’s three-day journey in discovering herself, even if a part of that was spent in a drug-fuelled haze, was an absolute delight to watch. More so than some of the episodes that have concentrated more on retelling history, than trying to engage the viewers with a human moment.
'Mrs. America' drops new episodes every Wednesday on Hulu.