We’re in Joe’s apartment. Harper carries a big suitcase while Joe sits in his chair—it seems that Harper’s getting ready to leave Joe. Harper tells Joe that she needs Joe’s credit card. Once she has this, she’ll never need to see Joe again. Joe tells Harper that he doesn’t know what to do without her—she’s the only one who loves him.
Joe is feeling especially lonely right now. He’s flirted with the gay community, but finds himself alienated from it because of his politics. He’s also lost his ally and mentor in Roy Cohn. Joe’s situation is one of the most tragic of anyone’s in the novel—he comes out of the closet, but finds that he’s lonelier than he was before. Perhaps this is meant to suggest the unpredictability of the social climate during the AIDS crisis—coming out of the closet was a big risk, and it would be dishonest for Kushner to suggest otherwise in his play.
Reluctantly, Joe hands Harper his credit card. Harper accepts it, and tells Joe that he’ll never hear from her again, except if there’s a problem with his card. Before she leaves, Harper hands Joe some valium pills and tells him, “Go exploring.” She grabs her suitcase and walks out.
Harper is something of a prophet herself, urging the people around her to explore the world and embrace the “gospel of change.”
On the other half of the stage, we’re back in the hospital with Louis and Prior. Prior pauses and says, “I love you, Louis, but you can’t come back. Not ever.”
This is a quietly devastating scene—not “I love you,” but rather, “I love you, but …” Louis and Prior don’t get a happy ending—Louis can’t just “come back” from his betrayal. Even if Louis feels guilty about abandoning Prior, and wants to make up for what he’s done, he can’t simply erase his own actions.