It is 1963, and Gallimard is at a party at the Austrian ambassador’s house. He is talking to a young student named Renee. She tells him about her plans to spend the next two years in China, learning the Chinese language. Then she asks him bluntly whether he wants to “fool around.” Gallimard agrees, and Renee walks offstage. Gallimard tells the audience this was the beginning of his first “extra-extramarital affair.” He says Renee was beautiful, and that he found it exciting to have sex with someone who would let him see her naked body — but he adds that it is possible for a woman to be too sexually free and confident, so that she begins to seem like a man.
As far as Gallimard is concerned, Renee is the polar opposite of Song. Whereas he spends months wooing Song, Renee propositions him for sex after only a brief conversation. Renee is sexually experienced and uninhibited, and while Song appears to Gallimard to be the picture of delicate femininity, Renee’s boldness makes her seem unbecomingly masculine. His liaison with Renee highlights the extent to which Gallimard has become emotionally invested in the dynamic he shares with Song, unable to appreciate women who do not conform to his idea of female perfection.
Renee returns to the stage, toweling her hair in what is clearly supposed to be a post-coital scene. She tells Gallimard he has a nice “weenie,” her word for penis. Gallimard finds the childish slang distasteful, but Renee does not seem bothered by his disapproval. She goes on a long diatribe about men’s insecurity around their penis size, which leaves Gallimard disgusted.
Renee’s total disregard for Gallimard’s opinion of her, even more than her crude and juvenile language, emphasizes her difference from Song. She seems to have no investment in pleasing Gallimard, and so gives him no power to reward her with approval or punish her with disdain.
Renee walks offstage, leaving Gallimard behind. Song appears, shaking and distressed, in a different corner of the stage from Gallimard. Gallimard says that he kept up his affair with Renee mostly because of its effect on Song. He claims she knew about the affair, but did not confront him or complain as a Western woman might have — instead, she accepted his betrayal and suffered in silence. Her quiet pain was the thing that excited him about his affair with Renee, much more than Renee herself, Gallimard says.
Though Renee herself cannot be controlled, Gallimard appreciates her because she gives him a tool to exercise power over Song. Though they have spent years together and have discussed the possibility of having a child together, Gallimard still feels compelled to assert authority over Song. Dominating her was not just a way of winning her affection, but a major source of ongoing pleasure for Gallimard.
Toulon appears onstage. He tells Gallimard that the American military has plans to assassinate Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam. Gallimard has recommended this course of action, and Toulon tells him the outcome of the assassination will either make Gallimard’s career or destroy his credibility. Toulon admits that he agrees with Gallimard’s opinions, but says he would never risk his own career by supporting Gallimard’s recommendations publicly. While they talk, Song dissolves into a fit in her corner of the stage. She throws a vase to the ground, then sits amid the broken shards singing to herself.
Gallimard’s life seems to be coming apart at this moment. His career is in a precarious position, and his relationship with Song is crumbling. These are the fruits of Gallimard’s hubris: intoxicated by the confidence his gained from his relationship with Song, he has taken her love for granted and made hasty recommendations informed more by his sense of personal infallibility and cultural or racial superiority than by any real information.
Gallimard is furious to learn that Toulon does not plan to stand beside him if the assassination yields bad results. After leaving Toulon, he tells his audience, he considered going to visit Renee. However, he decided in that moment that he needed an outlet for his anger and humiliation, and so he went to see Song for the first time in weeks.
Gallimard’s decision to visit Song as a way of relieving his shame indicates his dismissive, abusive attitude toward her. Treating Song as an outlet for his negative feelings means treating her badly to restore his own sense of control; he plans to do something vicious.
Gallimard finds Song drunk and despairing. She says their problem is an old one: men grow tired of women they have been with too long, even if those women are beautiful. Gallimard tells her he has a solution to this problem, and asks Song to let him see her naked body. Song seems scandalized, but also distressed. She reminds Gallimard of her modesty and shame, and he dismisses these concerns. She tells Gallimard she was always disgusted by the fantasy of the passive Asian and the cruel white man, but that she now sees how she has become trapped in exactly that dynamic.
As far as Gallimard knows, Song’s modesty is among her most prized virtues. Insisting she forsake that virtue to please him is a dramatic show of force — he wants to prove that he has the power to make Song do anything he wants. When Song points out that the dynamic between them mirrors the cliché she once claimed to hate, she subtly encourages Gallimard to think of her as being helpless, in need of his care and protection.
Gallimard tries to comfort Song by telling her that his seeing her naked will remove the last barrier between them. She brushes off his loving words, but tells him she can do nothing except submit to his will — she is helpless for love of him. Gallimard tells his audience that he did not undress Song that night. He suspects he may have known, in his heart, what he would find if he looked at her naked body. He says happiness is so rare that the mind will go to tremendous lengths to protect it once we feel it.
Gallimard’s comment to his audience makes it clear that his belief that Song was a woman was not only the product of her clever deception. He depended on Song for his happiness, and had very little else in his life to fulfill him, and therefore subconsciously kept himself ignorant to make their romance possible. The imaginary world Song created for him was — and remains, as his prison testimony suggests — an easier and more beautiful one than his reality.
Gallimard says the thought of himself fulfilling the role of lecherous Pinkerton, abusing his loving Butterfly, made him sick. The confrontation with Song killed the last traces of Pinkerton in him, he says, and left behind a feeling of love that was totally unnatural to him. He crawls across the stage toward Song and throws his arms around her waist, begging her forgiveness. Song tells Gallimard she is pregnant. Gallimard exclaims that he wants to marry her.
Though Gallimard professes his love for Song on the night he receives his promotion, he claims this is the first moment he truly felt love for her. The relationship they have shared to this point has been defined by Gallimard’s ego and his desire to have Song doting on him. Now, he feels concern for her and, with her (obviously false) announcement of her pregnancy, envisions a future they can share. That this moment of deep feeling should occur at the height of Song’s deception — the moment she lies about being pregnant, partly in order to ensure her deception remains hidden — is an ironic example of the extent of Gallimard’s self-deception, as well as the extent of Song’s ruse. Gallimard reads his lover so poorly as not to perceive the most dramatic of lies.