Jean and Steve scamper, giggling, from the kitchen into the dining room. They are sharing a joint and both wearing pajamas. Karen is asleep in the living room on the hide-a-bed, and Bill is asleep on an air mattress in the study. Steve shushes Jean, whispering that she is going to get him busted. The two are behaving flirtatiously, and Jean comments on how strong the marijuana is. Steve offers to shotgun Jean—to blow the marijuana smoke into her mouth. Jean agrees. Steve takes a hit, brings his face close to Jean’s, and blows the smoke into her mouth. Jean begins coughing heavily, and sways on the spot. Steve catches her, groping her breasts.
Jean has gotten herself in over her head with Karen’s fiancé Steve. Though the teasing between them in earlier scenes could be read as playful but inappropriate, in this scene—away from the prying eyes of the rest of the family—Steve reveals himself to be a true predator and abuser.
Jean pulls away from Steve and calls him an “old perv.” Steve asks Jean to show him her breasts. She rebuffs him. He taunts her with the age-old phrase “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” He asks if Jean has ever seen a penis, and Jean claims she has. When he asks if she’s a virgin, she at first says she isn’t, but then admits she “technically” still is. “That,” Steve says, “changes everything,” and he begins to move in closer to Jean. Jean warns him that they are going to get in trouble, but Steve protests that he is “white and over thirty”—he doesn’t get in trouble.
Steve is preying on Jean in the most disgusting, lurid way possible—by attempting to wheedle her into believing that anything that happens between them is as much her idea as it is his. This predatory behavior suggests that this is not his first time soliciting a young girl for sex—and his subsequent allusion to being able to shirk the law with impunity seems to confirm this idea.
Steve turns off the light and sounds of moaning and heavy breathing can be heard. After a moment, the light clicks back on—Johnna is standing in the entryway from the kitchen, holding a cast-iron skillet. Jean and Steve pull apart from each other, their clothes in disarray. Johnna walks right up to Steve and swings the skillet at him over and over again, eventually hitting him right in the forehead. Throughout the house, everyone else begins to stir.
Johnna’s role in this scene calls into question what her emotional and personal involvement in the lives of the Westons truly is. Though it is her job to help them keep house and maintain their “routines,” her behavior—and seemingly her investment in their lives—goes above and beyond what is expected of her.
Karen rushes into the room, alarmed, and goes straight to Steve. She asks him what happened, but Johnna answers for him, telling Karen that Steve was messing with Jean. Karen, though, is only concerned with Steve’s well-being. Bill and Barbara come in and ask what’s going on—Johnna tells them too, that she “tuned [Steve] up” when she caught him kissing and grabbing Jean.
Johnna’s plain, stoic way of relaying what has just happened to Barbara, Bill, and Karen reveals how paralyzed she is by the world she has entered. Johnna has to save these people from themselves over and over and over again, and the question of whether it is her “job” to do so is called into question in this scene.
Barbara lunges for Steve, trying to attack him and threatening to murder him. Bill tells Karen to get Steve out of the house. Steve insists he didn’t do anything, and Jean tells her parents to calm down. Barbara shouts to Steve that Jean is only fourteen years old—he counters that she said she was fifteen, which enrages Barbara further. Karen pushes Steve into the living room, and they begin packing their bags and dressing.
Steve’s disgusting behavior is made even more abhorrent by his discussing justification for his actions—as if Jean’s being fifteen makes his attraction to her significantly more defensible than her being fourteen.
In the dining room, Barbara, Bill, Jean, and Johnna reckon with what has just happened. Barbara and Bill tell Jean to take them step-by-step through what happened, but she does not want to “make a federal case” out of things. She tells them that “nothing happened.” When Bill insists he and Barbara are just concerned about Jean, she tells them that they “just want to know who to punish.” She accuses them of not being able to tell the difference between “the good guys and the bad guys,” and using her to sort things out for them.
Jean’s defensiveness seems childish at first—but once she reveals that she is no longer willing to do the emotional labor of sorting right from wrong for her parents, a very complicated portrait of a young girl caught in the middle of an endless tidal wave of need from the very adults who are supposed to help her begins to emerge.
Barbara insists Jean tell them what Steve did. Jean replies that he didn’t do anything—even if he did, she says, it wouldn’t be a “big deal.” Bill replies that it is a big deal, as she is only fourteen. Jean replies that fourteen is only “a few years younger” than Bill likes his girls. Barbara slaps Jean. Jean bursts into tears and tells Barbara that she hates her. Barbara tells Jean that she hates her, too, and Jean runs away. Bill follows Jean out of the room. Johnna excuses herself and returns to the attic.
This explosive moment between the three members of the Fordham family shows just how destructive this visit has been for all of them. Barbara’s shocking retort to Jean reveals how very much at the end of her rope she is—rather than protecting her daughter, she lashes out at her, unwilling to see the ways in which she herself has inspired such cruel speech and derision in her own child.
Barbara goes into the living room, where Karen is alone, putting the hide-a-bed away. Steve is already outside. Karen tells Barbara to spare her a speech. She is leaving now, with Steve, to return to Florida. Karen warns Barbara that she needs to find out from Jean “exactly” what happened before Barbara starts pointing any fingers. Karen says she “doubts Jean’s exactly blameless” in everything that went on tonight. Karen says that things aren’t black and white all the time—everything is somewhere in the middle. Everyone but Barbara, Karen says, lives in that grey space.
Karen is as narcissistic and disconnected as ever, unable to see—even in the face of hard evidence—that her fiancé is a pedophile and a dangerous man. Karen attempts to insinuate that Jean has had some role in her own assault—though this is a ludicrous claim, Karen couches it in a rather accurate indictment of Barbara’s inability to see nuance and complication in the people around her.
Barbara attempts to say something to Karen, but Karen interrupts her. She says she’s not defending Steve—she knows he’s not perfect, but neither is she. Karen says she’s done things she’s not proud of in her life and admits that she will probably do more things she’s not proud of, because that’s what it is to be a person. Come January, Karen says, she’ll be in Belize. With that, she leaves.
In this passage, Karen admits to having done bad things in order to secure her freedom from her family. Karen is no angel, and she has made personal sacrifices—and ethical ones, it seems—to make sure that she does not get entrapped within her family once again. She is so afraid of being caught in the Westons’ web that she now chooses to return to her life with Steve, even knowing how awful he is, rather than spend another second with her own kin.
Barbara is alone for just a moment before Bill enters the room. He announces that he is heading back to Boulder and taking Jean with him. Jean is “too much” for Barbara to deal with right now. Barbara admits she has failed as a sister, a mother and a wife. Barbara laments that she can’t make things up to Jean right now—their reconciliation will have to wait until Barbara gets back to Boulder. Bill tells Barbara that she and Jean have forty some-odd years left to make up.
Barbara reveals in this moment how afraid she is of becoming the kind of mother that Violet is. She has made a mistake in bringing Jean here and exposing her to such untamed emotional violence and abuse and fears she has ruined things forever. Bill must be the one to remind her that all relationships are not as doomed as Barbara and Violet’s own—perhaps, for Jean and Barbara, there can be peace and reconciliation.
Barbara tells Bill that she knows he’s never coming back to her. He tells her to never say never, but trails off. He implies that he is going to pursue a relationship with the student he’s been seeing. Barbara asks Bill if she will understand why he’s leaving her, and he says she probably won’t. As Bill walks out the door and on to the porch, Barbara calls after him, telling him she loves him. He pauses for a moment, but then leaves. Barbara is alone.
Barbara speaks to Bill in this scene as if he is an oracle, asking him questions about the future of their relationship and allowing him to determine the answers. Her willingness to be dictated to the terms of their future is uncharacteristic, and represents how powerless Barb feels in this moment, overwhelmed by the insanity of her family and the sense of entrapment she feels.