It’s the present day in Aiken, South Carolina. Avery takes a breath and prepares to exit the limo—which is surrounded by cameras—with her father. She wishes she could forget why she came back to Aiken, but she can’t. Her father’s hair is standing up a little in back and Avery wishes she could reach over and fix it but doesn’t because it’d be “a breach of protocol”; although Avery knows her father loves her and her sisters, he doesn’t vocalize it very often. Avery knows she’s his favorite daughter, but that he’s also confused by her because she went to college for a degree instead of to catch a husband. However, for this same reason it’s become a silent understanding in their family that Avery will follow in her father’s footsteps. In her thoughts, Avery tries to convince herself that this is what she wants.
Avery is in a limo, which immediately indicates that she is someone important and a member of the upper classes. She also notes that it would be a “breach of protocol” to fix her father’s hair, implying that there are a number of strict rules in her life that she has to follow to keep up appearances. She is trying to fill a role, but the fact that she has to convince herself that she wants it is evidence that she actually wants another kind of life.
Even though Avery is certain she wants to take over for her father, she still hopes that she won’t have to quite yet, that both Wells Stafford’s (her father) cancer and his political opponents will be beaten so she can return to her former life for a little bit longer.
Avery accepts the fact that she will have to take over her father’s position one day, but she wants the chance to live her own life first, However, this moment brings up the question of why she would choose to follow in her father’s footsteps if it won’t make her happy.
Wells asks Avery if she’s ready and she says she is. To herself, she says that she hopes she won’t have to become her father’s caretaker and be faced with the same tough choices that Wells recently had to make for Judy, Avery’s grandmother. Judy has been put into an upscale “facility,” but Wells and Avery can’t talk about it in public due to a recent scandal involving other senior care facilities in South Carolina. Avery knows that political opponents would accuse Wells of turning a blind eye to the plight of lower-class seniors in these facilities if it helps his friends and contributors. This makes Avery mad because she knows the decision to put Judy in a facility was very difficult and even embarrassing.
Avery is evidently very sensitive to how others see her family’s behavior. She’s both hurt and angry that some people are saying Wells would allow helpless senior citizens to be neglected or even abused just to get political support from powerful people, because this accusation implies her family lacks compassion or humanity. This, Avery knows, is not the case.
Thinking about Judy prompts Avery to think of the dragonfly bracelet she’s wearing. It used to be Judy’s and Avery is wearing it as a reminder that “Stafford women do what must be done,” no matter what. Avery needs this reminder because she’s about to enter a nursing home, which makes her uncomfortable. She and Wells are there to help one of Wells’s long-time contributors celebrate her 100th birthday. As Wells and Avery pose for photos with a few people inside the nursing home, Avery realizes she’s having fun. Still, she worries about the scandal involving undermanaged nursing facilities, one of which has been tied back to one of Wells’s best friends. Wells and Avery walk into the common room for the birthday party.
Avery notes that “Stafford women do what must be done,” which presumably means that they make personal sacrifices for the greater good of the rest of the family. In this situation, Avery is sacrificing her comfort to help boost her father’s image by going with him to the party. However, being in a nursing home is a reminder of the scandal that looms over her family, thus adding to her discomfort. It’s not yet clear what the details of these various scandals and sacrifices are, but it’s already clear that they’ll be significant to the story going forward.
From inside the room Avery sees an old woman standing alone outside. Avery watches her for a while but forces herself to pay attention to the party so none of the photographers catch her looking distracted. The director of the nursing home talks about the woman whose birthday they’re celebrating and her decades-long marriage to her husband. While she listens, Avery wonders if she and Elliot will have a similarly happy marriage. While the party attendees sing “Happy Birthday,” Avery watches the woman outside slowly turn back towards the building. Her father’s assistant, Leslie, whispers to Avery that she needs to focus. When the cake comes out, Avery feels someone grab her wrist—it’s the woman from outside. The woman looks at Avery and says, “Fern?”
The fact that Avery has to consciously try not to look distracted highlights the level of scrutiny she and her family are under. Not only do they need to control their emotions and words, but even their facial expressions are likely to be judged by others. If they don’t keep careful control over themselves, then they make themselves vulnerable to criticism which can snowball into scandal.