When Mrs. Richardson arrives to take Elizabeth to lunch, Elizabeth, put off by Mrs. Richardson’s bragging about her life and her family, has a swift change of heart and tells Mrs. Richardson she cannot allow her to look at the records. Mrs. Richardson attempts to pressure her, confirming Elizabeth’s suspicion that Mrs. Richardson has been “building up credit” in order to leverage it against her. Elizabeth remains staunch, telling Mrs. Richardson that there are “laws and ethics.” Right at that moment Elizabeth receives a phone call, that requires her to step out of the office, and while she’s gone, Mrs. Richardson, miffed that Elizabeth implied she was “unethical,” snoops through the records. She finds Pearl’s name in the appointments and is unable to think of anything else throughout her lunch with Elizabeth. Mrs. Richardson believes that Pearl and Moody have been sleeping together, and, enraged that all of this could have happened “right under her nose,” tries to think of a way to confront Moody that evening.
The laws and ethics that Elizabeth Manwill lives by are actual laws and ethics—not the flimsy, control-hungry “rules” that Mrs. Richardson has constructed her life, and her family’s lives, around. Elizabeth also sees through Mrs. Richard’s falsely altruistic nature. Mrs. Richardson “builds up credit” with “generous” deeds, only to hold these over the head of the other person, who is supposed to be eternally grateful and “owe” Mrs. Richardson. In this way, her acts aren’t generous at all—she expects compensation for them. Though Mrs. Richardson’s attempts to manipulate Elizabeth fail, she takes her ability to go after what she wants in the name of “rules” to new heights by invading Elizabeth’s—and the clinic’s patients’—privacy. Her discovery of Pearl’s name sets off a rage within her—rage at the idea that her precious rules have been broken right in front of her. Mrs. Richardson finds something she was not meant to see and cannot understand, and questions her role and her capabilities as a mother as a result. Notably, one thing she doesn’t question is how “ethical” she is.
Once she’s back in her office after her lunch with Elizabeth, Mrs. Richardson receives a call from Mr. Richardson. He informs her that the judge has made a decision, and the McCulloughs have won custody of May Ling—or Mirabelle, as she will now officially be known. Mrs. Richardson feels a “snake of disappointment—she had been looking forward to ferreting out Bebe’s past.” Mr. Richardson reveals that Bebe took the news “hard,” screaming, crying, and needing to be escorted out by the bailiff.
The court’s decision to side with the McCulloughs leaves Bebe’s life in disarray as it is, though Mrs. Richardson experiences no empathy for Bebe at all, lamenting only the fact that she won’t be able to destroy her any further. Mrs. McCullough’s identity as a mother has been confirmed by the state—order, as she and Mrs. Richardson perceive it, has been restored.
A distraught Bebe seeks comfort at Mia’s house. Her visitation rights have been terminated and no further contact between Bebe and May Ling will be allowed. Full custody of May Ling has gone to the state, “with the recommendation that the adoption by the McCulloughs be expedited.” Izzy, who has not heard the news, arrives at Mia’s as usual, and is frightened by Bebe’s screams of anguish. When she asks Mia if Bebe will be okay, Mia tells her that she will, and to do so uses as a metaphor of a prairie fire, which scorches the earth and depletes “everything green,” but leaves the soil richer after the burning is done.
Bebe has been legally stripped of her identity as a mother—she has no legal right whatsoever to her daughter. Izzy, witnessing the pain this causes but unable to understand it, seeks answers from Mia. Mia’s only reference for the intensity of the situation is a prairie fire, symbolic of renewal after destruction—she believes that Bebe will be able to find peace and even happiness eventually, though her life has just been burned to the ground.
Lexie and Moody learn the news from their mother, who leaves a message on the answering machine telling them that both she and their father will be home late—he is tying up the loose ends of the case, and she is reporting on it. Pearl does not learn the news until she arrives home from her afternoon with Trip to find Bebe still at her kitchen table. Pearl retreats to her room, and Mia tells Bebe that May Ling will “always be [her] child.” Bebe leaves, saying nothing, and the narrator explains that later, Mia will realize that Bebe heard these words as a call to action rather than a comfort.
Even after it’s over, the trial continues to be a disruption in the Richardsons’ lives, and the Warrens’. Mia, who has, for reasons both selfish and altruistic, manipulated and aided Bebe’s search for her daughter for months, continues to do so—albeit unknowingly this time.
The McCulloughs hold a press conference in which they remind the press that “Bebe abandoned [her child]” and that the court’s decision to place “Mirabelle” with the McCulloughs “speaks volumes.” Mrs. Richardson arrives home later that evening, and right away heads upstairs to confront Moody. When she begins questioning him about Pearl and “the baby,” Moody is at first confused, and then tells her snidely that Pearl and Trip are the ones who are “screwing.” In the room next door, Izzy sits in stunned silence and thinks about what she’s just overheard.
The McCulloughs’ falsely altruistic self-righteousness disregards the moral intricacies of the case they have just won. Mrs. Richardson, furious and frightened that the order her home once represented has been shattered, seeks to punish Moody to regain control. When the situation is not what she thought it was, though, she becomes aware that she is in a predicament over which she has absolutely no control.
The next morning, Mrs. Richardson heads to work early “to avoid facing any of her children.” She wonders over and over what she should do. Rather than confront Pearl or Trip, she leaves work and drives to the house on Winslow to confront Mia instead. Mrs. Richardson “enter[s] without knocking; [it is] her house, after all.” Mia is surprised to see her. Mrs. Richardson notices Izzy’s jacket draped over a chair, and the sight of it here, “as if [this] were her home [and] she were Mia’s daughter”, enrages her. Mrs. Richardson bitingly reveals that she knows all about the Ryans, Warren, and Mia’s complicated past, and accuses Mia of having raised Pearl without order or morals. Furthermore, she reveals that she has known all along that Mia told Bebe Chow about May Ling’s whereabouts. As a final blow to Mia, she says that Pearl, if given the choice, would have stayed with the Ryans.
Mrs. Richardson, desperate for any sense of order or control, chooses to lash out not at her unruly children but at Mia, who has always represented Mrs. Richardson’s inability to accept anything other than stringent order, as well as her fear of difference. Her manipulations of Mia’s world and investigation into Mia’s past has prepared her to disrupt Mia’s life in a major way, and she is almost grateful for the fuel to do so—even though her reasoning (her belief that Pearl aborted Trip’s baby) is false. The sight of Izzy’s jacket further enrages her, as she realizes that she has lost control over her daughter, who now sees Mia as a mother figure.
Mia responds to Mrs. Richardson’s cruel tirade by accusing Mrs. Richardson of being not just “bother[ed]” by the fact that “anyone would choose a different life” from the one she leads, but also actively frightened of having missed out on something in favor of following the pattern of an ordinary, regulated existence. Mia asks Mrs. Richardson if there was a “boy,” a job, or a “whole life” she ran away from in order to follow the “rules.” Mrs. Richardson takes Izzy’s jacket from the back of the chair and tells Mia to vacate the apartment by the next day. She leaves her a hundred dollar bill to “make up for the rent.” When Mia asks Mrs. Richardson why she’s doing all of this, Mrs. Richardson tells her to ask Pearl.
Mia, her life in Shaker Heights now completely disrupted by Mrs. Richardson’s cruel manipulations, leans on the only defense she has left—Mrs. Richardsons’ fear of difference, of passion, and of shirking order. She twists the knife by implying that Mrs. Richardson is secretly jealous of her and Pearl—an implication that seems to have merit. Mrs. Richardson, though, has the last word, insinuating that she knows more about Pearl than Mia does—knowing on some level that Mia has, for a long time, feared losing her grip on her daughter and is, in this way, attached to order in her own right. Mrs. Richardson also takes this moment of desperation to assert the power she has always held over Mia as both her landlord and employer. When Mia’s criticisms strike too close to home, Mrs. Richardson can simply kick her out.