Izzy walks to the house on Winslow every day after school to work as Mia’s photography assistant. Meanwhile, Pearl does the “exact reverse,” accompanying Moody home to lounge in the living room with him, Lexie, and Trip. Pearl is “grateful” to Izzy for absorbing her mother’s attention, and happy to not be cooped up with Mia alone any longer. Izzy, meanwhile, begins to “absorb Mia’s aesthetics and sensibilities.” She asks Mia to explain her work step by step, and Mia tells her that she doesn’t have a plan—that “no one really does, no matter what they say.” Izzy tells Mia that Mrs. Richardson has a plan for everything, and also states that her mother “hates her.” Mia tells Izzy that’s not true, though she does concede that there is a “peculiar dynamic” between Mrs. Richardson and Izzy, in which Mrs. Richardson is harsher on her than any of her other children. Izzy begins to spend their afternoons together “pretend[ing] that Mia [is] her true mother.”
Izzy and Pearl are experiencing a mutual disruption of one another’s lives. Izzy, after years under the thumb and watchful eye of her picture-perfect, overbearing mother, longs for the freedom that her relationship with Mia represents. Meanwhile, Pearl, after a life of transience and impermanence, is drawn to the structure, order, and propriety that Mrs. Richardson—and the entire Richardson family, save for Izzy—represents. Both girls are living in a sort of fantasy version of each other’s lives, trying on the other’s identity and romanticizing all that comes with it. However, Izzy doesn’t realize the difficulties that have marked Pearl’s life, and Pearl can’t imagine the troubles that have accompanied Izzy’s.
On a class trip to an art museum in the middle of November, Pearl and Moody step into a special exhibit called “Madonna and Child.” There they encounter a black-and-white photograph which seems to feature Mia holding a newborn baby. Pearl wonders if the infant in the photograph is her, but she and Moody are called away—the class is leaving the museum. Their classmates tease them about having stayed behind together. After school, they convince Lexie to drive them back to the museum, where the three of them more or less confirm that it is indeed Mia in the photograph; the print, attributed to an artist named Pauline Hawthorne, is titled Virgin and Child #1. Lexie wonders if Mia is “secretly famous.”
When Pearl sees herself and her mother captured on film together, she is reminded of their shared bond, even though they are in a difficult moment in their relationship. Seeing her mother in a photo that’s never been mentioned, though, and which was taken in a time in her life which Mia never talks about—and thus having no answers for her curious friends—reignites both Pearl’s insecurities in her own identity, and her curiosity about her mother’s true identity as well.
Lexie drives Pearl and Moody back to the Richardson house, where Mia is preparing the Richardsons’ dinner while Izzy watches. At Lexie’s nudging, Pearl confronts Mia about the photograph, but Mia is defensive and refuses to answer any of Pearl’s questions. Moody and Lexie continue to press Mia, asking if she knows anyone named Pauline Hawthorne. Mia snaps at the children and denies her ability to remember all she’s done over the years to try and provide for herself and for Pearl. Pearl, regretful of having put her mother on the spot, drops the subject. Mia is “silent” the rest of the evening, as the two of them return home and eat dinner. The next morning, back at their home on Winslow Road, Mia acts as if nothing has happened.
Pearl has betrayed the trust of her relationship with her mother by confronting her in front of the Richardsons and attempting to manipulate her into an answer, when she knows on some level that Mia already views the constant presence of the Richardsons as a threat to the security of her and Pearl’s special bond. Even in private, though, Mia refuses to answer—or even acknowledge—Pearl’s questions about her history and her identity, revealing a deeper and even more mysterious reluctance to talk to her daughter about her past.
Izzy, hungry for answers that will help her understand Mia, researches Pauline Hawthorne but can’t find any connection between her and Mia despite learning that Hawthorne was a “pioneer of modern photography” and died of cancer in 1982. Izzy enlists her mother to help with her research. Mrs. Richardson, touched by Izzy’s faith in her journalistic capabilities and frustrated with her frequent puff-piece assignments, thrills at having something worthwhile to investigate. She remembers her youthful passion for journalism. Though a hard worker throughout high school and college, she could never make it to Cleveland’s city newspaper, and has continued to report on “feel-good” stories from the safety of Shaker Heights.
Izzy and Mrs. Richardson experience a moment of strength in their bond when Izzy acknowledges her mother’s talents and capabilities. Mrs. Richardson, both flattered by Izzy and still suspicious of Mia’s past, agrees without skipping a beat, eager to impose order: firstly, on the revelation of Mia’s past, which she wants to assert control over; secondly, on her own identity as a journalist, which she feels is languishing or failing to thrive due to her constant assignments of puff pieces and “easy” journalism.
After stopping by the art museum to view the photograph and take down the name of the gallery that supplied it for the exhibit—the photo had sold originally for fifty thousand dollars—Mrs. Richardson contacts Anita Rees, an art dealer in New York responsible for the sale. Anita Rees who dodges her questions about both Mia and Pauline, stating that “the original owner of the photo wished to remain anonymous.” Mrs. Richardson, discouraged but still feeling that there is “some strange mystery waiting to be unraveled”, returns to her assigned work for the newspaper. She recalls that it was Izzy who sent her down this futile “rabbit hole” in the first place.
Mrs. Richardson, though initially inspired by Izzy’s faith in her, finds herself questioning her capabilities and identity as a journalist, revealing a crack in the smooth appearance of her identity as a journalist and a career woman. The speed with which she blames her lack of findings on her daughter also demonstrates the schism in their relationship and Mrs. Richardson’s deep-seated need to have control over Izzy, rather than allowing Izzy to have any power over her (or any real agency of her own).