At home, Alex’s wife, Julie, is dressed up and has her hair done—she wants to go out with Alex for the evening. Alex tells her that he can’t because he’s in the middle of a work crisis, which makes Julie grouchy. However, when Alex explains that the plant might close in a few months, Julie brightens, since this means they could move out of Bearington. Alex knows that Julie hates the town, which Alex grew up in, but he feels sentimental toward it. He can understand her dislike, however—Bearington is a depressed factory town with little else in it. When Alex took over the plant a few months ago, the local paper celebrated him as a hero, the successful local boy who would save one of the few remaining employers in the area. If the plant closes, Alex feels like he will have betrayed the town’s trust.
Julie’s character explores the cost of a corporate career on one’s personal life and family. The irritation she feels toward Alex for not going out with her foreshadows their growing marital problems and her overall feeling of neglect. Notably, Alex’s career keeps him from spending time with his wife and requires them to live in a town that Julie hates and that Alex knows holds nothing for her. This indicates that Alex places his career before his wife and family in almost every way. Additionally, Alex’s fear of disappointing the town suggests that he also feels the weight of responsibility for keeping everyone in the plant employed.
After eating a quick dinner, Alex goes back to the plant. Donovan meets him and explains that they fixed the NCX-10, but not until early evening. For the rest of the night, everyone in the department focuses on Burnside’s order—they ship it just before midnight. Afterward, Alex takes Donovan out for burgers and beer at a local diner, where they drink to having finished the order so quickly. Donovan is proud of his people for their work, but Alex is wary. He knows they can’t operate like that all the time—it’s not cost-effective. Something needs to change.
Alex’s plant manages to ship Burnside’s order in time, but only barely, and Alex recognizes that their methods are unsustainable. This suggests that a manufacturing plant or business system like his can just barely function and survive by traditional methods. Alex’s sense that they can’t operate this way forever suggests that those standard practices are ineffective in the long term.
Later, Alex reflects on the day. He feels like there is nothing at all to celebrate—his plant shipped one overdue order, that’s all. He envisions what will happen in three months if he can’t turn the plant around: Peach will go to Granby, UniCo’s CEO, with the numbers on their plant. Granby will look through them and decide to shut the plant down, and UniCo will lose one more market. All 600 people who work in the plant will have to join the unemployment lines with everyone else in town.
Alex’s vision of his 600 employees standing in the unemployment lines suggests that he feels burdened with the responsibility of protecting their livelihoods. This adds to the stakes of Alex’s job—making it more significant than just something that keeps him away from his family—while also suggesting that management positions are difficult roles to shoulder.
Alex can’t even understand what he’s doing wrong. He has good employees and they work hard and fast. On paper, they should be successful. Alex has college degrees in engineering and in business, but the factory can never ship any orders on time, and they consistently lose money. All the years that Alex has worked and all the hours he hasn’t spent with his family, just to move up the corporate ladder in UniCo, seem like they’re about to be wasted.
Alex’s confusion at why his plant fails if they look good on paper alludes to the fact that their traditional corporate metrics are deeply flawed. Additionally, the fact that the laborers work hard and fast but fail to produce implies that though the plant is busy, it is not using its labor effectively.