Jason and Susie discuss Vivian as they enter, and Jason comments on how Vivian was a great lecturer. He says a lot of students hated her, though, because she “wasn’t exactly a cupcake.” Susie laughs and then leans over to tell Vivian (who is unconscious) what’s going on—they’re inserting a catheter, but it won’t hurt. Jason says, “Like she can hear you,” and Susie responds, “It’s just nice to do.”
Vivian no longer speaks lucidly after the previous scene, and Edson presents more of the other characters’ perspectives on her. As is typical, Jason treats Vivian like an object or specimen—even as he comments on her skill as a lecturer—while Susie offers her compassion and respect.
Jason comments on how Vivian has undergone a treatment so aggressive he didn’t think it was possible. Susie says she thought a poetry professor would be more “dreamy,” and Jason says Vivian’s Donne class was more like “boot camp” because Donne was so intense and complex. Jason talks about the Holy Sonnets and how Donne had “Salvation Anxiety”—he couldn’t deal with the promise of salvation, but also couldn’t live without it, and so he just wrestled with that in his “brilliantly convoluted” sonnets. “Like a game,” Jason says, “to make the puzzle so complicated.”
Jason offers the audience another interpretation of Donne here, further explaining the poet’s navigation of the big questions of life, and how he ultimately had to “hide” behind his wit. Jason, who still has the worldview of a pre-cancer Vivian, finds no problem with this idea of complexity for complexity’s sake only. For Jason (at this point), intellect alone is fulfilling enough.
Jason inserts the catheter. Susie asks him, “what happens in the end?” Jason explains that there is no end or understanding in Donne—“the puzzle takes over.” Susie keeps pushing for some kind of conclusion or meaning, but Jason dismisses this. He says, “you can’t think about that meaning-of-life garbage all the time or you’d go nuts.” Susie is unsure and thoughtful, and she lingers with Vivian after Jason leaves.
Susie wants there to be some kind of meaning or answer, for Donne to face his anxieties head-on and find a truth. Jason, meanwhile, dismisses the clichéd search for “meaning-of-life garbage”—a sentiment Vivian might once have echoed. But Susie doesn’t have any answers herself either. The play is moving towards a conclusion similar that of its characters and Donne—that there is no simple conclusion, and we must face mortality as best we can, with all the tools we have: kindness, language, art, reason, religion, love.