We rejoin where we left Joanie, in the cemetery at Cole’s grave. She meets EJ (Michael Braun) in the graveyard, after a creepy encounter (is there, really, any other kind in such a setting?). Given her past behavior, it’s almost funny when he points out how batshit it is that she got into his car without knowing him. Funny, except for the very real deadliness of that choice and the extremely unstable state of mind she’s clearly in. We find out that EJ is an epigeneticist. If you’re unfamiliar, epigenetics is “the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself,” so his interest in how trauma is passed down is based in science. Did anyone else get echoes of the kind of learning, language, and interest that Ben Cruz (Ramón Rodríguez) used when talking to Alison? EJ gets super excited when he figures out she is Joanie and lets it slide that Cole spoke to him (that “you two have super similar scowls” crack feels like an insight into her casting).
They have a long conversation about epigenetics to set up why EJ finds her so fascinating, give Joanie a chance to think over her resilience vs. sensitivity to trauma, and reveal that the beach they’re on is the one where Alison died. That leads us to EJ putting the police file on the investigation of Alison’s death in Joanie’s hands — she knew very little about her mother’s life or death before this, now she knows too many details of her struggles with mental health and the horrifying story of how she died. Cut to the two of them back on that beach the same night, when Joanie checks the historical weather patterns with some magic future glasses to discover that, if the police report was correct, it’s unlikely her mother would have drowned in the water. So, perhaps the terrifying murder scenario is what happened to Alison. Or, perhaps not? Later, Joanie rethinks her position, admitting that a person can drown in essentially a bathtub full of water. To me, the idea that she committed suicide still doesn’t check out. Alison wasn’t in a depressive episode and was trying to get her life back on track, with her career and be a part of Joanie’s life.
I have to admit, I felt a bit of relief when EJ analyzed Joanie after she wanted him to choke her during sex. Breaking down the history of trauma in the family and turning a moment of recklessness into an analytical conversation seems to push Joanie, however slowly, into a place to think about her self-destructive tendencies. But it does nothing to mute her tendency towards casual cruelty. She gets home, clearly still in her own head and mulling over what EJ pointed out, to have a horrible interaction with her daughters that unintentionally gets physical. We learn she’s still in touch with her stepmother (and calls her mom!), Luisa (Catalina Sandino Moreno). In their post-dinner conversation, we learn that Joanie thinks she was Alison’s “replacement child.” After all of this, Joanie does something unforgivable. In the middle of some kind of an anxiety attack, after destroying their indoor garden, she tells her husband, Paul (Lyriq Bent), that she has been cheating on him for years. Even worse, she then tries to turn it on him and blame his traditional ideas on monogamy for it being a problem. As this unfurls, we hear snippets from Alison’s voiceover in the season 5 episode where she died. It’s an unnerving reminder that things are not as they should be.
Paul tells Joanie to get the fuck out, understandably, and so she heads right back to Montauk and EJ. She finally enunciates her fears when she’s with him: she is afraid to be alone with time to herself, because she’s afraid of what she’ll do. She’s afraid to be like her mother, and she afraid that her mother committed suicide and left her. EJ helps her realize that not having mourned for Cole, whose death is relatively recent, could be the source of the storm of emotions she’s having. In getting in touch with her feelings about Cole, she admits that she wanted to get away from his “suffocating” love. And EJ shows her Cole’s box of clippings on Ben, ensuring the two of them will embark on an investigation into Alison’s murder that leads them to his door.
What I’m left wondering is when Joanie will end up on the doorstep of the Solloways. She finds Noah’s (Dominic West) name in Alison’s file. She’s going to discover his role in her life, in Alison’s life. She’s going to read his book. What I am starting to wonder is if Joanie will make it through finding all of this out in one piece.