‘Alias Grace,’ the Netflix historical drama show, wraps itself in intrigue with several mysteries about its protagonist, Grace Marks, informing its narrative cornerstones. Imprisoned as a murderess for the deaths of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, Marks serves a lifetime sentence in Kensington Penitentiary and becomes the talk of the town. As such, the arrival of Dr. Simon Jordan, a psychiatrist interested in deducing the young Irish immigrant’s past, promises a potential pardon for the woman.
Throughout the show, Jordan and the viewers come to learn about Grace’s life before the harrowing crime through her own account of the events. However, given Grace’s inherent unreliability as a narrator, multiple facets of her story come under a questioning light. Mary Whitney remains the most elusive of these mysteries. Since Mary provides the key to unraveling the case, as Grace presents it, the natural question arises about Mary’s existence. Let’s delve into the same! SPOILERS AHEAD!
Did Mary Whitney Exist?
According to Grace’s own admission, Mary Whitney arrives at the former girl’s life shortly after Grace arrives in Canada and leaves her family to pursue monetary prospects. At her first place of employment under Alderman Parkinson, Grace meets Mary Whitney, a slightly older girl who works at the Parkinson household. The girls form an intense camaraderie from the get-go, which eventually leads to severe heartbreak once Grace loses Mary to a tragic turn of events.
Mary, an outspoken, abrasive teenager in favor of the political rebellion unfolding at the time, knows the reality of the world and her disadvantaged socio-economic place within it. Yet, naivety comes as a side-effect of her youth, and she ends up falling for a man’s trickery. The unnamed man— suggested to be George Parkinson, the family’s heir— lies about marrying the young girl and gets her pregnant but refuses to take responsibility for the child Mary carries.
As a result, Mary can only save herself and her unborn baby from a cruel life with the help of a covert doctor, who performs an unsafe abortion for her. Nevertheless, the treatment ends up killing her. Such is the account Grace presents to Jordan in their sessions, toward the end of which the doctor gets desperate enough to employ the help of a hypnotist to uncover the woman’s allegedly buried memories.
During Grace’s session with hypnotist DuPont, Mary’s soul takes over Grace’s body and reveals that in her untimely death, the older girl’s soul entered her roommate and dearest friend, Grace. Eventually, at Kinnear’s residence, Mary’s soul started to overtake Grace’s body, committing the murders beside James McDermott.
While this version of reality explains away the discrepancies in Grace and McDermott’s previously contradictory statements, it also remains more than a little convenient for the “celebrated murderess.” Everything Jordan and the audience know about Mary Whitney comes directly from Grace, with no other evidence to support her story.
Even the hypnosis is conducted by one of Grace’s friends, Jeremiah, a former peddler-turned-swindling-hypnotist. As such, the already dubious ordeal becomes even more suspicious for the audience. Since the hypnosis is likely faked, so is Mary’s “possession” over Grace Marks. The trick helps the duo establish that even if Mary isn’t in possession, she has likely developed a split-personality disorder, which led to her involvement in the Kinnear murder without her wholehearted consent.
Whatever way the tale is spun, Grace comes out on top, only ever benefiting from the narrative of Mary’s ghostly possession. While the same suggests Grace probably lied about the possession, it hardly provides any speculation about the case of Mary’s existence. While Grace continues to be an unreliable narrator throughout the show and even admits to the same, it’s unlikely that the woman lied about her entire life.
During Grace’s sessions with Jordan, the former told the doctor about her life, embellishing parts of it to fit the latter’s preferences. As such, everything Grace shares about her life is tailored to her audience of one. Yet, elements of her story remain true.
One of the key reasons to believe Mary never existed comes from the fact that Jordan can’t confirm her employment beside Grace since the Parkinson family no longer resides in the country, with their head having passed away. However, allowing Mary’s employer, one of whom was indirectly responsible for her death, seems like a bleak truth to submit to. And yet scarce other alternatives remain.
Given her station, only a handful of people can prove Mary’s existence, and Grace is the most prominent. Nonetheless, the woman is perpetually distrustful because of the mystery blanketed around her. Everyone wants a simple truth to Grace’s story— one that would fit whatever narrative they wish to define the woman through. In retaliation, Grace presents them with an account of childhood friendship and a vengeful ghostly possession.
Through this narrative, crafted by Grace, she shifts the focus from herself and highlights Mary Whitney, a girl wronged in her youth by the society around her. Whether or not this account is true to reality or Grace’s ruse to solidify her own innocence remains up for speculation, with the narrative refusing to provide a firm answer. Mary’s character and storyline ultimately become another conduit to underline the audience’s inability to trust Grace Marks, who will eternally remain weighed down by others’ perceptions of her.