Mrs. America season 1, episode 8 recap – “Houston”

May 20, 2020
Cole Sansom 0
TV Recaps


An Alice-centric episode dramatizes the show’s central conflict.

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An Alice-centric episode dramatizes the show’s central conflict.

This recap of Mrs. America Season 1, Episode 8, “Houston”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.

When Mrs. America first debuted, much of the discussion circled around the film’s centering of Schlafly, rather than the feminist icons she opposed. With time (and the help of Cate Blanchett’s magnificent performance), many have come to support the show’s reasoning. For one, Schlafly is the more puzzling figure and is the anti-hero protagonist usually reserved for men. It would be a barren media landscape if the ideology of the creator always resides within the protagonist; much more interesting is to dramatize the ideas that are discussed.

In that regard, the penultimate episode of Mrs. America excels. We focus on Alice, Phyllis’s right-hand woman, who exists under the careful eye of her leader. Unlike the previous episodes’ protagonists, Alice is fictional; all the better to examine the changes she undergoes. Despite the numerous groups and characters at the event, this is the most laser-focused the show has been.

We begin with Alice saying goodbye to her mother and daughter. Pamela does not want to fly, so they drive to Houston. Phyllis, Alice states, is too busy rallying people for the counter-protest (clearly she knows how her presence would be received).

Of course, they soon become lost but are saved by the battalion of feminists carrying the torch towards Houston. Unfortunately, the hotel is overbooked, and the usual tricks (“I will call my husband!”) don’t seem to work. They’re forced to freshen up in the company of “liberated” women, and share a room with an African-American woman and her daughter, who (gasp) are feminists!

Rejoining the others with STOP-ERA, Alice realizes that she has been passed over to give a speech (one Phyllis wrote for her). When she questions her displacement, Rosemary responds, “We need to be taken seriously.” Upset that everyone sees her as a joke, she nevertheless convinces them to let her give the speech. Unfortunately, Rosemary is proven right when Alice acts like a deer in the headlights in front of a camera. Despite being so close to Phyllis, she hasn’t managed to adopt her media savviness.

Feeling adrift and unable to find Pamela, she goes for a drink at the bar. Another lady strikes up a conversation; they bond over faith, and talk of marriage. She even gives Alice a pill when she notices Alice doesn’t look so good. Alice divulges how reliant she is on Phyllis, even how Phyllis “Checks her correspondences” for her, claiming that she has trouble with political expression. “You don’t seem to have any trouble expressing yourself” the other woman affirms. For a brief moment, Alice’s spirits are raised; until she realizes that this woman is a member of NOW. Disgusted, Alice storms off.

But it turns out that the pill Alice was given was no ordinary sedative. The episode’s centerpiece shows Alice tour the conference grounds in a hungry daze. She begins to see Gloria Steinhem look-alikes everywhere; she eats a pie out of the trash; sits in on a wide variety of discussions showcasing the diversity of the conference; engages in some sort of screaming therapy; interrupts a film screening; consecrates the eucharist with some feminist Catholics; and ends up with a group singing “this land is your land.” She’s shocked to learn that the song she taught her kids was written by a socialist.

Alice returns to the hotel room to find Pamela has been waiting for her. It turns out the feminists are meeting in their room. Nevertheless, the two enter and sit in the background. A still-high Alice laughs at their jokes.

Now a changed woman, Alice arrives back at the Stop-ERA HQ and asks them to think about finding common ground with the liberals. Her plea falls on deaf ears, and they lose every vote at the convention (even Betty Friedan speaks out in support of LGBTQ Women). At a final symbolic vote about solidarity between women, Alice, her heart and mind opened, stands with the majority. She’s seen the diversity of experiences and has broken free of what she once knew to be “right.”

Her arc is most visible in a subplot involving Pamela, who wanted to drive to Houston because she didn’t want her husband to find out. She tells Alice the horror of her current marriage, how she feels trapped, and unable to move. It’s a profound example of the necessity of the ERA, which would make it easier for her to escape her marriage. Throughout the series, we’ve seen characters who are harmed by patriarchy, yet fight to keep it in place. This incoherency makes a larger point about belief systems, ones that can easily be co-opted by a power-hungry person such as Phyllis.

But Alice’s admiration for Phyllis and detest of Gloria Steinem become reversed. Gloria lookalikes haunt the conference, and when she finally makes an appearance, Alice and Pamela are star-struck. Gloria, despite noticing Alice’s anti-ERA button, compliments her outfit.

But Steinem’s words are repeated back to her in the mouth of Phyllis, whose command Alice struggles to rise above. The episode closes with the two reunited. Phyllis, having delivered on her promised protestors, asks Phyllis about the conference.

They’re haunted by Phyllis and Gloria, but the latter has a magical effect. They are entranced by her, and Alice is reduced to a smile when Gloria compliments her outfit. In a dream, Gloria’s complement is repeated back to Alice in the mouth of Phyllis, who closes the episode (having delivered on the promised masses) by telling Alice to fix her face. 

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