Synopsis & Analysis of “Ghost Story” E1.2: Green Rooms

Synopsis & Analysis of TV’s “Ghost Story” E.1.2: Green Rooms

Season One, Episode Two: Green Rooms

Original airdate, October 2, 2018

Runtime: 56 minutes [0]

Starring: Caroline Sullivan, Melody Vega, Mark Raven, and Billy K. Jones

Photo by Ray Bilcliff on

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A week later, the heat wave is over.

It rains incessantly.

Alice Burgess (Caroline Sullivan) is with her therapist, Dr. Olga Ginkum-Reeves (Diedra Mapplethorpe, in a bit part, cast almost as a joke), describing her depression.[1] Ginkum-Reeves asks how the meditation is going. Alice notes that it doesn’t work. Focus on breath gives her panic attacks. She imagines that her lungs no longer work.[2] She adds, “The medications weren’t working either,” and describes disturbing thoughts that flooded her: she imagined herself smothering her baby to death, or abandoning her in the garbage, then hanging herself, or cutting her up with a kitchen knife and putting her limbs in the garbage disposal, then jumping from a bridge.[3] Alice remains unemotional as she describes these scenarios, and as she notes that the medication she took before those, “made my hands sweat and destroyed my sex drive, plus they fogged up my head so much I thought I’d forget something important and hurt my kids on accident. I want to try something more unconventional.” None of Ginkum-Reeves’ suggestions sound appealing to her. She becomes frustrated when the therapist suggests a new antidepressant, recently released. She reiterates, “I need a different path.”[4]

Alice lives in a large old house. In the morning, Alice feeds her one year old (adopted), Mary, and her six year old, Max (played by Billy K. Jones). As Max occupies himself with drawing, Alice tries to coax a laugh out of Mary. Mary seems oblivious. Alice is almost compelled to yell and clap at her to get a reaction, but resists. Her husband, Nigel rushes out the door, late for work in an almost parodic way, barely saying goodbye.[5] Alice notices Max’s scribble-drawings, and asks, “Is that Uel?” Max nods. Alice asks, “And Uel’s a nice monster?” Max nods. Alice dispassionately shrugs. She tells Max to get ready for school.

She drives Max to school, Mary strapped in the back, quiet and gazing out the window at the rain drops.

The school is in a large old building. It is a religious private school: St Brigid’s Academy for Boys and Girls. Alice bristles at outward displays of faith: the statue of St. Brigid, the cross on the chapel’s tower, the chapel itself, and the school’s logo, or icon, or coat-of-arms, or whatever. She tells Max to try to get along, not take the god-talk too seriously, and not do anything “too bizarre.” Max cheerfully agrees.

At home, Alice puts Mary in her room, a nursery decorated to look like a jungle.[6] Mary is still quiet. Alice looks at her with a worried expression, as if about to weep. She leaves Mary alone in the room.

The day goes by in the large house. She listens in on Mary via the baby monitor, which crackles cryptically, almost like a witch-cackle at times, but Mary never cries. She checks in on Mary, feeds her, but Mary doesn’t make a peep. Alice tries to make Mary laugh, but Mary shows no emotion. (Thing is, Alice isn’t very funny, and her clown routine is halfhearted.) Alice, frustrated, puts Mary back in her room, treating her like some pesky critic scowling at her comedic timing. She wants to scream at Mary and so she does. Mary cries. Alice carries Mary, consoling her, as she wanders the empty old house. She does not feel good about what she has done. The house creeks and moans, as if judging her.

Mary falls asleep. Alice puts her back in the jungle nursery, then goes to cry in the bathroom. There, she drinks scotch. The baby monitor, always with her, lets off fuzzy static.

She walks the house. The pipes make old pipe noises. The doors squeak. Alice begins to squeak and creak back, with comic hostility toward her own house.[7]

Alice tries to read in the large library, but can’t concentrate.[8] A spider distracts her. She captures it in a glass, puts it outside, then stomps it with her bare foot. She tries to masturbate but is too bored. She tries to meditate, but begins hyperventilating. She smokes pot. The hallways creep her out. One of them seems crooked. She calls her friend Luna and asks if she can come see her soon. Luna questions, very sarcastically but in a dry monotonous way, “What’ll Nigel think?” Alice laughs.[9]

On the playground, Max sits alone, drawing in a notepad a surreal landscape in scribbling monochrome. Some boys walk by and take it, lightly taunting Max. One boy, Scot, asks if he can have the art so he can sell it and become rich. Max tries to say no but Scot won’t let him speak, and says, “Maybe I can hang it in the Green Room.” Another boy, Rob, tells Max to meet them in the Green Room during lunch. They then tell him to go sit somewhere else, as this area is for playing sports.[10]

Max sits under a tree on the edge of the playground, only partially sheltered from the light rain. He finds a spider and lets it crawl on his hand. He notices a large man near the gate bordering the school. The man is dressed in a torn suit and stares at Max.[11] Max puts the spider in his mouth and walks over to the Stranger. The Stranger kneels to Max’s level. He smiles and holds out his hand through the bar, placing it under Max’s chin. Max opens his mouth and the spider crawls into the man’s hand. The man then tells Max that he is strong, and that pain will only make him stronger, and that nothing can really hurt him.[12] He says he was picked on too as a child, but he turned the tables on his bullies by acting strange.

The Stranger then crushes the spider in his palm and licks it off.

Back near the tree, the man now gone (was he ever there?), Max finds another spider (different, larger), and places it in his mouth.

In class, he sits still with his mouth closed. The teacher recounts the Passion of Christ in gruesome detail. When she calls on him, asking if he can explain the significance of the crucifixion, Max shakes his head, refusing to speak. Another girl answers (though her answer is muffled, as Max hears only a general din of rain patter and human vocalization). Some kids giggle at Max.

At lunch, Max meets Scot, Rob, and Mario (the other bully). They insist that Max follow them. They sneak into a storage room, and uncover a hidden door. On this door is written, in off-kilter hand writing and green ink, THE GREEN ROOM. They tell Max to open the door, but he shakes his head no. They forcefully insist, and when Scot grabs his arm, Max opens his mouth to let the spider crawl onto Scot. Scot panics, which alarms the others, and Max runs away.[13]

Alice picks up Max from school and asks how his day was, but he doesn’t want to talk. This annoys Alice, and she comments that neither he nor Mary seem to want to say anything to him. Max somewhat innocently notes that Mary still doesn’t know how to talk.

At home, Max searches through the books of the library until he finds an odd object made from twine, sticks, and wires, wet with a viscous substance that Max begins to eat.[14] He hears an odd noise, like a slimy clicking and a whistling gargle, and follows it into the basement, where he discovers some mold that he then begins to eat. He then runs back up to spy on his parents.

Nigel comes home late as Alice prepares dinner. He’s stressed by his new position, and offhandedly states that being a delivery driver was less taxing. Alice says, with some snark, weariness, and perhaps resentment, “At least now you’re fairly compensated for your labor.” Nigel feels guilty and tries to help with dinner. This slightly annoys Alice, and she tells Nigel to check on the kids, and get them to come to the dinner table.

Max runs into another room and begins drawing on a wall. Nigel finds him and insists that he restrict his drawing to notepads, notebooks, and loose leaf paper. He then hands Max a notepad and sits him at the dinner table. Nigel reluctantly begins to help sets the table.

At dinner, Alice mentions a need to “change” things, and that she’ll be seeing Luna again. Nigel mentions his distrust of Luna.[15] Max begins eating with his hands and when they tell him to stop, he spits food at them. Some splatters onto Mary. Angrily, Alice takes Mary to clean her up while Nigel talks to Max. He sees what Max has been drawing. It looks like an alien language. Nigel shakes his head and brushes Max’s hair, like he’s a cute but naughty dog. In the nursery, Alice is disturbed as she cleans Mary. She says to Mary, “You won’t cry even from that? There’s food splattered on your face, kid. Can you feel it? What if I blow on you?” She does. And then, “Or this?” She grips the baby’s arm tightly. Mary doesn’t cry, but does try to pull away. Alice lets go.

Nigel has some final words with Max, saying, “So we agree we can make that one of the rules of the household, but forsaken only for predetermined bouts of food-fighting, to be scheduled far in advance.” Max shakes his father’s hand. “I agree with your terms.”

Nigel and Alice talk over wine. Nigel suggests that Max needs special attention. Alice speaks ill of the school. Nigel defends the school. Though it is religious, it is also “highly regarded and really expensive.” Alice says that the money is unimportant and wonders if they should have live-in help. Nigel squirms. “We’re not becoming those type of people, are we?” he asks. “We want to hire strangers to raise our children? Allow everything to be a commodity?” Alice scowls and says to Nigel, “That’s nonsense.” She may or may not be joking.

The next day, Alice gets a call from the school informing them that Max hurt a fellow student. Alice visits the school with Mary, who gazes peacefully at everything that transpires. Alice meets with Vice Principal Poe, who tells Alice that Max forced a child named Scot to eat lichen off a wall, and that the day before, he taunted him with a spider.[16]

Max says, “I did the spider only to make them stop trying to push me through a secret door.” Before the adults can respond, he adds, “Uel talked Scot into eating crud off the wall. That’s what really happened.” Alice becomes upset at Max for talking about Uel. She takes him away. In the car, she yells at Max for talking about his imaginary friend.[17] Max insists that Uel isn’t imaginary, and that he takes human form and visits him at school. He’s a large man in a ratty suit. Max introduced Scot, Rob, and Mario to him, and then, “Uel whispered into Scot’s ear, and Scot went to eat crud off the wall.” Alice doesn’t know what to do with this information.

At home, Max listens as Alice and Nigel argue about him, but grows bored.[18] He goes to the bathroom and scrapes mildew with his nails, then goes to Mary’s room. She lays there but doesn’t sleep. Max let’s Mary suck on his fingers.[19]

Later, Alice goes to visit Luna (played by Melody Vega)[20]. Luna works in a small shop. A neon sign buzzes outside: Psychic. A neon eye vibrates above that.[21] Luna welcomes Alice to a chair and without pleasantries begins a tarot reading. Alice is thrilled, like a child about to see a magic trick, but also like a witch about to see the devil. Using a handmade deck of amateurish scrawls, Luna divines, “Something terrible is coming.” Alice’s thrill transforms into suspicion, then fear (because she believes in this hokum, but still thinks it’s hokum). Luna warns, “If things don’t change by March, one or both of your children will become very sick.” Alice wonders if her family is cursed, and Luna says that it could be. “A new person, a virgin, fresh blood, needs to be brought into the home for balance, bring a neutral perspective. It could be that you’re just psychologically damaged, not demonically afflicted with rogue spirits. The Poet might be able to tell the difference.” Luna then requests to visit the house and children, to feel “if there are spirits, or if it’s just you being batty.” Luna is cheeky. Alice scowls, but with love. She mentions Nigel’s misgivings. Luna suggests that Alice, “pay attention to how Nigel asserts himself and his worldview, insisting on its validity over all others. And then, pay closer attention to see how he doesn’t do that.” This bit confuses Alice.

Leaving the psychic, Alice is anxious. Walking to the bus, she finds in her coat pocket a flier for the poetry open mic night. On it, she had written Arthur’s first name, and a note to herself: Ask him last name. She curses the pot, while taking a small blunt to smoke, walking down a busy street.

She stops, trying to light the thin blunt, ducking into an alley to shelter from the wind. There, illuminated by her flame, she sees a spider on an asymmetrical web. Alice contemplates the spider as the spider, maybe, contemplates her. Then, she spits at it.[22]

Notes for 1.2

[0] Here we note that did not release the show all at once, as many streaming platforms do, but one episode at a time, roughly once a week, with some notably gaps.

[1] Caroline Sullivan was primarily known for supporting or minor roles wherein she — rather unfortunately and nearly always — played a poor black woman, down on her luck and sometimes on drugs. Sullivan lamented this, but stated, of her career before Ghost Story, in a controversial interview on the What a Disasta With Danny Fiasco Podcast from October 26th, 2022, “I didn’t like the idea, you know, that all of these different shows and movies have this type, this stereotype, and I, a black woman, can’t get parts for say, a rich person, or an assassin, or a skilled pianist, or an alien — well, actually, I did get cast as aliens sometimes, as if space aliens are the poor black women down on their luck and probably on drugs of the wider universe. Anyway, I didn’t like this, but these were the parts I could get. There certainly are a lot of poor black women out there, and they deserve nuanced representation, they deserve to be seen as more than that, and so I try to bring that to the roll myself, even if it’s not written into the script. I try to give them a dignity that quite frankly the authors of the script seemed to purposely neglect, as if she is nothing but a joke or a narrative tool.” People hated Sullivan after she said this, because people hate it when rich actors bite the hands that feeds them (even though Sullivan, in reality, is only comfortably upper-middle-class, and wasn’t talking about the writers of Ghost Story). In this respect, Sullivan’s casting was a stroke of prophesy, or perhaps her Ghost Story character rubbed off on her, embodying her as much as she embodied the character, a true oscillating reciprocity of realities, nestled in a human artist. Sullivan also noted how she, “wrote my own elaborate backstories for these characters, and sometimes wondered why I couldn’t be the one to write the show.” People hated when she said this too, because it sounded like bragging. Sullivan did write several episodes of Ghost Story, in its second and third seasons. Finally, Sullivan also stated, in that interview, that she did not dispute the fact that Muir’s character was fated to die in Season 4, that this had been the plan from the beginning. “Maybe his death in reality is a hoax, a marketing ploy of ours [ie, Ghost Story’s producers], or maybe the reality of the show is bleeding into reality-reality, whatever that is, if all of this is even real.” She spoke sarcastically but people still hated her for two or three reasons: for speaking the truth (that it was a hoax) out of turn, for maligning the dead by not speaking the truth (thus unreading Sullivan’s clear verbally inflected irony), and/or for daring to question the nature of reality. We have no evidence (like reams of social media posts) about the third one there, but call it a hunch. I personally don’t like the suggestion that I too, ultimately, am the creation of an author that we cannot see, the creator of this whole universe. The setting for Sullivan’s real life obviously began to resemble the setting for her character’s life (or perhaps that’s happening to me).

[2] This is realized via very brief stop motion animation depicting the insides of a human body, and lungs shriveling. The stop motion is remarkably good, not cartoonish, but disturbingly real (for those of you who can’t see for yourself).

[3] Thankfully unrealized but for in dialogue.

[4] This is definitely a reference to the “left-handed path.” The writers confirm, during a visit to the January 1, 2023 episode of What A Disasta! With Danny Fiasco Podcast.

[5] Here is an early example of the show just becoming another show for a few seconds. The camera style changes, the lighting, the blocking, the editing, the style of dialogue. A dramatic television program becomes, for only about 12 seconds, an outdated sitcom. The part of Nigel is played by Mark Raven. More on Raven in the notes for episode 1.4.

[6] It looks as if the show just used leftover props from another production and decorated Mary’s room, as if those props were from a cheap tiki-plotation film with improbable voodoo implications. There are many depictions of wild animal that don’t generally live in the jungle (lion, grizzly bear, killer whale), and many predatory gazes from half those animals to the frightened quivering other half of the animals, as if prey just stood around shivering, waiting to be eaten.

[7] She acts as if she knows she’s trapped in a horror story of someone else’s divining, and refuses to play by the rules.

[8] The book is Frankenstein, almost too predictably. Other books visible on the shelves include Moby Dick, a compendium of Dick Tracy radio-broadcasts on DVD (for some reason), a compendium of Shakespeare, The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum, Three Blind Mice by James Patterson, and a novelization of Booty Call. Most believe there is a sex joke hidden within these titles. (An aside: James Patterson also wrote, Along Came A Spider. We admire the show’s restraint.)

[9] This scene is inexplicably creepy, with a clear eroticism between Alice and Luna, but also a severe power disbalance, with Luna commanding almost hypnotic control over Alice, who becomes, very briefly in this phone conversation, very horny, very mischievous, very very scared, then very very sad (in that order).

[10] This scene borders on satiric caricature, the bullies fully artificial. They are played by Robert Flintlock (Scot), Ogden Blassingame (Rob), and Felix Esquivel (Mario).

[11] This roll is not mentioned in the credits, but the Stranger (as we will call him) is played by an uncredited Mario Van Mario, though it is unlikely that any of you know who Mario Van Mario is.

[12] The camera stays on Max while the Stranger speaks, and the voice is not, ironically, that of musician and beautiful singer Mario Van Mario, but is just the voice of the director, dubbed in. Another meta-narrative joke.

[13] Note that Max’s narrative, thus far, has very little dialogue, and all of it is either that of the Stranger, the Teacher, or the Bullies. This is a purposely Tarot-esque combination. (The teacher is played by Carol Hunt.)

[14] The books visible on the bookshelf here include The Secret Diary of Cleopatra the Alchemist (a kids books), King James’ Daemonologie (a rare Ouroboros Press edition), Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, and William Goldman’s The Princess Bride. Also visible but more obscured are various Wagner & Pilz encyclopedia volumes, and a book on mushroom foraging.

[15] This feels like purposely clunky exposition.

[16] This character is played by one of the producer’s actual elementary school vice principles, and a jazz musician, Morvis Grule.

[17] Alice is really mean in this sequence, like, your starting to think, She’s a Bad Mom! We’re meant to wonder if this point of view is Alice’s, or Max’s. The episode gives us both POVs in order to show the link between mother and son, a link that does not exist between mother and daughter, despite mother’s best (and sometimes ill-advised) attempts. It also gives us an Alice who clearly thinks herself a bad mother, and so likely imagines herself as worse than she would otherwise come off. See: Arthur, in 1.1.

[18] The dialogue here is garbled nonsense, reflecting Max’s asemic way of thinking. He does not hear speech, he hears only their emotions. He doesn’t really want to handle those emotions, not because they’re overwhelming, but because they don’t really concern him, and so he walks away.

[19] There is a white noise machine in the room, like the kind at therapist’s office, but this one makes jungle noises. As Mary licks mildew from his fingers, Max gazes at the jungle decoration and spots a camera and a small television screen (not at the moment turned on), though the audience might not spot what Max spots, as the camera never zooms in on anything, instead giving us wide shot chaos of the whole jungle room, Max staring insightfully upwards in a way that is weirdly messianic. Is he feeding a lamb? the crane shot seems to ask.

[20] Though her actions vaguely ring of rude, Luna is more homespun than mean. It isn’t that she doesn’t care for pleasantries, but for that she thinks tarot is a pleasantry. Her demeanor and vibe is more old wise lady trapped in a 35 year old body, not so much new age huckster, not even spiritual poet. More about actor Melody Vega in a future synopsis.

[21] Some other details about Luna’s little storefront: it is oddly domestic looking, like someone’s kitchen, and there is a bucket of broken cellular phones near a sink. There are also three smashed computer screens. There are many plastic cubbies and bins throughout the store, all labeled, though they are rarely readable in this episode. We’ll deal with this later.

[22] The light from the lighter is more green than yellow or white or orange. The color green reoccurs throughout the episode. The therapist’s office is primarily green with plants, Max’s school’s colors are green and black, Alice’s car is green, the Jungle Room is green, the house’s bathroom is accented with green, the Stranger’s suit is a dark dark dirty green, the mold Max eats is greenish black, and the first spider her puts in his mouth is a green lynx spider (not endemic to the Pacific Northwest). The “wrong” or “crooked” hallway has green-tinged wallpaper, whereas the wallpaper in other places, though it matches, is a more neutral brownish gold. Let’s see, what else: Nigel wears a green tie, Mary has piercing green eyes, Alice’s note to herself on the open mic brochure is written in green sharpie ink (her handwriting is also very bad, almost illegible). The cell phone that Alice uses to call Luna is a red flip phone, though at other points she is shown holding a black smartphone. Luna’s storefront has no green, and the neon is vibrant red. The episode is also very wet. It rains throughout, and there are frequent relatively incidental shots of things just dripping, though not, thankfully, a kitchen or bathroom faucet (bland visual symbols for domesticity). Instead, spider webs and leaves and branches drip, also things built from wood, or things alive (Mary drools when she sucks mildew from Max’s fingers). The viscous substance (which drips onto the floor in a hallway as Max is on the way to the basement) is also vaguely green. The episode is meant to look as if it is melting and molding, but not necessarily in a disgusting way (in a beautiful, terrifying way).

Published by Bryan Edenfield

Author, Mistake