Over the last two months, Blumhouse TV’s Facebook Watch series SACRED LIES: THE SINGING BONES has taken us on a journey through a twisted true crime fairy tale, a search not only for answers but for so much more. As we reached the final episode, “With the Dancing Lions”, which premiered on Thursday, April 9, we prepared ourselves for a dramatic showdown as producer and writer Raelle Tucker, episode co-writer Caroline Hynes, and episode director Cheryl Dunye, took us beyond the “ending” and gave us a taste of the “happily ever after.”
As usual, this is a spoiler-riddled exploration of the themes within the episode and the series in general. If you haven’t watched Chapter 10 or, heaven forbid, any of the previous episodes, I WILL BE DISCUSSING THE ENDING. Consider yourself warned.
So, before we begin our analysis, let us recap the story of THE SINGING BONES. And, as it is a fairy tale, after all, there seems only one appropriate way to tell it…
Once upon a time, there was a princess. Her name was Elsie, or so she believed. She had grown up thinking that she had no family and was passed from home to home. But nowhere seemed to fit. One day, her cruel and controlling new foster mother told her of a man who claimed to be her father, but he was locked away for some of the many crimes he had committed. This foster mother, in a moment of kindness, agreed to take Elsie to meet the man, who was living under the name Peter Wolf. He was the only one who knew the identity of the princess’ mother and Elsie longed for a family of her own, as well as the answers to her lifelong questions.
This was when a strange and lonely woman by the name of Harper entered the princess’s life. She too was looking for Peter, as she believed he knew the names of two sisters who had died in the forest years before. Harper was a detective of sorts – her job was to uncover the stories of nameless bones buried in the forest. These bones sang to her their secret songs and led her to their location, where they could be unearthed, tested, their identities discovered, and their ghosts laid to rest. Her journey had begun many years before when her own sister, Roan, had gone missing. Roan’s spirit had never left, however, and would often appear to Harper as an unwelcome guide as she sought the identities of the singing bones. But Harper was also Princess Elsie’s fairy godmother in disguise, and, with the help of a clever scientist named Lily, she would use all her skills to help the young princess on her quest.
Elsie had only one memory of her childhood: the words of a song her mother had sung to her. This memory haunted her, as the ghosts of the singing bones haunted Harper. Sometimes together, sometimes apart, the pair journeyed, searching for answers, searching for Elsie’s mother, searching for the names of the singing sisters. But only one man knew the stories they were seeking, and that man was Peter.
As he had been released from prison, having served his time, their paths would cross again and again, but each time Peter would disappear before completing the stories. He would reveal the next chapter, but never the ending, never the names. Eventually, Peter offered to take the princess to her mother, and feeling like she had nowhere left to turn, Elsie went with him. As they traveled to the land of the Dark Knights, Peter began to tell Elsie about her past. Her name wasn’t really Elsie, just as his name wasn’t really Peter. Elsie’s mother had named her Maya, just as Peter’s father had named him Hunter. But those names were not who they really were, because Peter believed that names didn’t matter. But Peter was wrong, as names hold great power for both the living and the dead.
When they reached the land of the Dark Knights, with Harper not far behind, the sights and smells soon began to clear Elsie’s clouded memory. Suddenly, the spell was broken, and Princess Elsie remembered everything. She knew that the man in front of her was not truly her father and had murdered her mother, just as he was responsible for the deaths of the singing sisters. You see, Peter was a man on the outside, but inside he was a wolf, a boar, a beast, a monster, who when he felt hunted would do whatever it would take to survive…
Chapter 10 finds us at the point where Elsie (Jordan Alexander) regains the memory of her mother’s murder. But Peter (Ryan Kwanten) hasn’t finished the story yet. It is interesting to note that Peter’s control lies solely in his revealing of the stories of the demise of both the Cherry Falls sisters and Wendy. He appears to have no real control over himself and certainly has no control over those who seek to uncover his crimes. His belief that he is the victim of circumstance is as questionable as, and this is important, his version of events. We only have his perspective, his truth, as he has removed those who could dispute him from existence. As Elsie pointed out in Chapter 9, “Bloodlines“, he has made them all characters in his story. His truth, just like Elsie’s memory, is subjective. Was the murder of the second Cherry Falls sister really a reactionary crime of passion over the loss of his love and unborn child? Was Wendy’s death all because she was a threat to Peter’s freedom?
However, while we can question Peter’s stories, we cannot dispute the validity of the discoveries made by Lily’s scientific methods, and by Harper’s investigative deduction – despite her leaning towards intuition and being often led by visions of the dead. Their findings corroborate the facts of the stories, leaving everything else, the emotional narrative, the motive, as the product of speculation based upon the tales of an untrustworthy narrator.
Harper (Juliette Lewis) is too late to catch up with Elsie and Peter at the motel room. However, this allows for a moving and revealing scene where Harper’s inner battle is played out, mirroring Elsie and Peter’s fight for control taking place simultaneously in the field of dandelions where Wendy Spellman’s remains are buried. The ghost of her missing sister Roan (Avery Konrad) has always acted as Harper’s conscience (in true Jiminy Cricket fashion) and although Harper has often chosen to ignore Roan’s advice, this time she is given no choice but to listen. “You can’t do this alone,” Roan insists, “you want to be the one who solves it. You want to be the one to save her.” But the emotional truth is that Harper just wants Roan’s death to mean something, and for that to happen, she knows she must reach out to the proper authorities, despite their previously dismissive attitude towards her and the case.
Just as Roan questions the motives behind Harper’s actions, Elsie questions Peter’s, accusing him of wanting to “fix” everything. But is his idea of fixing the situation as noble as he portrays it to be – finding resolution and redemption by ensuring Elsie is happy? Or is he simply attempting to fix his failing narrative as the people behind the characters he has constructed defy his control and refuse to submit to his idea of how the story should end?
As always with Peter, his control over the situation, over not only what is revealed, but also how, is the drive behind his actions. In a tense showdown with the police, Peter knows that by reaching into his pocket, he is signing his death sentence, denying Elsie and Harper the closure of learning the names of the Cherry Falls sisters. Is this an act of spite? Taking the names to his grave? However, Peter has never been the black and white villain of the traditional fairy tale. Delusional and tortured, he does show remorse at his crimes. As he reaches into his pocket, and as a consequence is shot by the police who believe he is concealing a weapon, he is in fact retrieving the Cherry Falls sister’s notebook, a sign that he is willing to at least place the tools needed to uncover the final piece in the puzzle back in the hands of Elsie and Harper. He is handing control over to them.
At this point, it may seem that justice lies in the hands of men – in Peter’s execution at the hands of a lawman, potentially taking the sisters’ names to his grave, and in his gracious relinquishing of control. In fairy tales, the powers of agency and justice have always been in the hands of men: the prince who slays the dragon and rescues the defenseless princess, the woodcutter who hacks open the wolf to save the gullible little girl, the King who casts down death sentences upon the “guilty”. But SACRED LIES rips away their control and places it firmly in women’s hands. There is no knight in shining armour. The fairy godmother cannot save the princess in a traditional sense. The princess has the guts and the opportunity to save herself, to slay the beast, but chooses not to.
Peter’s death is only one form of justice, arguably the masculine form, but definitely the traditional one we see in fairy tales. By committing suicide by cop, Peter does what he believes Elsie didn’t have the power to do. But what he fails to see, is that Elsie made the choice not to kill him. She would have to live with the weight of the act, one that makes her no better than him, one that does not truly equate to justice for all involved. SACRED LIES: THE SINGING BONES recognizes, just as Elsie does, that stories do not just end with the death of the bad guys, that “happily ever after” implies a continuing narrative, and then gives us a glimpse into what this means for our surviving heroes, as well as showing us what justice can truly mean in the long run.
If Peter truly intended to subvert the course of justice, to deny Elsie and Harper their happily ever after, to prevent the Cherry Falls sisters from ever finding peace, by taking their identities with him, it is Lily who finds the names belonging to the singing bones – Blue and Jolene Drygulski. “Their names matter,” Harper tells the audience of her podcast, “not just for them, not just for us to pay respect and grieve, but because finding the lost connects the living.” And therein lies the power of names, one that Peter could never understand. Connection. Family. “Because that’s what being alive is about. It’s about finding our people. That’s why we’re here.”
Does Elsie’s happily ever after lie in her reunion with the Spellman’s? Family is something she has searched for her entire life. Surrounded by relatives at her 18th birthday day (wearing a crown no less, because, if you ever doubted it, ELSIE IS A PRINCESS), we see a happy young woman, tactile and extroverted, introducing Harper to aunts, uncles, and her new extended family. But the message has always been that blood is not a pre-requisite to family. To Elsie, these people are still strangers. “I didn’t realize family was something I could choose,” she tells Harper. “And no-one has felt more like my family than you.” And as a result, we are treated to a snapshot of an unconventional little family unit – Harper, Lily, and Elsie. Their connection lies not only in a shared sense of justice but in a recognition of who they are and the internal monsters they have fought on their journey to happiness; in finding peace.
As Elsie sings the refrain of a new song, “I think I’m gonna be ok”, we too can rest easy in the belief that she, and those who make up her chosen family, are indeed going to be ok. They have found their people.
While fairy tales are societal warnings told through the battle between men and beasts, THE SINGING BONES reassures us that we can be the hero of our own story, if we are willing to accept help from those around us. There is a battle inside all of us, between the light and the dark. Needing support to fight our demons does not make us weak, it makes us stronger. What matters are our choices, the willingness to seek and offer second chances. As Elsie says to her past love interest Terrance when she runs into him again, “you don’t have to be the worst thing you do.”
With SACRED LIES, Raelle Tucker and the team have shown us that we can honor our narrative traditions without being a slave to them; how we can be respectful of the past while forging a fairy tale more applicable to the modern-day. The complex issues of not only family and identity, but of gender, sexuality, guilt, control, and justice, have all been conveyed with a profound and expert touch through powerful writing, beautiful staging, and exquisite acting from the entire cast. There is no weak link to be found here, from emerging talent amongst the younger cast members (Jordan Alexander as Elsie, Hayven Oladapo as Little Elsie, Glen Gordon as young Hunter, Micaela Hyland as young Harper) to the more established names of Juliette Lewis as Harper and Ryan Kwanten as Peter, and some stand out performances from the supporting cast (notably Kimiko Glenn as Lily, Emily Alyn Lind and Siobhan Williams as Blue and Jolene, Kristen Bauer van Straten as Shannon, Avery Konrad as Roan, Antonique Smith as Wendy, Michael Kopsa as William Kingston, and L. Scott Caldwell as Dalia Spellman – although I could quite happily give the entire cast list at this point). The entire cast and crew deserve a standing ovation for making me laugh out loud, cry real tears, shout at my screen out of fear and frustration, and clap my hands with a kind of macabre glee at my theories being proven right.
The complete two seasons, SACRED LIES and SACRED LIES: THE SINGING BONES, are now available to binge on Facebook Watch. And, as the characters’ stories continue out of our sight, but never truly out of mind, we can only hope that we will get to see a third season of this intriguing and powerful anthology series.
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