When last we saw Grace D’Argento and Arthur Bailey, they were at a fork in the road leading out of the town of Red River. Bailey had taken a bullet to the gut and was bleeding out. Behind them, misanthropic Blood Drive host Julian Slink made this prediction aloud:
“Left, you live. Right, you die.”
They turned right as Slink smiled to himself.
We open with Grace pushing Sexy Susie to her limits in the dusty desert. As she frantically seeks the next town and a doctor there, an alarm begins to sound inside the Camaro. It warns of dangerous proximity to the Scar, the massive geological rift that divides America. And that alarm is no joke because when Grace finally brings the vehicle to a halt in the white sands, she is literally standing at the edge of the deep canyon. Crossing it is hopeless, but Grace spies the Tasty Dragon Chinese restaurant out in the dunes.
Dragging the barely conscious Arthur, Grace enters the strange establishment. The hostess tells her that they can operate on Arthur and gestures at a jumbo-sized first aid kit, but Grace must first order a meal. After nearly knocking the hostess over, Grace finally orders the special.
A gong is sounded and the meal arrives instantly.
The hostess begins shoveling it into Arthur’s mouth, causing him to fall into what is best described as a “Matrix coma.” He falls face first into his food in the real world and wakes up in a parallel universe version of the Tasty Dragon. The place is silent and seemingly empty, though Arthur eventually discovers his own body lying unconscious on a table in the restaurant’s kitchen.
“Am I dead?”
A familiar voice responds.
“You are if you want to be.”
He turns to find the Heart Enterprises android Aki, dressed once again as a police officer.
As she begins chatting with him, her sentences are interrupted by a censor’s beeping drowning out her profane and sexual language.
“What was all that beeping?”
She explains that because they are now in Arthur’s headspace, his squeaky clean wholesomeness prevents anyone from cursing or being otherwise vulgar. Hilarious! His mind has conjured Aki up to serve as his guide through the dream world. She opens up a large hole in the kitchen’s counter and dives into it. Arthur follows.
In the real world, Grace and the hostess have brought Bailey into the kitchen. When she is offered green tea to calm her nerves, D’Argento responds with the complete absence of patience we’ve come to love.
“Lady, quit the ching chong bullshit. Could you be 10% less Chinese for a second?”
“Well, that’s not offensive at all.”
Still, the hostess pulls off her blue kimono to reveal a much more modern outfit and drops the act.
As Grace heads back to the dining room to get more towels, she notices that the customers all have white irises and appear to be in a trance-like state. In the kitchen, she peels back one of Arthur’s eyelids and sees a white Iris there, too. Cue a martial arts fight, with the hostess running up walls and throwing knives.
Grace survives, and the other woman returns to “helping” Arthur.
In the dream, Aki and Bailey emerge from a basement into the sunlight. The android explains that her job is to help him escape his subconscious and return to the real world. They begin in a lovely suburban development, where every mailbox has the numbers 1031 on them. The pair encounters Grace as a housewife going about her day. Aki warns her charge against interacting with Grace, but he crosses the threshold of her home anyway. He is now instantly wearing a business suit and completely baffled.
Dream Grace introduces him to their baby and speaks much more sweetly than the real world version. Gone is the profanity and threats of violence.
The first glitch occurs when Dream Grace suggests naming their newborn son after the deceased psychopath Rib Bone. Also, the housewife has a tendency to walk backward in an odd way, as she’s being viewed on a VHS tape that’s rewinding. It’s unsettling.
And then there’s this:
“Sweetheart, would you mind putting the baby in the garbage disposal, please?”
The sink drain is built with steel fangs, like Sexy Susie’s bloodthirsty engine. Outside, a dark cowboy approaches on a horse through the sand dunes that have replaced the suburban neighborhood.
“Arthur Bailey, give me that baby. I’m going to count to three.”
“I don’t give a fuck if you count to a billion, bitch!”
Bailey discovers his son is just empty and bloodsoaked baby clothes.
On a nearby television, we see Arthur infected with the Dionysus Strain having sex at the bottling plant in Episode 5. Dream Grace becomes horny and black-clad, and just as they’re about to get it on, the eyeless sheriff of Red River enters wearing his cowboy hat. He immediately kills Grace and wounds Arthur, who is saved when Aki opens up a secret passage out of the house and into the mental asylum known as Kane Hill. She tells him that if he dies in the dream, he’s dead for real.
As Aki checks the various cell doors, each marked 1031, we see that they contain the monsters of episodes past, including the mutant Glimmers from Steel City, and Arthur’s memories; a pet goldfish; the starry night sky; the Gentleman.
In the real world, Grace is tied up. The hostess explains that travelers come to the Tasty Dragon to do battle with their inner demons by going on vision quests. Those who survive, walk away less conflicted. Those who don’t, wind up as ashes in clay urns that line the chamber’s walls. And there are A LOT of urns.
Grace points out that she is a prisoner here in a place that’s supposed to be about spiritual transcendence.
“There’s no greater prison than the one in which we trap ourselves. And besides, who said you were a prisoner?”
The ropes binding Grace’s wrists instantly drop away. The older woman tells her non-prisoner that this place used to be Springfield, Missouri. She ran a Chinese restaurant with her daughter until the arrival of the Scar. She gestures toward a photograph of her child on the wall, and it is a very familiar face.
In the dream, Aki and Arthur burst through a door and into the scorching desert. They are now in the second layer of Bailey’s subconscious. Through binoculars, Arthur spies their destination. It’s the Pixie Swallow diner, where he once ate a burger made of people. Through the front window of the diner, we see Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper made from current and former Blood Drive racers.
The deal is simple: Arthur can search the diner for a memory key that will help him escape, but he must not disturb the motionless tableau of racers enjoying a feast of human body parts.
Inside the Tasty Dragon, the hostess tells Grace that Arthur is too far gone and that surgery can’t help him. So Sexy Susie’s owner just throws up her hands and gives up. Ha! Actually, she literally jumps onto the makeshift operating table and begins removing bone fragments like a boss.
Dream Arthur enters the diner. Luckily, he is careful to not bother the unmoving figures. I’m kidding. Within three minutes, he snatches a key from a bloody plate and has snarling racers after him.
In Pixie’s kitchen, he finds Aki, who turns into Christopher. The chef, one Julian Slink, enters with a massive butcher knife.
Christopher points out that Arthur enjoys being made to suffer and feel guilty. And suffer he does, as Bailey’s partner inserts his entire hand into Arthur’s bullet wound and digs around. In the real world, the hostess removes the bullet. She then cleanses the wound.
“You’ve done this before.”
“Only once, on my daughter Aki.”
Episode 9 serves to deconstruct everything the heroes have learned and encountered so far. Not only does Arthur deal with his guilt over forcibly abandoning his partner, but Grace also gets verbally dressed down in the real world:
“First, you pretended you didn’t care. Now, you care too much.”
She is encouraged to let go of her guilt and regrets over Karma.
The internal world’s trippy psychodrama meshes well with Blood Drive’s typical gory absurd aesthetic. Plus, who doesn’t love seeing a character pause in the middle of a fight to suddenly ingest their own arm?
We finally get Christopher and Arthur together but under bizarre and surrealistic circumstances.
Perhaps most importantly, we experience the key Arthur searches the dream world for. It exposes a painful truth about his past before joining ContraCrime and the driving force behind his heroic actions. We also see the origin of his famous notebook, which chronicles the strange occurrences surrounding Heart Enterprises in Los Angeles.
We’ve got blood transfusions, a crucifixion, an Old West duel, self-cannibalism, hugely important flashbacks, a goldfish named Jessica, Rib Bone as Jesus at the Last Supper, and the origin of the human Aki used to be.
Episode 9 finds a way to get across exposition without being clunky or too wordy. It’s a nice rest stop trip before the violence of the final four episodes unfolds, allowing us to see Arthur from the inside out before the shit really hits the fan.