PREVIOUSLY: Dagny returned to work, only to realize more acutely than ever how shitty humans are.
Hank Rearden’s wife Lily, scorned woman, repressed vessel of hellacious fury, and bitter harpy, shows up at Dagny’s office unannounced. Dagny is like, “Goddammit, these assholes expect you to save the world and then never give you a moment alone to do it!”
Lily puts on the pretense of civility but holds back nothing when she tells Dagny she will absolutely go on Leno like her brother asked her to, and assuage the peoples’ fears. Dagny balks.
Relishing the moment, Lil informs Dags that she knows about her years-long affair with Hank. She boasts that Hank sacrificed his rights to rMetal under duress, to prevent a scandal that would ruin Dagny’s reputation for integrity and professionalism. And now, Lilian declares triumphantly, Dagny will also play her part in greasing the wheels of a morally bankrupt society, for the very same reason. Mwa ha ha, etc.
But Dagny is unimpressed. Lillian tries to goad her some more by taking credit for uncovering the adultery and passing that information on to the blackmailers (specifically Dagny’s brother, but she doesn’t mention that). Anyway, still nothing. The lack of reaction is getting to her, and she’s like, “Well?”
Dagny shrugs. “Yeah sure, I’ll go on Leno.”
CUT TO: Jay Leno. Or “Bertram Scudder,” but who cares anymore. Actually, by this description:
He was laboring to sound cynical, skeptical, superior and hysterical together, to sound like a man who sneers at the vanity of all human beliefs and thereby demands an instantaneous belief from his listeners.
He’s clearly Rush Limbaugh. So Rush/Jay/Bert bloviates for a hot minute before turning the mic over to our heroine, who has been primed by his preamble to endorse the totalitarian regime.
BUT! Dagny blows up everyone’s spot. She announces to the nation that neither she nor Hank Rearden endorsed the forfeiture of all economic liberty, regardless of how things seemed. Allow her to explain… Then with one pang of guilt for… hurting John Galt’s feelings? Jesus, shut up…, Dagny confesses:
“I had been Hank Rearden’s mistress. … Not as a shameful confession, but with the highest sense of pride … have I experienced the most violent form of sensual pleasure. Specifically I let him put it in the butt.”*
*I’m paraphrasing that part but it’s almost definitely accurate.
Anyway she continues that she doesn’t care who knows because they were doing it for the right reasons: because they admired and respected each other and inspired each other to be better. Not like Rearden’s sham marriage, or like “most of you” for whom sex is “an act of casual indulgence and mutual contempt.”
Then she transitions to how their extramarital fuckathons are morally similar to building railroads and stuff, because that’s the next logical step. More to the point, anybody who judges their affair negatively she accuses of being a soured soul who wants to destroy all human happiness. Because that’s what she has attained, after all, and the haters are just jealous.
At this point Limbaugh tries to take back the reins, because as we all know he’s not into sluts or women taking pride in their sexuality generally. Dagny brushes him off, concludes that it was only through explicit blackmail and implicit moral perversity that the powers-that-be kept Rearden in line while she was gone.
The goverment handlers hanging ominously in the shadows step forward and cut the signal. Jim and Lillian, watching from the studio audience, rush the booth. Everyone’s flipping their shit, trying to figure out what to put on in place of dead air. Dagny just slips out the back.
Back at her apartment, Dags is surprised to find the door open and the lights on. Hank has returned! He indicates the TV/radio/whatever and she knows that he heard. But he looks relaxed, happy, confident, etc. It’s a weight off his chest too. Overwhelmed with everything, she crumples in his embrace and cries her little heart out. OH THE HUMANITY. Literally.
Eventually she calms down and braces herself to tell Hank they can’t sleep together anymore because she’s got a crush on L. Ron Hubbard, but he’s like, “Shh, shh, shhhh… let me go first.”
“Dagny,” he says, “I love you, always have, always will. But we can’t sleep together anymore.” Allow him to explain…
So the gist here is that he feels they’ve run their course in a totally mutual way. They have successfully exchanged value for value and don’t need to stay together out of some sense of obligation.
See, when they first slept together he was all ashamed of sex, believed the body to be sinful, etc. But it was only his guilt and shame that gave their enemies leverage over him. He now rejects what he calls the “mystic’s” false distinction between mind and body. Which, good for him, I guess.
Except that he’s blithely conflating the philosophy of every spiritual and theological belief system into one tenet about how sex shouldn’t be fun, which is… false. Untrue. Hiding from reality, to use Rand’s condemnatory phrase. Afterall, not only are there myriad spiritual traditions that celebrate the holistic nature of the self as encompassing both mind and body, but Western intellectual rationalism hasn’t exactly resolved its own contradictory attitudes towards the mind/body problem either.
Which is to say that for the length of a very boring monologue, Hank lumps everything bad in the Objectiverse under the heading of “the mystics’ morality.” Then he declares everything that is not specifically Objectivist in nature as falling into that category. Somehow this results in an epiphany that ancient patriarchical attitudes towards sex are exactly like Keynesian economics. Outside Dagny’s window, the Fonz leaps over an entire school of sharks.
Even Hank admits that he would find his own conclusions laughable if he hadn’t been convinced by his 800 pages of existence in a universe specifically designed to prove that exact point to him. Wow yeah, isn’t that weird? Here, I’ll give you guys a hint: the conclusions are still laughable, and SO IS YOUR UNIVERSE.
Long story short Hank lets Dagny down easy. He knows she already found somebody else, because she spoke about their affair in the past tense when she was on the air. He’s not jealous or upset, just happy they helped each other grow as people.
Dagny is relieved. Hank is pleased. But also kind of curious as to who her new beau is, and she can’t really tell him, but he pieces it together that she found The Destroyer, and that it was John Galt, and that he invented the miraculous ion drive, and that now she’s banished from her love for wanting to save the world. Somebody get this guy a pipe and a magnifying glass.
And so, with the Galt-Taggart-D’Anconia-Rearden-Rearden love pentahedron finally resolved, Dagny and Hank bask in the satisfied afterglow of personal drama averted, even as the darkening world outside continues to gnaw insidiously at their idealistic guts.