PREVIOUSLY: Cheryl and Jim’s emotionally abusive relationship was driving her crazy. Literally.
Jim gets drunk in his study, stewing in his own toxic juices. Emotionally speaking. Suddenly the doorbell rings and his manservant Jeeves tells him it’s Mrs. Lillian Rearden at the door.
This piques Jim’s curiosity and he commands Jeeves to let her in. She enters, looking sour and anxious. So, that’s going around then. He needles her about showing up to his house randomly, and she just plops down on a duvet or whatever and starts talking some whiny shit about all the other people in their social circle. You know, the venal and corrupt hollow men.
Jim agrees, the new breed is even worse than the assholes they came up with. There’s a very “At least Avon Barksdale had a code, this Marlo kid is a wild animal” feel to the conversation.
The other important facet of this tete a tete is that it’s extremely sado-masochistic. Now, considering Ayn’s sex scenes, you may be a little unclear on whether sado-masochism falls in the “good guys” or “bad guys” column, but it’s actually relatively simple. These bad guys are spiritually and emotionally sado-masochistic. The good guys are honorable and earnest and virtuous in their hearts and souls (Ayn would disavow both hearts and souls, but anyway). This foundation of virtue allows their kinky sexual games to be a healthy expression of adult interplay, rather than a sad indicator of moral rot. And I’m not being sarcastic here, I think that’s legit.
So they both kind of laugh bitterly at how pathetic they are as their social cache declines, and insult each other about it, and then Lillian admits the reason she came. Hank has paid off a bunch of lawyers and judges so that he can A) get a clean divorce, and B) keep everything and leave Lily with nothing. She will be a pauper. “Jim,” she entreats him, “you’ve got to do something!”
But there’s nothing Jim can do, he tells her with relish. He disingenuously says he wishes he could help. She draws inward, stewing in her own bitterness now. This pleases Jim and he gets even more comfortable, dropping the pretense of good feeling or intention that he finds so exhausting to maintain all the time.
Obviously nothing can be done, because they have nothing to trade or leverage in return. And she should know that. She admits she does. He pours her a drink and they get soused together now. Naturally this leads to more shit talk, about Dagny and Hank this time, and it is especially hateful. Who do they think they are? I’d love to see them get fucked up, take ’em down a peg. If they won’t grant us respect, we’ll just have to show them our power by ruining them. That’ll get their attention. Etc.
When Lillian reflects that she will only be Mrs. Hank Rearden for another month or so, they both kind of get this evil, salacious look in their eyes. Sure enough it only takes a few more sips of liquor for them to get to the hate-fucking. Neither of them is actually enjoying it. In fact they keep getting distracted by how unattracted they are to each other. What they’re really getting off on is their intention to insult and disrespect Hank with their gross, demeaning, mechanical sex.
Shortly thereafter, Cheryl arrives home from her spirit-bolstering visit with Dagny. She immediately notices the discarded clothes, the sloppy glasses, and hears the post-coital sniping coming from the bedroom. Naturally the pit of dread and horror in her gut surges back.
Cheryl hides out to process this latest betrayal, and after Lillian sneaks out she returns to the anteroom to confront Jim.
Jim, for his part, has no patience left for Cheryl anymore. Her presence makes him feel guilty and morally inadequate, and now that he’s celebrating and reveling in his own base gross impulses, he basically calls her out. “Goddamn right I was fucking some other woman. What are you gonna do about it, huh?” He shoves her into the study and closes the door.
“I’m sick and tired of you acting like you’re better than me. You’d be nothing without me. I married you because you’re worthless. You want to know who I was fucking just now? Mrs. Hank Rearden!”
Jim then goes on a diatribe about the nature of love. Doesn’t Cheryl understand that all people are worthless and mean and base at heart? Love is wallowing in your decrepitude together without judgment. Despairing co-dependency is the name of the game. He wanted her because she would owe him everything, could not judge him. Poor Cheryl feels like a fool. She honestly tried to deserve her newfound luxury. Jim just laughs in her face.
The scene has finally blossomed into a full-on “Skyler confronts Walt and gets emotionally battered and abused” kind of affair. Shattered to her core, Cheryl realizes that Jim specifically married her so he could destroy her moral superiority to him. She was prey.
She calls him a soulless monster, a moral assassin, a sociopath who destroys for the sake of destruction (not like the charismatic Joker, though, because Jim can’t even enjoy it, in fact hates himself for it).
Faced with this accurate assessment of his spiritual vampirism and accompanying self-hatred, Jim punches his wife in the face.
Her last shred of sanity literally knocked out of her, Cheryl runs out of the house in a delirious fog. She does not know where to go, just that she has to get away from Jim. But everywhere she looks, all the people around her, all she can see is venal apathy, people too checked out to realize that at their core they have embraced Jim’s bankrupt philosophy, that they are bottomless pits of nihilistic complacency. The only coherent thought she can find is “No!” Her only remaining option is some definitive kind of protest against this utterly hollow and evil world.
Somewhere on the grimy docks of the city, a social worker from a nearby half-way house sees this disoriented, haggard young woman in an expensive dress. Even though Cheryl’s in the throes of a psychotic break, the social worker sees only her fine attire and glassy stare and scolds her for being some kind of trashy Lindsay Lohan type, shallow and full of wasted potential.
“You rich bitches need to stop being so selfish and wasteful and find some higher social purpose,” the social worker says, entirely right about rich bitches in general though woefully, tragically wrong about poor broken Cheryl. And also, kind of callous either way, considering she just found this chick wandering around in the industrial district in the pre-dawn hours. You are kind of a bitch, lady.
Anyway, “NO!” Cheryl screams, “Not your world!” as if this social worker represents the pervasive moral villainy of modern society. And look, she’s being shitty, but she’s not Jim here, and I’ll forgive Cheryl for the mistake because she’s literally lost her mind at this point and the whole thing has an air of tragic misunderstanding. But Ayn, you don’t get off so easy. You’re being stupid. Stop it. Stop. No? Fine, I’ve only got six more of these chapters to go anyway. Fuck yourself.
Cheryl, by the way, runs for her life, screaming like a banshee, crying, flinging herself right off the pier, where her suicide succeeds by, I’m assuming, cracking her head against a rock and drowning. Bye Cheryl!
Guys this shit just got dark.