Netflix's newest offering Alias Grace is based on a true story. But like most of Atwood's work, it's a female-centric story. That means that most of the "true life happening" are the ones that happen to the women in this story: Grace Marks and Nancy Montgomery. Our main male characters, Dr. Jordan and Dr. Jerome, are both fictionalized. But that hasn't stopped fans from wondering about the curious ending for Grace's good doctor: What happened to Dr. Jordan at the end of Alias Grace? Will he ever be OK?
Let's review the final episode of Alias Grace and that epilogue. Grace Marks served nearly all of her 30 year sentence, from 1843 to 1872. She was pardoned before her sentence was up, but only by a few months. At that time, she left Canada and crossed into New York state, never to be seen again.
Alias Grace imagines her ending a little differently though. It asks, what if Simon Jordan never got over his meeting with Grace? What if, a decade or more after hearing her story, Jordan was still possessed to write to the Reverend about her, and how troubled he was in his mind that he could never figure her out.
If the story of Simon Jordan were true, he would have gone back to America, and his northeastern middle class lifestyle after leaving Grace and her story behind. As an unmarried man with a widowed mother, he would have most likely lived at home throughout the 1850s, studying mental health, until April 12, 1861. That was the day the Civil War began.
As a northerner, and a doctor, Jordan would have either volunteered or been conscripted into the Northern Army to fight the rebels, and take care of the troops. We see this confirmed in the final episode, as he rides away from his family estate in a wagon bound southwards.
Along with an ending for Jordan, Atwood also imagines one for Grace: She meets Jamie again, decades later, and marries him in Ithaca, where she lives out her days in peace, living the life that Mary Whitney once imagined for herself but had taken away.
Or is she living it because the spirit of Mary lives inside her? The quilt she makes not only contains a scrap of Grace's life, but of Mary's and of Nancy's. Jordan would have found this of particular interest to be sure. Unfortunately, he can no longer do that.
The Civil War was one of the deadliest wars our nation ever fought, with ~620,000 casualties recorded. (Compare that to all other wars our nation has fought, where the casualties *combined* only equals ~644,000 and the scale becomes clearer.) But what's not recorded is the shear amount of PTSD suffered by soldiers at that time. It was only in the last decade where historians began to go back and try to comprehend the scale of the trauma suffered by those that survived.
In the novel, Simon Jordan is hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel during a battle, and comes home with his own (ironic) amnesia, erasing the memory of Grace Marks from his mind. He marries a woman his mother picks out for him, by the name of Faith. And yet, even at the end of the novel, he still forgets and calls her Grace, not knowing why.
Rather than just give Jordan amnesia and a wife, which would have necessitated giving him more screen time at the end, the TV show changs this ending to Jordan having a complete and utter mental break with reality. The doctors come and go, but they make no progress. He will live out his days in a comatose state, brought on by shrapnel to the brain and PTSD from the horrors he witnessed.
It's a different kind of trauma than the one Grace lived through over the course of her life. But where Grace finds peace in the end, Simon never will. He will spend the rest of his days staring out, unable to live a normal life. All he can whisper is her name: "Grace."