It appears at first glance that Dolores is trying to kill Vera, but her conflicted emotions about harming the other woman leaves us with a mystery concerning what really happened. The narrative then moves back and forth between flashbacks and the current situation in order to let the audience know what truly occurred.
There is a cut from the site of the death on the island off the shore of Maine to New York, where Dolores’ daughter, Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh - the three lead women here should have received Oscar nominations. They are excellent), pleads with her boss, Peter (Eric Bogosian) to cover an important story in Phoenix. In economic fashion, we quickly learn that Selena is an excellent journalist, but slept with her boss, who now has moved on to the next pretty young worker, and Selena will probably not land the next important assignment she deserves. Here we have a talented woman who, despite her success interviewing famous people, must be made subservient to a man, both professionally and sexually.
Dolores is in severe pain after the attack, but hides it from the young Selena, saying she is just tired. However, Dolores is no pushover. When she drops a plate, Joe says it better not be one that belonged to his mother, who said Dolores couldn’t cook and would get fat. Right then, Dolores smashes a bottle over Joe’s head. She has a hatchet in her hands and now Joe is scared, because bullies are really cowards at heart, hiding their fear behind an intimidating cover. But, she drops the hatchet in his lap, and dares him to kill her, because if he doesn’t, and he hits her again, she says, “one of us is going to the bone yard.” He backs off as Selena enters the room, and Dolores shields her, literally and figuratively, from what has happened, blocking her daughter’s view of Joe. In the present, Selena yells and cries, sarcastically shouting, “Thanks for sharing!” to her mother. She does not want to believe Dolores, who is establishing what kind of man Joe was, and that hits too close to home to what Selena has worked to forget.
A flashback to Dolores’ first days as Vera’s employee shows Mrs. Donovan as a domestic tyrant. She has endless rules on how Dolores should take care of the house, even on the number of clothespins that have to be used to hang up the washed linens. “Six pins, Dolores. Six pins, not five!” she shouts at her maid. In her narration to Selena, Dolores sums up the suffering involved with working for Vera when she says, “Hell ain’t somethin’ you get thrown into overnight. Nope real hell comes on you slow and steady as a line of wet winter sheets.”
A visit to the Donovan house to collect Dolores’ belongings causes Dolores to be outraged that the police left Vera’s unclean bedpan, with Mackey claiming it as evidence. Mackey drops a bomb onto Dolores when he says she had motive because Vera left over a million dollars to Dolores in her will. Since the document was executed eight years prior, Mackey argues she must have known about it. Dolores is dumbfounded and swears she knew nothing about the inheritance. The visit triggers another flashback, which shows Dolores became the only person Vera could rely on in her decrepit state. Dolores tells Selena that as Vera’s illness grew worse, she moved into the Donovan home, and fed Vera, helped with her transfers from her wheelchair, cleaned her bedpan, and dealt with Vera’s incontinence. The actions showed Dolores’ caring attention, even if their words were antagonistic to each other. In that verbal hostility was demonstrated how the employer-subservient worker relationship developed into one of equality and familiarity.
Now, Selena has a flashback of a memory she was not able to face until her mother initiated her rediscovery of her history. She is on the ferry, and she remembers her dad buying her hot chocolate (another bribe), and forcing her to perform manual sex on him. Selena, now understanding that it was the paternal part of the family that harmed her, shows up at the inquest to help her mother. She argues that if, indeed, Dolores knew for many years about the will, why would she endure several years of cleaning bedpans and backbreaking work before she would kill Vera? And, why do it at the time that the mailman showed up at the same time every day? Selena says the two women, despite their arguments, really experienced supportive love for each other. She reveals to the magistrate that the real reason the case is being made against her mother is because Mackey has an agenda because he was angry for Dolores spoiling his all-win conviction record. It is about revenge for a prior case, and Vera’s death should have nothing to do with their shared histories. She tells Mackey that she will get a New York lawyer to tear his case apart if he pursues it. Selena finally shows affection toward her mother, taking her hand and they leave on the ferry.
Selena says that she doesn’t know how to feel about what her mother did, but she knows she did it for her. Dolores is relieved because she is finally understood. Selena leaves her, but Dolores is no longer alone in spirit. When the “bitches” are united, as is the case in Pretty Little Lies, they win.
The next film is The Deer Hunter.