It should be no surprise, possums, that we still judge the “holiday” episode to be an abomination in matters both great and small—e.g., Scallopgate II, T Mobile sponsoring paternal cancer. And yet, although the great healer Time and its handmaiden Oblivion have softened some of the edges of whorishness and mendacity, there are still one or two things that we could not forget and could not understand.
For example, why, oh why, had Martha Stewart selected New Jerseyite Ariane Duarte as the Quickfire Challenge winner? Not only had Ariane failed to fulfill the requirements of the challenge, she also seemed to be exactly the sort of person that Martha—our Martha, the Martha we know and love, the Martha who irons her linens in the middle of the night to relieve her stress, the Martha whose own daughter says, “Martha’s scary; you just don’t want to fuck with her”—would never pick, and in selecting her, Martha had been guilty of betrayal to herself. But why? We pondered and pondered, but it made no sense at all.
And then we read Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, and at once the scales fell from our eyes. Of course! Why hadn’t we seen it before? Ariane’s win was due to nothing less than blackmail.
No, no, possums. It’s not what you think. Let us explain.
A long, long time ago, possums (though we can’t say exactly how long, having been taught that it’s churlish to refer to a lady’s age), a crime was committed in Nutley, New Jersey. In an unusual turn, the victim and the perpetrator were the same, a certain Martha Kostyra, one of five children of Eddie Kostyra and Martha Ruszkowski Kostyra. That fateful night (for, under poetic license, it had to be night), and watched over by the spirits of Wilkie Collins and Carl Jung, Martha Kostyra—middle-class, ethnic, not New York and most certainly not Connecticut—was killed and buried in the psychic backyard of New Jersey, where, if the dark imaginings of David Chase are to be believed, so many bodies are interred. Her place was taken by the woman who would attend a silk-stocking Seven Sisters school, marry a Yale Law School graduate with a desirably un-ethnic surname (ironically, he’s Jewish), and amass a net worth of over $600 million.
And while Martha Stewart was doing all of this, Martha Kostyra lay buried in that psychic backyard, her metaphorical bones absorbing the toxicity of the New Jersey soil. At first, Martha Stewart could not be brought down, not by inadequate husbands who couldn’t handle her success, and not by disappointing daughters who dabbled in Sapphic sex and mediocrity. No. It took sexism and the feds (SEC-ism?) to bring her down. And then she had to go to jail and afterward pretend (not very successfully) that she had been humanized and cared what people thought.
And then, another fateful day, when, in the Top Chef kitchen, Martha Stewart came face to face with the ghost of Martha Kostyra, Jersey girl par excellence. Except that this revenant, this apparition, was named Ariane Duarte. Can you imagine Martha’s horror, possums? It’s positively Gothic. All these years she thought she was safe, soaking her past in the milk of myth and WASPishness that would remove the stink of its imperfection and humanity. And yet here was Ariane the Anti-Martha Stewart—dark, loud, ethnic, middle class, slatternly, slovenly, slap dash—the embodiment of everything Martha Stewart had tried to forget and had thought dead with Martha Kostyra.
How could it not seem like blackmail by the gods of fate? What choice did Martha have but to appease this ravening shadow self, this creature from the black lagoon of her subconscious? She would smile placidly, as if nothing were wrong, and, displaying her unrivaled self-mastery, hand that sloppy New Jersey bitch the win, hoping that it would be enough.
And that, possums, is our theory as to why Ariane won. It’s the only thing that makes sense.