So I was being a basic bitch the other day and listening to my true crime podcasts when it occurred to me just how suspicious Nile’s “death” would look to everyone not in the Guard, leading me to a train of thought that, 2200 words later, absolutely got away from me but I can’t let go so I’m inflicting it on all of you!
To set the stage, we know the movie takes place over approximately a week. Here’s what happens to Nile from the military’s point of view:
She dies is very seriously injured
She heals without a scratch
Just before she’s supposed to be shipped out to Germany, she vanishes, leaving two men concussed (and presumably reporting being knocked out by a woman with short hair wearing civilian clothes)
She goes AWOL for several days
They get word from the CIA that she is to be reported killed in action (details unclear)
So, at the beginning of this very weird week, the USMC has to tell Nile’s family of her death critical injury. What her family was told depends on how long she was dead – a Google search tells me that family will be notified in person within 8 hours of a soldier’s death, but we don’t know how long her first death lasted. For an injury, however, they’d get a phone call to notify them and the unit would arrange for them to visit as soon as the soldier is transferred out of a combat zone. Like I remember when I was in high school, a guy from my church who was a Marine was really seriously injured in a helicopter crash in Iraq and from what I could tell, his parents were told immediately and were flown out to Germany to see him, so it stands to reason that Nile’s family would have been informed relatively quickly after her throat was slashed, one way or another.
And then, she goes AWOL. Her family would be notified while the USMC tried to figure out where she went, not least because the military would want to know if she’s contacted them. (And it’s possible that her family may have been on the way to Germany to see her since we know that’s where she was supposed to go!) So for several days:
Nile’s mom and brother have no idea where she is
They know she was seriously injured and most certainly should not have been moving around on her own
They can’t get a hold of her
The military can’t tell them anything
And the next thing they know for sure is that she was “killed in action.” After being injured and vanishing into thin air. And they presumably cannot produce her body or any concrete evidence of her death. In any case, something sketchy is going on, so they’re like. SMELLS LIKE A MILITARY COVERUP.
In a surprise to probably no one, there is a well-documented legacy of mysterious US military deaths, particularly of women of color (TW for sexual assault in these links). The cases of LaVena Johnson and Vanessa Guillenin particular have made national news because of their families’ persistence in seeking justice. Likewise, Nile is a Black woman, and her mom and brother are most certainly hypercognizant of (a) state violence against Black people and (b) these high-profile cases of suspicious military deaths. So her family are seriously side-eyeing the situation, knowing that (a) the military has a serious incentive (and a documented history) of covering up things that make them look bad and (b) nothing about Nile’s disappearance and supposed death are adding up.
And Andy’s right. Nile does come from warriors. And you know who else does? Her brother.
Don’t get me wrong. Nile’s mom would absolutely not back down. She’d know something was up and want to get to the bottom of it. But based on what I know about Gen X parents (mine), they’re not the most technologically savvy. Like they can use the internet, but they didn’t grow up with it the way we young millennials and Gen Z did. So Nile’s brother takes the lead. And what do zillennials do best?
Nile’s brother starts going hard on any site he can, trying to get the word out to see if anyone knows what happened to his sister. He starts a Reddit thread. He starts a Facebook group. He reaches out to the media and true crime bloggers and podcasters à la Sarah Turney, getting loud and being a general nuisance in hopes of getting some answers. He gets his friends and Nile’s friends involved. Maybe eventually Dizzy, Jay, and others from Nile’s unit hear about it and reach out, telling him what they saw and how weird it all was. He’s drumming up interest, and soon “Nile Freeman” becomes a household name (at least among the true crime fans).
Copley is, of course, trying his best, but at this point there is just so much that it’s impossible for him to scrub everything. Sure, he can erase new footage of Nile and the Guard, but what can he do about Reddit threads and podcast episodes that are speculating something weird has happened? Maybe he could hack the sites and shut those things down, but honestly, that’s the last thing he’d want to do, because that only adds weight to the theory that Nile’s disappearance is a military coverup. So eventually he has to tell Andy what’s going on.
Andy, obviously, does not take the news well. However, she is also completely computer illiterate, because that’s Booker’s job and he’s the only one who ever bothered to learn what the internet is in any meaningful way. (She probably calls Booker for advice, and for the record, I think Booker would have no qualms about shutting down conspiracy threads, tinhats be damned, but Copley is too concerned about the consequences. He’s ex-CIA for crying out loud, he knows how it’ll look if they scrub every mention of Nile’s name from the internet.) Maybe she confers with Joe and Nicky but, let’s be honest, they’d be equally unhelpful. So at this point, she knows they have to bring in Nile.
But the thing about Nile is that she, too, knows how to use the internet (duh). Aside from her being a young millennial/digital native, we know from the cave scene where she’s giving Booker suggestions on how to track Copley that she clearly is even more computer savvy than the average person. And for that reason she almost definitely took over the day-to-day tech stuff after Booker’s exile. So I think it would be foolish to expect her to be unaware of what’s happening. She’s not contacting her family or posting on the message boards or anything, but she knows what’s up. So Copley and the team probably sit her down to “break the news,” but we know the girl does not have a poker face (see: literally shooting herself in the foot and not being able to play it cool whatsoever) and cracks immediately, telling them she’s seen everything about her case – she’s not interacting with any of it, she certainly didn’t instigate anything, but she knows. (And she is so goddamn proud of her brother.)
At this point, I’d like to pause and consider Nile’s role in the overall narrative of this movie. She’s set up as a foil to Andy, obviously, but she’s also a foil to Booker. Booker, who, like Andy, is a serious pessimist, but who, unlike Andy, still has very fresh memories and trauma associated with being the new kid, which have destroyed him. In his mind (and Andy’s), if Nile communicates with her family, she’ll become just like him in a century or two – bitter, alone, and stuck with her grief and memories of watching her family die and knowing they died resenting her. It’s a small sample size, but this is the only experience they have to go off of.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
There’s been a lot of discussion of TOG being a fundamentally queer movie – a group of people brought together because of something inherent about themselves that is different, that must be hidden, that causes others to hate, fear, and reject them. Booker’s backstory is the archetypal traumatic “coming out” story – his family learns who he is, hate him for it, and attempt to cast him out of their lives. He’s stuck with his trauma, his pain, his loss, and it consumes him.
But what if Nile’s family would be the opposite? What if her “coming out” to them as immortal is met with acceptance, love, celebration? What if her family is just overjoyed to have her back, and they don’t care what the circumstances are? I'm reminded of this incredible post from @shitty-old-guard-deaths a while back, where Nile’s mother hits Booker with a frying pan because “my baby let me believe she was dead for FIVE YEARS based on your bad advice???” (which may or may not have inspired this whole tangent). Nile takes the advice of someone who did the same thing she wants to do because she doesn’t want to risk her family’s rejection. She wants the good memories with her family and is afraid that showing them her true self will bring her unbearable pain, forever replacing those memories. But, with high risk comes high reward.
Anyway. Nile and the team are trying to come up with a plan for how to handle this whole thing, but she’s not really participating because she’s too afraid to hope. Until finally, quickly, so she doesn’t lose her nerve, she suggests she reach out to them, knowing that, realistically, that’s the only solution before things snowball even further out of control. The team is shocked, but realize that she has a point. They decide that Copley should actually be the first point of contact, posing as a US government official to talk with them and test the waters.
So Copley goes to Nile’s family’s house to talk with her mom and brother. They’re probably distrustful and apprehensive, but nonetheless secretly ecstatic that their work has paid off. They talk and review all of the information that they’ve collected, including testimonials from the people on Nile’s base and recent sightings (along with photos) of Nile (with the same three people) over the last few years that people have sent them but they haven’t posted publicly. At this point, Copley’s like, yeah this is about to blow up, we gotta put our cards on the table. He convinces them to come with him to some safe house/black site/whatever he can get that is technologically impenetrable (I’m picturing them in like, an interrogation room at a police station kind of deal), takes their phones, locks the doors, and brings in Nile.
What follows is the most delightful reunion scene of all time, bringing Joe, Nicky, and even Andy to tears as they watch and listen from outside the room. With Copley’s help, Nile tells her mom and brother about her immortality and what’s been going on since she died (within reason, of course), and they are thrilled. They don’t understand why (because no one does) but they don’t question it and they see it as a gift from God – she’s been resurrected, she will live, and she has a purpose. Her mother and brother are so happy to see her again and are willing to agree with pretty much anything to stay in her life as long as they can.
So. They set up some complicated agreement (they bring in the other three for support/intimidation as needed) setting the terms of their relationship. They swear Nile’s family to secrecy, maybe bringing up the lab to show how high the stakes are, and they readily agree. They come up with some cover story for Nile’s brother to share on the message boards (maybe that the government has opened an investigation but because it’s an open case he has to shut it all down? Tells people to direct their tips somewhere else? Something to that effect). There’s still speculation, of course, but without Nile’s brother at the helm providing the energy, the hype dies down as news stories are wont to do without any movement. And Nile’s family goes to work for the team. The experience has taught them that Copley can’t possibly do everything himself, especially when it comes to social media, so Nile’s brother takes the lead on the day-to-day tracking/social media while Copley and her mom focus on finding jobs and scrubbing their traces afterward.
So there you have it: Nile gets to integrate her biological family into her found family and spend the rest of their lives with them as it should be, Copley gets some badly needed help managing the reality of social media, the team finally has a positive narrative surrounding outsiders Knowing About Them AND about interacting with people from their previous life, and the audience gets the happy ending to this very lovely and very queer story to counteract the pain associated with Booker’s family.
Plus, you know, I’m a sucker for both a good government conspiracy theory and for Nile getting every good thing she deserves.
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