Ghost Percy acts as our intrepid male detective’s conscience, consoler, cheerleader, and sounding board, all embodied in the form of a tragic and lovely young white woman who lives in his head. In short, she’s the proverbial Dead Girl, an archetype the season attempts desperately to atone for even as it insists it can be elevated (“… not all Dead Girl narratives …” it tries, and fails, to argue).
In “Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession,” Alice Bolin explores the trope and our love for it. Season 4 goes all in on Bolin’s theory of the Dead Girl, but with a handful of tweaks and an uneven veneer of self-awareness that unintentionally makes its enthusiastic use of the device ironic.
For instance, Percy dies by suicide and not murder, and her grandmother Meg Muldoon (Frances Fisher) is the actual (traditionally untrustworthy) patriarch of the Muldoon family. What’s more, Percy points out that she exists solely in Ambrose’s head (in an attempt to call out the trope without having to sacrifice its catalytic efficiency), and her murder of Donald Heng’s Bo Lam gestures toward exposing an ugly reality of the (traditionally white) Dead Girl. That is, as Bolin writes, “Dead Girls help us work out our complicated feelings about the privileged status of white women in our culture … The white girl becomes the highest sacrifice, the virgin martyr, particularly to that most unholy idol of narrative” (21-22).
Of course, the series spends most of its time asking us to love and have sympathy for Percy so that by the time we learn she “accidentally” killed Bo and “had to” help her family cover up the smuggling of faceless and nameless immigrants, the gesture is as useless as it is gutless.