‘Drive-Away Dolls’ Ending Explained: What Happens To Channel, Jamie, And Marian?


Drive-Away Dolls is Ethan Coen’s first feature fiction film after his split from brother Joel, and it does somewhat succeed in bringing back the dark comedy appeal so intrinsic to their style. The plot follows two friends, Jamie and Marian, who unknowingly get involved in some shady criminal activity during their long and twisted road trip from Philadelphia to Tallahassee. Along with learning about the secrets hidden inside the car they have just rented, the two women also make discoveries about themselves. Drive-Away Dolls might not be appealing to everyone, and it also does not have the tightest or most interesting plot, but nonetheless, it makes for a good, quirky watch.

Spoiler Alert

Who are the protagonists, Jamie and Marian?

Drive-Away Dolls begins in Philadelphia in 1999, inside a dimly lit bar, sometime late at night. A man sits in one of the private booths, holding onto a briefcase very tightly, evidently very scared of the situation. But he cannot leave the place either, as he seems to be waiting for someone and has already ordered a few rounds of drinks and refills. Finally, once an entire hour has passed, the man, soon introduced as Santos, asks for the check and decides to leave the bar, abandoning the meeting plan that he originally had. Clearing his dues and leaving the place, Santos still holds on to the briefcase very dearly, only to realize that the waiter who had been serving him throughout the evening is now following him around. Fearing for the case and also for his own life, Santos runs into a dark alley, hoping to hide, but to no avail. The waiter catches up and violently stabs him with two corkscrews, while a car drives to the place and more men join in. Ultimately, Santos is killed, and his briefcase, which seems to have been the main target, is stolen.

The protagonists of the film are then introduced, as the two friends, Jamie and Marian, are quite opposite from each other in their personalities. Jamie is a fun-loving young woman who is still on the course of figuring her life out, particularly in the aspect of love, and so she has a string of affairs with multiple women in the city. Jamie’s life and choices are, in fact, more colorful than necessary, and the troubles for her are mostly because of a lover catching her in the act with another. At present, too, Jamie’s current partner, Sukie, learns that she has been intimate with other women in the recent past, and so she naturally ends the relationship, rendering Jamie homeless since she had been living with Sukie. On the other side, Marian also belongs to the same friend group and is also the same age as Jamie, but is way more settled in life in the conventional sense. Marian works a white-collar job at an office, and the last sexual interaction she had was many years ago. While both women are openly lesbian, Jamie has made it the first noticeable aspect of her personality, while Marian hardly fits into the stereotypes. 

Marian decides to go on a trip to Tallahassee, Florida, in order to meet with her aunt Ellis, and upon hearing this plan, Jamie also wants to join. Despite having some minor initial inhibitions, Marian allows Jamie to join in, and the two decide to rent a drive-away service to reach Florida. The service essentially has a set of cars that need to be delivered from one place to another, and any customer can do the work while making use of the vehicle for their own travel for a small fee. The women take the service from a shop in Philadelphia named Curlie’s, where they are given an old Dodge Aries after they mention their destination as Tallahassee. Jamie and Marian plan their route towards Florida, mostly on the advice of the former, who wants to visit a number of lesbian bars along the way, simply to loosen up her friend, whom she believes to be too wound up. However, unbeknownst to their knowledge, Jamie and Marian soon get into deep trouble with a group of criminals over the Dodge Aries car they are driving and, more specifically, the hidden contents inside it.

What is inside the Dodge Aries car?

During their road trip, Jamie and Marian pass through a number of American cities and states, making merriment at lesbian bars and having sessions of casual lovemaking, at least for Jamie, while Marian stays away from any such acts. After some time, they finally reach Florida, and right upon their entry into a city that is predominantly white and straight, making them outsiders in every sense, the women suffer a punctured tire. It is now, during their attempt to fix the flat tire, that Jamie and Marian discover something very unusual hidden inside the trunk of their car. There is no sign of any repair tools, but instead it contains a briefcase and a basket, with smoke coming out of the latter. The women initially think that the basket, or the car itself, might be on fire, but then realize that it is rather cold upon touch. Soon, they make a horrific discovery, as the basket actually contains the severed head of a man, and it has been placed among dry ice in order to preserve it. The man is indeed the same one seen at the beginning of Drive-Away Dolls—Santos. 

While they spot the briefcase at that very time, Jamie and Marian decide not to open it in the middle of the highway, since people might see them and they might get into some serious trouble. Therefore, they carry the briefcase inside a diner on the highway when they take their next stop and open it up to check the contents here. They are initially very reluctant and scared, as they believe that anything associated with a severed human head will also be dangerous and illicit, but the women are quite surprised after opening up the briefcase. Instead of any drugs or valuable items that they might have expected to find inside the case, there are some four or five adult toys neatly placed inside, modeled after male phalluses of various sizes and colors. The protagonists are bemused by this discovery and find it extremely funny, to the point of Jamie even using one of them to pleasure herself in the following nights.

However, the contents of the briefcase are also quite important, as is revealed later. It is this very case that Santos had been protecting with all his life at the beginning of the film. After the man was killed, his head had been decapitated and neatly placed inside a basket containing dry ice. This basket and the briefcase were then safely hidden inside the trunk of a car—a certain Dodge Aries—by the crooks involved in the whole matter. This car, along with its contents, had to be transferred to Tallahassee without raising any suspicion, and this was why it had been put in the drive-away car service. A hardened criminal mobster, known only as Chief, seems to be the leader of this whole affair, although it is certain that he is also receiving orders from someone, possibly a client. 

According to Chief’ plan, the Dodge Aries would be put up for drive-away service, and then two of his own men, Arliss and Flint, would collect it from Curlie’s shop and then take it to Florida. The man had called up Curlie to inform him of this matter as well, and incidentally, Jamie and Marian had walked into the store at that very moment. Since the women asked for a car to the exact city mentioned by Chief over the phone, Tallahassee in Florida, Curlie assumed the women to be the ones who were supposed to take the car away, and so he assigned them the Dodge Aries. Therefore, when Arliss and Flint reach Curlie’s shop a few minutes later, they learn that the car has already been driven away with their precious cargo still inside, and this gets Curlie tortured and killed as well.

Who was Santos, and why was he killed?

The reason behind the murder of Santos is actually very intricately linked with the specific phallic adult toys inside the briefcase that he was trying to protect so carefully. The whole matter began with a conservative right-wing senator from the state of Florida, named Senator Channel, who hired the services of Chief and his two goons in order to retrieve the suitcase and the toys inside. When Channel was a young man in college, he would often get involved in smoking marijuana and sessions of casual intimacy with friends and acquaintances, much like any normal person. But during one such instance, Channel met a young woman who called herself Tiffany Plaster Caster, and had a very peculiar experience. Tiffany wanted to make a plaster cast of his aroused organ, and Channel agreed to it, finding nothing wrong with it.

However, that very cast has been turned into an adult toy now, and it is currently one of the contents of the briefcase as well, along with the other toys also being similar plaster casts. Senator Channel is an embodiment of family values and traditional conservative beliefs in society, along with being an important politician. Therefore, if news of this plaster cast of his reproductive organ being used as a toy by people, and the colorful story behind its existence gets out, then it would lead to a huge political scandal. Channel had investigated the matter, possibly with the help of Chief, Arliss, and Flint, and had found out that an art collector by the name of Santos currently owned some of the works of Tiffany Plaster Caster, including the one he was targeting.

It was because of this reason that the goons arranged a fake meeting between Santos and another art collector at the dingy bar in Philadelphia and then got the man killed when he refused to give up the briefcase. It seems like Senator Channel did not only want his plaster cast back but also wanted to punish Santos for owning it, wanting to ensure that he was dead. It was because of this reason, as proof of the murder, that Santos’ head was also being transported to Florida along with the briefcase full of the adult toys.

What do the hallucinatory scenes mean?

There are quite a few short hallucinatory sequences interspersed over the duration of Drive-Away Dolls, with psychedelic visual styles of bright colors melting into one another and trippy designs and scenes appearing on the screen. The only common factor in these scenes is the appearance of a young woman, played by Miley Cyrus, who talks to someone behind the camera, trying to convince them of something. These scenes are actually a sort of representation of the practice of Tiffany Plaster Caster, who is the woman appearing in them, as she would ask people to give her a chance to make plaster casts of their reproductive organs while under the influence of marijuana and other drugs. Incidentally, Tiffany’s character is actually based on a very real woman named Cynthia Plaster Caster, who did the very same thing to celebrities and made a name for herself for owning plaster casts of over 50 celebrity phalluses and later of female breasts as well.

What happens to Senator Channel?

Arliss and Flint eventually find the protagonists and take them captive, although the most important toy, the plaster cast of Senator Channel, is left behind at the hotel. Jamie and Marian are taken to meet with Chief, where they are interrogated for some time, but the situation turns when Flint suddenly has enough of his partner, Arliss, making a mockery of his ways, and impulsively shoots the man dead. Chief tries to confront Flint, and the latter shoots once again before fleeing the scene, leading to the whole criminal gang suddenly being off the back of the protagonists. Jamie and Marian make use of this chance to earn themselves some money and decide to blackmail Senator Channel with the adult toy of his resemblance.

The women call up the senator repeatedly, convincing him that they actually have the item he has been looking for, and demand a million dollars in exchange for it. The two sides eventually meet at a lesbian bar, where Channel hands over the ransom money and is given the entire briefcase, containing all the plaster-cast adult toys. However, he is also a very vengeful man, as was clear from the murder of Santos, and so Senator Channel wants to punish the women as well. Right after their meeting at the bar, the man masks up and attempts to shoot Jamie and Marian dead. However, by this time, Jamie had also involved Sukie in this strange case, since the latter worked in the police department back in Philadelphia. Sukie was informed about the murder of Santos and the possible killing of Curlie as well, but her careless investigation made her believe that Jamie was pulling some prank on her.

Frustrated and angry at her ex-lover, Sukie had taken a flight to Florida to figure out what was going on, and right when Senator Channel attacks the protagonists, she is at the place and uses her reflexes to shoot down the man first. Although Channel is not killed by the incident, the commotion leads to the briefcase full of adult toys breaking down in public, which ultimately leads to a huge political scandal, ruining his career and personal life as well.

What happens to Jamie and Marian?

Throughout the duration of Drive-Away Dolls, Jamie’s romantic interest in Marian was revealed, which the latter eventually reciprocated as well. Therefore, by the end, the two friends have actually turned into lovers, and they decide to stay together for the unforeseeable future. They drive to Tallahassee and meet Marian’s aunt Ellis, whom they also inform that they want to get married to each other. Although the conservative-minded Ellis is shocked and traumatized by the proposition, Marian is quite relieved to finally admit her desires in the open, and this is a major development in her character.

During Drive-Away Dolls‘ ending, Jamie reveals that she had, in fact, made two plaster cast copies of Senator Channel’s phallus with the intention of pleasuring each other with them. However, the very last scene shows them driving towards Massachusetts, where lesbian marriage is legal, while a staff member at the hotel tries to tell them that they have left behind a paper bag. Jamie and Marian fail to take notice, and the bag is revealed to contain the two adult toys, perhaps signifying that they will indeed forget about this small and absurd experience in the broader scheme of life spent together.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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