Midnight. Tyrone is playing solitaire. He's drunk. Edmund comes home after a long walk; he, too, is drunk. Edmund turns on one of the lights in the chandelier, and Tyrone and Edmund start to fight about electricity bills. The battle turns into a fight about Tyrone's tendency to believe whatever he wants to believe. Tempers heat up, and Tyrone threatens Edmund with physical violence. Suddenly, Tyrone feels ashamed of himself. Tyrone then turns on the rest of the bulbs in the chandelier, saying dramatically that since he's going to end up in the poor house sooner or later, it might as well be sooner. Tyrone asks where Jamie is, and Edmund says he doesn't know; Edmund has been out alone, in the fog. Tyrone starts to criticize Jamie, but then Edmund threatens to walk out. Tyrone gives up the topic, and offers Edmund a drink.
Edmund speaks beautifully about the feeling of being in the fog; he feels like a ghost who drowned long ago, wandering in the mists, and he likes the feeling. Tyrone doesn't approve of these morbid thoughts. Edmund begins to recite Baudelaire's poem "Epilogue," about the sinful pleasures of the city; the poem reminds him of Jamie. Tyrone hates Edmund's taste in literature: he says that Edmund's favorite writers are all "atheists, fools and madmen . . . whoremongers and degenerates" (138). Father and son begin to play cards, but the game is slow-moving: Edmund and Tyrone are drunk and are distracted by their deep conversation. Both men are tense, but there is a real effort to have an honest discussion. Edmund and Tyrone talk, and Tyrone tells Edmund that Mary tends to idealize her past. Although she always speaks of her father as a generous, loving man, she glosses over that he was an alcoholic. Mary's dream of being a concert pianist is unreal, too; she was simply flattered by nuns who knew little of the real world. And her other girlhood dream of becoming a nun was unrealistic for different reasons: she was simply too much in love with loving to be a celibate woman. Both men constantly think that they hear her getting ready to come downstairs. Neither man likes the idea of having to deal with Mary in her doped up state.
Suddenly, Edmund's anger is sparked. He blames Tyrone's stinginess for Mary's current state. Tyrone defends himself. Back then, he didn't even know what morphine was. For years, he thought that it was just medicine Mary needed to take. Edmund's accusations continue. When Tyrone accuses Edmund of being an ungrateful son, Edmund says cryptically that they'll talk of all Tyrone has done for him later. Tyrone says that despite what Mary says, she always wanted to accompany him as he went on tour. For company, she had all of his fellow actors and a nurse. Edmund keeps up his attacks. Tyrone says that if they believe everything Mary says while on dope, he should also believe that Mary wouldn't be a dope fiend if he'd never been born.
The two men stop arguing for a moment. Both of them have gone too far, and feel ashamed for it. Edmund tries to assure his father that he likes him, in spite of everything. There is a peaceful moment, and the two of them even tease each other a bit. But then the argument flares up again over the issue of a sanatorium. Edmund has learned from Jamie, who talked with Dr. Hardy, that they're planning to send Edmund to Hilltown, a cheap state-run sanatorium. The two men argue. Tyrone defends himself, but Edmund says that he is humiliated. Edmund learned the value of a dollar when he was traveling as a sailor, and it has only made him hate his father's miserliness all the more. Everyone is going to speak of how Tyrone is skimping on his own son's care.
Tyrone tells Edmund that he doesn't need to go to Hilltown. He can go anywhere he likes, within reason. Tyrone tries to explain his stinginess. His childhood was very hard, and he is always in fear of dying in the poorhouse. He makes real-estate investments because he has a peasant-like awe of land: he believes, irrationally, that land is something no one can take away. He tells Edmund that though Edmund struck out around the world, it was a privileged child's adventure. Edmund strikes back miserably that he was miserable enough to attempt suicide.
Tyrone talks about his own father, who abandoned the family when Tyrone was ten years old. Tyrone worked twelve hours a day in a machine shop. His mother and sisters worked their fingers to the bone, and still they never had enough to eat. So Tyrone had to learn to search for bargains, to stretch every dollar to its limit, and he has never been able to unlearn this lesson. Tyrone tells Edmund he can go anywhere he likes for his sanatorium, "any place I can afford" (152). He suggests a slightly less cheap sanatorium. Edmund says that it sounds fine. He is smiling now, accepting his father's shortcomings.
Tyrone then admits something to Edmund that he's never told anyone. His love of money ruined his career as an actor. He was in a commercially successful play for many years: the money was simply too good to pass up. But finally when he realized that the play had taken over his life, no other productions wanted him. He'd been typecast. And, Tyrone admits, he'd lost much of his talent by neglect.
When Tyrone had been starting out, he'd acted in Shakespeare. And he'd loved the art so deeply and sincerely that he would have acted in Shakespeare for nothing. Once, after a performance where he played Othello to Edwin Booth's Iago, Booth told someone that young Tyrone was playing Othello than he ever had himself. (Booth was the greatest actor of his day.)
Edmund is touched and grateful that Tyrone has shared this story with him. He understands his father much better now. But Tyrone immediately seems worried that he's shared too much. Furthermore, he worries that his story will undermine the lesson of the value of the dollar. He looks up, and decides they should shut off some of the chandelier bulbs. Edmund finds it funny. Tyrone admits to admit that he'd give up all his money if he could become the great artist he once had the potential to be.
Edmund shares one of his memories with Tyrone: of being at sea, in the fog. He speaks eloquently, and Tyrone is impressed, even though he does not approve of the morbidity of Edmund's sentiments. He tells Edmund that he has the makings of a poet. Edmund replies that if he lives, he's not good enough to be a poet. He's an artist who stammers. But his art will have a faithful realism.
This long conversation between father and son is one of the most important moments of the play. It begins as a series of arguments, most of which we have already heard. But we do get several important new pieces of information.
First, we learn that Mary's version of her past is probably idealized. She blames meeting Tyrone for ending all of her childhood dreams, but Tyrone explains to Edmund that her dreams were not suited to her: she was too much of the world to be a nun, and she was not gifted enough to be a concert pianist. Mary wants to blame Tyrone for many things, and perhaps she has good reason to on many issues, but the loss of her childhood dreams is not one of them. Since so much of the past is a burden to her, her only refuge is to retreat farther into the past, into history so remote that she can refashion it after her own liking.
We also learn, in-depth, about the formation of Tyrone's character. Up to this point in the play, Tyrone has probably lost some of the audience's sympathies. But the point of the play is not condemnation. Forgiveness is a central theme, and here Tyrone has a chance to justify himself. We open the act with a humorous moment illustrating Tyrone's stinginess. He barks at Edmund about leaving a few light bulbs on, but then, in a show of extravagance, he turns them all on. Edmund can't help but laugh at his father: so much of his stinginess, as we have seen, is irrational. We then learn the origins of this streak in his character. The light may also be a metaphor: the lights are all on during this conversation between father and son, and for once this conversation breaks new ground. Edmund and Tyrone come to understand each other, to see each other, better than they ever have before. At the end of the conversation, the lights are turned off again.
Important in this scene are Edmund's reactions. We see as he forgives his own father: laughing at his stinginess, accepting a stay at a second-rate sanatorium as a compromise, grateful to Tyrone for telling his story. As the son forgives the father, so does the audience.