CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 2: “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff
* For a review of Episode 1, “Arrangement in Grey & Black” – click here
* For a review of Episode 3, “Nighthawks” – click here
Following the first episode, and a trend that runs through this mini-series, the second episode’s title comes from a series of paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, some of which you can see here. And now, we dive in…
This episode opens with Cam Hawthorne (Justin Chatwin) at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. He talks about his recent slip up, but seems optimistic, or trying to be, about going clean. A friend there tries to help Cam get the dealer out of his life. Then the news about Papa Hawthorne hits. At home, Madeline (Virginia Madsen) sees the shaving kit of her husband then breaks down, keeping the guilt buried just below the surface. Downstairs, Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Tessa (Megan Ketch) are both grieving, though it seems the older of the two is most upset. Tessa immediately blames Cam, once he shows up, for not being there with their mother – y’know, when their father died. Oh, little do these ladies know about their own matriarch. “Everyone loved dad,” says Alison, so incredibly filled with literary irony that it almost chokes you. But while Alison is upset, Cam and Tessa are more concerned with determining who was the Silver Bells Killer after all. Was it their dad? We’ll see how he comes into play, either way.
Tessa’s husband Brady (Elliot Knight) is doing his best to take care of his police duties as much as he does with those of the family variety. I’m interested to find out how he comes up against the family. Because you just know that’s going to happen. Sooner or later. Right now, he and Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) head up the investigation with their new clue: the belt in the collapsed tunnel, linked to Hawthorne Concrete.
At the family table, Madeline weaves a story about her husband being disoriented, out in the garage, showing her the box with the Silver Bells inside. Supposedly, he’d gone into dementia and believed he was the murderer. Madeline clearly killed him, so does she know he was, know who really was, or is she merely trying to hold onto whatever power she can by offing her ill husband before he brought a whole wave of controversy their way? One thing’s for sure – Mama Hawthorne has things to hide. Dark things. Meanwhile, Garett (Antony Starr) arrives and says he wants to speak at his father’s funeral: “I have something to say,” he tells them. Although nobody is too thrilled with that. There’s still a shadow cast over him. Still a possibility he could be the killer. You never know.
Madeline gets a sketchy call – irregularities in the machines as her husband passed. Uh oh. Well, the Hawthorne kids are all busy warring with one another, anyway. Alison and Garrett talk about what her little daughter heard, apparently, when he’d leaned in to speak viciously to his ailing father. There’s lots of intrigue about Garrett and what exactly’s going on with him, what happened in the past, so on. I’m not sold on every aspect of the show. I am sold on a few characters; Garrett being chief in that stable.
Alison isn’t pleased that Garrett, essentially, wants to accuse her father after death of being the Silver Bells Killer. At the same time, mother Madeline doesn’t appear to be rocked by much of it. Those dark secrets will come out, eventually. At the very same time Brady’s faced with the Hawthorne patriarch being on the list of potential suspects. Cutter wants DNA, though he’s not so thrilled about barging in before the funeral to get a sample. So now we’re already seeing what’s about to pit Brady against the family into which he married.
Someone else I’m interested in is Cam’s little kid Jack (Gabriel Bateman), whose fascination with death is all too chilling. The only one who isn’t overly creeped out is Garrett: “The apple doesn‘t fall far from the tree, does it?” he quips to his slightly scared younger brother Cam. I feel bad for Cam in particular because he’s saddled with a damaged child, a mysterious family and older brother whose past is shrouded in fog, and then all this Silver Bells stuff on top. Sucks being a Hawthorne. In other news, Alison and her campaign manager obviously get closer and closer; have they been together yet, or is it just that they’ve flirted around it so long the whole thing’s become lusty? With everything else going on Alison is still drawn to her.
Gunther (Aidan Devine) cleans up around the Hawthorne place, as Tessa looks through pictures. He ends up recounting that he and her father played chess. Also, he lets slip that they played Thursday nights – only just last week, in fact. Gunther says his mind was sharp, right until the end. This makes Tessa wonder. And wonder she should. Her mother is over meeting with a woman at the hospital. She’s told there was possibly a “machine malfunction” and that it could look bad for them; ah, a sigh of relief for Madeline. Ah… except they want to do an autopsy, so that this won’t happen to anybody else. What a wrench. We know for sure the deviousness of Mrs. Hawthorne, sadly widowed, as immediately afterwards she calls to have the body cremated instead of sent over for an autopsy. Ooh wee, this is picking up steam.
At the Hawthorne place, Brady is sneaking around trying to find himself something with a bit of DNA on it. Instead he runs into his wife, whose stress levels are pretty god damn high. And she doesn’t even know how deep her husband is in, having to investigate her father. Funny – if he told her, maybe she’d be of some help seeing as how she and Cam found that eerie box. But good man, he respects his job. He ends up running around everywhere, trying to stop Papa Hawthorne from being cremated before he can get a sample, which does not turn out well for him. Then poor Cam, he starts succumbing to his old vices. He tracks down one of the caterers that likely has a stash. Not good. At the church, Cam’s estranged wife shows up to give her condolences, and instead of being awkward it actually becomes a nice moment for them.
Can’t forget about Garrett. He gets pulled over in his way over expired truck with a way over expired ID, and things look bleak. Brad gets the call for that one. Yikes.
Tessa confronts her mother at the funeral about her father having dementia. This begins driving a wedge between the mother and the children now. Madeline acts the victim, spinning more words to the people around her. She continually uses her husband as a type of scapegoat, without really letting him be the scapegoat. And now we’re gradually getting a peek behind the mask of the Hawthorne matriarch. She even goes so far this time to say her husband asked for her help in dying. Good one, Madeline. Alison and the rest go about their business, as mama keeps her secrets close to the chest. Garrett manages to get to the church and Alison looks highly surprised; did she call in to have him picked up? Oh yes. “Nice try,” Garrett mocks. Strange to be pulled over after 12 years of expired tags, all of a sudden on the day of their father’s funeral. Not very sly, Alison; not at all.
Tessa and Garrett share a nice moment. She sees only the good in him, as it was Garrett that always calmed her down and helped with her anxious nature. At least he has one sibling ally. Then he gets up to give his semi-eulogy, whatever it is. “I hated my father“, he begins, launching into a short, biting speech before ending it quickly and sitting down. He lets Alison take the reins. A better hand at the public speaking, though another one stuck in the dark about her terrifying family with all their hideous roots coiling beneath their foundation. In the bathroom, Cam and his estranged wife Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) meet, but she isn’t happy to see him struggling and wanting to get high – “There are other ways,” she tells him and then starts taking off some clothes. Yowzahs what a funeral. The kicker? Their son gives his little speech and that turns out incredibly morbid. Garrett laughs; no one else does.
At home, Alison’s husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) gives her a gift, obviously unknowing of her passion for a woman – a woman whose hate seers when she sees the two together. What’s wildly intriguing is that Madeline seems to see and know everything, an omniscient matriarch above them all. She passes through and sees it all.
Madeline suggests to Cam her grandson needs therapy. Definitely does. Further than that, Brady still searches for something belonging to Papa Hawthorne. He ends up getting a call from Cutter; they’re most definitely looking for a man who “comes from money.” It’s then that he realises Hawthorne could be a genuine possibility. Also, Madeline tells Garrett he ought to leave. He retorts with a bit of a threat.
The big shocker is that Brady finds a picture of Papa Hawthorne with a young Cam, back in 2002 – Cam is wearing the very same belt they’ve found stuck in the cement, the one used in a Silver Bells Murder. This casts suspicion on both father and son. Yummy darkness.
Let’s stick together, those of us that enjoy a bit of the campy mysteriousness that American Gothic provides. Next episode is titled “Nighthawks” and those who are familiar with the famous painting will be thrilled, as I am. Stay with me and we’ll get to the bottom of the Hawthorne/Silver Bells mystery after all.