CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 6: “The Chess Players”
Directed by Ed Ornelas
Written by Allen MacDonald
* For a review of Episode 5, “The Artist in His Museum” – click here
* For a review of Episode 7, “The Gross Clinic” – click here
Who is The Silver Bells Killer?
Tess (Megan Ketch) and Brady (Elliot Knight) are finally on the same page. Meanwhile, Alison (Juliet Rylance) is onstage with Mayor Bill Conley (Enrico Colantoni) at the Boston Mayoral Debate. Gun control is a big issue, as usual. At home, Cam (Justin Chatwin) watches his sister with his creepy son Jack (Gabriel Hawthorne).
Then everything blows wide open when a reporter asks Alison about the Silver Bells murders, the police now officially linking the DNA to a member of the Hawthornes. Yikes. Not good press.
Back at the mansion everybody’s wondering what to do next. Mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is not pleased to discover Tess and Brady went ahead to have the DNA tested. I guess at least Cam is cleared. Only now someone within the ranks is most certainly the serial killer. “Which one of us is it?” Alison asks them all.
At the same time, Garrett (Antony Starr) isn’t present. He’s off in the woods somewhere with Christina Morales (Catalina Sandino Moreno). He has… something to show her. No cellphones allowed, either. Isn’t this getting unsettling? Personally, I feel like Garrett is too easy an answer.
Madeline believes the police “manipulate evidence all the time to fit whatever narrative they please” and she’s adamant. She believes the belt being found made them look bad, so now they’re being framed. My opinion? Madeline is directly involved in the Silver Bells murders. Before much more family time the police arrive. With a warrant: DNA swabs, any evidence they can find, et cetera.
There’s a part of Garrett that does seem genuinely infatuated with Christina. Is that all there is to it? Or, perhaps, is there guilt due to him having witnessed a clue to, or the actual act of, Christina’s father being murdered? Very hard to tell right now. Part of why I dig the series as much as I do. Not perfectly written, but there’s a good deal of interesting mystery, intrigue, and suspense.
At the Hawthorne house, Alison lays out her idea that Garrett was the killer. Then Cam reveals seeing a body dragged down the stairs when he was a teenager; he believes it was their father, Mitchell (Jamey Sheridan). Nobody’s sure, really. Everybody has their own opinion, though Cam definitely saw somebody with that body. Madeline puts her foot down after their talk. She doesn’t want to hear anymore nonsense.
I keep wondering about Jack, too. He’s definitely got the strangeness in him. “This house is full of predatory birds,” he tells his bewildered father. What I wonder most is if Jack will continue on the family tradition of murder later on down the road.
In other news, Alison’s husband Tom (Dylan Bruce) has nearly had enough of his wife and Naomi (Maureen Sebastian). Particularly now that it’s encroaching on their love life.
Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) shows up at the Hawthornes. She tries to convince Cam that his family is a toxic relationship. Never mind their junkie relationship. The Hawthorne family is harbouring murderous, evil secrets.
There is a huge soft spot in Tess’ heart for her older brother Garrett. He took her playing, swinging, all sorts of things. Out of nowhere, she and Cam notices a strange fixture in Garrett’s room: a bell on the wall. It gives them pause for a second before they crack up laughing on the floor; the tragedies of their family are simply too much to get through without having a laugh. Although it’s short lived.
Sophie: “Your family thinks I‘m the poison in your life, but it‘s them.”
Loving daughter Alison has a look at her father’s old copy of Wuthering Heights. In a hiding spot carved into the middle, she finds pictures, cash, and a document we don’t see, though her eyes say it all. Certainly isn’t something pleasant.
Alison’s point of view has changed. The document in question is a Boston Police Department report stating their father Mitchell as a violent offender, having beaten an undisclosed victim unconscious; the only info for the victim states it was a male in his 40s or 50s. Could it have been Gunther? Or somebody else that Mitch took his rage out on? Now the view of ole Pop Hawthorne is turning, as even Alison wonders if maybe he was a killer after all.
Naturally they bring it to their mother. They want an explanation. She reveals an affair, back around the times of the SBK murders. When Mitch found out, he found them together and beat the guy nearly to death. Madeline uses this to explain Cam’s memories of a body being pulled down the stairs; real, or just a cover? The lies and the deception is so thick you can never fully figure it out. Not quite yet. For their part, the children aren’t exactly sold either. The paranoia is running wild, as Cam starts accusing Alison now. Nobody’s safe from speculation and suspicion.
In the woods, Garrett gets a little closer with Christina. He tells her about wanting to leave after the funeral, but she was the reason he stayed. A little bit of his past slips out. Before any further romance happens, a few guys show up, slightly menacing. Except Garrett drives them out with a knife in hand. This doesn’t really make Christina feel comfortable. At all. Are his true colours coming out, or does his past hold some sort of trauma to make him so aggressively defensive? Can’t wait to discover more about him.
Tom only figures out more about his wife and Naomi. So much so he sets up a clandestine meeting with Naomi believing she’s going to meet Alison. Ohhh shit. When Naomi arrives, Tom tries to crush her hopes of a real love with Alison. I can see something bad going down on this end, too.
After Tess finds some pills prescribed by Christina, she brings them to Brady. And he recognises her last name as being related to an SBK victim. Lots of trouble gearing up here. That’s not even considering all the tension between Sophie and Madeline. Could get nasty all around. Unless Cam and Sophie take off to start a new life together like they’re beginning to plan.
Brady wants to make sure Christina is okay, and alive. They don’t realise she’s out camping with Garrett. Brady is just grasping at any straws possible because he knows someone in the Hawthorne family is obviously a serial killer. Just can’t be sure if the oldest Hawthorne boy is the right suspect. It doesn’t look good that he left the day the DNA evidence broke in the news. Then Brady pulls a bait-and-switch on his wife, taking off without her to track down her brother. Everything’s about to get serious.
On the news, Garrett is a prime suspect. He’s considered armed, dangerous, and apparently has a hostage. Nothing is helped when Christina gets a voicemail from Brady saying Garrett is a suspect in the SBK case. She demands keys to the truck, she believes he’s brought her camping to killer her, as once he killed her father.
Everybody is going crazy. They all believe Garrett is the killer, no question.
After Brady pulls Garrett’s truck over on the side of the road, he finds Christina covered in blood having accidentally stabbed Garrett when they were arguing. “It‘s not my blood,” she mumbles getting out. Cut to the Hawthorne family discovering the blood on the belt from the SBK murder matches Mitchell, the deceased patriarch. No way? Madeline does not believe it. However, Brady got DNA off the high school football jersey of Mitch. This is crazy, I didn’t actually expect it to go down that way. Surely there’s more.
And in the forest, Garrett, innocent, bleeds out from the knife in his gut.
This episode was titled after a painting by American artist Thomas Eakins from 1876. The next is titled “The Gross Clinic” and is so named for another painting by Eakins done a year before The Chess Players, so that’s pretty intriguing. Can’t wait to see the next one. Exciting, especially after the developments we’ve seen in this hour.