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American Gothic – Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 13: “Whistler’s Mother”
Directed by Greg Beeman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff & Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 12, “Madame X” – click here
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The finale is here – “Whistler’s Mother” you may remember is the informal name given to Arrangements in Grey and Black, which is the first episode of this mini-series. Why that painting, you wonder? This last episode in particular and yet so much of these episode has consisted of a focus on who?
Mama Hawthorne.
Everybody’s out voting for Mayor of Boston. Madeline (Virginia Madsen) is worrying about the “crazed dollmaker” after her family. So she has private security watching the house, and her paranoia is high. Tess (Megan Ketch) and Cam (Justin Chatwin), along with Jack (Gabriel Bateman), are down at the Alison Hawthorne (Juliet Rylance) campaign HQ. Even Garrett (Antony Starr) turns up to support his sister.
But nobody’s seen Alison. Where could she be?
Over at the station, Detectives Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) lay the whole case with the new evidence out for everybody. Then Brady gets a call from his wife, worrying about her sister. Now, they’re worried the accomplice is very, very close to the campaign.
We all know from last episode it’s Naomi.
Or is it? That secret she had was all about union workers, supposedly. A background check proves Naomi has always been Naomi. A dead end. Ahhh, tricky. Only problem is the cops are still at square one. And who could be the accomplice?
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Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) ends up at the Hawthorne door. She wants a few pictures before heading off for good. At the campaign HQ, Jack is starting to feel the effects of not having his mother around; he reads too much. Simultaneously, Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) has turned up to reconcile with Garrett. She’s planning to move to San Francisco and hopes he’ll go. Although he doesn’t want to leave his family, not after everything.
The detectives go to the grave of SBK’s wife, to see if maybe someone comes to visit. He has an epiphany about the cherry blossoms on Sophie’s neck. Just like the ones at the graveyard. And all alone in the mansion with Madeline, we find Stephanie revealing herself a bit more. Most of all after she plants a needle in her former mother-in-law’s neck. Jesus. I honestly never saw any of this coming.
Where do we go from here? Well, Madeline gets tied up for the time being. Sophie talks more about her life, her mother, her father and his ‘art’ of sorts. Seems SBK got his kill list, for him and his daughter, from the donors at the hospital. She tells us that the bells were there to symbolise the one thing that could save their victim stays “just out of reach.” When Cam turns up things get tricky. She reveals their love stayed her want for revenge, but of course things went sour.
Everyone’s closing in now. Will they make it to the mansion in time? Or will Sophie enact the last breaths of her plan for revenge? Looks like she managed to at least strangle Madeline.
Cam manages to get a gun and point it at Sophie. But Garrett doesn’t want him to kill anyone, not like he did, and to have to live with those memories the rest of his life. He prevents Cam from making a terrible decision. Yet Sophie makes off into the night once more.
In other news, Alison wins her bid for Mayor of Boston. What good is that when your family’s being hunted? Small victories, I suppose.
The Hawthorne family is devastated. For all her faults, it’s still not nice to have your mother murdered. And to have been infiltrated so deeply by SBK’s daughter, his accomplice. Just, staggering. Brady kicks himself for not seeing it sooner, though Cutter tries to assure him he couldn’t have known, and at least now they DO know. They came around to becoming better friends and partners throughout the entire ordeal.

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Skip to a year later. Everyone is doing well, Tess and Brady have their child, Cam and his lady friend are getting closer finally. The family is okay after all. Somehow. There’s still creepy Jack. Who knows how they’ll eventually end up. Naomi and Alison are together, happy. Then Garrett and Christina show up with their own little family.
With his little bear still holding his mom’s recorded voice, Jack stands alone listening to it, wondering when she’ll come back to take him. Because a normal life is not what he wants. He’s got that nasty gene somewhere deep down.
We discover more of the secrets hiding amongst the Hawthornes. Alison knew a long while ago that Sophie was the accomplice. She revealed it to her former sister-in-law. Hmm. She even kept one of those bells instead of tossing them all. Thing is, Alison made a deal: don’t kill anybody else, just mom. Holy. Shit. Kills her mother, essentially, and creepily she’s JUST LIKE HER MOTHER. What a twisting, turning, strange little end.
With these last words, Alison ends her interview and the mini-series: “You can be a victim of your circumstances, or you can summon the strength to push through; no matter what. Today our family is thriving. I think my mother would be proud.”

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The end personally surprised me, from the opening of this episode to the finish. Far as I know this is only meant to be a mini-series. I dig it that way. Leaves you not with questions, but with a deeper idea of the corrupted roots of the Hawthorne family. What was done cannot be undone. It begets more of its own violence, the secrets of their family. Lots of fun, weird stuff that happened, too. Throughout the whole series. I had a blast, honestly. Didn’t expect to get so into it. Yet here I am. Hope some of you reading have enjoyed as much as I have. A stellar finish, way better than anticipated!

American Gothic – Episode 12: “Madame X”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 12: “Madame X”
Directed by Edward Ornelas
Written by Allen MacDonald & Lauren Goodman

* For a review of Episode 11, “Freedom From Fear” – click here
* For a review of the finale, “Whistler’s Mother” – click here
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The penultimate episode upon us, its title comes from a John Singer Sargent painting formally known as Portrait of Madame X, but also just as Madame X; you can find it here.
So has the truth come out? Are Garrett (Antony Starr) and his mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen) telling the truth?
For now, they’re dealing with the diorama of their house including a figurine of each family member dead. Everybody’s back under one roof, as Brady (Elliot Knight) comes back with Garrett. Cam (Justin Chatwin) takes Jack (Gabriel Bateman) away, not wanting to be in a house supposedly targeted by the accomplice to the Silver Bells Killer. Most interesting is that Tess (Megan Ketch) appreciates what her older brother did for her. She tells Garrett: “You should run.” All but begging him. To start a new life, maybe get the chance to be a part of his son’s life with Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno), someday. But he doesn’t want to do that. He’s all about family. “No more running,” he tells Tessa.
One thing’s for sure, Garrett and Madeline have fallen out completely. No love there. As far as legality goes, they’re both given suspended sentences so long as they cooperate with the investigation.
Oh, Alison (Juliet Rylance). She can’t let go of Naomi, who’s back in Boston for a little while. Their relationship was clearly more deep than a fling. You can tell just by how they talk to one another. When there’s cable being run in the Hawthorne residence, Alison discovers a box of silver bells in a vent. The ones Madeline said were gone so long ago. Uh oh.
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The police are doing their jobs now, all over, from fingerprinting the little diorama mansion to a sketch artist. Detective Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Detective Ross aren’t exactly pleased with two completely different drawings from the mother-son descriptions. But then Garrett remembers a tattoo on the man’s chest; a Brigid’s cross. Not exactly a perfect clue. A clue nonetheless.
Young Jack (Gabriel Bateman) relaxes watching stuff about jellyfish while his mother Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) sneaks in, locking Cam in the bathroom. “You wanna go for a ride?” she asks her son. Shit. I do not like the sounds of this, I don’t know she’s capable of, really. By the time Cam breaks out of the bathroom, she’s gone with Jack in tow, and a knife in her husband’s tire.
Alison figures out that her mother is the likely culprit of Jennifer Windham’s death. Yikes! That woman is one bad bitch. Even admits to her daughter what she’d done. All for the family, right? Oh, my. “You can justify anything,” Alison nearly weeps. She further pieces together that her mother killed off her father in the hospital. So ole Madeline’s officially a serial killer, I guess. And incredibly delusional.

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Cam’s attempting to figure out where his wife has gone with their son, enlisting his sister Tess to help. They try tracking her down via credit card purchases, a bit of slick work from a couple rich kids. At the same time, Alison has the whole dilemma of wondering what to do about their mother. She’s too busy thinking about Naomi, though.
Over at her husband’s final resting place Madeline stows cash, a passport, all that good stuff. Just in case. Meanwhile, Garrett is at the station with Brady asking for a bit of help to track down Christina. We get a nice topical joke from Brady: “You need anything else? Maybe Hillarys emails, or Trumps tax returns?” At first I thought it was cheesy. Then I laughed a bunch. What we do find out: the accomplice must be female. The prints on the dollhouse diorama confirm it.
And so Alison tosses the silver bells box into the river. Letting the memories and souvenirs rest. Good idea? Certainly not the morally best idea. She lets her mother know, which obviously puts Madeline’s mind at ease. However, the ties are being cut. “As far as Im concerned you no longer exist,” Alison tells her before leaving. Ouch. Slash totally understandable.
Sophie took Jack to an aquarium. Nice gesture, if she didn’t technically kidnap him. When Tess and Cam show up, the husband and wife have a little confrontation. She talks about wanting “one last memory” and hopes her boy won’t forget his mother. I worry she might do something to herself. She isn’t a good mother, or person, but still…
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The detectives have Garrett trying to identify SBK, except nothing comes out. All of a sudden, Brady wonders if maybe the Brigid’s cross was meant for more than the symbol; maybe it was for a name. When they track down a name, Garrett finally recognises the man himself, the dreaded Silver Bells.
Turns out Naomi may be more important than anyone thought. She’s the daughter of the Silver Bells Killer, having reinvented herself to slip inside the inner circle of the Hawthorne family. A place where she could destroy them easily.

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WHOA! Nice little shock at the end.
The finale is titled “Whistler’s Mother” and I can’t wait to dig in.

American Gothic – Episode 11: “Freedom From Fear”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 11: “Freedom From Fear”
Directed by Jet Wilkinson
Written by Andrew Gettens & Lauren Mackenzie

* For a review of Episode 10, “The Veteran in a New Field” – click here
* For a review of Episode 12, “Madame X” – click here
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The title of this week’s episode comes from a Norman Rockwell series, Four Freedoms; the last of which is titled Freedom From Fear. You can see it here.
We last saw Brady (Elliot Knight) with his gun drawn, Garrett Hawthorne (Antony Starr) in his sights, as he watches him disposing of old human remains in a makeshift grave. Nasty.
So the brothers-in-law find themselves in an interesting predicament. “Tell me whats happened,” Brady quietly pleads with Garrett, lowering his gun.
More interesting still is that simultaneously Alison (Juliet Rylance), Tess (Megan Ketch), and Cam (Justin Chatwin) confront their mother, Madeline Hawthorne (Virginia Madsen). They know something has been hidden from their eyes. She reveals the bells recently dropped in her purse. And Mama gives up the goods.
Flash back to 2002, cleverly given to us through image instead of a date printed across the screen. 14 years ago, the kids are all sitting happy by the tree with mom, even dear ole dad, Mitchell Hawthorne (Jamey Sheridan), who sneaks out with an excuse as his wife eyes suspiciously. Young Alison’s already a campaign loving politician in high school. Cam is getting into drugs. Garrett is dating Molly. Behind closed doors the husband and wife talk of secrets, the accounting files Mitch had supposedly gone out to settle. Later in the night, a man makes his way into the Hawthorne mansion. At the top of the stairs he frightens young Tessa, and she pushes him down. Although as a grown woman she doesn’t remember. “It gets more complicated than that,” says mother. So with a guy dead at the foot of their staircase, Madeline and Mitch find… silver bells? Was Mitch to be framed?
Yeaaah, right. I don’t believe it for a second. How is she expecting to sell this? At the same time, Garrett tells the story to Brady. Another mother-son lie?
One of the better openings of any episode yet.

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So a younger Garrett got a call, from Tess. That’s what he says, anyway. When he went home, SBK is lying dead, or so says mom and dad. They get Garrett wrapped up in the entire thing. “We can dispose of the body. No one needs to know,” Mitch tells his boy. And then the older brother convinces his little sister nothing ever happened; a fever dream mixed with medicine makes for bad dreams. While Tess remembers Garrett being a comfort whenever she’d get sick, she doesn’t remember anything of that specific event. Cam’s memory of that night is then SBK being hauled down the stairs. Problem is he was high on drugs, including a taste of mushrooms. Hallucinogens and dead bodies on the staircase. None of that’s any good for memory.
Garrett went to bury the body. Then the man wakes up, running off into the woods, even slashing Garrett with a knife a few times. This left the young man no choice but to stab the man to death in the dark of the woods. Now we have a supposed explanation for why Madeline found her son in the dark, bloody, holding a knife.
The whole story is quite a yarn. Tough to swallow, not only for the Hawthorne kids themselves, but also for Brady, trying to understand how it all makes any sense.

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Well at least the other kids have some sympathy for Garrett. Or is that yet another brush under the rug for the Hawthornes?
Madeline reels off more to her kids. About those files her husband went to get that night, from none other than David Morales (Yancey Arias). They were incriminating bits that would sink the Hawthorne family and its business. Therefore, Mitch breaks out a belt, some gloves, and a silver bell. A nice way to “silence” Morales, to “save himself” is how Garrett put it: “He made me a killer. Just like him.”
Is Mitch a mere copycat of SBK, all to save the family reputation (and cash)? Still not solved. Still not.
Things went off the rails between Garrett and Mitch, after the father, in his hubris, attempted to justify his murder. When Garrett went to his mother, she played the part; the one she needed to play. Mom essentially blackmails her own son to keep him quiet. Yikes. No wonder Garrett’s got mommy issues. And daddy issues. And all sorts of other issues.
Mama tells her kids the accomplice of the true SBK is out there, and he is back now to torment them all. When Cam steps into the living room, he finds evidence that it may just be the case: there lies a diorama of the Hawthorne mansion with all of them posed as little characters, dead in various rooms with silver bells lying everywhere. So creepy. Almost like something Jack (Gabriel Bateman) would make. Or his mother Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas).


Out in that field, Garrett tries to explain to Brady he wants to start a new life, to get away from everything. However, Garrett does not want to go back to jail, and Brady doesn’t have much to offer other than his word. I wonder if it’s enough to keep them together on this one.
More and more, we come to find Madeline – if you didn’t already understand – pulled all the strings. Even if this is all true, what we’ve seen throughout the episode, Madeline and Mitchell are still awful people. What they did was orchestrate the death of Morales, both Madeline and Mitchell, as SBK’s final victim, out of pure greed and ego.
And it was Madeline who put the final touch on Morales, once and for all. She literally did the deed. You sly mama! She won’t tell her kids that, though.
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How will the last two episodes play out? What does “Madame X” hold for us? For one thing, its title comes from the John Singer Sargent painting of the same name, also known as Portrait of Madame X. So stay tuned with me. Let’s see what we’ll get for excitement, and maybe explanation, next week.

American Gothic – Episode 9: “The Oxbow”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 9: “The Oxbow”
Directed by Doug Aarniokoski
Written by Lawrence Broch

* For a review of Episode 8, “Kindred Spirits” – click here
* For a review of Episode 9, “The Veteran in a New Field” – click here
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The title for this episode comes from Thomas Cole’s View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm. Otherwise known as The Oxbow.
I wonder where the series will give homage to the 1836 oil painting?
Brad Ross (Elliot Knight) is having a rough go of things. But at least now he’s got Garrett Hawthorne (Antony Starr) in custody. He’s got the missing piece and Garrett’s knife matched. Flash to 2002, as Madeline (Virginia Madsen) finds her son, covered in blood, holding a knife. “What did you do?” she asks.
Well, we’re not given a straight answer. He looks incredibly guilty. But what more is there. Much more, I bet. Madeline visits him in jail and tries to start spinning things in her favour, to help her son. Or is it mostly to help herself? For now, Garrett has an attorney working for him, although he’s not particularly worried about what she’s doing. Instead he rattles off quotes from Horace Mann: “If evil is inevitable, how are the wicked held accountable? Why do we call men wicked at all? Evil if inevitable, but it is also remediable.”
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Back to 2003. A younger Garrett wakes up before his family arrives at the cabin, he takes off into the woods on his own again. While breaking into a cabin, he comes across Al Jenkins (M.C. Gainey) who isn’t exactly convinced with his story of just being out on his own, away from Boston. You can tell there’s more to that relationship.
In the current day, Garrett gets a call from Cam (Justin Chatwin) in rehab. Both brothers in their own respective cages. The older of the two apologises for getting his younger brother close to drugs the last time. Cam doesn’t think he needs to, but Garrett feels guilty generally for never being around. He confides in Cam: “You stayed true to yourselfIm so proud of you.” Cut back to the younger Garrett, out in those woods. He chases a rabbit with a knife until coming across Al once again. They have a bit of dinner together around the fire. They bond. This leads to Garrett getting his own cabin after Al leads him to the place of a now dead old man. And the life of the wandering Hawthorne begins. Al teaches him a thing or two about surviving on his own.
In present day Alison (Juliet Rylance) doesn’t believe her brother was an accomplice of any kind to the Silver Bells Killer, their dear ole dad. Who knows what’s left to be done for the elder Garrett brother at this point, though. In other news, Alison has Jennifer Windham (Sarah Power) started on a bit of dirty work trying to dig up dirt on the current mayor. Ah, the greasy Hawthorne ethic comes out strong in this one.


Slide back to 2008. Al tells Garrett about losing a niece, as they bond over family members to which they were close; Garrett talks about his sister Tess (Megan Ketch) and how they were the closest of all the family. Speaking of Tess, she is certainly not convinced about her brother, either. She keeps telling her husband there must be some other explanation. However, Brady does not get her “loyalty” to a guy like Garrett. He suggests confronting her brother, seeing if he’ll confess or deny it to her face.
It’s on!
The painting from which the episode gets its name is all about the confrontation between wilderness and civilisation. We see that represented totally through Garrett. As the years pass, he stays in the woods, away from civilisation. Away from his family. He peeks in occasionally. He buys a newspaper to read Cam’s cartoon Roger’s Cube. There’s part of him that doesn’t want to let go. He gets his number to Tess without being seen, so they can get in touch: “If you need it,” Garrett lets her know. Their bond is so obviously a deep one, a caring one. Great scenes between those two.
When Tess goes to see him in jail things have changed. At least a little. Garrett’s mostly only concerned with his possible niece or nephew coming along. He doesn’t want anybody worrying about him. Tess asks him point blank about the knife. Her brother won’t answer what she needs to hear, casually suggesting his guilt. The change in their relationship is becoming more of a divide. Everyone’s opinion of Garrett has gone 180 degrees.
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Jennifer’s been tracking the mayor. He meets with Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) in secret. What exactly are they doing?
We see more of creepy little Jack (Gabriel Bateman) visiting his uncle, being weird. Talking about the bubonic plague and other happy things. He mentions seeing Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) at the hospital near the ultrasound department; Garrett tries calling her, but no luck in talking much. Then he calls his lawyer, desperate to get out of jail: he’s going to be a dad.
There are big things happening in the Silver Bells case. Mainly the police department is getting their ass kicked by Garrett’s lawyer. She starts bringing up chain of custody, mishandling evidence. Might not be long before Garrett does see the light of day.
Switch back to ’08. Garrett finds Al in pain on the floor, his heart aching. He’s writhing in agony. “This is it,” he says. Death is coming for him. So Al begs his friend: “Help me die.” Of course Garrett refuses. The begging becomes desperate until finally he agrees to help Al along the way. He holds a pillow over the man’s face and eases him into the afterlife.
Seeing this, can we actually now say that Garrett was an accomplice to murder? Definitely not in the first hand sense. He could barely help a dying man go ahead and die. There’s reason to suspect he may not be a killer whatsoever.
Then 2016 rolls around, and Garrett heads back to the city when his father’s ready to die. Present day, he sits behind the walls of prison. On the television he watches Jennifer Windham reporting on the Silver Bells Killer. Someone holds her hostage, making her read a note claiming himself as the true accomplice.

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In 2002, after Madeline walked in on Garrett with the blood stains over him, the knife in his hand, she asks what he’s done. The young Garrett replies: “He tried to kill me.”
Everything gets deeper and deeper, with every turn.
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A solid entry into the first season. Great episode! Suspenseful, mysterious.
Next is “The Veteran in a New Field” and is titled so after an 1865 painting by Winslow Homer depicting a man using a scythe in an open, empty field. You can find that painting here.