Tagged The Silver Bells Killer

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 10: “The Veteran in a New Field”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 10: “The Veteran in a New Field”
Directed by David Barrett
Written by Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 9, “The Oxbow” – click here
* For a review of Episode 11, “Freedom from Fear” – click here
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Boston is now terrorised by The Silver Bells Killer, all over again.
Detectives Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) and Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) are still working the case, as Madeline Hawthorne (Virginia Madsen) does her best to get her son Garrett (Antony Starr) out of legal trouble.
There’s a silver bell found at Jennifer Windham’s murder scene. One with the same indentation as the ones left in the original crimes. So, it couldn’t be a copycat. It has to be the accomplice himself.
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Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Madeline both have to cooperate with the detectives. However, we know for sure that Mama Hawthorne has big secrets to hide. Mostly Alison has a couple skeletons – sexual in nature – but her mother has festering, rotten things hiding in her past. We’re soon going to see them start spilling out. I can feel it.
Well, Garrett meets with his younger sister Tess (Megan Ketch). She wants to know why he wouldn’t answer her question last episode, about whether he actually killed anybody. Her trust and belief in him is broken. “Cryptic comments” and “evasiveness” have her less than impressed. Then he tells his sister about Al Jenkins, that old chestnut. A mercy killing, essentially. But Tess understands. She isn’t disgusted or scared of her brother. Now, they have a closer connection, as he’s never told anyone else about Al’s death. He further reveals Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is pregnant, even if their relationship isn’t exactly stellar. Can the will to love a child overcome the genetics of the Hawthorne family? It’s like a gamble having a baby in that clan.
Meanwhile there’s Cam (Justin Chatwin), whose time in rehab is coming to a close. He’s done well, obviously. He wants to get to know April (Bethany Joy Lenz) more, although she sticks pretty closely to the whole concept of rehabilitation and not pursuing romantic relationships so soon out. We’ll see how well that sticks.
Cutter has Alison in for a chat, a.k.a interrogation. When Brady finds his partner giving his sister-in-law the third degree, he isn’t happy. Not that anybody needs to protect Alison; she’s a bad ass. Either way, she and Brady get to sit down for a conversation instead, which leads to her admitting she may know who murdered Jennifer – Mayor Conley (Enrico Colantoni). Reason being is that Alison asked Jennifer to dig into him, his past, et cetera. Then she ends up dead. Alison gives Brady the pictures of Cutter with the mayor, and now he’s becoming a lot more interested in this seemingly wild conspiracy theory. It’s a tall accusation. If it’s true there is no telling who’s to trust. Both Brady and Alison understand this already.
At home, Madeline finds a window open and several belts all laid out on a chair. Eerie. She thinks perhaps Jack (Gabriel Bateman) did it, and y’know, it isn’t exactly out of the realm of possibility. Yet she doesn’t think much more of it after the kid denies. Even eerier.
Then there’s Jack’s mother Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas). She encourages the weird behaviour of their child by doing a project with him that consists of plenty blood (fake stuff). She needs help, but doesn’t have the self-awareness of Cam. I’m not looking forward to how things play out with this little family simply because of the drugs involved; you know there’s bad business on its way.
Sneaky Madeline finds out that the accomplice was likely at Mitch’s funeral, from a new detective on the case. Then, she calls him (we assume it’s a man). Tess hears part of their conversation, not all. Enough to be suspicious.
So, who could it be? Someone we’ve already seen? Or someone brand new to the audience? All we know is, even more so now, that Madeline knows plenty more than she has ever let on. To anybody. And maybe Garrett holds some keys to that knowledge. For the time being, Tess is smart enough to do some Caller ID magic and get the last dialled number: somebody named Caleb O’Connor.

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Busy Garrett has things to do. His younger brother doesn’t want him to leave again. He worries for Jack and wants Garrett, admired by the boy, to stick around. “Its your call,” Cam tells Garrett. Before his brother heads out again, who knows where.
When the unlikely pair of Alison and Brady suss out a safe in a picture behind the wall at Jennifer’s place, they stumble upon a flash drive full of information on Conley.
Speaking of the Mayor of Boston, he and Cutter are being confronted by Brady and Alison. There’s recorded audio of Cutter and Conley talking about evidence being destroyed. But what evidence? When Morales was murdered, all those years ago, Conley was at his house. A cuff-link was lost, so Cutter was brought in, a young naive cop: $25K to lose some evidence. The Mayor has an alibi, unfortunately. There goes that theory.
At the Hawthorne mansion Madeline finds her purse filled with bells. In the background, a bell sounds. She’s distracted for the rest of the evening. Until Tess asks about Caleb – that’s the affair Madeline had back then. Yowzahs.
Anyway, you know that Jack’s presentation at History Night has got to be something special. He narrates while his mother helps with sound effects in the background. He tells of the big molasses spill. And suddenly, his weirdness is enjoyable, not creepy. Everybody laughs, his mother smiles. Jack is a happy, odd little boy.
Brady’s being put on leave for a conflict of interest, which surprisingly didn’t happen sooner. Strangely enough, he thinks that Garrett might actually have had something to do with the murders after all. Really? There’s so much mystery, it’s hard to tell.
An awkward moment comes when Jack and his father are out for a day together. Jack gets some gummies. When he pays $20 for it, Cam wonders why it costs so much. Mom’s been sending her boy to get candies with drugs strapped on the inside. Certainly not a happy situation. “He never knew,” she says hoping to excuse her behaviour. That’s the last straw. If not, Cam would be insane. He’ll get full custody of their boy and it’s no longer just a possibility. She doesn’t deserve to have that child. I’m just afraid she may do something awful.
Out in a public park, Tess and Alison meet with Caleb. He looks like any other regular dude. Nothing strange, immediately. What they get out of the meeting is that Mitch wasn’t dragging Caleb the night of their fight; so who did Papa Hawthorne pull down the stairs back in the day? What did Cam truly see?
All sorts of old secrets are bubbling under the surface. Madeline is constantly holding them back. When her children confront her, she’s backed into a corner.

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The homage to Winslow Homer’s painting, from which the title of the episode comes, happens as Garrett digs a hole out in a field. What exactly is he doing out there? He’s got the machinery to harvest corn and everything.
He hasn’t been digging a hole so much as he’s dug up a grave. Down there sits a skeleton. He starts to take it out, preparing to mulch it into dust. Oh, Garrett: what have you done? Things get much more intense when Brady shows up, having followed his brother-in-law to the field. Uh oh.
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What a great chapter! Really dig this one. Things get more twisty, then they take you back for a loop and make you see certain events and plots in a different lot. Fun writing. Next episode is “Freedom from Fear” and is based on a painting by Norman Rockwell from 1943 (the last of a series called Four Freedoms).

American Gothic – Episode 8: “Kindred Spirits”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 8: “Kindred Spirits”
Directed by Lexi Alexander
Written by Deidre Shaw

* For a review of Episode 7, “The Gross Clinic” – click here
* For a review of Episode 9,”The Oxbow” – click here
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Who are the titular “Kindred Spirits” and where will we find the influence of Asher Brown Durand’s 1849 painting in this episode? You can find the painting here, so look out for where the painting might be recreated or referenced.
So is Madeline Hawthorne (Virginia Madsen) accomplice to her husband’s crimes?
Garrett (Antony starr) is trying to get a lump sum of money out of his mother. Says it’s “in the familys best interest” to be paid. At the Boston Eastside Clinic, he gives them a bunch of it. He gives it all away. Perhaps a way for him to assuage his guilt.
Cam (Justin Chatwin) is headed into rehab. All over the news, too. In fact, the Hawthornes are being targeted quite fierce in the media by a young reporter named Jennifer Windham (Sarah Power). Certainly doesn’t help things. And Cam, he’s trying his best to kick that habit; he winds up meeting a fan of his comic Roger’s Cube, a nurse  named April (Bethany Joy Lenz).
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Detectives Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) and Brady Ross (Elliot Knight) continue trying to figure out who was the second hand in the Silver Bells murders. A hit and run accident may hold the key.
Aunt Tessa (Megan Ketch) is looking after crazy little Jack (Gabriel Bateman), as well as meeting with her doctor. I feel awful for her in a lot of ways. She’s been swept up in a whirlwind of different emotions, which are all crashing up against one another. Tess is at least trying to do something for the kid. She takes him to a camp for… strange kids. I don’t know. Regardless, Jack doesn’t seem totally adverse to the idea.
Ms. Windham gets a visit from mother-daughter team, Alison (Juliet Rylance) and Madeline. They might’ve pushed too hard in the wrong direction. Not only that, she has lots of information on the Hawthorne family. Even knowing that Jack’s out at the creepy kid camp meeting an equally creepy young lady named Sadie (Aviv Cohen); she might harbour some of the tendencies.
Well, Garrett and the rest of the clan are now determined to dig up the “source” of all their troubles.
Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas) goes to visit Cam. She seems on the outside of her little family, as her husband is in there cleaning up, trying hard, just like her son, too. Maybe there’s hope after all. If only she weren’t totally full of shit most of the time.
Out on their search, Dts. Cutter and Ross come across a house in the woods. There, they meet an old woman named Ramona Canby (Clare Coulter). They’re looking for her husband, James. Except he’s dead now nearly three decades. And the car the detectives were tracking got stolen twenty years back.
Problem for Tess now is that she’s scared of passing on the horrific Hawthorne gene to her child. Infecting it with the want for violence and murder, like her father. Most likely the same with young Jack. Speaking of the boy, he and Sadie are getting closer; he mentions Garrett having a cabin near the camp. Also that he was suspected of being a serial killer, which interests twisted Miss Sady.
Alison and Garrett sit on Jennifer’s place, waiting to follow her, figure out to whom she’s been talking. The brother and sister reconnect slightly, but then they find out it’s Tom (Dylan Bruce), her husband. He is the source. Yikes. Their marriage is rough.
When Brady suggests there’s something bigger at play, Cutter shuts him down. However, you can see that he’s not willing to let that go totally. Better than that his keen eye discovers that old widow Canby lied. She had a program from Mitchell’s funeral in her home.

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The 1849 Durand painting is given literal homage when the two kindred spirits in Jack and Sadie emulate the men in the picture, standing out in the woods above the forest, as if lords of the world. Dark lords, but still. They soon find Garrett’s cabin out there. Sadie fires a small crossbow nearly taking Jack’s head off. Then their bright idea is to play a bit of William Tell. Only Jack can’t bring himself to do it proving he may not be as sick as we thought. Definitely a tad too curious, though.
Sophie unsuccessfully tries getting April fired. This probably only drives Cam closer to the sweet nurse. She helps the guy, quite a bit. Further aiding him in realising that “Cam is to heroin as Cam is to Sophie” – a hate/love, burning bright and hanging low type of love. Nasty. Yet necessary.
When more personal Hawthorne details, including Tess’ pregnancy, make it out into the news, Garrett locates a bug transmitting from the dining room. That’s why Jennifer bumped into Tom at the house, where he had sex with her, after which she planted the device. Oh, man. Tom is one real dimwitted man. Nevertheless, Tess and Brady are at odds now because of the big pregnancy news, and she isn’t even too happy about bringing a child into a “horrific family legacy.” Their argument leads to him telling her Papa Hawthorne was working with an accomplice.
Meanwhile, the detectives go back to the Canby place at night. Front door wide open. Ramona lying dead on the floor. More victims of The Silver Bells Killer.
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Alison confronts Jennifer with the bug, plus the truth about her and Tom. She’s a pretty intimidating lady when she wants to be, just like mother. She does a good psychological job on the young reporter. This rolls into Jennifer being pressured to do positive spins for the Hawthorne family. Along with a little humiliation. What a scene, wow!
In rehab, Cam tells Sophie they’re finished. “This is not what I want anymore, you are not what I want anymore,” he confesses coldly. That’s what true rehabilitation often means for those with friends or loved ones who are also addicts, or enablers. Sad, yet true. I know all too well.
Things with Tess are smoothing out. She’s feeling more confident about the baby, the family and life with Brady. Calm before the storm, I imagine.
At home, Alison, Madeline, and Garrett toast their latest success. Everybody’s friends, everyone is happy. Only Alison doesn’t know everything about her mother, or her brother. Most interesting is when Jack gets sent home from camp to Tess – he’s found with the knife he lifted from Garrett’s cabin. Just so happens Brady sees the chip in it, the missing piece, literally, to his puzzle. At least partly. The chip is in evidence, photographed clearly. Once Jack tells Brady the knife is from the cabin, things changed. Quickly.
So is Garrett the true accomplice? Or are we being led astray once more?

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Great, great episode. One of my favourites. This was creepy, some new things came to light, and we’re consistently thrown off in regards to Garrett. Next up is “The Oxbow” and it’s named for the 1836 oil canvas by Thomas Cole – the actual name of the painting is View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, but The Oxbow is the common name.

American Gothic – Episode 7: “The Gross Clinic”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 7: “The Gross Clinic”
Directed by Steph Green
Written by Aaron Fullerton

* For a review of Episode 6, “The Chess Players” – click here
* For a review of Episode 8, “Kindred Spirits” – click here
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To start, this episode is named after the painting by Thomas Eakins from 1875.
Last we saw Garrett (Antony Starr), he was not doing so well. Christina Morales (Catalina Sandino Moreno) is telling her side of the story, given the news that Garrett’s father was a match for The Silver Bells Killer. Supposedly.
The Hawthorne matriarch, Madeline (Virginia Madsen), is dealing with the fallout of the revelation that her husband was Silver Bells. Did she know? Well, for now we’re not sure. But then Garrett reveals that 14 years ago he found rope, bells, in his father’s things. He didn’t know what to believe. The day after, Christina’s father was killed. This made for a confrontation between father and son. He promised to come back if ever there were another Silver Bells murder. While Tess (Megan Ketch) isn’t impressed he didn’t tell them their father was a murderer, Alison (Juliet Rylance) isn’t so much shocked as she is at least relieved to know her brother isn’t the killer. Doesn’t make it any better.
Oh, and Garrett tells Cam (Justin Chatwin) he needs a little favour. Hmm.
Brady (Elliot Knight) apologises to his wife for jumping the gun on Garrett. He tries his best to assure her, about their marriage and so on. At the same time, she’s struggling to cope with the fact her father was a serial killer. Hard to reconcile. Although she tries. By smashing an ornament he once gave her; it’s a start.
Something sparks in Brady, though. He feels something isn’t quite right. Not yet.
This is confirmed more once we know there’s more to Garrett and his revelation. “Its best to let your father take the fall for everything,” his mother comforts him. I always knew there was more to Madeline and her part in this than any of what we know already.
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Tess: “Was my dad real? Was Mitchell Hawthorne just a character that he played to seem normal so people wouldnt suspect he was a killer? Or was he just a normal guy with this desire?”


The comment about hot air ballooning from Tess, about her father taking her out for her birthday, leads Brady to believe maybe Mitchell could not have killed his victim and made it back in time to the Hawthorne mansion. It all doesn’t make sense. And Detective Linda Cutter (Deirdre Lovejoy) is on to his doubts, she knows there needs to be a “Scully” to his “Mulder” so he stays on the rails.
A growing rift is cracking open between Tom (Dylan Bruce) and Alison. He wonders if there’s any reason to hold onto their marriage if she and Naomi (Maureen Sebastian) are actually in love. Tom doesn’t like their former arrangement. Not that there’s major feelings involved at this point. Either she ends it, or he isn’t going to be able to stick around much longer.
Cam goes to see Christina, to let her know Garrett wants to explain what happened. That’s not so easy. She doesn’t want anything to do with their tainted family. Can’t say I blame her, either. Plus, Cam is still wrestling with his addiction, and being out in the streets away from his closed in family protection only tempts. Most troubling is Tess, who’s still dealing with mental issues. She looks on the verge of a panic attack. With everything happening, it’ll only get worse.
Falling off the wagon, Cam is found out by Tess right as he’s ready to get high. This prompts another round of rehab. Their boy Jack (Gabriel Bateman) was stranded at school while they were blasting to the moon. So this time Cam knows he fucked up. He even wants Tess to look after his boy instead of Sophie (Stephanie Leonidas). She is one absolute mess of a person.
Over at the first SBK murder house, Brady and Cutter are starting to work on their recreation of the scene, to see if there’s any reason they ought to be suspicious of Mitchell being named the killer. Meanwhile, Garrett tries explaining to Tess why he did what he did; only we know he’s lying. Every bit if made up. So what’s the real truth? Who killed those people? Was it Garrett, or was it dear ole mom? Let’s wait to see more of the mystery trickle down. Me, I’m starting to really, really worry about young Jack. He’s a twisted little bastard. Doesn’t help that he has a sick uncle.
Note: our interpretation of Eakins’ The Gross Clinic comes when Garrett takes Jack to see a corpse in the hospital; the picture is recreated with a doctor giving a lecture, as medical students look through the inside of a body.

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See the real painting here

Brady and Cutter figure out the timeline is close, but possible. Just too close. The new owner of the house gives them a bit of information about a security system installed in the house due to a “Feng Shui bandit” back during that era. What Cutter believes is that it could’ve been SBK’s first attempt before going full-on murderer.
When Alison decides to concede defeat in her campaign, mom slaps her face. However, I believe Madeline is more concerned with her image, the family, not Alison in particular. She wants her dead husband to take the fall, once and for all, and to put the SBK saga behind them. “You will not squander this, for either of us,” she tells her daughter sternly. So rather than give up, Alison fights her family’s newly uncovered history.
In the hospital, Garrett gets a visit from Christina. We can’t be so sure exactly why he’s been stalking her. Is it guilt? Seems to me like maybe part of it has to do with guilt, in some way, shape, or form. She wants to know more, but there’s no guaranteeing that even if he decides to say anything further that it will be the truth. Luckily, Christina gauges his pulse from the monitors, as he reels off lies. “Last chance,” she tells him. To this, no response. He isn’t ready to tell any truths.
And scary little Jack, he’s luring his cousins out onto a pool that’s covered. This is just great. Another sicko in the family. The way he watches one of the cousins flail in the pool is downright evil. He’s got that nasty family gene. When Tess asks why Jack didn’t call for help, he simply replies: “It was science. I wanted to see how oxygen deprivation affected her brain.” Holy flip. That’s seriously muffed up. This all makes Tess try to get her brother to consider getting Jack serious help. Like any sane, caring sister would do.
Later, Tess gets a little good news: she’s pregnant. No guarantee the child won’t come out a budding serial killer, by the looks of the current progeny. Rolling the dice on that one, and it’s exactly what she’s thinking, too.


Mommy and Garrett have another bedside chat. “Im done, mom,” he explains. “Cant keep starinpeople I love in the eye and lying to them.” Except Madeline doesn’t agree. There’s something breaking through in Garrett. He’s curious if maybe his father started wanting to get the truth out, and she killed him off. We know what she did. Now, her son knows, as well. And there’s no coming back from it. The secrets come out, then they’re never able to be crammed back in.
What will Madeline do to further ensure her own secrets are kept locked up tight?
When Brady and Cutter track down surveillance footage of a break-in across the street from SBK’s first murder scene, they discover there were two people in the car that night. Somebody else was driving for Mitchell.
…and then there were two.
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So excited to see the next episode. This was one of my personal favourites because of the switch up on how I thought things were going. Still some unexpected surprises. Next episode is titled “Kindred Spirits” after a painting by Asher Brown Duran from 1849, which depicts a painter and a poet together in the Catskill Mountains.

American Gothic – Episode 6: “The Chess Players”

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
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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.
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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.
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Sophie: “Your family thinks Im the poison in your life, but its 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.
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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. “Its 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.
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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.

American Gothic – Episode 1: “Arrangement in Grey and Black”

CBS’ American Gothic
Episode 1: “Arrangement in Grey & Black”
Directed by Matt Shakman
Written by Corinne Brinkerhoff

* For a review of Episode 2, “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” – click here
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To start, I dig how they’ve named the episodes after famous paintings, in line with the name of their series being American Gothic. Arrangement in Grey and Black is better known as Whistler’s Mother painted by James McNeill Whistler in the latter half of the 19th century. The next episode, “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”, comes from a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. So that’s at least a fun aspect to he writing off the bat.
We begin in Boston, Massachusetts. A car is crushed in a tunnel, as a couple are headed towards the wife’s parents place – this is Tessa Ross (Megan Ketch) and her husband Brady (Elliot Knight), a police officer who just got a big promotion. She’s a Hawthorne. Her father is Mitchell Hawthorne (Jamey Sheridan), her mother Madeline (Virginia Madsen). They’re a grand group, including artist and former drug addict Cam (Justin Chatwin), his son Jack (Gabriel Bateman) also a budding and excellent artist in his own right. Can’t forget Alison Hawthorne-Price (Juliet Rylance), a big mover and shaker – heading off the fact Hawthorne Concrete supplied material for the part of the tunnel collapse that nearly took out Tessa and Brady. There’s a whole bunch. And a whole bunch of things going on. Seems like there’s a run for office in the family’s current life. Alison wants to be mayor.
What’s most interesting? Inside part of the bridge that fell, jammed inside the concrete, is a belt. One used in a murder, possibly. It was linked to a serial killer committing what was dubbed The Silver Bells Murders.
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So now this is the drama. There’s confusion, paranoia, tension about to come out. Did someone in the Hawthorne family dispose of a body in a string of killings using the family company? Or could it have been an employee, someone like that? There’s many things going on. We hear talk of Garrett (Antony Starr) earlier, having his picture taken down by Madeline, so there’s obviously an immediate idea that maybe the obvious black sheep might’ve done something bad. Afterwards, we learn that Garrett is just off the grid somewhere, disappeared. Yet patriarch Mitchell goes and has a heart attack; guilt, maybe? Could he be the Silver Bells Killer? Oh my.
At the hospital while the family waits, we also meet Sophie Hawthorne (Stephanie Leonidas), estranged wife of Cam. She’s very punk rock, seems chic, though there’s clearly a bad history between the two. Inside, Mitchell recovers from his attack. He wakes up mumbling about the tunnel; why – does he worry about the structural failure, or does he worry about what’s inside? Can’t wait to find more. The intrigue is fun to start. Let’s see if the writing can keep that playing out nicely.
Later at home, we see more of the family dynamics. Tessa wants to help her brother Cam, as he searches for his drugs after being clean a whole year. So there’s a bond between family members, rather than a typical Hollywood-style rich family that we always see, siblings at one another’s throats, and so on. She helps him trying to track down the drugs he’s stashed, so they can toss it out. Only – you guessed it! – they stumble across something else: Silver Bells, newspapers about the S.B.K. murders. Ahh shit. Tess naively believes it may be the previous house’s owner. Cam wonders if perhaps their father collected memorabilia concerning the case, tracking the newspaper clippings; just as naive


Except now, everything is suspicious. Cam sees the silver bells everywhere, even in the morning staring at the shower head, that looks just like a silver bell. Creepier still, there’s stuff on ole grandpa’s iPad about the murders, so says little Jack. Man, oh, man. That is damn unsettling. I dig the macabre elements of the show so far in this first episode, despite its soapy-ish feel at times. Both the siblings are set on their own quest, each rattled by the notion their father possibly has links, somehow, some way, to the Silver Bells Murders.
Meanwhile, Tess finds long lost brother Garrett returning out of nowhere. She and Cam head out with him to the hospital. Lots of strange stuff happening, and plenty of rich family dynamics to play off. We find Garrett’s been living in Maine, reading lots of books (Stephen King maybe?). He didn’t come out for Cam’s wedding. Not Tess’, either. All the same, he seems happy to be there with them. A little standoff-ish, but glad. At the hospital, he’s received well enough. With surprise, hugs. A bit of awkwardness. Alison looks a bit shocked to see her brother.
Back at the Hawthorne mansion, Garrett settles into his old room. For however long he’ll be around. The memories of his life there are surrounding him. For some reason I don’t think they’re all so great. “Youre weird,” his nephew Jack tells him:”Its okay. Im weird, too.” When Madeline is alone with her newly reappeared son she wonders why he’s back, after saying he never would be. In another room, Tess asks her detective husband about killers, whether they seem like normal people. Similar to SBK, he mentions BTK, and how that guy seemed absolutely fine to everyone around him – a Scout leader and everything. This worries Tess, thinking of her father and the Silver Bells Murders. Still can’t count Garrett out. Next morning, instead of shaving with a razor he uses a knife, and better still claims he’s “used to” that method. Yowzahs.


The plot thickens. Cam suggests to Tess that 14 years ago, when the Silver Bells Murders stopped, their older brother Garrett simultaneously left town. Hmm. They further bring it to their powerful sister Alison. She starts believing it’s likely some type of way to smear the family: destroy Mitchell’s legacy, destroy her campaign for mayor. Problem is the newspaper the two also found, the one from their newspaper, a cartoon Cam drew. Too suggestive. Alison won’t believe the concept her father could be a serial killer, neither will she entertain the notion it’s Garrett, nor anyone else in the Hawthorne family. She’d rather put it away until after the election. Morally ambiguous. Alison says it’s a “weird box of bells” and nothing solid. I’m inclined to believe something, anything, different. For now, they agree to set things aside. Nah. Cam and Tess aren’t doing that, you can bet your ass. Again, there’s a nice soapy quality to the show that I actually dig. Not usually my thing, but these are good actors and they help sell it. The writing’s a bit dark, campy, yet still unnerving at times. There’s potential.
Scariest yet? Young Jack appears to have a bit of a sick mind. He’s doing experiments on their cat Caramel. Cutting off the tail to see what happens. Then he wants to see the vet sow it back on. You sick little freak! There’s obviously a drop or two of weird blood in this family, regardless of whether someone in it is the Silver Bells Killer. Although, this Jack moment only makes us wonder if there’s serial killer genes flowing already.


Alison finds out later that one of her little daughters heard uncle Garrett say some interesting things to grandpa Mitchell earlier. “Im gonna tell them it was you,” Garrett says quietly to his father. Oh my! This now has Alison in a mental frenzy. Me, too. There’s lots of nice intrigue to start with this episode. Lots of ways this could possibly end up, and that’s fun. This one line by Garrett might mean that he simply hates his father, hoping to use the tunnel collapse to make things seem like it was him implicating him in the murder. Or perhaps it’s Garrett having committed the crimes alone, hating his father, wanting to pin them on dear dad. Or further still, maybe father and son committed the murders together, and now Garrett wants to use his father’s death to escape the law. Who knows. Maybe it’s none of the above. From his hospital bed, Mitchell tells his wife “We have to tell the truth” and then not long after that she… helps him die. Well, you could say that. You could also say she kills him. That’d be much more accurate. Now there’s absolutely no telling which vein this story’s about to find its way through. And I think that’s spectacular.

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Lots of fun intrigue, interesting characters coupled with fantastic actors like Antony Starr and Virginia Madsen and Justin Chatwin. There is plenty of room to grow and expand. Sure, it’s campy and it has an almost soap opera-like quality in certain scenes. But overall it is enjoyable. Looking forward to “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” – what will it bring? Stay with me and we’ll find out together.