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
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 what‘s 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.
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.
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.
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.