Candy Montgomery, the infamous 1980’s suburban housewife who killed her friend Betty Gore after a torrid affair with Betty’s husband Allan, is portrayed here as a dissatisfied and increasingly Eros-driven woman whose drives and desires lead to Thanatos... sex to violence. It’s an interesting, adeptly performed tale of suburban angst turned lustful destruction, but one that fails to fully land despite the dramatic gravity of its premise.
Jessica Biel has a complex turn as the titular murderess, a thin veneer of professional suburban housewifery pasted over a deep disdain for her own humdrum life. She opts for an affair (in a community where divorce is heartily frowned upon) with equally dissatisfied Allan (Pablo Schreiber in a great performance, radiating ‘sexiest dad in the neighborhood’ energy). Allan enters the narrative in an already tough spot—constantly on the road from work and unattracted to wife Betty (a wonderful Melanie Lynskey), who understandably radiates perpetual distrust towards him, and the series soon builds to a three-way pot of boiling neighborhood tension. When Allan and Betty start intensive marriage counseling while the former begins to cancel clandestine rendezvous with Candy, tensions continue to escalate.
All the major players do a wonderful job in their respective roles, most particularly Biel as the deceptive, self-deceptive, and charismatic Candy. The nuances, swift and tactical shifts, and predatory edge of the character are so well handled in a performance that calls to mind her excellent turn in The Sinner’s electric first season. Lynskey also brings incredible empathy and emotion to the cornered and motherhood-trapped Betty (although much of the limited season sees her character written in a rather one-note way, though she manages to pull a lot from that terrain).
There’s real drama here, and how could there not be given the incredible stakes we know it’s building towards. Unfortunately, some of that is hampered by the editing, and a sometimes oddly executed choice to time jump both frequently and often within an episode. Especially in the first two episodes, the series introduces needless confusion in hopping between violent present and innocuous past. The series’ first episode in particular also makes the choice to situate us early on in the humdrum monotony of suburban life via making us experience it... baby crying, left alone, community meetings, repeat. While their dissatisfaction does come across, its a long and slow set up that takes the majority of the pilot’s runtime to be engaging, and without being grabbed it’s a little hard to see where these redundant scenes tie in or why, to put it bluntly, we should care.
Adding to this, it would also help if the series would lean a little less on making the viewer experience suburban malaise in monotonous Texas (with all its repetitive plain living and tightly shot indoor locations) and add a little variety for the viewing experience—salacious things are happening, we don’t need to be bored to understand characters’ boredom. That isn’t to say that the series is entirely repetitive or suffers from nothing to engage with or latch onto, but it still very much leans too far in that undesirable direction (and particularly in the first three episodes of five). Essentially, a number of small cinematic choices build overall to a series that could have made the ride something unforgettable and simply wasn’t.