David E. Kelley’s latest series “Love and Death” (he wrote all of the episodes while Lesli Linka Glatter directed most of the series’ seven episodes, including the pilot episode) is based on the true story of a Dallas suburban housewife, Candy Montgomery, who was accused of the brutal axe murder of her friend Betty Gore in 1980. The crime has fascinated writers and filmmakers ever since, lending itself to several books and teleplays and, as recently as last year, Hulu’s “Candy” with Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey.
From the first four first episodes, which I binged-watched, of course, “ Love and Death” is the superior offering and likely to become the definitive media version of the events that unfolded on Friday the 13th of June 1980, four weeks to the day after the release of the movie “The Empire Strikes Back” which plays an essential part in the story.
The series’ success is due, in large part, to Elizabeth Olsen who is spectacular as Montgomery, a Texas housewife who had checked off all the boxes in her Baby Boomer to-do list:
- she’s beautiful.
- she has the house of her dreams in the beautiful, clean, and safe Dallas suburb of Wylie.
- she has the husband of her dreams (an excellent Patrick Fugit) who is cute in a geeky sort of way and has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering with links to the burgeoning space shuttle program.
- she has two beautiful children.
- and she has a bunch of equally close-knit and accomplished friends whose social lives revolve around the choir at their Sunday Methodist church services.
Unfortunately, like a lot of her fellow Boomers – the first generation to have everything – she can’t help asking: “Is That All There Is?” The “perfect” wife with a type A take-charge personality, she had the bad luck to be born just a little too soon to have a career of her own, and all that intelligence and pent-up energy go into myriad religious and secular activities that are now beginning to feel stale. There is also her creative writing class, which Kelley and Glatter have fun with without ever being snide or condescending. One of the blessings of this series is that we see the social cage in which, despite their innumerable comforts, the women of this era were imprisoned. And we also see, through Candy’s eyes, the few means of escape that are open to them.
It is at a church volleyball game that Candy literally collides with Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons). She falls to the ground and, as he helps her up, she has an epiphany: she is attracted to him despite his being overweight with a bad haircut. HE SMELLS Of SEX she tells her best friend played by Krysten Ritter and, although warned by her departing pastor played by Elizabeth Marvel she still proceeds but in typical Candy fashion. First, she tells Allan matter-of-factly how she feels about him and then after many meetings over lunch and making out an in-depth list of do’s and don’ts, they begin their affair in December 1978.
Jesse Plemons and Lilly Rabe are also very impressive as Allan and Betty Gore. With Betty’s history of depression and angry outbursts, it at least makes sense that Allan would seek solace during those illicit afternoons in Candy’s arms.
Because she was the victim, Betty does not get the attention and shaded character study that Olsen gives to Candy. Rabe, however, does wonders with her relatively small part investing her character with little touches of humor despite Betty’s generally sour disposition. She makes a lasting impression on the viewer and, when Betty is killed on that fateful day, you grieve for her.
We are now due for episode number 5. Allan confesses to the police that he was having an affair with Candy. She is arrested for Betty’s murder and the trial begins.