No amount of turns the world takes around the sun will lessen the intrigue of seeing the title card read, “This is a true story.” Sure, we’ve been burned a few times. By the time the movie or show ended, we were looking at the reflection of ourselves on the screens, feeling like absolute doofuses for taking the bait. But I’m here to assure you that the same is not the case with Love And Death. Although by the time you get through the first three episodes and have already given little bits and pieces of your heart to the people and their lives, chances are, you would wish that they were fictional, and the horrid fate didn’t befall them. Bringing her Wanda mind-palace-esque housewife to the hellish tale of Love And Death, Elizabeth Olsen summons a ray-of-sunshine murderer who wasn’t charged with the murder of her lover’s pregnant wife. There are no surprises to be found down the line. But the charm of Love And Death lies beyond its true crime quirks.
A Very 80s Texas
The church in Love And Death makes the atheist in me want to join it. That’s partly because I’ve hardly ever seen a church like the one Candy goes to and also because I adore Elizabeth Marvel as Jackie, the preacher. The heart and the talk of the town, Candy is the picture-perfect housewife with a sarcastic little smile on her face, even when her heart is submerged in an ocean of discontentment. If anyone were ever born at the wrong time, that would be Candy Montgomery, wife to the mathematician and the church’s best choir singer, Pat. It’s only painfully obvious that a bright woman like Candy would want more from life than being the perfect housewife. But when a certain role is expected of you and playing the part is all you’ve known all your life, how do you make sense of the black hole of warmth in your heart? Candy isn’t made for a life or chores and settling for the uninspired.
A husband who barely has the headspace to appreciate the blessing that she is and would rather crack up at the supremely misogynistic Rodney Dangerfield’s jokes than read things she writes isn’t someone who can keep Candy happy. So what does she do when the four walls of her ship-shape home close in on her? Candy walks out and into the crowds of her congregation, all of whom are practically smitten by her. I mean, who wouldn’t be? Well, all except Betty Gore. And it isn’t even that Betty doesn’t like Candy. It would suffice to say that she’s not particularly fond of anybody whatsoever. Severely misdiagnosed and profusely medicated for her wrecked mental health, Betty means to regain a sense of control over herself by being ferociously authoritarian. Her otherwise mellow husband, Allan, is under her baton-wielding dictatorship, even in the bedroom. So you can imagine Allan walking on eggshells around his wife so as not to trigger her at all. Things only take a turn for the worse when Betty gets pregnant with her second, and her depression skyrockets almost overnight. The very curious antithesis to Betty’s wonderful yet troubled personality, Candy cloaks her enraged unhappiness perfectly well. Needless to say, having a true friend in Sherry who wouldn’t judge her even if she had killed a person (oh boy!) certainly helps Candy release all the tension that she holds within herself.
A Strange Affair
Sometimes small outbursts of risky spontaneity turn out to be the most consequential mistakes. There’s only one part of her life that Candy deemed safe enough to use as an endlessly giant room to scream out in, and that was her romantic life. Pat was hardly ever in the headspace to even notice if she was straying. So when life placed the good ol’ Allan in her way in a whole new wrapper which might have been the circumstance’s conniving doing, Candy was convinced that she wanted to have an adventure with him because there’s no risk of falling in love. She might not even have gone through with it if her support system, Jackie, hadn’t moved away and left her post as the church parishioner. Like a child throwing a tantrum, Candy takes it upon herself to riot against the overwhelming change that is headed her way, and you know that she’s bold enough to offer herself up to Allan. And as fate would have it, handling the change and the obnoxious new pastor has been taking a massive toll on Betty’s already disturbed state of mind.
By Allan’s own admission, Betty loathes change. If being pregnant with no functional, emotional support available to her isn’t hard enough on Betty, the new pastor’s garish entitlement is triggering her to no end. For a man who has never found it easy to care for another person’s emotions, Allan has, for his entire married life, reduced himself to nothing if it meant that he wouldn’t have to have difficult conversations with his wife. The way he gave up on his career, which took him away from his wife, who’s terrified of being alone, may come off as a noble sacrifice on his part. But since when has it ever been that simple with the creatures of our species? Allan feared losing his family.
Sure, it was partly born out of something he believes is his love for his wife, but it was mostly because he was insecure that this was the best that his life could ever get. How would a man who’s never been the center of attention and has sadly paid his dues for not being conventionally attractive react when an unbelievably attractive, not to mention married, woman offers herself up to him? You bet he gives in after a lot of tumultuous back and forth within his own mind and with Candy, that is. The wound of Betty cheating on him when he was away for work is still excruciating for Allan. Not wanting to hurt their spouses and risk the ruination of their families doesn’t stand as a hard enough blockade on their path to commencing an affair. The seedy motels and the way Allan worships her existence make life significantly better for Candy. And being able to loosen up with someone who isn’t critical of everything he does and says makes Allan feel like he’s living a dream. Human connections are the strangest phenomena. Morally approvable or not, as a species, we ceaselessly seek growth and redefinitions of who we are and who we’ve been. And Candy and Allan really seem to like who they’ve become now that their paths have crossed.
Trouble In The Makeshift Paradise
If there’s one thing Love And Death has been phenomenal at capturing, it is the ever-controversial gray area of a person’s psyche. The meanings and definitions of good and bad often tangle up and intermingle with each other to birth an overwhelming sense of holding on to goodness while falling short as an upstanding person. Neither Allan nor Candy wishes to cause any harm to their families. But who knows how desire works? It doesn’t even have to be carnal per se. Any sort of hedonistic expedition that defies the rules of good and bad is sometimes the only thing that makes a person feel alive. It isn’t easy for Candy to go behind her friend’s back and betray her, especially when she genuinely cares about Betty. And there’s no one Betty would rather trust to babysit her kids than Candy.
You can’t even say that Candy’s involvement in Betty’s life is born out of guilt when she has always been there for Betty, even when it was hard to be around her. You would think that when two more or less good and sensible people do something wrong, maybe they can pull it off without making their lives fall apart. But closeness has its cons. It isn’t just that Candy and Allan can’t stand steady on their resolve to not get emotionally attached; it is also that Allan isn’t inherently a good liar, and that helps Betty get a whiff of the fact that her husband isn’t into her anymore. And when Betty’s mind is set on something, you know she will go through with it. Going to the Dallas cult-ish relationship counseling place, Marriage Encounter, was Betty’s idea. But Allan also saw it as a way to pull the plug on the affair that was escalating way out of their control. Of course, Candy revolts when it’s time for her to accept that she hasn’t been enticing enough for Allan to prioritize her. She lashes out at the trigger of being shushed by the man she believed was better than the rest (something that would be crucial to the story later, but I wouldn’t spoil it for you yet). But accept that she must. Allan must fix her marriage, and Candy must make peace with the lukewarm life that crushes her from within. But what destroys Candy is the fact that Marriage Encounter really does work out for Allan and Betty, and Betty seems happier than she’s ever been.
Betty Discovers The Illicit Affair In The End
A tectonic shift in Betty isn’t a practical expectation. But the jealousy that clouds Candy’s mind the more she sees, the happier Betty has made Candy’s life increasingly harder. It was barely about Allan at all. It was Candy’s necessity to feel wanted, loved, and desired beyond anything or anyone else that made her desperate to hold on to him. But if there’s anything true about Candy, it’s the fact that she’s impressively aware of her self-worth. She would never hanker after a man, let alone a man like Allan. But all the dance floors, the Bee Gees songs, and the new business venture she has started with her best friend Sherry aren’t enough to fill the hole in her heart. It’s eerily extraordinary to watch Candy fit herself back into the mold of her life, where the payoff is only a sense of routine and functionality. But for how long can she endure? Reaching out to the clueless Pat is certainly not going to incite a wave of change. Shoving her engulfing sadness in his face is the only way for Candy to ever get a reaction out of Pat.
Now the thing is, being the generic emotionally stunted man that he is, Pat’s only problem is that he’s unable to adore her the way she deserves, even though he loves her to death. When he realizes that he’s taken her for granted and has assumed she would need no reassurance of his love, Pat finally makes it a mission to work on his marriage lest he loses the light of his life. Giving into his wife’s demand that they give a shot to Marriage Encounter does come easy to Pat. What doesn’t come easy is going through the tasks that require him to put his feelings into words. But Pat perseveres. He flourishes even, especially when Candy expects it the least. All he needed was a clear idea of what it was that he needed to do to give Candy’s life a wonderful makeover. Sadly, fate has its own plans. When severely hypochondriac Betty finds a benign lump and loses her mind over it, well-meaning Candy makes it a point to drive over and check up on her. Betty’s suspicious mind picks up on the sketchy vibe between Candy and Allan when they’re outside having a chat before Candy goes back.
At first, Betty goes about it in a smart way. She invites Candy and Pat over for a couple’s dinner just to make sure that she isn’t wrong about getting a sense that something may be going on between her husband and her friend. Ironically enough, after the poignantly awkward dinner, Candy is more impressed with Betty’s intellect and way more disillusioned with Allan’s charm. Just as Candy and Pat’s marriage starts seeing brighter days, fate comes back yet again to claim the sacrifice it wants. Pat is wretched over finding a love letter that Candy had received from Allan and puts Sherry on the spot to come clean about her best friend’s secrets. Surprisingly, Pat’s first reaction isn’t even to blame Candy for the heartbreaking betrayal. Instead, he looks inward and is remorseful about how much time he’s wasted and how his coldness towards his wife has turned her into a shell of a person.
More than anything, Pat knows Candy through and through. He understands that if she has strayed, it is because he has given her no reason not to. So, he opts for flowers and a letter, pouring his heart out instead of bursting out in flames. The dread of guilt makes Candy crumble at the realization that she has hurt the one person who, for what it’s worth, has always loved her, even when he couldn’t show it. Like the beams of the Godly graces she devotedly prays for, the light she has always desired enters Candy’s life, and she and Pat are happier than ever. But this wouldn’t be a true crime show if all were to go well. One wrong step, which wasn’t even supposed to be a wrong step in the first place, makes hellfire rain on the four lives that converged into one another in the worst possible way. Unbeknownst to Betty’s knowledge of the affair, Candy pays a visit to Betty to grab the swimming costume for Betty’s daughter.
The awkward air is reason enough for Candy to get out of there as fast as she can but knowing that Betty is pregnant again and more emotional than usual, she gives in to her request to stay for a couple of minutes. Taking her by surprise, Betty forthrightly asks her about the affair, and Candy comes clean about it, assuming that Allan has already spilled the beans to his wife. Candy doesn’t even know what to expect when Betty walks out of the door and leaves her behind, but knowing Betty, Candy isn’t especially taken aback by the oddness of the situation. What she doesn’t see coming is Betty walking in with revenge on her mind and an axe in her grip. For those of you who know how things have allegedly gone down between Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore, you know better than to hold out hope for things turning out well. And if you are in the dark about the grisly truth about these two women, I would suggest holding on a bit longer to find out as the events unfold. But I wouldn’t dare shush you if you know what I mean.