Reading the “Love & Death In Silicon Prairie, Part I & II” chapters from journalists Jim Atkinson and John Bloom’s 1984 book, Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs, that Love & Death is inspired by, is to see the words on the page come to life on screen. There is the meticulous planning of the affair, the picnic lunches and sex afterwards at the seedy Como motel and how it all falls apart, ending with a woman lying in the utility room of her house struck 41 times with a wood-splitting axe.
Love & Death (English)
Runtime: 45–58 minutes
Creator: David E. Kelley
Cast: Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, Patrick Fugit, Krysten Ritter, Tom Pelphrey, Elizabeth Marvel, Keir Gilchrist
Storyline: The true story of Candy Montgomery, the suburban housewife who killed her lover’s wife with an axe
In Wylie, Texas, Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) is the perfect wife to Pat (Patrick Fugit), an electrical engineer, and mother to their two children Jenny (Amelie Dallimore) and Ian (Liam Pileggi). An active member of the church choir, Candy finds herself attracted to Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons), who is married to Betty (Lily Rabe), a teacher at the local school. They have a daughter, Alisa (Harper Heath), who is best friends with Jenny. While Candy feels her marriage to Pat has hit a plateau, Allan and Betty have a strained marriage, thanks to Betty’s anxieties and fears.
Candy proposes an affair to Allan and the two of them have a series of luncheon meetings and phone calls to thrash out the logistics. After laying ground rules including splitting the cost of the motel room and gas, and Candy packing a lunch, the two embark on an affair on December 12, 1978.
After the birth of Allan and Betty’s second daughter, Bethany, in July 1979, Allan starts to distance himself from Candy. Though she is unhappy, with ending the affair, Candy puts a brave face on it and the two couples seem to have moved on, until Friday, June 13, 1980, when Candy drops by the Gore’s house to pick up Alisa’s swimsuit and stays on to kill Betty.
Upon arrest Candy chooses Don Crowder (Tom Pelphrey), to defend her even though he says he has no experience trying criminal cases. The show follows the trial from jury selection to Candy’s acquittal on grounds of self-defence and ends with the Montgomerys leaving Wylie for Georgia to start life anew.
There are the mandatory “where are they now” cards — Candy and Pat divorced, Candy is working in the mental health sector while Allan has married for the third time (his second marriage to the church organist was months after Betty’s death). At the end of the show, there are so many unanswered questions, like what made a seemingly normal well-adjusted person turn on another so violently? That childhood trauma and psychotic break that was the defence argument could have been done with a deeper examination. Or better still, the reasons for the jury to vote as they did could have been delved into.
Apart from the period detail, it is the stellar acting by Olsen and Plemons that props up Love & Death. Olsen as Candy defiantly singing along to ABBA’s ‘Take a Chance on Me,’ on the car radio, chirpy and chatty, cooking and cleaning (even though that look while mincing meat was chilling), and looking robotic in the courtroom are all magnificent efforts to make sense out of this desperate housewife.
Plemons as Allan is the very anti-thesis of the demon lover with his unfashionable haircut and paunchy mid-section, however the underlying gentle kindness that attracted Candy is revealed through his eyes and slow, sure speech.
Creator David E. Kelley, who has given us gorgeous shows such as Big Little Lies, Mr. Mercedesand Nine Perfect Strangers, has followed the printed word faithfully, painstakingly recreating the time and place right down to the newspaper advertising The Shining at the crime scene and The Empire Strikes Back being the movie Candy takes the girls for.
It is, however, difficult to get a handle on the proceedings. It would have been better to focus on the Montgomerys and how despite being acquitted, their lives fell apart. That would have made for a Hitchcockian tale, of living with a murderer who shows no sign of remorse. Since that was not the story Kelley chose to tell, we are left with a beautiful recreation of a notorious and grisly crime.
Love & Death is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video