‘Candy’ Episode 1: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Axe (Review)

The first thing you notice in the opening moments of “Friday the 13th,” Candy‘s premiere episode, is how its two main characters’ lives are dictated by household rhythms – and how sharply distinct those rhythms are. Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel) is surrounded by playful children, a bantering husband, the bustle of plans for the day, and pans of brownies. Energy, in short. It’s precisely what’s missing from the Gore household, where Betty (Melanie Lynskey) is all but muted by the white noise of her laundry machine, the dull roar of her vacuum cleaner, and her infant’s ever-present, heart-quickening, spirit-sapping wail. Candy’s home has high ceilings and wide windows undimmed by drapes; the Montgomery home is as open to the light of day as it is to the gaze of anyone who might happen to walk by. The sun reaches Betty only after filtering through sickly yellow curtains, casting her and her husband Allan (Pablo Schreiber) in a pallor as muted as their speech.

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Melanie Lynskey as a mildly overwhelmed Betty Gore in Candy. (COURTESY: Hulu)

Candy is the type of series that pays such meticulous attention to detail and offers so many details that it’s impossible to explain their significance. Which is an impressive feat of world-building, given that the facts of the case on which it’s based are really quite simple. On Friday, June 13, 1980, Betty Gore was murdered at approximately ten o’clock in the morning, when someone chopped her with an axe 41 times. Candy Montgomery, arrested and charged with the murder, was acquitted four months later. The case was rather a sensation at the time; over forty years later, it’s the subject of two competing limited series, of which Hulu’s Candy is the first to reach audiences. (The second, HBO Max’s Love and Death, remains without a release date.)

Unusually and rather deliciously for a true-crime rendering, Candy episode one does not show us the murder itself. Instead, we get everything leading up to Betty’s murder – including the horrific detail that Betty’s daughter, Christina, spent the previous night at Candy’s house and gets to again on the 13th, meaning she’s in Candy’s care when Candy murders Christina’s mother – skip the actual event, and pick back up immediately after, with Candy’s shaky departure, clean-up, and resumption of domestic life. (If nothing else, this episode will make you do a double-take the next time anyone offers you a peppermint.)

By structuring its intro this way, Candy is able to do a couple of interesting things. The first and more immediate is delay our expectations: even if you come in knowing as little about the case as I did, you’re going to be asking yourself, amid such steadily rising tension, “OK, but when’s the murder happen?” And the second is to play a game of hide-and-seek with the murder weapon itself. Candy probably gives us more shots from inside the Gores’ garage than are really necessary, especially when you stop to consider that in this very gendered era and similarly gendered space, the garage is the husband’s domain. But if you pay attention to the pegboard as we jump around on the morning of the murder and in scenes set months earlier, you realize that after Candy leaves Betty’s house, there’s now a yawning, shrieking void where the tool nearest the door used to be.

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One of these things is not like the others (and it isn’t the vacuum cleaner). (COURTESY: HULU)

Co-creator Robin Veith said she wanted to use Betty and Candy’s story as a vehicle for exploring “feminine rage – this female rage that we carry around with us that we’re not supposed to acknowledge.” It’s worth pointing out that Candy‘s attention to detail – along with its willingness to engage in a slow narrative burn – brings to mind Mad Men, another beautifully crafted period piece on which many of Candy‘s primary crew also worked. (Veith was a staff writer for three seasons and wrote, among other episodes, including the prestige TV-defining “The Wheel” as well as “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency,” maybe Mad Men’s most darkly funny episode. Candy writer Brett Johnson co-wrote Mad Men’s “The Grown-Ups.” The first episode of Candy was directed by Michael Uppendahl, who helmed seven Mad Men episodes; its second, by Jennifer Getzinger, who directed ten.) Watching this Betty mope, slug, and stomp around her home with only a crying baby for company brings to mind a fed-up Betty Draper confiscating her son’s toy rifle, then taking aim at her frustrating neighbor’s equally frustrating pigeons.

But catharsis in Candy‘s world isn’t as easy to find, and neither is the defiance that engenders it. As of episode one, Mrs. Gore is the openly repressed housewife, Mrs. Montgomery the less obvious one – yet it’s the latter who, for reasons that are only just coming into focus, lashes out against the former. The unspoken promise is that Candy‘s remaining four episodes will explore the very specific yet still alarmingly relevant dissatisfaction that connected both women well before the act that keeps them inextricable today.

Rating: 8.5/10

Errata:
–The macramé owl on the Gores’ front door will live behind my eyes for weeks.

–Lol @ the two shots of the newspaper’s review of The Shining (which was indeed released three weeks before Betty Gore’s murder).

Candy has a gentle, largely soothing, slightly eerie soundtrack befitting the subject matter and overall vibe…until the “horror” scenes. When Candy cleans up after the murder, the music becomes just another variant on the basic string plucking-signaling-madness you’ve heard in so many movies and trailers that you don’t even register it anymore. It’s an odd sour note in Candy‘s otherwise smooth and tightly controlled first episode.

–I need to preface this final note by saying that I don’t truly care about it; it didn’t affect my enjoyment of episode one or interest in the rest of Candy. But Candy is supposed to be set in June. And it is definitely and distractingly not June in this world. Every hardwood tree in every shot – and Candy has a fair few exterior shots – is either barren of leaves or boasts fall-colored ones. Here’s where Allan Gore stays during his (brief) time in Minnesota on business:

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Lazy, hazy, crazy days of…summer? (COURTESY: Hulu)

Those are Bradford pear trees. They are kaleidoscopic in autumn. Your eye can’t help but be drawn to them in a shot like this. I do understand that filming schedules wait for no weather. But it strikes me as odd that a show so careful in every single other aspect also wants us to suspend belief about the time of year.

That said: Is this important? Not really! And do the autumn hues + golden-sepia quality of the seasonal light do a great deal to accentuate the rest of the period details? Yes! Which is why I will now shut up about trees and off-season filming schedules and get my jack-o-lantern ready for Candy‘s second episode.

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