The title of Candy episode 4 – “Cover Girl” – might lead you to believe that Mrs. Montgomery’s honky tonk adventures from the end of episode 3 have taken a startling and glamorous new turn. Of course, this being a true-crime series, that’s not the case – instead, the “cover” of the title refers to Candy turning to Collins County’s Troy McClure for legal cover ahead of her inevitable arrest. However, the dragnet closing in around Candy doesn’t make for the sort of taut narrative you might have expected. Four-fifths of the way through the series, Candy is too tightly controlled, still too dedicated to the detail-oriented slow burn that made for such a compelling opening episode. “Cover Girl” feels more like a setup for what promises to be a blazing finale than a tantalizing chapter in its own right.
And part of the reason might be Candy‘s dedication to balancing its own equation. After three episodes, it was clear that while Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel), Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey), and Allan Gore (Pablo Schreiber) were the major players, the show was letting Candy’s husband Pat (Timothy Simons) languish awkwardly. Pat seemed present mostly to provide a few cringe laughs; his gags were effective through two episodes, but became strained after three. In Candy episode 4, though, Pat takes a much more significant role. He discovers his wife’s affair with Allan in heartbreaking fashion: Candy hid Allan’s one love letter to her mixed in with her and Pat’s love letters to each other, something Pat found out when, missing Candy after she’d gone out of town for the weekend, he started to read through them.
Naturally, the milquetoast goofball blames himself for Candy’s affair – something he explains in a flash-forward to his testimony at Candy’s murder trial. Pat feels like if he’d been more attentive as a husband, Candy wouldn’t have looked outside of their marriage for what he should have been providing all along. We expect a big showdown when Candy returns from her weekend getaway; instead, she finds Pat waiting for her with Allan’s note – as well as a bouquet of flowers and a card of his own. Elsewhere in Candy episode 4, during a Father’s Day scene, Pat opens his kids’ goofy cards and his wife’s bland one, looks at his family very seriously, and tells them, “I’m the luckiest dad in the whole world.” Pat Montgomery is the kind of guy who says a thing like that and means it. It’s a bittersweet moment: the very fact that Pat can breathe life into a cliché also means that, for him, the cliché is about as worldly as his view gets.
Curiously for a show about Betty Gore’s murder, Candy episode 4 is also the first of the series (and, presumably, the only one) in which she does not appear. It’s not like “Cover Girl” drags without Betty, necessarily. And the more Melanie Lynskey, the better. But by omitting Betty entirely Candy does open itself up to criticism over the handling of this particular story, the treatment of its source material, and its obligation to the one participant who never got to tell her version of events. Her absence in “Cover Girl” is especially noteworthy because it features Betty’s funeral, which brings the whole Gore clan down from Kansas, bitter and resentful as hell after Allan calls to confess his affair so they don’t have to see it in the newspaper first. Also bitter and resentful as hell: Betty and Allan’s daughter Christina (Antonella Rose), who just wants to wear to her mother’s funeral the yellow flower-print dress her mother was almost done sewing for her when she, as Allan puts it to his daughter, “had to go to Heaven.”
And it’s an unusual decision – again, that’s “unusual,” not necessarily “bad” or “wrong” – because of the characters the show elevates in her absence. I’m talking, of course, about the wry metatextual decision to cast Jessica Biel’s husband Justin Timberlake in the role of Deputy Steve Deffibaugh and Melanie Lynskey’s husband Jason Ritter as Deputy Denny Reese. Given Candy‘s interest in playing with time and its refusal to tell a linear story, it isn’t surprising that we’re four episodes in before the cops show up. But casting its two stars’ husbands as the police who investigate those stars’ characters’ murdering ways threatens to overshadow the narrative.
To be fair, the two husbands – henceforth J-Timbs and J-Ritts – are well-cast, and play off of each other equally well. They bring a “Just the facts” air to their characters and are keen observers of the type of minute details that set Candy’s heartbeat galloping. In fact, they’re almost a little too keen. After having Candy come in to give a statement, J-Ritts notices almost the merest possible speck of red on her shoe from across the room. And J-Timbs, after seeing a big gash across one of her toes and strangely large bruises on the other side of her foot, straight-up asks Candy, “Did you kill Betty Gore? It’s the kind of deduction the audience is meant to accept because we’re privy to such a glut of privileged information.
One more thing worth mentioning in this semi-glut of an episode: the emergence in earnest of Don Crowder (Raúl Esparza). He appeared briefly and somewhat jarringly back in Candy episode 2, as the man who announced Pastor Jackie’s divorce and impending departure from the local church. Turns out you don’t hire an actor of Esparza’s caliber and stature for a quick one-off appearance: Crowder is an attorney and a natural asylum for Candy when she’s too shaken by J-Timbs and J-Ritts’ persistent questions to keep silent any longer.
And Candy does confess to Betty’s murder by the end of this episode. We don’t actually hear her do so; her words are muted by the soundtrack. And the show eschews her face in favor of Udashen, Crowder’s bewildered legal partner, who only moments before told Candy, “Now, everyone knows you didn’t do it. I mean, look at you.” By the time Candy leaves the duo’s office, Crowder seems ready to take the center stage himself, revealing that his newest client is claiming she only murdered as an act of self-defense. We still haven’t gotten any part of Candy’s version of events. And it seems unlikely that Candy, for all its timeline trickery and increased willingness to jump points of view, will try to show us what happened from Betty’s POV. For better or worse, the show pushed all of its highest stakes and biggest reveals to the very end – the finale is called “The Fight,” and it promises a life-or-death showdown between Candy and Betty as well as screen time between all these competing narrative interests.
–Allan using dish soap in the dishwasher is a classic rookie mistake.
–Allan also got the funniest line in the episode, in response to Elaine asking if he knows how to change a diaper (“I do not. But I am an engineer”).
–Pat had the second-funniest line, though it was a total throw away, and you’re forgiven if you missed it. After he reads in the newspaper that the police found a fingerprint at the crime scene and all their troubles will soon be over, Pat tells Candy, “Why don’t we have a family night, this weekend. It’s been a hard week; we could go to Sizzler.” After that, his words trail off into the dazed feedback of Candy’s anxiety. But the picture-perfect early-80s detail of Sizzler is just *chef’s kiss*.
–Pat’s favorite meal is fried spaghetti and scrambled eggs, to which I can only say: …yeeegggghhhh
–Was kind of surprised that Deputy Timberlake could get Betty to come down to the station and give a statement at 8 AM on a Sunday in this otherwise devout community. Couldn’t Betty have protested on church grounds? After all, she’s got to get her whole family ready to go to service.
–Speaking of questionable police decisions, why did Deputies Timberlake and Ritter leave all the lights off in the Gores’ house after it became a crime scene?
It’s nighttime and they’re gathering basic information from the neighbors who Allan called to go check on the house. Meanwhile, the house’s perfectly good lighting remains unused; the living room looks like a Sizzler dining room after the manager’s turned the lights off and before he’s locked up. Nor is this the first time the show has chosen mood lighting over realism. Maybe Candy‘s lighting budget had to stay minuscule so they could afford such a top-heavy cast.
–Finally: as someone who both runs a lot and chops a lot of firewood, I have many issues with Pat’s attempt at 41 consecutive blows with an axe in this episode’s final scene. However: as was the case with the beautiful June-autumn foliage in episode one, I’ll leave those issues alone for now and look forward to the finale.