‘Candy’ Finale: The Smirk (Review)

The Candy finale is pyrotechnic like nothing else the show has done. If episode four embraced shifting points of view somewhat halfheartedly, “The Fight,” Candy‘s fifth and last episode, spends its runtime wrestling with the notion like a friendly bear. In fact, Candy‘s farewell might be a little too jarring on that front. While Betty (Melanie Lynskey) returns for a few (primarily silent) scenes as a pseudo-ghost haunting her killer’s courtroom testimony, and Candy (Jessica Biel) has a spotlight monologue in which she delivers, at long last, her version of how and why she killed Betty, the significant players are largely forsaken in favor of the supporting cast. Pat Montgomery (Timothy Simons) and Allan Gore (Pablo Schreiber) step aside in favor of their wives – but Justin Timberlake and Jason Ritter‘s deputy duo get a Fargo-esque black comedy scene early on, and Candy’s attorney Don Crowder (Raúl Esparza) does the remaining heavy lifting.

We get a gore-soaked fight scene complete with all 41 of the axe blows that ended Betty Gore’s life. We get a number of haunting visual callbacks to previous episodes and inconsistencies in Candy’s story. We get a string of reminders – some subtle, some very much not – of the human cost of Candy’s actions and her accounting of those actions well beyond the murder itself. And we get a strange, discordant note to end on, though maybe it’s not as out of tune as it first sounds.

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Don Crowder (Raúl Esparza) selling ketchup popsicles to some white-gloved folks in Candy (COURTESY: Hulu)

So I don’t want to spend a lot of time talking about how good Esparza is as the “ambulance chaser”-slash-center stage showman Don Crowder, how he brings exactly the right mix of showmanship plausibly psychological deniability to this boisterous figure. Crowder’s constant clashes with the judge presiding over Candy’s trial; his persuading, then goading, then outright bullying Candy into sharing her side of the story while on the stand; and his keen understanding of what the jury of Candy’s peers is thinking (“They’ll believe me because they want to believe me. We just need to give ’em something to hang their hat on”) all come together in a grand posture of defiant bravado. Esparza sinks in his teeth down to the gums – every moment he’s on-screen is delicious fun.

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The Collins County Courthouse in Candy. (COURTESY: Hulu)

I also don’t want to spend too much time talking about the staging of this particular courtroom and how it differs from almost every other courtroom showdown I can think of. Maybe I’m overlooking some prominent examples, but I can’t remember any TV show or movie that put its jury box front and center before the witness stand, where the lawyers’ tables usually are, and not off to one side or the other, where Candy decided to place its legal counsel. As you watch the figures in this true-crime tale move back and forth across their section of the courtroom, you can’t help but realize that the setup is exactly like that of a theater, the audience placed directly in front of the action and squared before the actors as if this were a dramatic performance by any other name. It’s perhaps Candy‘s most subtle and effective nod to the difficulty of retelling a story rooted in cold fact.

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Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel) staring down two sets of eyes in Candy. (COURTESY: Hulu)

And I probably don’t need to spend too much time praising the haunting beauty of this particular juxtaposition. The macramé owl hanging on the Gores’ front door has appeared at least once in every single episode, like a perverse Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. We first meet it when Candy goes to Betty’s house on the morning of Betty’s murder. It never gets taken down: not when the house becomes a crime scene, not when Allan gets back from his business trip, and not when Allan begins seeing another woman. And it makes an especially haunted appearance for Candy, and Candy alone, struggling to begin telling her side of the story while on the stand. After a few moments of inner struggle, the courtroom empties: it’s just Candy, rows of chairs, and a pair of familiar eyes staring back from the double doors on the far side of the room. Like the owl’s, these eyes are vacant; like the owl’s, they’re patient, too.

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Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel) and Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey) just after the 41st blow of the axe in Candy. (COURTESY: Hulu)

I kind of don’t want to talk about the actual fight scene in “The Fight,” but I suppose no Candy finale review would be complete without it. It’s worth the build: it’s a bizarre, awkward dance, tense and then fumbling and then horribly precise. It presents a plausible enough reenactment to get Candy off the hook, but that doesn’t mean it’s without shocking brutality. And watching over Candy’s every move is the silent specter of Betty Gore, her face marked by pain, resentment, and finality. You might call it something like judgment.

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Candy Montgomery (Jessica Biel) enjoying something like sweetness in Candy. (COURTESY: Hulu)

Unfortunately for Betty, “judgment” and “justice” are not interchangeable terms. After the jury finds Candy not guilty of murder, she walks out to her car and starts to discover what it is she’s lost. She tells Pat and Udashen that she can’t wait for things just to get back to normal; the attorney, not her husband, tells Candy that she might want to consider moving away and starting over somewhere new. We find out via title card that Pat, already quietly enraged after Candy admitted on the witness stand that she’d had another affair when things with Allan ended, divorced Candy four years after the trial. And then Candy, as she’s about to step into her car, spots something on the ground or maybe in the door’s pocket. The door hides it as she unwraps it. When she does lift the peppermint to her mouth, Candy wears just the slightest smirk, and her eyes are the sharpest we’ve ever seen them.

What are we to do with this lingering image? Is it Candy‘s way of telling us that the real Candy Montgomery knew she was lying? Does that undermine the storytelling of the entire series before its penultimate moment? Should our belief now be that Candy simply folded herself into the loving embrace of Don Crowder’s legal defense until the (disappointed) judge read out her verdict? Now that she’s free did this version of Candy really just allow herself the indulgence of a quick break from the new character she’s just made for herself? And if so, why did she need one? Are we to believe that Candy Montgomery harbored a cold hatred for Betty Gore and indulged it with the blade of an axe? Or is Candy too shocked by what she’s done to go on as she was?

It’s not a bad thing, ending a story full of questions. But I can’t help but worry that this one decision casts doubt over the entire rest of the series. The Candy finale is the wildest of the five episodes in more ways than one.

Rating: 8.5/10

Series Rating: 8/10

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