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TV: American Gothic episodes 3&4 (review)

urlLast time on “American Gothic” (airing every Wednesday at 10 p.m. on CBS)… For those of you keeping score at home, here is a quick rundown of what really matters so far: at the end of the second episode, Tessa’s detective husband Brady finds a possibly incriminating photograph of a teenage Cam wearing the same distinct leather belt that was used to trigger the Silver Bell Killer’s tunnel collapse. In Episode 3 (“Nighthawks”), Madeline does reveal to her four children that Mitch, their father, left everything in his will to her and her plans include selling the family concrete business. Meanwhile, in order to exonerate the Hawthorne family, Brady needs Tessa to convince Cam to get a DNA test. Cam refuses, so Brady instead goes behind Tessa’s back and uses some hair from her brush.

In this episode of “meanwhiles,” Garrett is stalking some woman at a diner, tracking her every move, but then moves into his ex-fiancee Molly (Lara Jean Chorostecki). They begin to reignite the fire, until Garrett shows his true side. Then, as it turns out, the woman he was originally following before running into Molly was nurse Christina (Catalina Sandino Moreno), the daughter to one of the Silver Bell Killer’s victims. All the while, Cam’s son Jack keeps proving how mentally disturbed he might actually be. When Cam finally listens to his mother and gets Jack therapy, he and Sophie go to the same therapist he had as a teen. Realizing the therapy sessions are recorded, Cam needs to get hold of those tapes, which contained some dark discussion, so the police don’t make him a suspect. Luckily, Sophie was able to listen for the delivery entrance code while outside smoking, so later that night, Cam goes through each tape and confiscates the one where his teenage self brings up “the body.” At Jack’s second therapy session—during the first, he mocked his therapist’s hand puppet she used on him as an ice breaker—he pulls out his own handmade puppet, which he gives teeth with the dentures Jack stole from the neighbor cat lady. The horrified therapist comes out to the waiting room, telling Cam and Sophie that she can no longer see their son.

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Before Alison hosts a political fundraising party in her family home, Madeline fires the groundskeeper Gunther (Aidan Devine), who has been viciously trapping animals in the backyard. During the party, Alison is bombarded by the uninvited current Mayor Conley (Enrico Colantoni) with photos of Cam entering the pharmaceutical delivery entrance, evidence that would jeopardize his sister’s political career. Detective Linda Cutter also shows up to the party, informing Madeline of having evidence that she was the one who bought the belt used in the Silver Bell Killer’s rigged tunnel collapse. Brady interjects, not only revealing that a DNA sample clears the family name but also giving Tessa a reason to not trust her husband for using her own hair. By the end of the episode, Madeline and Tessa find Gunther dead in the shed, having hanged himself. Was Gunther the Silver Bells Killer before he decided to take his own life?

In Episode 4 (“Christina’s World”), the police are at the scene of Gunther’s suicide in the shed and, though Detective Cutter insists on taking the case off of Brady’s hands as it might be a conflict of interest, Brady remains on the case. Tessa wants to alert the police about the box of handbells in the shed, but Madeline reveals that she had Gunther get rid of them, so there’s no reason to open her mouth. It was seen coming a mile away, but Alison is now officially cheating on her slick husband Tom (Dylan Bruce), who bought her family’s concrete business, and hooking up with her campaign manager, Naomi (Maureen Sebastian). Alison and Tom must also deal with a lawsuit against the concrete business from a young woman who lost her foot in the tunnel. With the news of Gunther’s suicide, Cam now feels like he is off the suspect list and celebrates with Sophie by getting high; not longer after once Sophie is out and about, a tatted, beefy guy comes knocking at Sophie’s door, looking for the $4,000 she owes him, and knocks out Cam.

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In the interim, Detective Cutter has reason to believe that Gunther was not the killer, putting her investigation with Brady back to square one. Did the real killer force Gunther to take the fall for it? After cutting himself to get stitched up by her, Garrett stalks Christina at a bar this time, and they begin seeing each other romantically. In the episode’s final moments, the DNA sample matches a Hispanic female, making Brady look like he tampered with the results to clear his wife’s family; Cam gets the $4,000 from his mother, only to realize Sophie already paid off her dealer with sex and beats him to a pulp in the process; and Garrett may or may not use his belt to strangle Christina at her apartment.

Whew! Well, a lot sure does happen in these two 40-minute episodes, more than a dozen characters unraveling new revelations and making poor decisions. The writing is hardly subtle, but that’s part of its compulsive watchability and the actors sell it hard. The performances are also consistent with the tone of the show, Virginia Madsen the most reliably chilly and darkly amusing performer of the bunch as matriarch Madeline, while Justin Chatwin appears to be the most outwardly humorous as screw-up brother Cam. With nine more episodes to go, “American Gothic” continues to already hit its lurid, addictively entertaining apex, making sure the soapy/political/macabre theatrics keep piling on. Until next week.

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About Jeremy Kibler

Jeremy Kibler is an Online Film Critics Society member and freelance writer who never stops watching movies and writing about them. An alumnus of Pennsylvania State University, he has been a fan of the horror genre since he was a kid, renting every Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street from the video store. For more of Jeremy’s reviews, go to https://kibsreviews.blogspot.com/ or follow him on Twitter @jeremykibler25.

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