AMERICAN GOTHIC eases out a few surprises in “Jack-in-the-Pulpit.” Pace is a huge issue if you’re brave enough to put a clock in your murder mystery. If you use the words, 13 part mystery, in you’re title, viewers will assume the mystery won’t be solved in the first six episodes. Armed with that intelligence, how do you keep up suspense and energetic entertainment? The 13 part mystery audience needs red herrings, legacy crimes, interesting characters, and exciting surprises.
“Jack-in-the-Pulpit” is lean on surprises, offers a few red herrings, and fun surprises. We know Mrs. Hawthorne is a murderer, which feels like it dilutes the energy of the overall mystery. There’s still a chance that she murdered Mitch for some altruistic reason, but it’s going to be a tough sell at this point. Her daughter, Ali, has a dedicated political team ready and willing to wash away trouble, but we see Mrs. Hawthorne tell Tessa a ridiculous story about Mitch being a Silver Bells Killer hobbyist who suffered a recent bout with dementia and started to believe he was the actual killer. No one else will confirm Mitch was having mental issues.
Then there are the lies and steps she takes to keep his body from being autopsied. A hospital administrator claims there machine may have killed Mitch, says they’ll understand if she wants to file suit, and wants to autopsy the body to be thorough. Mrs. Hawthorne agrees and then goes out of her way to have Mitch cremated immediately.
This is a pretty fun sequence with Tessa’s detective husband, Brady, chasing the corpse for DNA and showing up just after it went into the oven. That’s right, a corpse beat the detective in a race. Usually, detectives in murder mysteries are unusually clever and mainly face thematic stonewalls. We don’t have that in this case, yet.
We get a little back-story on the Silver Bells Killer. It boils down to a few uninteresting elements. He killed a number of blue-blood types and posed their bodies like they were sitting on thrones. Neither one of those elements is as interesting as a woman killing her husband as he lay in a hospital bed. The big clues this week is the belt found last week. Brady finds an old photo with Cam and Mitch dated “2002.” In the photo, Cam wears the same type of belt as the one they found in the concrete. This is a big so what? Maybe it was Mitch’s or Garrett’s belt and Cam either took it or was given it. Maybe it was just a popular belt. Cam’s a junkie with a future serial killer for a son, that’s what makes him special.
William C. Martell, the great screenwriter/blogger, talks about the concept of “playing with the food.” That happens a lot in episode two where Garrett is concerned. Mrs. Hawthorne, Ali, and her trusty campaign henchwoman all machinate to keep Garrett from speaking at Mitch’s funeral. They all think he’s going to say something explosive and he appears to prep just that kind of eulogy. However, While Cam and his Ex are in the can having “coping sex,” little psycho Jack runs up to the mic to disturb anyone in the room that may still have a soul. That’s a great example of playing with the food.
Follow the clues to episode three. American Gothic is good old-fashioned fun featuring a fashionable and diabolical matriarch.
Season 1, Episode 2 (S01E02)
American Gothic airs Wednesdays at 10PM on CBS
Eric lives in a world where the television is great, the smiles are warm, the pizza is hot, the puppies are playful, and the zombies are slow and meander while he reloads.
Eric Rodriguez | Contributor