Murder and infidelity make interesting bedfellows. The confluence of the two have made for excellent film and television. How we position ourselves in relation to these crimes will always fascinate us. In the case of Love & Death, the story of the other woman-on-woman crime boils to a head. While the series features an outstanding performance from Elizabeth Olsen, it’s difficult to stay excited about a very straightforward and traditional true crime series.
In a small town, Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) grows unhappy. Her church community provides her with an outlet to sing in the church. Yet she finds the rest of her life with her husband Pat (Patrick Fugit) boring. Over some time, she becomes attracted to fellow parishioner Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons). They begin an affair, but Allan struggles to uphold his family life with his wife, Betty (Lily Rabe). Unable to return to her old life, Candy struggles with her secret. Tragedy shortly follows.
Olsen drives the show forward with her nuanced and powerful turn. While she played a “Leave It to Beaver” for parts of WandaVision, this is a far more complex version of the character. Her wants and desires fluctuate. She realizes her mistakes and carries the guilt. Yet through it all, Olsen never turns Candy into a caricature of a suburban housewife. Instead, she becomes a woman simply trying to find happiness.
The star-studded series provides an excellent ensemble for Olsen. Plemons creates an oblivious husband who remains ignorant towards his extra-marital partner and his actual wife. Fugit stands out in episode 3 but is wildly underused in the others. Rabe makes Betty a complete character struggling to comprehend why her life is collapsing. She plays a struggling mother gracefully, walking into each moment with emotional precision. If not for Olsen, she would easily take the best-in-show crown. Ritter gets limited time to show her talent but brings much-needed energy to every scene.
Director Lesli Linka Glatter balances the humor with some more emotional material. However, Love & Death feels too long and stretches the plot. The series’ momentum drops considerably when Olsen does not occupy the screen. It becomes clear that Olsen’s greatness keeps the series afloat.
The story of Candy Montgomery has found its way to the small screen before (as recently as 2022). Showrunner David E. Kelley certainly knows how to string out a mystery. Yet, in Love & Death, the public knowledge of this case works against it. If the series focused on a lesser-known murder, we might have given a pass to the team. Instead, the attempt to create suspense where none exists backfires. Rather than explore the nuance of faith in the process of these crimes, it provides a background setting but little else. In many instances, this location distracts more than helps the story.
The problems become intensified when the show reaches its inevitable climax. Love & Death falls into a trap of true crime. True events remove the dramatic tension from the proceedings. While other shows can flex creativity and storytelling choices, true crime must recreate what has already passed. Worst of all, Love & Death walks into many of the tropes Kelley’s other shows have created. Rather than find new narrative ground, Love & Death settles for playing the hits.