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American Gothic - The Veteran in a New Field - Review: "Sketchy in a Silver Bells Way"

25 Aug 2016

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The problem with a large ensemble cast is that we don't get all to see all the characters interacting with each other. That's why Brady's and Alison's team-up is such a pleasant surprise. This episode (we're getting so close to the end!) was all about isolation and trying to make tenuous connections with others.

The themes of isolation and connection tie different plots together. Alison, Cam, and even Jack are all striving to make connections with one another and others. Garrett, Madeline, and Sophie are further isolating themselves through their deception. Even the entire city of Boston is on edge about the return of Silver Bells, if the newscast at the beginning of the episode is anything to go by.

The most successful connection this week is Brady and Alison, super-detectives. To my recollection, this is the first time the two have spent much time with each other and both actors have fun with a somewhat goofy subplot about breaking into Jennifer's safe and discovering Conley and Cutter covering up evidence. Both manage to do good detective work and are rewarded for their efforts with ammunition to use against Conley in the mayoral race.

Meanwhile, Cam's flirtation with April could feel like a rehash of the Garrett and Christina plotline, but the writers have done a good job of making both characters distinct enough to show a different dynamic. Hopefully, their relationship won't end with a stabbing in the woods.

Jack's storyline was surprisingly the sweetest of the episode. Jack actually feels like a kid in the episode and it was gratifying to see him find a way to connect with others (in this case, the audience) without scaring them. The episode showed how both Cam and Sophie are finding ways to celebrate their son's strengths without condoning his more violent behavior. I've written that there might not be a happy ending for Jack, but seeing the audience laugh at his presentation may have proved me wrong.

If only Sophie could stop using him to buy drugs...

While there are moments of connection for some characters, Sophie and others are left digging their own graves (pun intended) through their harmful actions.

The camera emphasizes the characters' isolation from each other. Tessa is framed by two vertical bars during her conversation with Garrett in jail (seriously Garrett - maybe wait until you're out of the jail visitor's room before confessing to a murder). It's striking camerawork because it tells the audience something different about the scene. Garrett looks like he's being honest. He talks about having to mercy-kill Jenkins and shares Christina's pregnancy with a delighted Tessa. But, as the camerawork tells us, the two siblings are still separated by lies and secrets. Garrett hadn't told Tessa the whole truth about whatever went down on that stormy night so many years ago and until he comes clean, something will always split the siblings.

Another example of the camera isolating the cast is a quick shot through the doorframe into Madeline's bedroom. She is literally put into a box, restless and anxious about Caleb's sudden appearance at the funeral and Silver Bells' taunting. When she hears a knock on the door, she immediately gets on the bed and pretends she has been reading a book. It's a small moment, but it shows that Madeline lies about the tiniest things in order to keep up appearances in front of her children. It doesn't dissuade Alison, Cam, and Tessa from their questions though. After meeting with Caleb, Alison and Tessa learn that he hadn't been dragged down the stairs and Cam's memory must have been from someone else. For Madeline, there's no escape. With the strange actions of Silver Bells, who we learn has full access to the house, she is more vulnerable than ever. Not that she would ever let her children know it.

The most isolated character of the hour has to be Sophie, who does an objectively horrible thing and completely shatters when confronted with her actions. At this point, she isn't just a misunderstood outsider anymore, but someone willing to let her son buy her drugs. While we know Garrett and Madeline well enough at this point to see how they deal with their lies, Sophie is a bit of a wildcard. Her fight with Cam was completely over the top, but that's her character as it has always been presented. Only a completely volatile and desperate person would send Jack out for "gummies". That last image of her breaking down in the loft could mean anything for the future. Will she be trying to win back Cam, or be out for revenge?

In the end, even though his team-up with Alison leads to substantial information, Brady is also isolated. It took the FBI telling them, but his higher-ups at Boston PD have finally realized that having Brady on the case is a conflict of interest. Being put on leave hasn't brought him closer to his wife or her siblings (despite Alison's comments at Jack's history night). Instead, it has him more convinced than ever that Garrett is the accomplice. And, freed from bureaucracy, police regulation, and the sometimes cooler head of Cutter, he manages to catch Garrett in the act of grinding up a skeleton. Finally Garrett is going to have to tell the truth.

Meanwhile... this week in Brady: There were many great Brady moments this week, but using Jennifer's measurements as his first guess for the safe's code was probably the best when coupled with the little look Alison gives him.

Top Suspects of the Week:

Caleb: The secret lover plotline had such a boring conclusion that there has to be more to the story. I had assumed that it would be revealed that he had fathered one of the siblings, but that would have been revealed in the DNA test the police performed on all of them.

Linda Cutter: We may have Cutter's meeting with Conley explained, but she is still suspicious. She was one of the first officers on the scene during the murders and she is one of the few characters old enough to realistically be an accomplice. Is Madeline right and Cutter does have a bizarre obsession with the Hawthorne family?

Boston Local, Celeste Dubinski: Did she really push her gardener down the stairs because he was "sketchy in a Silver Bells way" or did she push him down the stairs because she's the Silver Bells Killer?

Caramel Watch: Caramel Watch may have to get retired. I fear we will never get the proper resolution we deserve on Caramel's fate.

Whose skeleton is Garrett grinding into cornmeal? Will Caramel ever come back? Who's your top suspect this week? Let me know!

About the Author - Laurel Weibezahn
Laurel Weibezahn is a freelance writer. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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