HBO Max’s Love & Death mini-series marks a continued interest in the true crime tale of Candy Montgomery. In 1978, Candy and her Texas church friend Allen Gore started an affair that would result in the gruesome murder of Betty Gore, Allen’s wife, by ax in 1980. This chilling story is not unfamiliar with dramatization. On paper, this includes Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs, and a two-part series from the Texas Monthly. Montgomery’s story is even familiar to the television screen. In 1990, a TV movie, A Killing in a Small Town, depicted the events on CBS and just last year Hulu released a mini-series, Candy, starring Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey.
This newest depiction of the unsettling series of events that transpired between Candy, Allen, and Betty comes from creator David E. Kelley, who wrote all seven episodes. Kelley, who impressively depicted small-town scandal and swift power moves on HBO’s Big Littles Lies, infuses his sensibility in this new offering. Candy lives a seemingly picturesque life. She’s well-regarded by her community and church and seems to be in a happy marriage. However, like scratch marks on the backside of a beautiful painting, the first part of the series does a great job of portraying how picturesque lives can be filled with hidden isolation and unfulfillment, and the risks one could take to rectify that.
“Men they gotta go to their jobs and live in their careers and we just stay home and god, that’s supposed to be enough…it is human nature to take risks. To go for something with a little thrill at the risk of falling,” Candy says during the first episode, “The Huntress.” For Candy, that risk is an affair. Elizabeth Olsen portrays Candy Montgomery with the wide-ranging detail she’s brought to other roles. Over the course of the season, and through her character’s interactions with others, the audience sees Candy go through a garment of emotions and Olsen’s face captures it all in intricate detail. Both Olsen and Jesse Plemons, who portrays Allen Gore, have a compelling back-and-forth and through their interaction, you can see why these two would be attracted to each other.
As their affair goes deeper there’s a push-and-pull dynamic between Candy and Allen that’s interesting to watch. Both of them have times when they feel like they need to call it off, whether for reasons of falling in love or hurting their partners. With Candy’s and Allen’s respective partner Love & Death tries to showcase how affairs and secrets can harm a relationship. The show is successful at this with Pat Montgomery, whose unexpected sadness can catch you off guard as brought to life by Patrick Fugit.
Love & Death is another strong team-up from David E. Kelley and HBO. It especially features compelling performances from an impressive cast including Olsen, Plemons, Fugit, and Tom Pelphrey (Don Crowder), strong direction from Lesli Linka Glatter, and eye-catching costume design from Audrey Fisher. Whether you’re familiar with the story of Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore or not, Love & Death paints a compelling dramatization of the events that’s worth checking out.
Love & Death premieres on tonight on HBO.