Monday marked the premiere on Hulu of a story North Texas has never quite been able to let go.
It’s the story of Candy Montgomery, a 30-year-old mother who butchered her friend and fellow churchgoer with a 3-foot ax.
It’s been told over and over, first in a packed courthouse in McKinney and later in a book and a TV movie. After Hulu’s series wraps up, HBO Max will get its shot, with a completely different cast.
But this week, it’s Jessica Beil wielding the power of a complicated character and enduring uncertainty about what exactly drove her to violence. A new episode of the miniseries drops each day, with the finale coming Friday.
Monday’s episode (spoiler alert) wasted hardly any time on setup. Its central focus was the killing itself, leaving the rest of the series to unspool what led to it and how those whose lives it shattered attempted to pick up the pieces.
Aside from the too-twangy accents, the timeline and details of the characters’ lives were remarkably accurate, thanks no doubt to John Bloom and Jim Atkinson, the writers of the 1984 book Evidence of Love who are also producers on the series. Candy lives in a stylish two-story with with her husband, Pat (Timothy Simons), and their children. Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey), the victim, and her husband, Allan (Pablo Schreiber), share a more modest setup.
We meet everyone on the day before the killing. Candy is cheerfully taking care of things at home while keeping an eye on her kids and Betty’s older daughter, who’s visiting for a sleep over. Betty by comparison is worn down. After her husband leaves on business to Minnesota, she finds herself alone with their baby in a dim Wylie home. Miles away, Allan checks into a hotel room in St. Paul, where his job is to make tweaks to the phone lines at 3M.
When Candy enters Betty’s house and shuts the door, the episode pivots. Before it was Candy’s story; now it’s Allan who’s driving things forward. Crumpled on the bed of his Ramada hotel room, he grows more and more panicked the longer he fails to reach Betty on the phone. Three neighbors — Richard Parker, Jerry McMahan and Lester Gayler — arrive to break into his house and find out what’s wrong, but the front door is unlocked. Inside they find the baby alone in its crib and bloody footprints leading to the shower before Lester — true to life — discovers Betty’s body.
The story — and the house scene in particular — hews so close to what actually happened that night that the one thing that doesn’t is unmissable.
It happens when Jerry calls Allan to tell him the bad news. Betty’s been shot, he tells him.
Allan calls Candy later that night, telling her the same thing.
But in revisiting the case last year, Lester Gayler, one of the three men in the house that night, told The Dallas Morning News he’d known immediately that an ax was involved.
“There was ax marks up into the ceiling,” said Lester, who still lives next door. “She’d broken in the walls.” Out from under the washing machine, he said, peeked the weapon.
Why exactly that fact wasn’t obvious to all three men in the house that night is unclear. Surely it will be a part of the drama on the series when the weapon is revealed.
Smaller touches throughout give the rest of the episode a firm grounding in 1980 North Texas. We hear more than once about the Plano Target. Candy takes the kids to see The Empire Strikes Back.
Religious references can be a bit heavy-handed at times, like the kids acting out a Noah’s ark play while Candy carries out the killing. But others are subtle and less forced, hinting at questions about redemption that will come later. Betty tells Candy to give her daughter a peppermint as a reward for going underwater at her swim lesson. When the girl picks her head up out of the pool, Candy reaches out with the mint in a gesture that looks like communion.
It’s the beginning of a story no one could believe, told all over again.
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