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Review: HBOMax’s ‘Love & Death’ is a Haunting Delight

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True crime is a guilty pleasure of so many individuals, myself included. As an avid weekly consumer of Dateline with Lester Holt, I understand the addictiveness of such programming. The tales of horror about these individuals’ last days and the subsequent journey to solving the crimes are as intriguing as they are terrifying. So when Love & Death was first announced starring Elizabeth Olsen, I knew those who enjoy true crime like me were in for a treat from HBOMax.

The series is the adapted true story of Candy Montgomery, who becomes involved in an affair and eventually a murder in Texas during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Love & Death is directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, known for her work on Mad Men and Homeland, and written by David E. Kelley, creator of Big Little Lies and Ally McBeal.

Along with Olsen, the series stars Jesse Plemons, Patrick Fugit, Lily Rabe, Tom Pelphrey, and Krysten Ritter. Love & Death has all the makings of a fantastic series, and it nails it perfectly. Read on for more on what to expect from Love & Death when it arrives on HBOMax next week.

[Warning: Light Spoilers and impressions from HBOMax’s Love & Death]

The story of Candy Montgomery

While Love & Death features many interesting characters, the series focuses on the narrative of Candy Montgomery (Olsen) and the disaster she leaves in her wake. On the surface, Candy is your typical housewife of the 1970s. She’s a loving mother to her two children, a supportive wife to her absent husband, and an active member of her church.

In spite of all of this, she’s deeply unhappy with her life, although perhaps doesn’t realize it at first. Candy has put her faith in God and has accepted that the life she has is the one she wants and deserves.

That being said, things are not the way she’d hoped they would be, especially in her marriage to Pat (Fugit), who lacks both a personality and chemistry with Candy. She begins questioning her relationship with her husband after getting to know Allan Gore (Plemons), a fellow churchgoer. Together, Allan and Candy enter into an arrangement, one that allows both to stay in their unhappy relationships while also getting the attention they desire from each other.

Love & Death- Elizabeth Olsen
Elizabeth Olsen as Candy Montgomery. Love & Death (HBOMax).

Threaded through the narrative of Candy and Allan’s story is a flashforward to the eventual murder of Betty Gore (Lily Rabe). This event is the main reason Candy Montgomery’s story is interesting enough to spawn two recent series on competing streaming services. The death of Betty pushes Candy and the rest of her hometown’s lives spiraling, as no one feels safe when someone dies from an axing.

Love & Death captures the entire picture of this intense and gripping story, beginning before the initial affair and following the narrative all the way through the trial and beyond. HBOMax also ensures a well-rounded look at the event, taking into account the sensitive nature at hand.

The series examines every player in the game, making sure not to paint Candy or anyone else involved in just one light. Instead, they shine many lights on the entire event and allow viewers to make their own conclusion, in perfect true crime fashion.

What worked and what didn’t for Love & Death

This series deserves all the praise and recognition it’s bound to get as it releases weekly on HBOMax. Love & Death is impressively well-written, with episodes that move quickly and characters that are fascinating to watch. There’s not a moment that is wasted, with so much life and dialogue shoved into every scene, reminding me of shows like Mad Men and Gilmore Girls. At times, I almost forgot this was a real crime and not just an exceptional show with well-developed characters

The way the series is shot as well is impressive, taking a story that could be an incredibly boring slice-of-life show and instead giving viewers a sense of unease even in the simplest of moments. Love & Death isn’t afraid to utilize different camera angles, adding to the sense of unease that I felt watching the events play out. There are some scenes that stuck with me long after the credits rolled, which elevated this series to one of my all-time favorites.

Love & Death- Gore Family
Betty (Lily Rabe) and Allan (Jesse Plemons). Love & Death (HBOMax).

Many are familiar with the story of Candy and Betty, which definitely adds to the unease you feel watching it. Every moment and every interaction in Love & Death points towards the inevitable. The ending is known and even so, you can’t look away as it unfolds live in front of your eyes.

The series also has great use of music, with song selections that I wasn’t expecting but fit the series and tone perfectly. It goes way beyond just background music, but songs you will recognize and want to sing along with. Some of the scene and music pairing gave me chills, again adding to the nervousness felt by the viewer.

All of the actors and actresses involved in Love & Death deliver next-level performances, however, the series would not be what it is without Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons. Plemons is unlike any other role I had seen him in before, as a reserved but passionate Allan Gore. He plays a man stuck in a bad situation who makes the situation even worse through his actions. At times, I wanted to hate Allan but found it difficult to do so with Plemons behind the wheel.  

Elizabeth Olsen on the other hand is just out of this world as Candy Montgomery. Those who know me know how much I love Olsen as an actress. From the moment I first saw her in Silent House, I knew she was a star, and her role in Love & Death continues to show that. Her take on Candy does a brilliant job of balancing moments of light with the darkness that resides deep within Candy. I think this could easily be Olsen’s most impressive role to date.

The biggest gaff of Love & Death is how some of the talents are under-utilized. Specifically, Krysten Ritter is relegated to a small secondary character without much to do. She’s brought in for friendly conversations, however, seems too small and insignificant for someone of Ritter’s caliber. The same felt true for Lily Rabe and Tom Pelphrey at first, however, rights itself as the series continues past the first few episodes.

Final thoughts on HBOMax’s Love & Death

Love & Death is a mini-series that you won’t want to miss. Olsen and Plemons make career-defining performances. If you’re a fan of Elizabeth Olsen, you’ll want to tune in every week and watch the series many times over. Love & Death checked so many boxes for me and I firmly believe it will for others as well.

Love & Death premieres on HBOMax on April 27 . Will you be checking it out? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. And if you haven’t already, check out our review of Beau is Afraid!

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Brian Kitson

Working hard to bring you the latest news and thoughtful analysis of all things nerdy!

Brian Kitson has 367 posts and counting. See all posts by Brian Kitson