Note: The following review contains spoilers for the true crime case that inspired the series “Candy.”
In June of 1980, Candy Montgomery confessed to killing her friend Betty Gore thirteen days after Gore’s bloody corpse was found on the floor of her suburban Texas home. What seemed like an open and shut case had so many twists and turns that the town — the world — was shocked when Montgomery was found innocent. Especially after it was revealed Montgomery hacked Gore to death with an ax 41 times. It seems no one, not Candy’s husband, her best friend, or her lover, all witnesses in the case, really knew her.
For over 40 years, Hollywood has been obsessed with Betty Gore’s murder. Books, documentaries, and even a “Snapped” episode have retold the tale. The latest iteration — Hulu’s Kodakchrome-colored “Candy,” starring award-winning actresses Melanie Lynskey as Betty and a barely recognizable Jessica Biel in the title role — is the first of two shows dropping in 2022 dedicated to the gruesome murder that put Wylie County, Texas on the map.
A “whydunnit” crime drama with thriller elements, “Candy” has a strong start, but with non-linear storytelling, languid pacing, and dangling plot threads, the script struggles to find its footing in well-trodden territory.
The series begins at the end of an average day in the Montgomery and the Gore households. Betty is upset that Allan (Pablo Schreiber) is leaving on yet another business trip, and their baby wails continuously throughout the scene, almost as a warning.
Meanwhile, the Montgomery home is bustling and efficient as Candy, mother of 2, finishes making lunch for her husband Pat (Timothy Simons) as the kids eat their breakfast. We see from the beginning how connected the two families are as the third child at the table, Betty’s daughter Christina, has spent the night.
The rest of Betty’s day goes by like clockwork, until she heads to Betty’s house to pick up Christina’s swimsuit for practice. Time jumps forward, and we see Candy back in her car, hair wet, head bleeding, hands bloody, and visibly shaken. Betty’s mutilated body is found by the end of the first episode.
Unlike most true crime narratives, “Candy” focuses on the killer and not the victim. The show reaches back two years before the murder, hopscotching through time, slowly revealing the people in Candy’s orbit like developing film in a murky darkroom. The series also spends time outlining a meticulously orchestrated affair between Candy and Betty’s husband, Allan. One of the many motives the prosecution suggested Candy had for killing Betty.
Outside of the final episode which takes place almost entirely in the courtroom, the series is a deliberately slow, uncomfortable burn. Every scene exists in suspended animation, languidly moving through the characters’ halcyon lives while the audience waits for a literal ax to fall.
However, in what seems like an effort to re-enact portions of Candy’s real-life testimony, the show inadvertently paints Candy as more socially acceptable than Betty. A textbook Type A personality, she’s the mother who has everything together. Candy is the center of the social scene in Wylie County, and nothing happens in the town or at the church without her touch or influence.
On the other hand, Betty is so socially awkward that she can’t even get along with the kids in the class she teaches. Portrayed as needy, depressed and passive-aggressive, Betty regularly calls her husband’s boss to yell at him about Allan’s schedule. She convinces Allan they should foster a child, but seems to forget how to parent the moment he’s in the house. As a result, the victim is regarded as unlikable and unhinged and even her ghost appears annoyed. Of course, only Candy can see her.
The series understandably takes a few liberties with accuracy (we mentioned the ghost), but still, so many plot threads are left untethered it’s confusing at times. For instance, Reverend Ron, the new Pastor we meet in the first episode (who we never see again), is the only character who doesn’t hide his distaste for Candy. However, we never find out if his malice and Candy’s second affair (touched on in the final episode) are connected to his predecessor. Also, we only get glimpses of what appear to be Candy’s defense-appointed hypnosis and psychotherapy, only hearing the doctor’s diagnosis from Candy as she entertains friends in a bizarre scene in the middle of the trial.
While riveting and multilayered, Biel’s isn’t entirely believable as a suburban housewife. In comparison, Lynskey gives an incredibly emotional performance as a woman struggling with depression with no one to talk to. Schreiber as Allan is also a pleasure to watch. Uncomfortable in his own skin, the ranges of emotions he goes through in the hours he painstakingly tries to find out what’s happened to his wife and child are some of the actor’s best work.
Despite the outstanding performances, Hulu’s “Candy,” like its titular character, has commitment issues. The limited series spends most of its time flirting with the possibility that Candy Montgomery was a narcissistic psychopath and Betty Gore was wholly unstable, never fully convincing us of either. Unfortunately, the series’ conclusion is as unsatisfying as the case’s real-life verdict.
“Candy” premieres on Hulu May 9 with new episodes dropping weekly on Mondays.