Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Why Women Kill unearths the fertile ground of the depraved depths of suburbia

Alma turns toward the dark side in the new season’s episode three

B.K. Cannon, Nick Frost, and Allison Tolman in Why Women Kill
B.K. Cannon, Nick Frost and Allison Tolman in Why Women Kill
Photo: Nicole Wilder/Paramount+

Haunted houses, obviously, are intended to be scary. The vampire’s lair, the supervillain’s cave—you know what you’re in for. Which is why some of the masters of suspense—from Alfred Hitchcock in Shadow Of A Doubt to David Lynch in Blue Velvet—have found great success by juxtaposing unspeakable acts against the sunny climes of idealistic suburbia, friendly small towns. Isn’t evil even more horrifying when it shows up where it’s least expected? Marc Cherry’s settings are so storybook-idealistic, that Bertram and Alma’s lovely home in Why Women Kill successfully belies the horrific acts that are taking place right outside of it. And the benevolence of Bertram, with his love for all the animals in his practice, makes his misguided efforts toward the ending of human life all the more devastating.

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Another favorite theme of the masters is that anyone can be capable of evil. Allison Tolman’s Alma is a thoroughly likable character, but faced with the chance to enter the Elysium Park Garden Club, as well as a public scandal that would completely dissolve her carefully crafted life, she decides to help Bertram cover up the death of the snoopy Mrs. Yost (Rondi Reed, we hardly knew ye) instead of calling the police like the responsible citizen she so recently was. In doing so, Alma discovers a savvy intellect and practical planning aptitude: setting up Mrs. Yost on a fake vacation cover story, posing as Mrs. Yost herself so the neighbors will see her take off on her trip (the stylistic slow-mo of Alma’s fake departure was really well done), pushing her neighbor’s car into the lake. But because they’re amateur criminals (well, kind of, in Bertram’s case), mistakes are bound to be made, even beyond Alma leaving her purse in the car. Bumping into her old flame at the roadside restaurant will most certainly come back to bite Alma, as it places her and Bertram on the trail of the crime scene. And the car may eventually be recovered, but the body is elsewhere, and there’s no way that the authorities won’t find that incredibly suspicious even if they do search in the mountains, as Alma suggested. But there was a clever, poignant plot twist when Alma said that she couldn’t turn back the clock, and then did just that when she walked into the restaurant and ran into Tom Madison, the lost quarterback from her past.

Tolman and Nick Frost are such winning performers that it’s easy to get caught up in Alma and Bertram’s rapidly unraveling plight, even as a successful way out of this for both of them seems more and more unlikely. As Jack Davenport’s narrator wisely notes, the heightened anxiety of their lives now also has the advantage of making Alma’s existence more “vibrant.” The B plots can only pale in comparison. Rita and Catherine’s rivalry continues unabated, although there was a nice moment when it almost looked like Rita had won Catherine over to her side, only to discover just the opposite. Scooter continues to be such a bland character that I am at a loss as to why Rita and Dee even bother to tussle over him, let alone hire the same private detective.

At least Dee, when faced with seeing Scooter and Rita together, garnered enough strength to give him the boot. There was also an insightful revelation into why Dee wound up with Scooter in the first place (and why Alma married Bertram, after getting rejected by Tom), that her mother basically told her just to take what she could get. At least Dee still was able to ask Vern for a drink: Are we supposed to discern that he turned her down because of his legs, presumably from a war injury?

So there are lots of questions left to be answered in this season’s remaining seven episodes of Why Women Kill, with enough witty dialogue (see below) and suspenseful tension to keep us tuned in. That last shot of the manicured hand of Mrs. Yost’s corpse sticking out through the flowers was a master stroke, though. Hitchcock and Lynch would most certainly approve.

Stray observations

  • How can Scooter and Rita go out to dinner in public? Also, Rita’s plan makes little sense: If Carlo is comatose, how could he still disinherit Catherine?
  • Great Rita line about her husband: “I tried to love him but I couldn’t. Because he’s, well, you know: awful.”
  • And Alma’s about her current situation: “This isn’t our second honeymoon. It’s our first crime spree.”
  • Classic Scooter: “I have never met this woman. Dee, go home.”
  • This was way too harsh, though: “You cheated on me with that?”
  • But this was a lovely turn of dark humor delivered by Jack Davenport: “The woman who spent twenty years down on her flowers would now spend eternity looking up at them.”
  • Favorite Frock: Alma’s right, that is one stunning periwinkle-blue suit.
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Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.