American Gothic Season 1 Episode 2 Review: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

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Potential serial killer Mitchell Hawthorne (and his corpse) are no longer.

American Gothic Season 1 Episode 2 followed the Hawthorne family in the wake of their patriach's death, as they prepared for his funeral. More secrets came to light and more potential SBK suspects emerged.

After the Tragedy - American Gothic

I've decided that Brady is the best (or at least most interesting) character, though he is honestly pretty stupid and a terrible cop.

Perhaps working with the incredibly one-note brash and ball-busting Detective Cutter (who is an actual, offensively transparent caricature of a "hard-nosed lady cop") will do Brady some good.

At the very least, she forces him to challenge his assumptions. I understand that this is TV, not reality, but the idea that Brady would completely ignore the non-laborer workers who were present when the belt wound up in the concrete was so stupid that it actually pulled me out of watching the show. I had to pause the screener to gesticulate angrily to myself.

As of now, the most interesting thing about the show is the potential for Brady's storyline – torn between loyalty to his wife/wife's family and his duty as a detective to apprehend a dangerous serial killer. If the show treats this right, it could theoretically be an engaging plot.

I care far less about the Hawthornes, to be honest.

Alison is easily the weakest character of the bunch. I swear, if Alison winds up being the SBK by the end of this, I will lose it.

Alison is massively unsympathetic thus far. She vocally and explicitly cares only about her campaign. She is a walking "frosty politician woman with a buried secret" stereotype, which I also complained about in my review of the American Gothic Series Premiere.

I had vague hopes that she would turn it around after the premiere (or, at the very least, that the show wouldn't go full steam ahead with the woefully bad and overdone "secret lesbian affair" storyline), but she just got worse.

She professed to be the one sibling most affected by their father's death, but her decision to attempt to work her eulogy for political purposes was grotesque.

On top of that, she's skirting very close to an affair with Naomi, the also-unsympathetic campaign manager. If the illicit midnight text message hadn't made that abundantly obvious in the premiere, the extremely intimate hand grabbing and staring deep into one another's eyes during this installment kind of cemented it. Ha! Cement. Get it?

I don't understand this storyline at all. Are we supposed to be rooting for them? Rooting for Alison?

Alison's husband Dylan Bruce (I know that's the actor's name and not the character's, but I can't recall his name and I honestly don't think it matters?) spoke only in the last five minutes, and when he did, it was to give her a sweet and thoughtful gift. Naomi hilariously glared daggers at them as they kissed, which was melodramatic to the point of ridiculousness.

It would be fine if the show were actually interested in Alison's sexuality, but it's so clear that they are using her potential attraction to Naomi as a stand-in for "deep, dark secret."

I shouldn't even have to say this but here we go: Having a same-sex attraction is not equatable to the other secrets these characters are keeping! Come on, show! This is ridiculous.

Most of all, I hate Alison's potential arc because of how deeply cliched and uninteresting it is. Here's hoping that they manage to do something unique or unexpected, or take it in any possible direction that makes it not a cliche.

The big reveal this week was that, according to Madeline, Mitchell was suffering from dementia and deteriorating, while keeping it a secret from everyone.

She sprung that revelation on the Hawthorne kids after they discovered that she'd "gotten rid of" the silver bells box, claiming that his deteriorating mental state caused him to have the delusion that he was the SBK.

Alison and Cam appeared to accept that explanation at face value. Tessa was less convinced, especially after overhearing that Mitchell was still playing chess with Gunther, a groundskeeper, in the evenings, when Madeline said that Mitchell's condition was at its worst.

This led to a stellar confrontation with Madeline that was marvelously acted by Virginia Madsen. If only the material could live up to her. On that note: what the hell is she doing on this show?

As of now, we have equal reason to believe that Mitchell did have dementia or that Madeline was lying. She killed him, after all, but thanks to that confrontation with Tessa, the groundwork has been laid for that plot point to be spun as a mercy-killing that Mitchell supposedly asked for, down the line.

Madeline also wept when she saw Mitchell's bathroom things while no one was looking, so at the very least it's clear that she didn't kill Mitchell out of malicious intent. She did it because she thought she had to. She loved him.

Of course, we'll likely never know whether Mitchell actually had dementia, because his body was cremated before an autopsy could be performed.

This was done to prevent the hospital, who wanted to perform an autopsy because they thought that his monitoring machines had malfunctioned (when in reality, Madeline had tampered with them), from discovering Mitchell's actual cause of death at Madeline's hand.

Destroying the evidence of her crime also had the unintended effect of throwing off Brady's investigation. Not only did Mitchell's body get cremated, Madeline also tossed all of his things – which, according to what Tessa told Brady, was just something Madeline did after all family deaths (i.e., their family dog) to remove painful memory triggers.

On the bright side, the swift cremation led to this hilarious exchange between Brady and the crematory worker.

Brady: Hawthorne, Mitchell!
Crematory employee: Just missed him.
Brady: What?
Crematory employee: Yeah, he went in about three, four minutes ago.
Brady: Went in...?
Crematory employee: The oven...?
Brady: Damn.
Crematory employee: He was dead, right?

Despite Alison's maneuvering, Garrett managed to make it to the funeral service for Mitchell in time to begin his inappropriate eulogy.

Luckily for the rest of the Hawthornes, Garrett's soft spot for his littlest sister won out in the end. Seeing Tessa's pain, he stopped himself short. I mean, he did say he hated his father, but it could have been a lot worse.

Alison's eulogy was – surprise! – cliched and boring. She told a story about her father playing a music box and teaching her not to fear the monsters in her closet. 

The "monsters in the closet" thing seemed like the show trying desperately to appear clever. It's referencing both "skeletons in the closet" (as in, dark buried secrets from the past) as well as someone who is "in the closet" (i.e., Alison, if I'm reading this Alison-Naomi thing correctly).

Obviously, Jack's speech was the best of the bunch.

My name is Jack Hawthorne and I'm going to talk about my grandpa. It's very sad that I'll never get to see him alive again. It's also sad that I'll never get to talk to him, hug him, or ask him advice. But I'm mostly sad because grandpa was cremated and I never got to see his decomposing body.

This kid. Oh man. Wow.

He is quite clearly troubled and they've taken the "creepy, troubled little kid" thing and turned the dial up to 11 pretty damn fast. Like, where could they possible go from there? How could Jack get any worse?

It's honestly no surprise that he's so off the rails. I'm sure his awful parents haven't helped with his already-fractured mental state.

Cam and Sophie ducked out in the middle of a funeral service to have very loud, raucous sex in a church bathroom. How did no one hear that? Inexplicable.

Jack's "darkness" could also have a more direct genetic link than we originally thought.

While the premiere set out to suggest that Jack's "weirdness" could be linked to Garrett's "weirdness," "Jack-in-the-Pulpit" presented a new suspect: Cam. Brady spotted the murder weapon used to strangle David Morales – the belt – in a photo of Cam and Mitchell from 2002. Right before the murders stopped.

Between that and Mitchell's confirmed presence as a supervisor at the cement-pouring, it's seeming very possible that Cam was the killer, and that Mitchell found out and stashed the murder weapon in the cement, assuming no one would ever find it there.

Add in Madeline's mention of Cam's own "dark phase" as a teenager, when he attended therapy, and her remark to Garrett about Cam conquering his demons, and the second installment appears to be all about setting up Cam as a potential SBK suspect.

Finally, was anyone else weirded out by how pseudo-sexual this choice of words was? Just me? –

Madeline: Tessa is trying to have a baby, Alison's weeks from the election, and Cam's sober. He's beat his demons.
Garrett: What's your point, mom?
Madeline: I think you should leave.
Garrett: Why?
Madeline: Because you're a grenade.
Garrett: Well then maybe you should handle me carefully.


Stray thoughts:

  • "Jack-in-the-Pulpit" is actually a pretty damn clever title. At first, I thought it was lame, thinking it was solely a reference to lil' creeper Jack Hawthorne in the literal pulpit giving his creepy eulogy. But according to my dear friend Google, jack-in-the-pulpit is also a plant – arisaema triphyllum. A plant that is poisonous if ingested, in fact. Cute, show.
  • What happened to Alison's twins? Did they just not go to the funeral? Did I miss them?
  • The dialogue on this show is often very stilted and just off, but this was never more apparent than that truly awful opening scene conversation between Cam and his fellow Narcotics Anonymous attendee. Gosh, that was bad.
  • Not sure what the deal is with Sophie's drug use or why they keep harping on it so much. Is this going to become a big deal later?

Who is the Silver Bells Killer? Keeping with my off-the-wall guesses, I'm going to go with Phyllis Krittenhauser, the much-beleaguered owner of Caramel the cat. What is her deal? Why does she keep showing up at the Hawthorne house and being a menace? I get that she's (rightly) worried about her cat, but this totally rando side character has appeared in two out of the two installments so far. It's suspicious. Call the police if you actually think your cat was mutilated, lady!

What did you think of "Jack-in-the-Pulpit"? Is the show keeping your interest, or do you find it waning? Leave me a comment below with your thoughts and remember that you can watch American Gothic online here at TV Fanatic!

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Review

Editor Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.6 / 5.0 (39 Votes)

Caralynn Lippo is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.

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American Gothic Season 1 Episode 2 Quotes

My name is Jack Hawthorne and I'm going to talk about my grandpa. It's very sad that I'll never get to see him alive again. It's also sad that I'll never get to talk to him, hug him, or ask him advice. But I'm mostly sad because grandpa was cremated and I never got to see his decomposing body.


I hated my father. He's the reason I left my family behind fourteen years ago. When I left, he told me that my anger would fade one day and that I'd come home and we could just pick up where we left off. He lied to me. Time ran out.