If you were looking for a Boston-based murder mystery to add to your summer TV lineup, you can officially end your search. American Gothic, CBS’s new dark, family-drama/thriller, follows the well-to-do Hawthorne family as they discover evidence linking one of them to an infamous serial killer. Suspicions, paranoia, and general chaos ensue, threatening to tear them apart.
This is a rather large family to keep track of, so to help you follow along, EW has put together this handy Hawthorne Family Tree.
Here are some tidbits about our major players (so far):
- Madeline Hawthorne: matriarch, lover of blues and neutrals, pretty scary.
- Mitch Hawthorne: patriarch, entrepreneur.
- Cam Hawthorne: cartoonist, former (maybe current) junkie, lacking 20-20 vision.
- Garret Hawthorne: prodigal son, beard aficionado.
- Alison Hawthorne-Price: type-A mayoral candidate, a politician to her core.
- Tessa Ross (Hawthorne): public school teacher, the ultra kind sister who everyone likes.
- Brady Ross: former cop, recently promoted to detective and looking to make his mark.
With that, let’s dive into the series’ first episode!
The family comes together to discuss crafting Alison’s campaign persona and take some press photos in the family home. By the looks of the Hawthorne abode we know that they 1) are loaded, and 2) definitely have something to hide. (Well, either they’re hiding something or they spent their fortune on ornate decor and not their energy bill, because damn is it dark and eerie.) The air is thick with mystery, from the living room to the kitchen to the unusually large shed in the backyard.
And it doesn’t help that Cam’s son, Jack, kicks off the get-together by informing everyone of his lifelong dream of becoming a medical examiner so that he can perform autopsies. Throughout the episode Jack shows off his drawings of dead bodies, and other strange things you can’t quite believe a child his age would comprehend, let alone illustrate. Definitely dark secrets in this family.
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The Hawthorne’s made their money by owning a concrete company, and Alison’s campaign manager, Naomi, concludes that despite their blue-collar beginnings, the home is too extravagant to use with the “working-class candidate” image they’re going for. Right about then, Alison receives a call informing her of the tunnel collapse we saw Tessa and Brady narrowly avoid (unbeknownst to them) in the cold open; she learns that her father’s company supplied the concrete and may be at fault. Dun-dun-dun.
NEXT: A family that kills together…[pagebreak]
As the collapse is investigated, a man’s belt is found within the concrete. The belt contains the (somehow completely identifiable) fingerprints of a victim of the “Silver Bells” killer, a still-on-the-loose serial murderer who terrorized the city years ago; the murderer was given the name because he/she always used a small silver bell as a calling card. Ever the politician, Alison immediately holds a press conference, vowing to find the Silver Bells killer in her term as mayor.
While Alison is spinning the story at the podium, her father suffers a heart attack next to her. In the hospital, the family discusses contacting Garrett, who has apparently been MIA for quite some time. Tessa seems to be the only one with his contact information, and she secretly makes the call.
Back at Casa de Hawthorne, Tessa finds Cam in the aforementioned dimly lit shed, feverishly looking for his “stash” (which he assures her is “not just weed”). Tessa offers to help Cam, in an effort to guarantee they dispose of said drugs and keep Cam clean. But their search takes a turn when they discover a dusty old shoebox containing several small, silver bells and old newspaper clippings about the Silver Bells killer. Panicked and confused, they vow to talk to Madeline ASAP.
The following morning who shows up in the driveway of the Hawthorne estate but none other than their elusive, heavily bearded long-lost bro Garrett. Tessa and Cam are shocked to see him but ask minimal questions before allowing him to drive them to the hospital to visit their father. Things are tense, as the rest of the family is half happy and half pissed-off to see Garrett after this much time. Garrett whispers something in his father’s ear that causes Mitch’s monitors and alarms to go haywire and for his doctors and nurses rush in. For the rest of the evening Garrett continues to act strange: not really saying much to anyone, insisting on sleeping on the floor of the shed, shaving with a hunting knife… you know, typical AWOL brother stuff.
Still reeling from their discovery and now shady Garrett’s surprise return, Tessa and Cam hit the library to do some research on the Silver Bells killer. They learn that the murders stopped 14 years prior, right around the time that Garrett abruptly left the family. Could he have been the Silver Bells killer all along? They bring in Alison for a second opinion.
Despite the mounting evidence — the old newspapers, the bells, Garrett’s out-of-control beard — Alison can’t be convinced that anyone in her family could be Silver Bells. True to form, she’s primarily concerned about her campaign and how this discovery might affect it. She insists they put the box, and their suspicions, away until after the election.
With all this going on, Cam struggles to stay clean. And when he learns that his son Jack horrifically cut off the tail of their neighbor’s lost cat (in what is presumably the next phase of Jack’s own foray into serial killerism), Cam breaks down: He goes to visit his soon-to-be-ex-wife-and-current-addict Sophie for some drugs and sex. Both agree there is something not-right about their child.
As Alison is tucking her daughters into bed and explaining their creepy uncle Garrett’s reappearance, we find out that one of the girls heard what Garrett really whispered to Mitch in the hospital. She explains that from under the hospital bed, she heard Garrett whisper, “Hey old man… I’m going to tell them it was you.” Dun-dun-DUN!
In the final bizarre scene of this first episode, Mitch wakes in the hospital, turns to his wife, and says, “We have to tell the truth.” Madeline very calmly puts down her knitting needles, takes his hand, and tells him he needs his rest. She then takes off his heart rate monitor and proceeds to twist his breathing tubes until she completely cuts off her husband’s oxygen supply.
You read that right.
So, did Madeline really kill her husband in ep. 1? Will Garrett ever figure out how to sleep in a bed again? Will the pesky neighbor learn the truth about Caramel the cat? The questions are mounting for the rest of this 13-part miniseries!
Ep. 1 Honorable Mentions
- Cam’s perfect cartoonist-with-a-drug-problem glasses.
- Alison’s daughters are truly all of us: dragging themselves around the floors of the hospital, in boredom. Who hasn’t been there?
- Neighbor lady’s explanation for her cat’s name: “He’s the color of Caramel!”
- Jack, holding up Caramel’s bloody tail for his father, all-around thrilled to announce that “garden shears can cut through bone!”