“Did he or didn’t he?” That’s the million dollar question ABC has been teasing us with for the past few weeks after giving us a glimpse into the secrets and lies of this intriguing new crime show (not to be confused with ABC’s other new crime show, American Crime, where there are probably also many secrets and many lies). Indeed, after watching the two-part premiere, two things are indisputable: There are secrets, and there are lies. But did he or didn’t he? That’s a conundrum for us to grapple with over the next couple of months, and I have a feeling that the puzzle isn’t going to be as easy to solve as we’re thinking it will be.
Here’s what we know:
—Racing home from his pre-dawn run in hysterics, Ben Crawford (Ryan Phillippe) reports his discovery of a dead 5-year-old boy, who is—was—his neighbor.
—Ben, a house painter, has what appears to be an idyllic life in a perfect neighborhood with wife Christy (KaDee Strickland) and two daughters who represent the typical clichés of their ages. Natalie (Indiana Evans) is a 16-year-old with a slightly pissed off attitude, and Abby (Belle Shouse) is a pre-teen daddy’s girl, still firmly ensconced in that sweet, unaffected stage between adoration and disgust.
—Tom, the deceased boy, lived across the street with his mom, Jess (Natalie Martinez), and was often babysat by Ben’s daughter Natalie.
—Ben’s pre-dawn run was the result of a late night bender where he drank himself into oblivion.
—Ben’s late night bender was the result of a wicked argument with Christy where they may or may not have decided to separate.
—Ben’s college buddy Dave (Dan Fogler) lives in the family guesthouse and still plays like a frat boy: random women climbing over the fence, day drinking, not taking himself—or much of anything else—seriously. Dave was with Ben the night before the discovery and is a big source of tension between Ben and Christy.
—Detective Andrea Cornell (Juliette Lewis), a no-nonsense, intense investigator complete with tight bun and tighter personality, seems instantly skeptical of Ben, his whereabouts the night Tom was killed, Ben’s role in the discovery, and Ben’s relationship with Jess. Cornell gets off on circular questioning, steely glares, and pantsuits.
—Both Dave and Ben lie to Detective Cornell about the details of their night out and tell her they shared a cab home from the bar. They did not.
As the hours after his discovery slowly tick by, Ben tries to reach out to Jess but is admonished by Detective Cornell to stay away from her. Seeming hell-bent on catching him in a lie, Cornell peppers Ben with questions about his whereabouts the night before, as well as the details of his discovery of Tom. Ben tells her he moved the boy and tried to resuscitate him with CPR, but he was already dead. She listens to him with a skeptical smirk that we’ll learn is her one and only expression (and one I’ve already grown tired of), and tells him to stick around.
NEXT: Cornell uncovers a big secret, or is it a lie? [pagebreak]
As the days unfold, Ben is quickly convicted by the throng of press that have gathered in the neighborhood as well as the neighbors, one of whom is Laura Ingalls (but really, it’s Melissa Gilbert). He loses clients. Things quickly start to look worrisome for Ben as his repeated attempts to reach out to Jess go unanswered; he’s asked to submit a DNA sample (which he refuses at the advice of his lawyer); and Cornell discovers Ben’s flashlight missing from his truck.
Growing more suspicious, Detective Cornell continues to persecute Ben, you know trying to discover his secrets and trap him in his lies. Taking him to the scene of the crime, she asks him pointed questions about the flashlight (no, he didn’t have one when he went on his run), a telephone (didn’t have one of those either), and how he got home from the bar (shared a cab with Dave). Returning home, he finds it swarming with cops who are searching it with Christy’s permission. It’s clear; Ben is now a suspect. The suspect.
When Natalie’s friends begin to antagonize her on social media (“Your dad is a murderer”) and the press begins to verbally attack an anguished Abby, Ben snaps and takes the DNA test to clear his name and get everyone off his—and his family’s—back.
The next day, back at the police department, Cornell sets Ben up with a drawn out story of why people kill kids and tries to coerce a confession out of him. Ben denies killing Tom, even when Cornell tells him the DNA results came in and drops this bomb, which you can tell tastes like candy rolling off of her tongue, even though she looks like she just sucked on a lemon: “Mr. Crawford, you did know that Tom was your son.”
From the stunned look on Ben’s face, I’m guessing the answer is no.
Let’s investigate the secrets, lies, and things we don’t yet know:
- What happened to Ben’s flashlight? And if we discover later that it was found at the crime scene, who is setting Ben up for Tom’s murder?
- Who was on the motorcycle that was outside of Jess’ house in the middle of the night and sped away when Ben discovered him?
- How long were Ben and Jess having an affair, and is that the reason Ben and Christy are having problems?
- How did Ben get home from the bar that night?
- And maybe the biggest question of all: Why wouldn’t Ben, who is a painter, just paint over the words “Child Killer” on his fence instead of trying to wash them off?