What’s not to love about ‘Love & Death’

MAX true crime original makes small town setting seem big with powerful performances, purposeful plot ambiguity


Amaya Collier

Sherry Cleckler (Krysten Ritter) and Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) in the church choir, where Candy meets her friend’s husband, Allan, with whom she has an affair.

HBO Max YouTube channel

Eliza Jensen, co-a&e and co-online managing editor

True crime shows have been all the rage these past few years. With hits like Dahmer: The Jeffery Dahmer Story, Under the Banner of Heaven, and Mind Hunter—along with Netflix documentaries centering around famous and lesser-known cases—popping up across all major streaming platforms it seems like viewers just can’t get enough of the dark genre.

Love & Death is no exception. Set in the small rural town of Wylie, Texas, Love & Death follows the events of an extramarital affair that turned deadly. Originally published in the 1984 issue of Texas Monthly, parts one and two of the story quickly became a sensation as people began questioning suspect Candy Montgomery’s innocence. 

The case gained widespread attention in Texas during the ’80s due to Wylie being a relatively peaceful town where nothing abnormal happens. Betty Gore’s death was unusual and confusing. No one expected that the rather petite Candy Montgomery, a friendly dedicated housewife and avid churchgoer, would be capable of such a heinous act. 

Love & Death depicts the events leading up to and after the tragic death of Betty Gore (Lily Rabe), who was struck with an axe 41 times in her home. Created by David E. Kelly, Love & Death follows the friendly churchgoer, Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen), who lives a very uninteresting suburban life as she longs for something more, something new. Bored in her marriage to her husband, Pat (Patrick Fugit), Candy becomes infatuated with her friend Betty Gore’s husband Allan (Jesse Plemons) and approaches him hoping that they will have an affair. After a few meetings, Allan eventually breaks it off, fearing that it is hurting his relationship with his wife, leaving Candy distraught and jealous. After a few months go by and things seemingly go back to normal, Candy takes a trip to Betty’s house where things take a violent and deadly turn. 

No one expected that the rather petite Candy Montgomery, a friendly dedicated housewife and avid churchgoer, would be capable of such a heinous act. ”

Love & Death doesn’t outright show you what happened between the two and whether or not Candy murdered Betty; it’s all left up to interpretation. When the verdict was announced, many were shocked that Candy was deemed innocent by the courts after claiming self-defense. What really happened in that utility closet has not been revealed and must be left up to the audience’s interpretation and understanding of the bits of details that we were given. We don’t know what transpired between Betty and Candy, and we probably never will. 

One reason the show so compelling is its talented cast that not only delivers stellar performances but makes you care and sympathize with their actions, both wrong and right. With acclaimed actors like Jesse Plemons, Lily Rabe, and Krysten Ritter, it’s Elizabeth Olsen who steals the show with each scene. While the other actors give amazing performances, Elizabeth Olsen brings a certain charm to Candy that will have you wavering between guilty and innocent. In just a few episodes, Olsen is able to perfectly capture Candy’s emotions immediately after such a brutal crime, truly showcasing her skills as an actress. 

Even though the performances are amazing, the story feels rather familiar. With the massive true-crime boom that has taken over our screens in recent years, many of the same stories are being told again and again. HBO’s Love & Death isn’t the first to tell the story of Candy Montgomery, and it certainly won’t be the last. Just a year prior, Hulu released its own limited series, Candy. Hulu’s series takes a different approach to the Montgomery case by not hyper-focusing on the story from the Texas Monthly articles. Rather it covers the psychological part of the case and focuses on what could have made Candy Montgomery snap in such an explosive rage. Candy took a different approach, which helped set it aside from other true crime retellings, something that Love & Death could have taken more advantage of. 

It would have been exciting and new if it had dived into Candy’s feelings and the kind of mindset she had while trying to deal with her rage and sense of betrayal.

While the show mainly spotlights the aftermath of Betty’s death, the overall pacing of the show felt drawn out for a limited series. Having only a few episodes solely dedicated to the build-up of the crime felt too short and unsatisfying. Adding just one more episode to dive more fully into Candy’s unresolved feelings and jealousy towards Betty and Allan would have really made you question whether it was self-defense or not, putting the audience in the shoes of the rest of the town as we ourselves speculate alongside them. There was so much time spent on the buildup to the affair that we really didn’t get to see much of what happened between when the affair ended and the death of Betty. It would have been exciting and new if it had dived into Candy’s feelings and the kind of mindset she had while trying to deal with her rage and sense of betrayal. 

Love & Death is precisely what every true crime fan longs for. The amazing performances and the interesting story immerse you into the story and don’t let you go. It does justice to the original articles while still keeping the mystery and drama of the case. While there could have been more emphasis on the psychological aspects of the story, it is still a masterclass of acting and an enjoyable series with which any true crime will fall in love.  

Episodes release every Thursday at midnight PST/3 a.m. EST.