There are few jobs more terrifying than raising a daughter. Gender-based violence against women is endemic in most communities, and there’s no sign of this changing soon. We fear our daughters will become the victim of any number of horrific crimes, from date rape to abudction. Tell Me Your Secrets is a mystery that explores a trauma. Specifically, it’s the trauma of failing to protect our daughters from what we fear most.
The penultimate episode of Tell Me Your Secrets features a debate between two people. Each has a dubious moral compass and are on the opposite sides about whether having kids makes us better. While the scene doesn’t provide a conclusive answer, the series does; Tell Me Your Secrets is a ten-episode look at the lengths to which parents will go to protect their families. And it looks at the evils parents commit in the name of their children.
Created by Harriet Warner, Tell Me Your Secrets stars Lily Rabe as Karen. Recently out of prison, Karen got jail time for helping her serial killer boyfriend, Kit Parker, brutally murder nine women. But was she actually an accessory to his crimes? Thanks to memory loss, Karen has no recollection of her boyfriend as anything but a sweet tattoo artist. A man who once surprised Karen with a kitten on her birthday. Is it possible she didn’t realize the truth about her lover? Has she blocked out her memories of killing nine women? Or, could Karen be faking her blackouts to curry favour with the psychiatrist who recommended her for early release?
For her own protection, Karen has to live in small town Louisiana, far away from where the murders took place. She also receives a new name, Emma Hall. But a brand new identity won’t keep her safe from Mary Barlow (Amy Brenneman). She’s a crusading mother who has the determination to locate Karen, whatever the cost.
Barlow believes Karen has something to do with the disappearance of her own daughter, Theresa. The police never found her alive or dead. Brenneman is by turns vulnerable and hard in her portrayal of a parent. Mary, rather incoherently, believes Kit and Karen took her daughter. Simultaneously, she’s equally sure her missing child is still alive, somewhere. Eager to cross-examine Karen for answers, Mary blackmails a convicted rapist named John (Hamish Linklater) into searching for her.
Mary’s could have hired a private investigator. But her logic for why John has the best position to locate Karen is cynical but sound; she believes a predator has the best position to track down another predator. John he claims to have overcome his urges to stalk and attack women. But the risk of triggering John’s doesn’t occur to Mary. Or, perhaps she simply doesn’t care about hurting anyone else as long as she finds her daughter.
Tell Me Your Secrets has a plot so convoluted. It can feel like three different shows (there’s another subplot about girls going missing from foster care). But it’s admittedly not a bad show. During a pandemic, many of us have ample time to watch TV and a dwindling supply of content. A “not bad” show is a welcome addition to Amazon’s catalogue. While the series bursts at the seams with its own plot, the Southern Gothic tone is adequately chilling. I found its characters universally interesting, and the questions it inspires are compelling.
Lily Rabe’s turns in a particularly thought-provoking performance. The actress adds nuance and gravitas to a protagonist you’re not sure whether to root for. We watched Rabe play a thankless part as Nicole Kidman’s best friend in 2020’s The Undoing. It’s nice to see the American Horror Story vet flex her acting muscles.
Ultimately, Tell Me Your Secrets is worth a watch by 2021 standards. There’s also a welcome side effect of the mystery’s messy plot: It’s practically impossible to predict the show’s ending. Tell Me Your Secrets kept me guessing until the final episode, and that’s certainly worth something. It’ll also make you suspicious of every parent you meet….
Tell Me Your Secrets premieres this Wednesday on Amazon Prime.
- Rated: TV-14
- Genre: Crime, Drama, Horror. Thriller, Mystery, Southern Gothic, SUSPENSE, Thriller
- Release Date: 2/19/2020
- Directed by: Harriet Warner
- Starring: Amy Brenneman, Enrique Murciano, Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe, Marque Richardson
- Produced by: Joe Incaprera
- Written by: Cathryn Humphris, Deborah Schoeneman, Harriet Warner, Linda McGibney, Steve Harper
- Studio: Made Up Stories, Studio T