Olsen plays Montgomery, an ordinary citizen of the very ordinary Wylie, Texas. She’s a devout Methodist who seems happy with her church and her husband Pat (Patrick Fugit), who’s a nice-but-bland individual. He likes to chuckle slightly at “The Love Boat,” and one gets the impression that such moments are the peak of excitement in his day, but he doesn’t mind it that way. One of the interesting elements of Kelley’s approach is in how the legendary creator captures mundanity that can still be satisfying; lives that are being lived everywhere that may not have a typically Hollywood degree of excitement but don’t seem to mind it. Even the affair that eventually leads to the murder has a fascinatingly practical air about it—two people who decide to start having sex the way they decide to bring muffins to a church social.
Those two people are Candy and Allan Gore (Plemons), the husband of Betty (Lily Rabe). After a few flirtations, Candy immediately asks Allan if they could start sleeping together. They have a few meetings about it, break down the pros & cons, and decide to go for it. Allan has had such a repressed sex life, even with a wife and children, that Candy is the first to use her tongue when she kisses him. There’s notable empathy for both people trying to break out of their suburban ruts with inherently human passions. And yet “Love & Death” is not a story of obsession. It seems clear that Kelley and company want to avoid that potential reading of the murder right from the beginning. Olsen’s version of Candy enjoys her time with Allan and regrets when it appears a support group has repaired the Gore marriage, but it’s not set up as simple as a love triangle with a jealous participant. This is far more complicated than that.
Again, we know that Candy butchered Betty with an axe. Candy has always claimed self-defense. Betty found out about the affair and threatened her. Candy had to pull the ax away to save her own life. But did she have to strike Betty 41 times? Kelley gets to the crime in the middle of the seven-episode mini-series, which allows him to dive into what he’s always cared about most as a creator: The courtroom. “Love & Death” shifts its storytelling from churches and houses to the trial of Candy Montgomery, which allows for some excellent work by Tom Pelphrey as her attorney Don Crowder (somebody give him a “Law & Order”). The “Ozark” star is excellent at conveying the legal pitfalls he’s trying to avoid in a contentious trial of an admitted murderer.