3 out of 5
Created by: Harriet Warner
Tell Me Your Secrets is, initially, and incredibly grabbing and daring study on the varying effects of grief, and the coping mechanisms that can allow us to feel human, from day to day. It introduces elements that blur the lines between traditional “good” and “evil,” and very much ask of its viewers how we define those terms in relation to people, and what might it take to shift our feelings from one to another. Where the dialogue sometimes leaves these concepts shorted, the slack is picked up by a trio of amazing actors – Lily Rabe, Amy Brenneman, and Hamish Linklater – and sharpened to fully fill out their characters, in a manner that ends up filling the show with much, much more from their performances than it can provide via story.
This seesaw’s precarious balance is then unfortunately tipped by the series’ reliance on mystery boxes. The whole thing is structured around some Unknowns, and it holds on to those Unknowns until after a breaking point; after the point which we really might care. By the time it starts to unleash its reveals, it’s added ridiculous complexities to the plot – sub-sub-plots to keep other mysteries a’churning – and these side stories float in and out too casually to care much for, but more primarily muddle whatever it is we’re supposed to be caring for.
Mary Barlow’s (Brenneman) daughter, Theresa, is missing, presumed dead. But Barlow – in contrast to her family – has set aside that presumption, instead leveraging the still-open case into a mini-empire which tries to connect others with their missing-presumed-dead children, and getting mixed up between chasing publicity and maintaining a purpose along the way.
Emma Hall (Rabe) is the ex-girlfriend of the killer who is thought to have killed Mary’s daughter, recently released from jail and now living under the witness protection care of psychologist Peter Guillory (Enrique Murciano), who’s working with Hall to move past her gaps in memory surrounding her time with her ex, and ideally uncover and clarify the uncertainties – such as Theresa’s death – regarding the killer.
When Barlow’s questionable tactics of foisting unrelated information into the limelight, and trying to force installed investigations forward, start creating vast discrepancies in her life – between and mother and family; between her public persona and her desire to find her daughter – she follows a strange line of logic to hire John Tyler (Linklater), a convicted rapist, to find Theresa, believing that the skills John employed in tracking and luring women would be suited to sussing out the clues as to Theresa’s location.
This bizarre spin on the “you’re the only man for the the job” trope is as silly as it ever is, but is where the show first gets to test us on the discrepancy between story believability, and the actors’ abilities at affecting believability. The latter wins out, time and time again.
Over ten episodes, there’s the aforementioned struggle between focusing on these characters, and filling in the information regarding Theresa, finding out more about our three primaries the whole while. When the series focuses on the former, it can be pretty amazing, really testing our viewerly mettle (in a good way – a challenging way) to decide if we feel for these damaged people, presenting them as somewhat human and recognizable and adding more and more to stress the extent of that damage. When the series focuses on the latter, it’s mystery box nonsense of conveniently forgotten details, and dumb coincidences, and way too many distractions that could’ve sufficed as plot focuses on their own.
You can perhaps see by the rating that the back and forth is generally sustained to keep the show engaging enough, but there likely will be a point when you check out on caring about whatever’s stored within Hall’s amnesiac memory, accepting that the writers are simply going to design some excuse for revealing it only in episode 9 or 10; in the meantime, you have these fantastic performances to keep you watching.