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What happens after Lizzie Borden takes an ax to her father and stepmother? Lifetime follows up its popular television movie from 2014 about the notorious accused murderess with an eight-episode miniseries sequel that, based on the two installments sent out for review, is content to be unexceptional trash.
Read more: Lizzie Borden Took an Ax: TV Review
Lizzie (Christina Ricci) has been cleared of all wrongdoing in those earlier killings, though the townspeople of Fall River, Mass. suspect that she’s gotten away with murder. Lizzie delights in her new infamy, taking all the shade-throwing stares in stride and scaring the local children as opportunity permits. Trouble comes quickly, however, when her father’s former business partner, William Almy (John Heard), makes claims on the Borden estate.
Suddenly, Lizzie and her sister, Emma (Clea DuVall), find themselves threatened with bankruptcy, which doesn’t please their deadbeat half brother, William (Andrew Howard), who has appeared out of the blue looking for a handout. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the matter of the dogged Pinkerton agent Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser), who has come to town with the express aim of proving Lizzie’s criminality. Even Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks shows up as a scarily temperamental gangster who does his best to intimidate Lizzie.
What’s a girl to do in the face of all this threatening machismo but strengthen her resolve and sharpen ye ole hatchet? It’s not long into the first episode before Lizzie’s back to her murderous ways, bleeding men out with the well-placed stab of a hairpin or getting them drunk enough that they can more easily be pushed from high places with nooses around their necks. It’s barely believable that our devilish heroine could maintain her innocence with this many bodies dropping around her, but then, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles isn’t going for realism.
It’s hard to say what it’s going for, really. Many scenes are quick-cut into an incomprehensible hash while some earsplitting mix of hard rock and bluegrass blares on the soundtrack. This negates any sense of suspense (a splitting headache is more likely to result), and the anachronistic juxtaposition of period setting with badass modern musical accompaniment isn’t especially humorous. Nor does the bloodletting feel especially transgressive. Its excessiveness is merely numbing, which is a weird thing to say about a show in which a crazy-eyed gal graphically stabs a guy to death with a pitchfork, among many other misdeeds.
What good there is in The Lizzie Borden Chronicles comes exclusively from Ricci and DuVall, who have a delectable rapport not too far removed from Bette Davis and Joan Crawford at their hag-horror peak in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Ricci’s porcelain-doll features make her seem even more alluringly alien now than she did as a child actress. There’s a winking self-consciousness to her portrayal of Lizzie that works to the character’s advantage; she’s like an out-of-time avenging angel, a feminist icon (before there were words to describe it) lashing out at patriarchy the only way she knows how. By contrast, DuVall is all plain-faced earnestness and the loving voice of reason that complements Lizzie’s lunacy, at least for now. It’s often tough to play the straight man to a more flashy companion, but DuVall does it exceptionally well.
The sisters’ relationship intrigues because it constantly seems on the point of implosion, and it likely will come to a head as the miniseries draws to a close. In real life, Emma left Lizzie after a particularly heated argument and never spoke to her again, which makes one hope for some genuine, dramatic fireworks down the line that won’t require any of the knowingly campy gooses that seem to be the series’ stock in trade.
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