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Series / American Gothic (2016)

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American Gothic is an American mystery drama television series. It tells the story of the Hawthornes, a wealthy Boston family consisting of parents and four grown siblings, each of whom has enough skeletons to fully fill a closet even before it's revealed that one or more of them may be connected to the Silver Bells Killer, a serial murderer active in Boston nearly two decades earlier.

The series was cancelled after the conclusion of its 13 episode first season.

Not to be confused with American Gothic (1995), the horror series which is unconnected despite sharing a title.

This series provides examples of:

  • American Title
  • Amoral Attorney: The Hawthorne family lawyer is perfectly happy to offer Madeline advice on how to hide assets and her passport just in case she needs to run.
  • Artistic License – Law Enforcement: The idea that Brady would be allowed to continue to work - as one of the lead detectives, no less! - on the SBK investigation after his father-in-law and brothers-in-law were identified as the prime suspects is frankly ludicrous. Especially since he's temporarily living in the Hawthorne family home as a direct result of the events that led to the investigation. Double especially because his own wife quickly gets added to the list of suspects, though she's acknowledged as the least likely to be actually guilty. The show just about gets away with it by playing up its deliberate use of campy soap opera tropes; but it's still jarring whenever Brady's supposedly sensible and no-nonsense boss decides to give him another chance because he's a newly minted and very promising detective, despite the fact that his ability to investigate is so obviously compromised.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: What the series runs on. The members of the Hawthorne-Price-Ross clan can be summed up as follows:
    • Mitch Hawthorne, the patriarch who pulled himself up by his bootstraps to build a successful concrete and construction business, and seems like the nicest man in the world but may also be a serial killer;
    • Madeline Hawthorne, the calm and collected socialite matriarch who murdered her husband when he threatened to give away some sort of secret, and isn't above emotionally manipulating her children to keep them off the scent;
    • Garrett, the eldest brother who dropped off the map one day with no explanation and is now so paranoid that he lives entirely off the grid;
    • Alison, the eldest sister whose ruthless pursuit of political power causes her to interfere with her family's attempts to unmask a serial killer, and who is far more interested in her political adviser than her increasingly distant husband;
    • Tom Price, Alison's husband, who initially seems to only wish to support her, but later buys the family's company out from under her and announces that he'll be running things from now on;
    • Harper and Violet, Alison and Tom's Creepy Twins who seem to deal with some implied Parental Neglect by retreating in to a bizarre fantasy world;
    • Cam, the younger brother and recently reformed drug addict with a habit of falling off the wagon, who has recently made good as a successful cartoonist but has deep psychological problems dating back to his teens;
    • Sophie, Cam's estranged wife (though they're still sleeping together) and implied to be his drug dealer, who has no interest in getting clean herself and is all too happy to see Cam start using again;
    • Jack, Cam and Sophie's son, an apparent sociopath who tortures animals and seems to hope to practice what he's learned on his young cousins;
    • Tessa, the youngest daughter and Only Sane Man whose only real failing - that she's too passive for her own good - could prove deadly in a family like this one; and
    • Brady Ross, Tessa's husband, also an Only Sane Man to some extent, though his desire to impress his superiors following his recent promotion to detective leads him to go behind Tessa's back to investigate her family, causing tension in their previously happy marriage.
  • Could Say It, But...: Madeline's lawyer uses a conversation about her love of Boston Legal to advise her how to liquidate and hide her assets just in case she needs to make a run for it, without technically telling her to do so.
  • Creepy Child: Jack seems to be a serial killer in the making, underscoring the suspicion that he gets it from his father's side of the family. He shows a classic lack of empathy coupled with a fascination with death and dismemberment that goes beyond what's normal for his age: he cuts the tail off the neighbour's cat and shows no remorse even when he learns he hurt the animal, and is only sad about his grandfather's death when he learns that he won't be allowed to watch him decompose in his coffin.
  • Creepy Twins: Though not as bad as their cousin Jack (yet), Harper and Violet definitely have their moments, especially in the pilot. This is partly to do with them exhibiting stereotypical twin behaviour like wordless communication and bizarre games no-one else can understand, and partly to do with the surely very deliberate costume design that brings to mind the ghost twins from The Shining.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Alison, who's married to Tom and having an affair with Naomi. When Tom finds out that she and Naomi slept together, Alison diffuses the situation by seducing him while recounting to him in titillating detail the sexual encounter that recently took place without batting an eyelid. Granted, Naomi is happy enough to have an affair with a married woman and therefore hardly morally spotless, but still you somehow feel like her privacy's been breached at that point.
  • Driving Question: Who is the Silver Bells Killer, and what is the Hawthorne family's connection to him/her?
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: It's gradually becoming clear that every member of the Hawthorne family could have either been the killer or the killer's accomplice:
    • Patriarch Mitch kept a cardboard box in his garden shed, filled with newspaper clippings relating to the killings and a stash of a dozen silver bells identical to those found at the murder scenes.
    • Odd and secretive elder brother Garrett broke off his engagement and moved away from home without explanation at the exact time the killings suddenly stopped; he's now so paranoid he lives entirely off the grid.
    • Younger brother Cam was the owner of the belt found at the bridge collapse that caused the case to be re-opened, and talked to his therapist about his fantasies of killing at around the time of the murders.
    • Eldest sister Alison is quick to talk Cam and Tessa out of revealing the contents of Mitch's box of memorabilia to anyone, especially Tessa's cop husband. She reasons that the suggestion would adversely damage her political career at a key juncture, and that to drag the family name through the mud without solid evidence would be unnecessarily damaging to their business as well as their social standing, but it's not hard to imagine her having an ulterior motive.
    • Matriarch Madeline cuts off her husband Mitch's oxygen supply in his hospital bed, killing him, after he urges her that they both "have to tell the truth." She later destroys Mitch's box of "research" into the killings.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: In the final episode, Brady sees cherry blossoms above SBK's wife's grave, remembers Sophie's cherry blossom tattoos, and realizes that she's the daughter/accomplice they're looking for.
  • Exact Words: Madeline's favorite brand of lies involves telling half-truths and omitting certain facts, so that what she does say is never technically inaccurate.
  • Generation Xerox: Just like her parents, Alison turned out to be a homicidal criminal, who helped the villain kill her own mother. While her mother wasn't the most sympathetic victim, and Alison had previously expressed disgust at her activities, she still helped a known killer. However, unlike her mother,she didn't target any innocent victims and was shown at times to care more about her family's intact was than her own political ambitions, making her the lesser of two evils.
  • Happily Married: Tessa and Brady are clearly very content with their lives together, though they're desperate for a baby. Mitch and Madeline come across this way until Madeline kills Mitch when he urges her to "tell the truth" at the end of the pilot.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode, as well as the show itself, is named after a famous American artwork, with a visual Easter Egg dropped in to every episode.
  • It Runs in the Family: Cam and Tessa worry that this is the case with their family, given Jack's burgeoning psychosis and Mitch's apparent connection to SBK. They're half right, as Jack did inherit his homicidal tendencies... from his mother's side of the family.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Tessa and Brady are trying to have a baby with, so far, no success. Meanwhile, Cam and Sophie seem to have had a son straight out of college while they were both drug addicts, suggesting that he probably wasn't planned, while Alison and Tom have twin daughters that they both seem basically indifferent to. It continues when Tessa learns she's pregnant in the same episode as discovering that she, as a Hawthorne, might carry a gene associated with psychopathy, which - along with the tensions in her marriage to Brady - have made her question whether she wants a baby at all.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Alison and her campaign manager, Naomi, are having an affair.
  • Only Sane Man: Tessa and Brady both fit this role. Tessa is the only Hawthorne sibling without some shady doings either in her past or her present, and is generally portrayed as innocent and sweet, while her husband Brady is a cop who lacks the high social status of the rest of the family, who are all businesspeople, socialites, and politicians.
  • Out of Focus: Most of the spouses/love interests of the four Hawthorne siblings are major supporting characters. Alison's husband Tom is introduced with almost as much background as Sophie, Brady, et. al., and even buys the Hawthornes' company early on in the series. After that, he just... disappears, returning briefly for a two-episode sub-plot that sees him sleeping with the journalist who's been harassing the family, but never appearing again following her murder. The fact that he by all rights should have been a suspect in the latter is never brought up, and his buy-out of the business is never mentioned again.
  • Red Herring: The penultimate episode at first makes it look like Naomi is the SBK accomplice, but it's actually Sophie.
  • The Reveal: "Freedom From Fear", the third-to-last episode, offers up a plethora of explanations — the body that Cam saw being dragged down the stairs as a teen was the real SBK, who a young Tessa accidentally killed by pushing down the stairs when he broke into their home. At their parents' behest (in order to protect the family from media attention), Garret convinced her it was a nightmare, and then disposed of the body in the woods; when SBK turned out to be Not Quite Dead, Garret killed him with his own knife, which he kept as a reminder of what he'd done. Meanwhile, Mitch (at Madeline's urging, with her finishing the job) performed a copycat killing on Christina's father, an accountant who'd discovered he was embezzling money from his company, in order to cover his tracks and pin it on SBK. When Garret discovered this, he fled to the Maine woods in disgust.
    • In the final two episodes, we discover that SBK was Sophie's father, with her as his accomplice.
  • Running Gag: Madeline's neighbor Phyllis popping up and complaining about some mundane problem as if it's the most important thing going on.
  • Serial Killer: The Silver Bells Killer, who terrorised Boston fifteen years before the beginning of the story. More details are revealed in every episode; what's mainly known is that there were half a dozen known victims of both genders, all connected by the fact that they were from wealthy Boston families, who were strangled to death in their own homes, and a small silver handbell was left beside each body. It turns out to have been Sophie and her father, acting out an insane revenge plot on the rich who got preferential treatment in the hospital, while her mother was ignored and died of septic shock.
    • Madeline turns out to be one as well, having killed three people (two of them designed as SBK copycat killings) and talked a terminally ill man into killing himself, all in order to hide her family's connection to the original killings.
  • Ship Tease: The series wastes no time before dropping some heavy hints that Alison and Naomi are attracted to each other.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Garrett follows his ex-fiancée Molly and SBK victim's daughter Christina, and is romantically involved with both.
  • Take That!: When Garrett asks Brady for help finding Christina, Brady sarcastically asks if he'd also like him to find Hillary's emails or [Donald Trump Trump's]] tax returns.
  • Time Skip: The series epilogue jumps ahead a year, showing how the Hawthornes and their loved ones are coping after the events of the series.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The final TV interview with Alison has the journalists making a big deal of Alison being Boston's first female mayor, but never once mentioning the fact that she seems to have publicly left her husband for her (female) campaign manager sometime in her first year in office, presumably making her Boston's first openly bisexual mayor as well.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Alison's husband Tom just sort of disappears towards the end; he's not at the election party in the last episode, and the one-year Time Skip epilogue apparently shows that Alison left him for Naomi. It's a little odd, even if he was Out of Focus most of the time, considering that he bought out the Hawthorne family business early in the series and seemed to be gearing up to be something of a minor antagonist.