“Encounters” is a smarter episode of television than it seems at first glance, humanizing the victim of this true-crime story while continuing to chart the path of god-fearing housewife to cold-blooded killer.
This recap of the HBO Max series Love & Death Season 1 Episode 2, “Encounters”, contains spoilers.
True-crime stories are always more interested in the killer than their victims.
This is as true of Love & Death as it is of any other show. The undeniable selling point of the HBO Max series is watching Marvel’s own Elizabeth Olsen play an axe murderer.
But “Encounters” does a much better job than the premiere of humanizing Betty Gore. She’s still lacking on the page, and most of what we learn about her psychology – her affair, which Allan suspects was an effort to control his working life, and her post-partum depression – is relayed to Candy through Allan during their motel room trysts. But Lily Rabe is very good at supplying the performative nuance that glues those little details together into a three-dimensional character.
Love & Death Season 1 Episode 2 Recap
What rule do Candy and Allan break?
You’ll recall that Candy and Allan had a great many rules and regulations defining their strategic affair, so it’s alarming how quickly they violate its most essential tenet. Pretty quickly, they begin to fall in love, though whether with each other or the excitement of their arrangement isn’t entirely clear.
This is obvious to us before it’s obvious to them. As their sexual encounters become more positionally adventurous their pillow talk becomes more open and honest. The snippets of lovemaking last seconds and cut to cozy confessional scenes that go on for minutes at a time, Candy curled up under Allan’s arm as if she has always been there.
How do Allan and Betty repair their marriage?
An hour seems too long for an episode in which, truthfully, very little happens. But the space affords “Encounters” the room it needs to really chart the rise and fall of the affair relative to Allan and Betty’s marriage.
As Allan becomes closer to Candy, he becomes more distant from Betty, who becomes increasingly pregnant and volatile throughout the episode. And, when Allan endeavors to repair his marriage and slow down the affair with Candy, his marriage to Betty – with the help of Marriage Encounter, a Christian couples’ therapy weekend retreat – becomes healthier and more open.
But much like how this episode allows Lily Rabe more space to be layered and human, it gives Elizabeth Olsen the chance to become more deranged.
When Allan suggests ending the affair, as per Candy’s own rules, she goes publicly ballistic. Her efforts to manipulate and gaslight Allan are obvious, and her surveying of him and Betty from long distance quickly become sinister. Her closeness with Betty starts to seem calculated; every offer of assistance, even down to babysitting her kids while she’s away at Marriage Encounter, quietly threatening.
Love & Death Season 1 Episode 2 Ending Explained
In an episode full of obvious parallels, the most telling is how Betty’s early unraveling – she becomes irrationally resentful of the new pastor, Ron, and reaches a personal low point when Allan rejects her sexually – runs alongside Candy’s freeing sense of self-confidence, and how Betty’s better understanding of herself and renewed belief in her marriage to Allan mirrors Candy’s descent into a spiteful, scorned lover.
This is also embellished visually. The scenes of Allan and Betty swapping notes on their feelings and finally having sex that both of them want are juxtaposed with scenes of Candy and Sherry out on the town. Allan and Betty renew their vows as Candy dances the night away, her husband nowhere in sight.
When Allan and Betty return from Marriage Encounter, they’re both giddy with glee. It seems to have been a resounding success.
Candy holds it together for a while. She offers empty words of support and big smiles. But when they drive away, she slips inside and begins furiously grinding beef, for the first time looking like someone who could chop a person up with an axe.
We knew she’d get there eventually, but most people were probably expecting it to take longer than two episodes.
You can stream Love & Death Season 1 Episode 2, “Encounters” exclusively on HBO Max.