Friday, February 19, 2021

Tell Me Your Secrets, on Amazon Prime

There is probably some kind of pop psychology truism that says everybody has the capacity to be both a victim and an aggressor. Maybe there is even a kernel of truth to it, but this series is built on taking that notion to its fullest, most ridiculous extremes. Unfortunately, a lot of legitimate victims of violent crimes get overlooked in writer-creator Harriet Warner’s Tell Me Your Secrets, which premieres today on Amazon Prime.

Meet “Emma Hall,” as she is now known. She is the former lover of a convicted serial killer, who still loves her old flame. Now, she is trying to start a new life, under a new identity, in Witness Protection. She hasn’t really done anything yet to warrant her fresh start, but whatever. By the way, she is also clearly positioned as the series’ sympathetic rooting interest.

In contrast, also meet Mary Barlow, who is super intense and you know, “privileged.” Barlow still suspects her daughter was abducted and murdered by Hall’s lover, but her body has yet to be found—and neither Hall or her man ever agreed to talk to her. You would expect a grieving mother to get sympathetic treatment, but not here. Instead, the show constantly passes judgement on her reckless single-mindedness, especially when she hires John Tyler to track down Hall. What kind of background would qualify Tyler for such an assignment? He happens to be a convicted serial rapist. Yes, getting involved with a psycho like that is asking for trouble.

There are plenty of other creeps in
Secrets, particularly Peter Guillory, the slightly disgraced shrink overseeing Hall’s reintegration and de facto parole. He also has a connection to the local orphanage, which Hall suspects of covering up the murder of a young resident she befriended.

Tell Me Your Secrets makes you feel uncomfortable and gross. Hall’s boyfriend had something like nine confirmed kills and he is suspected of killing several other girls mentioned, but they are just used as mere plot points. Only Barlow’s daughter Theresa gets any kind of character development, at least through the first six and a half episodes (okay, I’ll admit it, I couldn’t see this one through).

I’ll also stipulate Amy Brenneman is terrific as Mary Barlow. It is an intense, live-wire performance, but the persona she creates is definitely obsessive and manipulative, in a downright creepy kind of way. Hamish Linklater is even creepier as Tyler, but at least that makes sense in his character’s case. In contrast, Lily Rabe is too standoffish as Hall to really make viewers care, while Enrique Murciano is just over-the-top sleazy as the problematically controlling Guillory.

It is one thing to tackle provocative subject matter, but
Secrets goes out of its way to show us how twisted and morally compromised everyone in its world truly is. It is excessive and ultimately exhausting. Most importantly, it just isn’t fun to watch. That is not because the subject matter is too dark—for instance, we have no problem with a film like Kim Jae-woon’s I Saw the Devil, which is about as dark as it gets. However, the visceral elements of this series come across as calculatedly exploitative. Still, we give it credit for filming in New Orleans—that is always a good call. Not recommended, Tell Me Your Secrets starts streaming today (2/19) on Amazon Prime.