‘Secrets and Lies’ Finale: So who the heck killed Tom Murphy? And who cares?

When “Secrets and Lies” premiered on ABC in March, Sepinwall and I talked about it on the podcast, but nobody wrote a full review.

What I said in my Take Me To The Pilots entry and what I said on the podcast is what I'd have said in my review: In a year of close-ended shows using the death of a child as a catalyst for an investigation or an investigation of grief, “Secrets and Lies” was the most tawdry and sensationalistic, the one most prone to insulting the intelligence of viewers. 

Two months later, same as it ever was, “Secrets and Lies” ended its first season with a seemingly anti-climactic scene and then instructed viewers to go watch one extra scene either online or on some stupid ap or…

Screw that. 

Season 1 of “Secrets and Lies” ended with a slightly ominous car scene between Abby and Christy. Full-stop.

I don't care what happened in that “extra” scene they put online. 

I'm not ABC's monkey and “Secrets and Lies” isn't and wasn't a good enough show for me to be ABC's monkey. 

Anything that happened in that bonus scene that ABC's making people seek out like “Survivor” contestants on the trail of an Immunity Idol is, as Tina from “Bob's Burgers” would say… NON-CANONICAL.

I watched every second of “Secrets and Lies” and usually giggled maniacally at its stupidity, but I'm not going on a field trip to see more. 

After all, I knew who the killer was from the first episode…

[Whodunnit after the break…]

I could send you my notes from the pilot, which I watched over the summer. 

“Abby cares too much about Christmas. She's the killer,” my notes say. 

I watched patiently for nine more episodes and waited for Abby to be floated as a red herring at any point, because that's how these shows work. Sometimes a red herring can get recirculated and become the actual killer, as so often happens on network procedurals, but   in a long con, if somebody hasn't even been suggested as a red herring, that means they almost certainly did it.

Dan Fogler's Dave was red herringed. KaDee Strickland's Christy was red herringed. Natalie Martinez's Jess was the latest red herring, but she was red herringed so aggressively that there was no chance at all that she was the killer, because the bi-polar woman arrested for a crime in a show's penultimate episode is never the actual killer. We all know that. 

There weren't that many other red herrings, in part because Ryan Phillippe's Ben Crawford, so half-heartedly put forth as the prime suspect from the beginning that I briefly contemplated that it could be a classic feint and he actually was the killer, spent three or four weeks accusing his names of largely unrelated crimes that didn't tie in with the main crime. So even though they were completely the focus of whole episodes earlier in the season Revengy McJournalisto, The Incestsons, Token Black Family and Violent Rainman never  were really plausible as the killers and they existed only as dead-ends for Ben to go down, only to have Detective Cornell make one of her pinched faces and tell him to stop interfering with her investigation. 

But once we got to the finale and Abby hadn't been red herringed, I knew that she was back to being The Killer, at least until she confessed thirty minutes in and I began thinking that “Secrets and Lies” was pulling a reverse “Gracepoint,” in which an adult confessed to the murder half-way through the finale and then it turned out the killer was a kid.

Cornell was getting close to finding the killer herself when Ben, for no justifiable reason, found Abby's blood-soaked sneakers and confronted her and she confessed.

Abby's explanation: Her parents were fighting and Tom's mom and Santiago from “Friday Night Lights” were fighting and she was hoping to shut down the potential for additional family intermingling by staging a fake running away scheme. She got Tom and even though it was a torrential downpour, they went through the woods to some place in near the river, but Tom dropped his toy tank, decided to turn around, fled and she bashed him in the head with Ben's flashlight, killing him.

This was not a good explanation and, fortunately, I don't think the show ever expected us to take it seriously for a second. But Ben had to take it seriously, because he's been a bland martyr all season long and what else was he going to do? Even with Hot Daughter Natalie making some very good points about the importance of telling the truth and not keeping secrets and/or lies, Ben went down to the police department and confessed, which annoyed his lawyer, because Timothy Busfield was already directing the episode and didn't need to be called down to the interrogation room for nothing, and it annoyed Detective Cornell because she spent an entire season doing mediocre detective work and was about to get her gal when the father came and screwed everything up. It also pissed Detective Cornell off, because as we learned earlier in the season, Detective Cornell was willing to toss her own daughter into jail on a stupid drug offense, so Ben falling on his flashlight to protect his daughter from a murder rap? Well, that's more than Detective Cornell's sense of justice could stomach and for the first time this season, I found myself agreeing with Detective Cornell

Detective Cornell's version: Abby is a murderous killing machine who didn't like the apparent intimacy between Ben and Jess and so she crushed Tom's skull many times using the flashlight, just as she crushed the screen of her iPhone when she saw Ben and Jess getting too close after the fireworks. 

The only hole in Detective Cornell's theory was when she called Abby “unemotional,” which we all knew was untrue, because Abby Crawford was deeply, deeply emotional when it came to Christmas. In fact, Detective Cornell should have used Christmas as the backbone of her motivation for Abby's crime, less “She wanted Jess to move away so that she wouldn't be in the neighborhood anymore” and more “She was worried that Ben might start buying Christmas presents for Tom and she didn't want anybody weaseling in on her Christmas.”

Go back to the pilot. Abby's reactions to everything were weird. At the time, I wasn't sure if that was because Abby was a vicious sociopathic monster or just because the young actress playing Abby wasn't all that good. But since I was watching the entire season assuming that Abby was guilty, I was also able to read “Future Serial Killer” onto any awkward line-readings from Belle Shouse and I think I ended up being as happy with that performance as anything else in this awkwardly acted series. [Unrelated side note: Belle Shouse is like a miniature Hayden Panettiere, which is to say Hayden Panettiere.]

I take that back: I like Indiana Evans a lot. Natalie's arc from annoying teenage daughter to, by the end, Voice of Reason for the whole darned show wasn't bad.

And KaDee Strickland wasn't bad either, even if absolutely nothing the character did ended up meaning anything. The affair or non-affair with the client? The hidden money? All heaping piles of “whatever.” But there was the episode that ended with Christy telling Ben that she wanted to be furious at him, but he'd made it impossible for her to react properly in any way? That was good.

[Proving that the writers had no idea how to utilize their leading man, the season closed with three or four straight episodes in which Ryan Phillippe kept his shirt on the entirely time. This makes no different in terms of my appreciation or lack thereof for “Secrets and Lies,” but the only conversations about the show on my Twitter feed came when Phillippe got shirtless, so somebody was determined to stifle conversation.]

The question now is, “What's next?”

“Secrets and Lies” hasn't been a big hit for ABC, but it has been a small success and it has gone from The Bubble to Likely Renewal over the past could weeks, especially with a couple audience upticks and the cancellation of “Revenge.” 

But what the heck would a Season 2 even be? Is it a game of cat-and-mouse between Detective Cornell and Abby? Is it Ben in prison discovering that convicts also have secrets and lies? Is it Natalie going around being self-righteous and asking why she's stuck with a strict curfew, but nobody wants to send her sister to jail for murder? Or do we pick up four months later with Christy hoping to celebrate Easter and Abby killing several children to keep them from finding her hidden eggs? The girl loves holidays!

A lot of these things were issues that “Gracepoint,” featuring a killer in the same age demographic, was going to have to figure out in Season 2, except that nobody wanted a second season of “Gracepoint,” even though it was a much better show than “Secrets and Lies.” So perhaps now the producers should enlist Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein to bring “Gracepoint” Season 2 over to “Secrets and Lies.”

I guess that's unlikely… And that nobody wants that other than me.

I never thought “Secrets and Lies” ever got good, but it was absolutely compulsively watchable, much moreso than I would have guessed. As ABC midseason dramas about families trying to get justice for children go, “American Crime” was smarter, better acted, better directed and had a lot more on its mind, but unseen episodes of that one have piled up on my DVR and will likely be set free once ABC just pulls the plug. I never fell more than an episode behind on “Secrets and Lies.”

But do I want a full season focusing more heavily on Juliette Lewis and Detective Cornell? No, I do not. They took some pains to eventually explain a lot of what drove her, but they never justified why the character kept popping up in the corner of the frame practicing some of the most committed Smell the Fart acting since Drake Ramoray left the scene. Another season of Cornell glowering and looking uncomfortable does nothing for me and I don't know what the interesting alternative is. 

I bet that bonus scene ABC wanted to steer me towards would have revealed some answers for how the show might move forward.

Not your monkey, ABC. Not. Your. Monkey.

In conclusion, Abby did it. Christmas kinda stunk anyway. And we'll see you in Season 2.

Did you watch the finale? Were you shocked? Pleased?

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