When Desperate Housewives ended it was hard to find another show that filled that void, mixing classic soap opera tropes with dark humor to create a wickedly enjoyable show. Devious Maids fit the bill for a bit, though the show was cancelled far before it could run its course. Enter Why Women Kill, whose second season starts off with a bang, embodying the best elements of early Desperate Housewives.
Instead of telling three separate tales set in different time periods (and set in the same house), season 2 finds its footing in one time period — the 1940s. There’s truly no one like Marc Cherry when it comes to his style, between the dark humor and extremely tropey soap opera plots that he somehow makes work without veering too far into the camp.
Lana Parilla is a shoo-in for this kind of show and her character, Rita Castillo, is the kind of character that is extremely cut from Cherry’s cloth. She’s tongue-in-cheek, has wicked one-liners, and is a materialistic, cold woman. And yet, she is a total scene-stealer in the same way Cherry’s characters like this often are (see: she’s Gabrielle Solis, Genevieve Delatour, and Edie Britt). Rita might not be a good person — but she makes for great TV.
In episode 1 she has her boyfriend, an actor named Scooter tailed. Of course, she’s cheating on her elderly husband, Carlo too, she just doesn’t want to share her boyfriend with anyone. Cherry weaves his soapy web here, bringing Alma Fillcot and the Elysian Park Garden Club into the mix.
Both Rita and Alma represent something different that all Cherry shows are fixated on. Rita is the goal all women want to be, movie star beauty and riches — but she’s not a good person, and there’s an evilness that lurks within her. Alma, on the other hand, is the everyday housewife but in her life, lurks a very real darkness. These are elements of these shows that make them so compelling, deconstructing these “dreams” (like the life of a socialite) and “innocent” settings (like suburbia).
The Elysian Park Garden Club is the ideal place for the everyday woman like Alma — it’s the elite club that of course, Rita belongs to. Alma longs to be seen by anyone and to be known as anything other than “the veterinarian’s wife.” This is an interesting idea Cherry turns on its head later, when her husband, Bertram is revealed to be a serial killer. Of course once a story like that gets out (as it always does), Alma will always be known as “the veterinarian’s wife” — only now with a terrible connotation attached.
The reveal at the end of episode 1 with Bertram killing Maisie is Cherry at his best — think Devious Maids level cliffhangers or Desperate Housewives season 1. The way the show is able to toy with expectations and create something so sinister out of something so seemingly wholesome is one of its strengths — and it’s something season 1 failed to do quite as well as season 2 already has.
Cherry’s soapy web continues to weave, with Scooter’s girlfriend being Dee, Alma and Bertram’s daughter. While Rita is alluring, Dee is the one Scooter really wants to be with — Rita’s, as he puts it, his “meal ticket.” That doesn’t stop Scooter from prioritizing his career and Rita above Dee, however.
When the private eye Rita hired catches Dee and Scooter together, they share a cute little moment. There’s also an important message being delivered in episode 2 with Dee when the private eye asks Dee why she bothers with a guy like Scooter, who obviously doesn’t treat her right. Dee, a heavyweight girl, says, “He looks like a movie star. Guys like him don’t go for girls like me” and that every time they’re together, she feels special — she feels beautiful.
It’s so refreshing to see that Dee is presented not only as the only character untainted by some darkness, but as a viable love interest, She’d be with Scooter if not for his career and money troubles — he prefers her even to the conventionally attractive Rita. Through the scenes with the P.I. it’s clear that Dee is actually being treated as a real romantic love interest as he says she deserves someone better. This is the kind of plot that larger actresses never get in Hollywood, so to see Dee’s story tackle societal fatphobia while championing her as a beautiful and worthy love interest is really special.
When Rita’s husband — now unable to talk due to a stroke he suffered — discovers Rita cheating on him with Scooter, it’s such a good moment. And yes, it is so very soapy. It’s the kind of plot that you know will only end in an explosive manner — and it’s hard to not be excited for that.
Alma discovers Bertram’s secret quite fast when she finds his box of “trinkets” aka things he’s stolen off his victims. When she confronts Bertram, she’s all ready to turn him in to the police…that is, until, she realizes that a scandal of that caliber would ruin her chances of getting into the Elysian Park Garden Club. So, Alma helps Bertram cover up his crimes — though she makes him promise to never kill again.
By the end of episode 2, Alma and Bertram are burying a body in the yard, careful not to sully either of their reputations and let their secret get out. It’s drama so good, it’s on the scale of Mary Alice’s murder mystery in Desperate Housewives‘ first season.
Why Women Kill season 2 has already been an improvement over the first, finding a center and single focal point in the 40s timeline and creating a deliciously soapy plot that blends dark comedy with juicy drama.
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