For a series that is billed as a dark thriller, it’s slightly frustrating that “The Secrets She Keeps” doesn’t really stray from a certain narrative that’s established in its first hour; he plays things relatively directly. Writers Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin, each of whom writes three episodes of the series, fill each plot slice, with the usual soapy elements like infidelity (exemplified by flashbacks against the wall) and murder. Directors Catherine Millar and Jen Leacey set a solid pace, creating slow tension and dousing in moments of jarring surprise. There’s a dark humor that’s always funny: a man’s quiet laughter when his romantic partner asks, “How many other women are pregnant with your baby?”; Meghan’s mother, irritated by her influencer affections, asks her for a fruit basket gift: “What am I supposed to do with a pomegranate?”; an online shopping cart full of items that practically scream, “I’m planning something criminal!”
But the biggest flaw of “The Secrets She Keeps,” which becomes clearer with each episode, is how the series fails to move Agatha and Meghan forward in terms of inner development. Traumatic stories abound, including one particularly disturbing story that recalls how often we dismiss the pain of young women. The series explores, to some extent, how motherhood acts as a unifier, instilling in women an immediate trust in others who also have children. Meghan and Agatha have barely had a few conversations that Meghan says of Agatha’s work: ‘I want all the gory details’, a sharing assumption that Agatha is too keen to provide. Is this all that female friendship becomes after a certain age, the series asks itself: bonding with children? “The Secrets She Keeps” dares to question whether such a connection could be meaningless rather than meaningful, and there is a refreshing subversive quality to this query.
Still, there is an ultimate dissatisfaction with the series which may be caused by its lack of thought about what certain choices mean for these characters. The emphasis on cliffhangers and subterfuge means Agatha and Meghan are defined by a secret each, and the show doesn’t broaden their personalities much beyond that. De Gouw and Carmichael are solid performers – the former communicating ambition as a way to mask resentment, the latter balancing fragility and ferality – but the work they do scene by scene seems less and less relevant given that the narrative needs these characters to go. It becomes clearer in the series finale, when one of the women realizes that she has neglected an important part of her personal life. “I would have known. I would have felt it, ”she insists, and the desperate tenor of her claim has an impact. By the end of the episode, however, there is no further mention of this self-doubt, and no indication of how the character’s behavior will be shaped by or transcend this uncertainty. “The Secrets She Keeps” is well played and tightly woven, but the larger points he aspires to make about maternal desire as social capital and motherhood as performance eventually eclipse.
Entire series considered for review. “The Secrets She Keeps” will air on AMC on April 19.