In my review of the Amazon Prime series Tell Me Your Secrets, I wrote about the recent resurgence of the pulpy crime thriller on television, and how—in many cases (like HBO’s The Undoing)—they’re being falsely elevated (because of casting or platform) as “prestige TV.” But most are ultimately just bingeable beach reads, which is really fine; as I said then, whatever they’re called, “I’m just happy to see them back in all of their cockamamie glory.”
On its face, The Secrets She Keeps—a limited Australian series on AMC that has also aired on BBC One, SundanceNow, and AMC+—is of this same ilk. But unlike these other examples, it actually manages to be emotionally affecting at times. The show (based on the book by Michael Robotham) focuses on two pregnant women: Meghan (Jessica De Gouw), an influential Mommy Blogger who seems to have the perfect life, and Agatha (Laura Carmichael), a struggling shop assistant who develops an infatuation with her. The two meet at the grocery store where Agatha works and bond over their similarly-timed pregnancies, but Agatha is already well aware of who Meghan is; the rapture with which she accepts entry into Meghan’s world tells the whole story.
Every beat of The Secrets She Keeps is easy to guess, but it doesn’t make it any less engaging to watch unfold. We learn early on that something is not quite right with Agatha, and when Meghan’s baby is later stolen from the hospital, it’s really not a surprise. But while Agatha’s entire scheme is absolutely bizarre, Carmichael does everything to make us empathize deeply with her. We know Agatha is broken, but small reveals throughout the six-episode series give further insight into how and why. She’s desperate for the kind of life that Meghan has—or seems to—and will do anything she can to try and replicate it.
If this sounds like a familiar setup to a Lifetime movie, you’re not wrong. But despite falling into a few tropey crime show traps like the ol’ “everyone has secrets,” and playing with paternity questions and the like, The Secrets She Keeps succeeds by staying emotionally grounded. Unlike The Undoing or Tell Me Your Secrets, writers Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin, and directors Catherine Millar and Jennifer Leacey, keep things quiet and intimate. Though there are minor side plots about infidelity and exes and real estate and the navy (!), the story is ultimately always about Meghan and Agatha.
But while Meghan, caught in a web of overwhelming grief and family drama, loses some focus as the episodes wear on, Agatha only shines brighter. Yes her machinations are evil and she cannot be excused, but there were times where I found myself almost wanting her to get away with it—just for a moment. That is how well the series, and Carmichael in particular, conveys Agatha’s overwhelming desire to be “normal,” in her own terms. With a history of abuse, loss, and hardship that she attempted to heal with unforgivable acts, it is Agatha who has become adept at projecting the facade of a perfect life rather than Meghan. Unfortunately, the series doesn’t really do much to investigate Meghan’s online life besides an obligatory troll, because ultimately, Agatha’s stalking of her is mostly of the old-school “staring at you from another yard” variety.
Without performances as layered and emotionally sound as the ones Carmichael and De Gouw give, The Secrets She Keeps would be little more than the aforementioned pulpy ride. It’s still pretty cockamamie, but in a way that is also fully believable. Crucially, the series both pulls us in and pushes us away from its leads throughout, reflecting the ebb and flow of their own successes, failures, and coming through the horror in a way that—unexpectedly—finds grace.
The Secrets She Keeps premieres Monday, April 19th on AMC.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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