The Lizzie Borden Chronicles' First Episode Shows Wickedly Campy Promise

Illustration for article titled The Lizzie Borden Chronicles' First Episode Shows Wickedly Campy Promise

Lizzie did it. That was heavily implied in Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, the Lifetime movie that spawned The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, which keeps that theory alive and embellishes the hell out of it. Like the film, the series stars a clearly-having-a-ball Christina Ricci; it starts after the accused murderer's acquittal.


Spoilers ahead!

In episode one, "Acts of Borden," it's been four months since Lizzie came out victorious from the trial of the century, but she's not out of the woods yet. She's a pariah in her Fall River, Mass. hometown (local kids follow her down the street, chanting the "forty whacks" jump-rope rhyme), but she's not too concerned about that just yet. Her immediate concern is money; though her dearly departed despised daddy, Andrew Borden, was well off, he was deeply in debt to his business partner, William Almy (John Heard). Even if Lizzie and her far more goody-goody sister, Emma (Clea DuVall) pay him all of Andrew's fortune, they'll still owe, and they'll owe for the rest of their lives.

It's a dire situation, and it's not helped by the arrival of the sisters' ne'er-do-well half-brother, William (Andrew Howard), who Lizzie crisply describes as "a greedy, disowned bastard." He's looking to get his grubby mitts on Mr. Borden's money, too, and has convinced himself that there's treasure hidden somewhere in the house. Though, presumably, the Borden home was ripped apart by police looking for evidence in Lizzie's murder case, William still manages to find something so horrifying he knows it must have value, even if it's just the power of blackmail and intimidation: an infant's skeleton, hidden in a wooden box. (We never learn whose baby it is ... presumably, that'll be revealed in a later episode.)

Speaking of the house, Lizzie's over it. Every time she has a quiet moment, she flashes back to the murders, which Chronicles makes pretty clear are actual memories of her doling out those axe whacks into the flesh of her father and stepmother. "We need a change of scenery!" she tells Emma, leading her sister toward the fashionable mansion she'd like to buy elsewhere in town. "It's too ostentatious!" staunchly practical Emma protests (later, she'll confess her dearest dream is to marry a guy named "Archibald," to which Lizzie thoughtfully replies, "I never imagined a husband.") Emma also points out that their finances are precarious at best. But it's abundantly clear that Lizzie, whose version of battle armor is a hoop skirt and a tiny, net-festooned hat, won't back down easily. No man, be he scuzzy blood relation or fancy Fall River muckety-muck, will stand in her way.

Lizzie may be equipped to take on the dunderheads in her town, but what about a genuine Pinkerton detective? In the episode's parallel storyline, we meet Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser), whose first bit of screen time is shooting down his former boss and presenting the wanted man's severed hand to the proper authorities. It must be noted here that Chronicles relies a little too heavily on slo-mo and a distractingly contemporary score (well, it's kind of 1990s rock, actually, but at least 100 years off actual Lizzie Borden-era jams), and nowhere do these two stylistic tics appear more than when Siringo is onscreen.

At any rate, he's summoned by an unknown-as-yet client to Fall River, where he posts up at the local inn, to the annoyance of its proprietor, Ezekiel Danforth (John Ralston), who hates all Pinkertons. More sympathetic to his quest is Danforth's wife, Isabel (Olivia Llewellyn), whose scarred face and timid obedience suggest All Is Not Well in her marriage. Isabel and Siringo develop a cautious rapport. She's not sure what she thinks of him poking into the Borden case, which she remembers as a media circus that made life hell at the hotel, but she's OK with a man who treats her kindly for a change.


Siringo and Lizzie don't meet in this episode, but it's inevitable. We see him poking around, quizzing a witness who mysteriously didn't testify at the trial (it's implied that Lizzie did something horrible to dissuade her), and doing that cliched thing where a character needs to find out some top-secret info about someone and goes to a file cabinet which is a) unlocked and b) so organized the file (say, for "L. Borden") appears in the first drawer he goes through. ANYWAY. Lizzie was a so-so student (she did read Bleak House, though) with bad social skills, according to her file. You don't say?

The episode ends with the one-two whammy of Lizzie fake-seducing Almy before stabbing him with a hairpin and beating him into a bloody pulp ... then framing William for it (we're not shown exactly what happens, but one minute she's offering him a drink, the next minute he's hanging in the Borden's backyard barn). The last shot is of Lizzie's face, reacting to the sound of her beloved (?) sister Emma screaming in absolute horror when she discovers his body dangling from the rafters. What's on that face? Obviously, a sinister-as-hell smile.


Next week, Lifetime promises us a "debauched bohemian party in New York City," "a dashing playwright," and Fall River's most notorious gangster, who is played by Jonathan Banks, a.k.a. Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad. YEP, we'll be tuning in for alllll that.


Livia Augusta

The only reason I'm against watching this is (crazy position here) I actually think Lizzie Borden was innocent. She got her day in court and was acquitted because the evidence was flimsy. I feel so bad for her legacy being that stupid rhyme.