Tell Me Your Secrets
Made Up Stories, 2021
📷 : Licensed from Shutterstock
Suspenseful and intense thrillers
Mysteries or whodunnits
We all have a friend who tells the occasional elephant story. You listen to their spiel and try to resist rolling your eyes or saying, “Stop; I know you’re embellishing.” However, part of the reason we let them keep going is because we are genuinely entertained. Hearing an exaggerated version of how something went down can be far more intriguing than the truth. Perhaps this contributes to our enjoyment of the “unreliable narrator” trope in both literature and entertainment.
Tell Me Your Secrets offers the latest story centered around a protagonist that cannot be trusted; in this case, it is Emma Hall (Lily Rabe, American Horror Story). Just released from prison after seven years for being an accomplice to her serial killer boyfriend, Emma tries to start over in a small town in Louisiana. The problem is that she cannot remember all the details of her past and has fading trust in her psychiatrist. Elsewhere, Mary (Amy Brenneman, Judging Amy) looks for her missing daughter Theresa, one of the many victims of Emma’s boyfriend. As the body has not been recovered, she holds onto hope that Theresa is out there and enlists the help of convicted sexual predator John (Hamish Linklater) to find Emma for answers.
While the various character motives and pasts seem straightforward from the jump, we quickly find out that none of the main characters are exactly who they seem. Is John completely rehabbed? Is Mary just a grieving mother? Is Emma the monster Mary has made her out to be? Tell Me Your Secrets plays on not only our tendency to look for completely virtuous and evil characters but also our expectations of what a victim or a perpetrator looks like. No one is exactly who they appear to be at the start. The series effectively conceals many details about what the characters have done and what they are capable of for the first several episodes. While initially frustrating, it sets the table for a second half of the season full of surprises.
Extremely dark and eerie throughout, Tell Me Your Secrets picks its moments to show violence and gore rather than making it pervasive. Its ability to be selective keeps the focus on the elements of mystery in the show and makes the violence more effective.
The unreliable narrator remains a tempting plot device to employ in any mystery thriller; the best way to pull the wool over the eyes of your audience is to have a deranged or inebriated character spinning the tale. Emma isn’t speaking directly to the viewer, but she is simultaneously loathsome to the audience for her past transgressions and sympathetic for her present state. Thus, the seeds of doubt have been sown before we even realize that she is struggling with her memory.
The best comparison for Tell Me Your Secrets is probably not a show but two recent films, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Both films utilize unreliable narrators and effectively offer enough misdirection to hide the psychotic or abusive nature of either themselves or other characters. As a movie is one continuous story rather than a series of episodes, this trope flows more smoothly in a film. Nonetheless, if you enjoy weeding through a barrage of confusion and misdirection, Tell Me Your Secrets may provide the whirlwind you’re looking for.