With the Christina Ricci-fronted Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, Lifetime embraced the facts of the bizarre Borden double-murder and its strange subsequent trial, along with the wild speculations that long-plagued the accused Lizzie Borden. Did she kill her father and stepmother? Was it revenge for the long-term sexual abuse suffered at the hands of her tyrannical father? Was Lizzie a lesbian? For the Lifetime movie, each of these was answered with a resounding. “Fuck yeah!”
With an anachronistic rock soundtrack and a glee at the story’s most grisly aspects, Lifetime transformed Borden from a scandalous figure to a campy and compelling anti-hero. You didn’t exactly root for this morphine-addled murderess to get off, but…okay, maybe you did. But what came after? That’s the question posed in the mini-series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles, which premiered last night.
This eight-episode arc begins in 1893, four months after Lizzie’s acquittal. And presumably it will wrap before—or perhaps revisit—the final scene of Lizzie Borden Took An Ax, which revealed the final fight the sisters Borden had before parting ways forever. While the TV movie veered surprisingly often into the realm of real, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles seems to be setting up for grander and more gruesome fictions. Basically, Lizzie’s got a taste for blood and a mind for murder. So watch out people of Fall River!
The show begins with a telling scene. As Lizzie and her sister walk through town, they’re followed by a gaggle of curious schoolgirls who moments before were chanting that darling little rhyme:
“Lizzie Borden took an ax
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.”
Lizzie notices them, grabs a handy hatchet (like you do), and spins on heel—sending the girls screaming as they bail. Except for one. A button-nosed cherub with golden ringlets says defiantly—with a quiver in her voice—“I’m not afraid of you!” To which Lizzie (with that good ol’ Christina Ricci crazy eye) sneers, “Then you haven’t been paying attention.”
In a nutshell, this is the dynamic the series sets up. You either fear Lizzie, or you’re an idiot. Many of the people of Fall River believe she did get away with murder, and so steer clear of her. Then there’s those that will gladly rile her, like her bastard half-brother (Andrew Howard) who shows for his share of Andrew Borden’s fortune, and a pompous John Heard (A.K.A. Kevin McCallister’s dad) demanding the daughters pay their father’s debts, even if it means bankruptcy.
Spoilers: Lizzie won’t be taking guff from either of these greedy guys for long.
Other threads are set up, like that of a Pinkerton agent (an ever-stern Cole Hauser) who is fixated on bringing Lizzie to justice, Lizzie’s search for purpose, and the continued struggles of sister Emma (an ever-pained Clea DuVall), who loves yet fears Lizzie. There’s some rich drama to be mined here. But it too often feels like filler. Relishing in delicious depravity, Ricci is such wicked fun as a sociopathic Lizzie that all scenes without her feel like purgatory.
I do wish the first episode maintained the same sizzle the TV movie set up. However, I suspect that as the body count rises, so will the series’ energy level. Ultimately, with a mean streak of black humor and a welcomed devil-may-care attitude towards the truth, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is delightfully deranged and darkly entertaining.