**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
The end of my last review of SACRED LIES: The Singing Bones saw me eagerly awaiting the last four episodes of this ten-part series. And I am happy to report, as fate (or a very kind Editor-in-Chief and the lovely folks at Blumhouse) would have it, I didn’t have to wait too long for those remaining episodes to fall into my lap. This week I bring you a review of episode 7, premiering March 19, taking a deeper dive into some of the key themes: tradition, justice, family, and gender.
Episode 7, “The Hunt”, sees armchair detective Harper (Juliette Lewis) and troubled teen Elsie (Jordan Alexander) hot on the trail of Elsie’s ex-con father, Peter (Ryan Kwanten). They head to the small town of Kingston, which, conveniently, is the hometown of both Harper and Peter. Returning for the first time in 25 years, Harper arrives on Kingston Day – the culmination of the festivities being a hoard of shirtless teenage boys taking part in the town’s annual ritual, “some serious Lord of the Flies sh*t” as Elsie so astutely describes it.
This is where the show’s creator Raelle Tucker (True Blood, The Returned) truly embraces the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale that so heavily influenced the story of The Singing Bones. Knowing the original certainly adds depth and allows a deeper understanding of the themes at play. So, to save you some googling, let me tell you the story of “Der singende Knochen” (The Singing Bone). Are you sitting comfortably?
In a country terrorized by a wild boar, which destroys fields, kills cattle, and rips people to pieces with its tusks, the King offers a reward – whoever slays the beast may marry his daughter. An enticing promise, but most are too scared to approach the forest where this huge creature resides. Enter two poor brothers. The elder brother, who is sly and crafty, takes the west side of the country, and the younger, who is by all accounts a bit of a sweetheart, takes the east. Divide and conquer and all that. Before he has gone very far, the younger brother is approached by a little man who gives him a spear, because of his pure heart, saying it will do great harm to the boar, but none to him. Great. Thank you, strange little man who appears from nowhere and gifts young men weapons… The younger brother carries on and soon comes face to face with the beast. In true wild boar style, it charges at the younger brother, who, frozen with fear, holds the spear out in front of him and closes his eyes. The boar, so wild with fury, runs straight onto the spear, cleaving its heart in twain. Lucky. The younger brother hauls the body onto his shoulders and heads out of the forest towards the castle.
On the way, he stumbles upon an inn and guess who he finds. His older brother, drinking and making merry (because that boar wasn’t going anywhere right?). The older brother sees the body of the beast on his little bro’s shoulders and is filled with envy. So, he gets his younger brother drunk and upon leaving the inn, bashes his brother’s head in and buries him under a bridge. Nice. He takes the boar and presents it to the King, claiming his prize of the Princess. When the younger brother fails to return, he says the boar must have killed him. Again, nice.
A few years later, a shepherd is herding his sheep across the aforementioned bridge and finds a small white bone. Thinking it would make a good mouthpiece for a horn (gross), he takes it home. When he blows through it for the first time, he is astonished to find that it begins to sing. It tells the younger brother’s story, and the shepherd knows he must take this marvel to the King. As soon as he hears the song, the King knows the truth of what has happened. He has the ground underneath the bridge dug up, finds the remains of the younger brother, and has the older brother sewn up into a sack and thrown into the river to drown. The bones are laid to rest in a beautiful grave more befitting of the country’s hero.
Fairy-tales are so often brutal in their treatment of the “bad guy”; this is a world where the punishment fits the crime. Evil is met with gruesome ends – dancing to death in red-hot iron slippers anyone? However, SACRED LIES: The Singing Bones reminds us that things are not so black and white in real life. In some ways, this makes our real-life villains worse than their fairy-tale counterparts. At least the bad guys in fairy-tales are bad for nefarious reasons and pretty transparent about it – consider the drunken, jealous, murderous older brother of The Singing Bone. The reasons for their misdeeds are selfish and driven by greed and envy. We can dismiss them as bad apples, sacrificed to save the rest of the barrel, and cheer on their demise. But back in our world, people can do bad things for a variety of reasons, ultimately doing what they think is best; for the greater good, to protect tradition and a way of life they hold sacred. It is harder than to process their “punishment”, harder to wholeheartedly side with those who believe themselves to be in the right, those who take it upon themselves to cast a fatal sentence upon those believed to be in the wrong.
In many true crime stories, we are told that the perpetrators of horrific crimes were subject to abuse in their early lives. But not all victims of abuse go on to be murderers, of course. SACRED LIES never shies away from examining the different paths people can take following childhood trauma. Parents, and/or caregivers, are human too, and they can make what we perceive to be mistakes – doing “bad things” for the “right reasons”. Each of the key characters in The Singing Bones, Harper, Elsie and Peter, all have parental-related trauma, but their individual responses to those responsible for their abuse speak to their characters. How do they choose to punish the “bad guys”, if at all? Do they try to understand their parents, do they choose to walk away head held high, or do they take decisive and permanent action? I’ll leave you to speculate…
Not only do fairy-tales see good and evil as black and white, but they also portray gender in these terms. SACRED LIES: The Singing Bones does a fantastic job in subverting these traditional gender roles, with important lessons to be learned. “The Hunt” shows us the similarities between Elsie and Harper in their rebellious break-the-mold attitude, a glimpse into the toxic masculinity that has shaped Peter, and a mutually developing understanding of this in the characters, but also warns of the price of fighting against tradition. A grand gesture, that may seem necessary at the time, can have an impact that lasts a lifetime in terms of the way it shapes a person’s character and our future relationship with society, and the gender roles it forces upon us.
Our trip to Kingston in episode 7 certainly provides some explanation as to why Harper and Peter, in particular, are the way they are. Perfectly timed flashbacks provide the insight into Harper and Peter’s childhoods, expertly melding the past and the present as is SACRED LIES’ signature style. Again, the casting of young talent is a real strength here. Micaela Nyland as young Harper and Glen Gordon as young Peter both turn in impressive and compelling performances, holding their own against more seasoned members of the cast like Michael Kopsa (Fantastic Four, Apollo 18) who is equal parts terrifying and infuriating as Peter’s father, William Kingston.
I cannot finish this review without commenting on one of the episode’s real highlights. Music, and the way songs can bring us together and create a shared experience, has always played a key part in The Singing Bones. And even though the musical refrain of the Cherry Falls Jane Does is absent from “The Hunt” (the series’ own version of the murderous tale sung by the singing bone in the fairy-tale), we are instead treated to Lewis’ wonderful rendition of “Jesus Loves Me”. As Harper and Elsie sing together in a heart-warming moment of true connection, Alexander once again exhibiting her musical talent, they turn the traditional hymn into a subversive rallying cry.
SACRED LIES: The Singing Bones episodes 1-4 are available now on Facebook Watch, with Episode 5, “Prom Night”, launching TODAY. New episodes premiere each Thursday at 12pm PT/3pm ET, with the season finale dropping on April 9.