Warning: Recap Contains Spoilers
Set in the dreary, middle-of-nowhere expanses of upstate New York, USA Network’s new limited series Eyewitness has murder mystery written all over it. Thankfully, it otherwise avoids the expected clichés. Thanks largely to a cast of compelling characters and a bevy of fine performances to match, the series from showrunner Adi Hasak (Shades of Blue) and director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight) is a bold new entry to the small-town crime canon. Here’s what we’ve learned from episode one, which sets the scene with a gay teen love affair, a big-time cop in a small-town pond, a triple homicide in the Appalachian woods, and a killer on the loose.
The boys make a move.
Eyewitness opens by introducing its main trio of characters: Sheriff Helen Torrance (Julianne Nicholson), a Buffalo cop who, for unknown reasons, has recently transferred to her current idle town of Tivoli; her teenage foster son, Philip Shea (Tyler Young), a gay teen who’s stuck in the foster system after his addict mother relapses; and Lukas Waldenbeck (James Paxton), a closeted high schooler who, after a day of motocross, makes a move on Philip in his father’s woods-nestled cabin. The boys are caught mid-hook-up in the cabin when a car of four men -- one tied up in the trunk -- pull into the driveway thinking they’re secluded, alone. Philip and Lukas scramble into hiding and look on in horror as the thugs’ captive (played by Warren Christie) breaks free and shoots the three men -- one of them, it’s later learned, an FBI informant -- dead. When the killer finds Philip curled under the bed, Lukas intervenes just in time with a frying pan and knocks him unconscious. Frazzled, the two boys flee.
Lukas isn’t ready for love.
The following days prove trying as Philip’s foster mother becomes further entrenched in the murders. It’s soon learned that only three bodies were recovered from the cabin, which means the killer is still on the loose. (The man is later shown tending his wounds and googling local high schools, hoping to locate Phillip and close loose ends.) Afraid for their lives, the two teens rely on each other in private, but when Philip approaches Lukas in school, Lukas’ fear of being outted as gay outweighs his affections for Philip. He picks a fight to keep up appearances, punching him to the ground. Is it any surprise that such hot-and-cold antics don’t sit well with Philip? The pilot ends with him going to Lukas’ house to make up and make out, but conversation sours and Philip leaves in a dash. His problems get a whole lot worse, though, when lo and behold, guess who’s on his bus ride home? The same man who was pointing a gun in his face just days before.
Is Helen in over her head?
Okay, so how did we get to that final standoff on the bus? There’s much more to Eyewitness than its doomed gay lovers -- namely, Helen, who herself gets entangled in an FBI cover-up and is clearly hiding something from her past as a cop in Buffalo. Her storage unit, it’s shown, is composed of just a single bin of police files and photos from a case and a bottle of Klonopin in her name. Considering the depths this case is rapidly exploring, one has to wonder if Helen is stable enough to be a mother, a wife, and a lone Sheriff going up against the FBI.
Remember the Vescovi name.
So about that FBI cover-up. Upon first arriving to the scene of the crime, Helen is greeted by an FBI agent named Kamilah Davis (Tattiawna Jones), who says she’s been tracking these ne'er-do-well heroin dealers for some time; they’re somehow connected to the Vescovi crime family. The fact that Camilla’s informant, Chris Petronelli, is one of the three bodies is withheld from Helen -- if the FBI were to find out her informant is dead, Camilla would be out of a job; and if the Vescovi family found out they had been infiltrated, there would be lives on the line. That aside, Helen still thinks there’s something fishy about Chris’ involvement and digs deeper, eventually meeting his widow, Sita (Amanda Brugel), whose child has just been taken by child services. Sita now fears for her life at the hands of the Vescovis. Going on little more than a hunch, Helen presses until learning that Chris was indeed somehow connected to Camilla and the FBI. So what does the FBI know about the Vescovis that Helen doesn’t? Was there, in fact, a fourth victim who escaped before the police arrived? (As far as she knows there were only three people in the cabin that night; Philip’s lips are sealed to protect Lukas.)
It all poses the kind of mystery that Helen has clearly relished in the past. There’s a spark of excitement and intrigue in her eye that Tivoli has until now snuffed. It seems, however, that her dedication to the case will come at a price.