To even begin to unravel the puzzling, disturbing tragedy that is the Murdaugh Murders, it starts and ends with legacy.
Lifetime’s latest in their Ripped From the Headlines True Crime slate, Murdaugh Murders: The Movie, is inarguably its strongest yet.
Bill Pullman is utterly transformative in the role of Alex Murdaugh, from the mannerisms and diction to his cadence, reminding us yet again of why he’s one of the greatest actors of our time.
There is something unique about Murdaugh Murders Part 1: It feels distinctly different from Lifetime’s usual fare in style and execution.
The tone is different without a shadow of a doubt, somehow edging away from the usual “TV movie” formula, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if this mini-series event earned itself some recognition.
The Murdaugh tragedies and scandals have been at the forefront recently, with various specials and docu-series tackling the sordid story of a South Carolina prince who inexplicably and brutally murdered his wife and son.
Yet, Murdaugh Murders: The Movie offers something fresh, taking a refreshing path of giving us nuance as we delve into the lifestyle of the Murdaughs to understand better how things could’ve ended as tragically as they did.
Initially, the Murdaughs are so happy as a family. Alex and Maggie appear loving, and both dote on Paul to the point of being nauseating because it’s evident this kid suffers from affluenza and gets swallowed up whole by his own privilege.
Part one of the movie event indeed fills us in and builds up the Murdaugh world of power, privilege, prestige, and influence.
Legacy hangs heavily throughout the film, something which comes through from every point, from the dialogue to the many camera shots and placement.
At one point, as tensions mount and the century-old dynasty that the Murdaughs have built as a first family of South Carolina crumbles around Alex, we see him struggling to keep hold of everything and failing, an aged photo of his twice great grandfather mounted on the wall looming over him.
It’s aspects like that within the film that make it so gripping. Everything starts off slow and easy, safe, normal, and well within control.
The Murdaughs are seemingly the picture-perfect family, but like most families of affluence, there are cracks at the seams and insurmountable plights that one can’t get beneath, no matter all the money and power in the world.
We see Alex as this loving husband and father, a family man who spoils the people he loves and charms everyone else. He’s charismatic and a Southern gentleman.
He appears as if he’s a good, reliable man to know and seek help from, but despite all of that, his legal practice, the popularity among his peers, it’s apparent how much pressure the Murdaugh name comes with and the weight of which he crumbles beneath it.
Alex’s father drills into him the importance of their family legacy — it’s something they hold in high regard and cling to because with it comes a power that few can obtain or, in this case, maintain.
It’s something that Alex tried to instill in Paul, too, but unfortunately, it’s the spoils of a rich kid and protecting him so often without any discipline that is the most significant stone cast to initiate everything falling apart around them.
Alex’s father is the head of the Murdaugh family, and he’s done his part in carrying on and maintaining the prestige of their family name, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that he had little faith in Alex to do the same well.
It’s how this middle-aged man still seemed to be this little boy looking for his father’s approval, trying to prove something at all times that he could handle it all, and he failed spectacularly at doing so, but not for lack of trying in his way.
Interestingly enough, the role between fathers and sons was pronounced during this first film, as we saw Alex’s father’s hold on him and how needing that approval and feeling that pressure influenced everything he did.
But we also see how Paul suffered from the Murdaugh legacy as well. Alex spoiled him beyond comprehension, and then the family suffered from the consequences of that as Paul would get deeper into trouble that jeopardized them all, and Alex dug more holes to pull everyone out of it.
It was evident that Paul had a drinking problem and needed professional help. Instead of getting any of that, Alex continued to cover for his son, push his weight around to get the desired results, and otherwise save Paul time and again without much consequence.
The Paul, or was it his drunken alter ego Timmy, who smiled apathetically at the boat accident scene even when Mallory Beach was still missing. His friends were hurt; he was a kid who had never faced hardship and knew he could literally get away with murder if it came to it.
His own privilege poisoned Paul, making him dangerous and a problem. There were so many little moments where it felt as if there was something more to him.
His lack of care at the crime scene, how disinterested he was when treasured housekeeper Gloria was in a coma, and even the mysterious nature behind how she fell in the first place.
In some ways, it’s as if we’re to believe that “Timmy” was a problem and a real danger to himself and others, but there was no way to elaborate on that any further.
It was simply the cross he bore as a problematic Murdaugh.
Some of the best, albeit disturbing, scenes were watching Alex Murdaugh in action. The man was quick on his feet and a master manipulator, or at least he tried to be. He was diabolical!
Whose mind schemes that quickly and effectively? He was such a compulsive liar and plotter.
How he easily lied about and changed what happened to Gloria and already had his sights set on getting the insurance money from her accident and subsequent death was surreal.
He barely takes time to react or breathe before he’s in “plotting” mode, and he does that thing that great liars do when they tell you a lie in the fraught, emotional moments so much that they hope they convince you that it’s the truth.
As grotesque as it was, watching him at work during that accident was fascinating. He was running things with the cops on the scene, and at the hospital, he was already drilling into Paul in his subtle way that he wasn’t the one driving the boat, feeding Paul a story that would protect him from blame.
Then he went on to work over Connor in the next room, spoke to the other girl’s parents, and made all of his respective phone calls, frantic to get things in motion and “preserve the Murdaugh name and legacy” before his father could so much as raise a stink about it.
The camera work and pacing put us right in the middle of all of it with him, and you almost got the push of adrenaline that he probably had navigating the scenes and trying to make do with what was happening, getting ahead of the scandal that was ripe to erupt.
It’s some of what we spoke to director Greg Beeman about regarding his process of transporting viewers right into that moment and space with Alex effectively.
Alex’s constant pill-popping added to the overwhelming sense that everything was crashing down. His vice is his weakness and downfall; every bit that Paul’s drinking is his. The man who asserted that he was the law, which spoke volumes about who he was and summed him up brilliantly with one line, was struggling to outrun it.
Murdaugh scandals were piling up, and it felt like a ticking time bomb before everything imploded. Paul was too much of a wild card, destined to test the greatness of the Murdaugh name.
And Alex’s embezzling at his firm was already catching up to him and something which he couldn’t keep putting off for too long. The walls were bound to close in one way or another, even without Mallory’s tragic death.
But Mallory’s death and the boating incident were like the final tap against a house of cards. Even with all the strings Alex constantly pulled, and there were alarming amounts of them, specifically regarding Paul Murdaugh‘s case, there would always be this shadow over the family and stain against the name.
Everyone started seeing them as privileged individuals who used their prestige to get away with things, and public opinion was currency. The Murdaughs’ power could only work if there were some way of garnering favor, and they were losing that.
Everything collapsing in on Alex made the second half of the film riveting. You see what and who people are once they’re getting fired upon on all sides, and that was what he was up against.
Facing down nearly one million dollars in missing funds from an account he stole from, facing flack from poor Gloria’s family who basically went homeless waiting on the funds he promised them and stole instead, and Maggie finding out about the bounced checks and pill-popping was getting to be too much.
And that wasn’t even including Paul and the Mallory situation or his sick father, whom he was failing to make proud.
We saw the other side of Alex as he lashed out at Maggie, roughed up Paul, and did unspeakable things to the poor sex worker he frequented.
It was as if all these things were building up for him until he imploded, and the next thing you know, we saw the bizarre instance of how he ended up shooting Maggie and Paul at their ranch.
The murder scenes were provocative in how gruesome they felt without being obscene for the sake of it.
It was such a heinous crime that even when you knew it was coming, you physically recoiled as the shotguns went off, looked on in horror as Maggie crawled in an attempt to escape, and took another bullet for her troubles.
It’s hard to reconcile how this man who seemingly and genuinely loved his wife and son so much could resort to something so despicable and violent. How?
How could you possibly unbridle such violence on people you love that much? And the thing is, you could sense and feel the love he had for them.
He wouldn’t have done half the things he did if he didn’t love them, so how could that ever seem like a solution?
Interestingly enough, we didn’t see Alex’s face when he did these things, although it’s obvious that it was him. It added an interesting level of nuance to the situation as we likely head into the second part of the event, which delves into the aftermath of their murders and Alex’s standing trial.
It was such a haunting note to leave things on, and while the build-up to this moment was impressive, Bill Pullman barely scratches the surface of his phenomenal performance and range in this first part.
But that second part? Oh, we’ll be right here to unpack that with you tomorrow!
Over to you, True Crime Fanatics. What were your thoughts on Murdaugh Murders: Part I? Will you be tuning into the second film? Sound off below!
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. She is an insomniac who spends late nights and early mornings binge-watching way too many shows and binge-drinking way too much tea. Her eclectic taste makes her an unpredictable viewer with an appreciation for complex characters, diverse representation, dynamic duos, compelling stories, and guilty pleasures. You’ll definitely find her obsessively live-tweeting, waxing poetic, and chatting up fellow Fanatics and readers. Follow her on X.