HBO's new mystery series premieres Jan. 22 and inspects how one crime can ripple out and affect many people. The crime in question on Mosaic is the death of Olivia Lake, a famed children's author, played by Sharon Stone. But the series itself begins four years after the crime and her subsequent disappearance. In Mosaic's opening scene, two men stand in a hallway discussing some incriminating details related to the case. Only after the audience learns that Olivia Lake has died do they get to actually meet her. So what happened to Olivia Lake between her first scene and the show's prologue? This murder mystery gets pretty gruesome but not in the ways you might expect.
Minor spoilers. Though the show is a crime drama, Olivia Lake's murder is barely mentioned in Mosaic's first episode, aside from in the prologue. Instead, the show takes its time getting to know the author and the people around her. Throughout the first episode, the audience learns about her strengths, her flaws, and all of the important elements that make Olivia her own unique person. She is clearly a complex figure, and the mystery surrounding her death proves to be as complicated and surprising as Olivia herself. And though the TV series will air on HBO for five subsequent nights, anyone who watched Mosaic in its original incarnation — as a smartphone app — already know the full story of why Olivia's murder took nearly half a decade to solve.
The Mosaic miniseries is the story's final form, but it was originally conceived as an experimental approach to narrative. Available as a smartphone app or on an interactive website, the original Mosaic allows viewers to choose different storylines that they wanted to follow, examining the life and death of Olivia from different perspectives. The entire series was released in its experimental format on Nov. 8, but is airing in a more conventionally structured re-edit on HBO. The app allows viewers to jump around in time and shift perspectives, but the truth behind Olivia's murder is always the same.
SPOILERS FOR ALL OF Mosaic. Olivia's murder, like many murders, was a personal affair. She was killed by someone close to her while she was in her own home, but there was no body to be found. While the crime scene (a side room of her expansive Utah compound) was obviously the setting of a violent crime, the investigation hits a major roadblock without a body to examine. With no body, there's no autopsy, and with no autopsy there is no way to definitively determine how Olivia Lake was killed. That is, until four years later, when a hand washes up on the bank of a Utah river — the hand of a corpse that had been bitten off by rats and other scavengers. Just like that, a disgusting act of nature reopens the Lake case.
Soon after her hand is discovered and the interest in the case is renewed, her body is found. An autopsy reveals that Olivia had been struck by a hammer after someone punched her in the face with their right hand. This causes quite the controversy, as the person who has been in jail for years for Olivia's murder is left-handed.
The Mosaic show never shows Olivia's actual murder, only offering secondhand accounts of what happened that fateful night. The Mosaic app on the other hand, portrays the entire crime in tense, bloody detail as it's committed by the real murderer: Michael O'Connor (James Ransone). While Eric Neill (Frederick Weller) spends four years in prison for the murder, and Joel Hurley (Garrett Hedlund) eventually confesses to it after being convinced by others that he committed the crime during a drunken blackout, a chapter from the app confirms the suspicions of Eric's sister, Petra (Jennifer Ferrin).
Michael O'Connor, a billionaire neighbor who has known Olivia for his whole life, is a major investor in Olivia's pet project — a children's art initiative called Mosaic. He's also interested in buying her property. Petra discovers in the Mosaic finale that Olivia's house sits upon a rich vein of Beryllium, a a rare but valuable metal used in weapons manufacturing, and that Michael has been buying other properties that sit atop Beryllium stores.
Michael's need to acquire Olivia's property leads him and his consul Tom to hire Eric to con her into selling Michael the property, only for things to go off the rails when Eric falls in love with Olivia and tells her the truth. However, things work out in Michael's favor when the relationship gets heated between Eric and Olivia, as Eric proves to be the perfect murder suspect. Just as Petra goes to interview Michael and reveal what she's learned, the news reports that Joel Hurley has already confessed.
While in the show, Petra never gets the confession from Michael that she seeks, the app shows the altercation that leads to the crime. Michael confronts Olivia on New Year's Eve, leading to their personal history being dredged up. After feeling insulted by Olivia one too many times, Michael punches her in the jaw. After punching her, Michael attempts to keep Olivia from going outside and telling people he hit her. Deciding that he won't be able to coax her silence, Michael attacks her with a hammer, killing her. After her death, he successfully buys her property.
Olivia's death was less of a crime of passion than the authorities originally believed. And Mosaic gives fans several ways to learn the true motivation behind the fictional author's death.