Give Rachel Weisz Two Emmys

Apr 17, 2023

Dead Ringers doesn’t waste any time getting into the meat of things (pun intended — a character chows down on a burger and makes an innuendo about it in the show’s opening moments), so I’m not going to either: This series is one of the most unhinged things I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in the best possible way. There is talk of “cutting babies from women’s wombs,” more than a few f-bombs and c-words, and graphic sexual content including discussions of twincest — and that’s just in the first two minutes. Dead Ringers is a rollercoaster ride of a series from the first frame to the last, and no matter how securely you strap in or how tightly you hold on, odds are you’re still going to get a little nauseous. But trust me — the exhilaration is so, so worth it.

It’s hard to compare Dead Ringers to any other piece of media. There’s the obvious, of course — the 1988 David Cronenberg movie on which it’s based — but the tone still feels so original, so bold it’s difficult to even describe. One of last year’s most impactful and disturbing scenes came in the form of Fleishman Is in Trouble, where Rachel (Claire Danes) is violated by her doctor when giving birth. It’s a scene my brain couldn’t help but conjure when watching Dead Ringers, as it tackles this unique brand of horror. Instead of approaching it like numerous other medical shows on TV — Grey’s Anatomy or The Good Doctor, for instance — Dead Ringers offers a much darker, more twisted take. The medical ethics of Crimes of the Future, another Cronenberg feature, come to mind, and the sleek, terrifying look into the lives of the ultra-wealthy combined with dry, biting humor can often emit Succession vibes — unsurprising given that showrunner Alice Birch worked on the HBO juggernaut in Season 2.

Birch is truly one of the most exciting names in the industry right now, having been involved in Sally Rooney series adaptations Normal People and Conversations with Friends, as well as penning the Florence Pugh-led Lady Macbeth and The Wonder. However, she got her start in theater, earning a bevy of accolades for Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. and Anatomy of a Suicide, all of which are evident in the way Dead Ringers is structured and paced. There is a hearty helping of deliciously long, intricate dinner scenes with dozens of actors and moving parts, almost unfolding like a stage play at times. She’s masterful at crafting grand displays of new and old money alike, complete with the wildest rich-person game since Boar on the Floor and the creepiest singing children since M3GAN belted “Titanium.”

But it’s the attention to detail that sets the show apart. Parallels and symbolism are subtle but aplenty, with cheeky moments of foreshadowing you may only catch the second time around. The cinematography cleverly reflects such narrative choices, playing with mirrors and emphasizing reflections and doubles. (Not to mention not shying away from the gore.) The themes made obvious by the twins — what it means to be a mother, what it means to be fully yourself, what it means to sacrifice pieces of yourself for someone you love — apply to other characters and dynamics as well, exploring each concept in holistic and unexpected ways.

Image via Prime Video

RELATED:’Dead Ringers’ Poster Teases a Sinister Side of Rachel Weisz

The focus on creating layered, complex characters takes it from excellent to truly sublime, namely when it comes to the main twins: Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Rachel Weisz). It’d be tempting to describe their dynamic as an evil twin situation, an angel and devil on the shoulder, although that would be not only reductive but inaccurate. Each twin has their own specific flaws and desires. While, yes, Elliot is, on the surface, the more compromised one, she’s also shown to be better at bedside manner at times — and more honest. Beverly is more grounded and seems to be more altruistic, but make no mistake — she has secrets and moments of moral questionability, too.

One thing is for certain: Though they’re codependent (to a dangerous fault, as you’ll see time and time again), they’re distinct. A lot of that can be attributed to the sharp writing, but it simply doesn’t work without a star who’s capable of playing both parts with enough nuance that they each feel fleshed out. Thankfully, Weisz is more than up to the task, completely transforming herself, and her physicality is particularly notable. Beverly is all tense muscles, with the straight-backed posture of a ballerina, while Elliot has an alluring, almost animalistic quality about her. She doesn’t just eat — she devours. She doesn’t just crawl across the counter — she slinks. She doesn’t just yell — she primal screams.

Beverly and Elliot are two sides of the same coin, but you’re never confused as to which side you’re looking at. When they interact? It’s toxic, intoxicating magic. Weisz has always been one to take risks with her career, with a penchant for choosing and fully committing to exciting, oftentimes off-beat projects, but it’s difficult to imagine a role more challenging than this. Dead Ringers proves she’s truly in a league all her own as she creates an electrifying chemistry with the only person who could possibly match her: herself.

Image via Prime Video

That’s not to say her co-stars aren’t impressive as well. Quite the opposite. The performers around Weisz are of the highest caliber, not to mention perfectly cast. Britne Oldford brings heart and tenderness to the show as Genevieve, Beverly’s girlfriend — and, therefore, Elliot’s nemesis. Soft-spoken and gentle yet far from a wallflower, it’s easy to see why Beverly falls for her fast, and impossible not to cheer for their relationship. The two make each other better, and their dynamic grounds the show. The fun and tragedy stem from how they react when Elliot desperately tries to rip the roots from their blossoming relationship.

While Oldford brings warmth to the screen, Jennifer Ehle delivers a delightfully frigid performance as Rebecca, a billionaire birth clinic investor. Wicked yet restrained, she has a chillingly stoic nature about her reminiscent of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada or shades of Cate Blanchett’s Lydia Tár. Ehle is a quiet powerhouse, able to intimidate and destroy with a single eyebrow raise or ruthless monologue delivered with such casual monotony she almost seems bored tearing someone to shreds. It’s positively diabolical and endlessly entertaining. Watching her play off of Emily Meade — who stars as her philanthropic trophy wife Susan — is a true treat. Oozing sweet Southern charm, Meade draws you in with her optimism and naïveté, making for great comic relief and feeling like a much-needed breath of fresh air. So when it’s revealed that perhaps she and Rebecca aren’t the oddest couple after all — that they and their families have more in common than you might think — it’s one of the most shocking moments in a show that’s overflowing with them.

Poppy Liu’s Greta makes for a curious character, serving as the twins’ house manager. Liu is an enjoyable addition, adding some extra humor and suspense, and her character’s motivations, when they are finally revealed, prove interesting. Unfortunately, they also feel a bit underdeveloped. Her storyline, while powerful, doesn’t feel baked in enough with the rest of the plot, and nixing the mystery surrounding her a bit earlier could have put her in a less limited position and given her more to do. Her storyline is great, but the way it’s integrated ultimately ends up making her feel slightly inconsequential. Her puzzle piece is tangentially related and compelling to look at but doesn’t fit quite as well as the others.

Image via Prime Video

I’d be remiss not to mention a few of these other smaller, albeit just as important, puzzle pieces. Though many shows, especially in the streaming age, can blend together, each of Dead Ringers’ six episodes feels distinct and has somewhat of a rotating cast of set pieces and guest stars. There are the twins’ parents (Suzanne Bertish, Kevin McNally), who give us loads of insight into the Mantle sisters’ backgrounds, a reporter (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) that Rebecca hires to do a puff piece on them, and even a homeless woman (Susan Blommaert) that Elliot self-destructs with her first-ever night away from Beverly. Each serves a crucial role in fleshing out this world and driving Beverly and Elliot’s story as they attempt to revolutionalize women’s healthcare.

Dead Ringers does deliver on the promise of its all-too-timely premise, focusing on the medical industry and how it treats women, though a few of the threads raised in the pilot act mainly as a catalyst. Instead of being comprehensively explored, subjects like surrogacy and tubal ligation at a young age are not discussed in much detail which proves to be disappointing. Still, there’s limited time with only six episodes, and the series explores fertility struggles with a heartbreaking starkness. It also doesn’t shy away from grappling with themes of race and white saviorism, particularly how the medical industry fails — and has always horrifically failed — Black women. The care taken to do the storylines the show leans into authentically shines through.

And really, that’s not the real point of the show anyway. It’s the setting, sure — and a brilliant one at that. But at its core, Dead Ringers is about the passionate, all-encompassing, dysfunctional love between these twin sisters and what happens when somethings and someones attempt to come between them. There’s a perpetual question that Dead Ringers poses: Is everything halved when you’re a twin? Or is it doubled? The way it attempts to answer is equal parts profoundly disturbing and deeply hilarious, striking a wholly singular tone that’s difficult to pin down and would even be more impossible to replicate. The result is a breathtaking vehicle for Weisz and a bold, unflinching addition to Birch’s already exceptional portfolio.

Dead Ringers isn’t afraid to push the envelope. In fact, it tosses the envelope into the shredder in its first scene and then proceeds to throw it in the garbage can and set it on fire as the series progresses. And it’s all the better for it. Dead Ringers covers revolutionary subject matter, and how it does it is somehow even more radical. The show may be about twins, but as for the show itself? You won’t find anything like it.

Rating: A

Every episode of Dead Ringers will be available to stream on Prime Video April 21.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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