Behind Her Eyes

Director: Erik Richter Strand
Writers: Steve Lightfoot, Sarah Pinborough, Angela LaManna
Cast: Simona Brown, Eve Hewson, Tom Bateman
Cinematographer: Felix Wiedemann
Editors: Amy Hounsell, Brenna Rangott

Behind Her Eyes has a plot twist you won’t see coming. That’s not a compliment. The ending of the six-episode Netflix series is shocking and unexpected, but only because the writers don’t hint at it in any way. On reexamining the rest of the show, it doesn’t hold up, derailing, instead of concluding, a twisted narrative with great promise. If the rest of the slow-burn series unfolds like puzzle pieces gradually dropping into place, the last episode flips over the table and scatters all of them to the floor.

Why begin by talking about the twist? The 2017 Sarah Pinborough book that the series is based on was marketed with the hashtag #WTFEnding, which is particularly prescient for those watching the show.

How enjoyable you find its initial episodes, and they are enjoyable, hinges on how invested you are in the show’s three main characters, all of whom are compelling and have secrets of their own. Their interactions are well-crafted, with the writing revealing as much information about them as it withholds, an effective tactic that ensures viewers begin questioning their motives. Is the psychiatrist David (Tom Bateman) just a doting husband or are his regularly scheduled calls to his wife symptoms of a controlling nature? His wife Adele (a fantastic Eve Hewson), with her all-white wardrobe designed to resemble the uniforms at the institution at which she once spent time, seems frail and dependent. Why then, is David afraid of her? The two inhabit a glossy world of wealth and privilege, which the show effectively undercuts with a gnawing sense of dread.

Enter naive, single mom Louise (Simona Brown), who begins an affair with David, her boss, while befriending Adele in secret. The overlapping relationships between the three are balanced with skill and play out like a dark psychosexual drama as their secrets threaten to spill over. The acknowledgement that this charade can’t be kept up forever is what gives the show a thrilling tension.

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And that’s where things get weird. Midway through, the series undergoes a radical shift in tonality and begins leaning on supernatural elements. There are flashes of it beforehand — Louise and Adele both suffer from vivid, disorienting night terrors —  but the show can’t commit to the change of genre in a way that feels convincing. A scene in which information is gleaned through supernatural means, and later arrived at through an alternative practical method suggests that the makers weren’t fully convinced either.

The show’s insistence on progressing towards that bonkers twist, however, results in it sacrificing storytelling in favour of shock. Not only is it frustrating on its own, it’s detrimental to the writing that comes before it. Adele’s backstory is the only one of the three that’s fully fleshed out through arresting flashbacks, but there’s an odd hollowness at the centre of the character. The ending reveals that the writers weren’t deploying mysteriousness as a character trait so much as they were being purposefully vague in service of that twist.

The show is at its best and most bingeable when it’s a gradually unspooling mystery. David and Adele’s conflicting stories to Lousie leave her, and by extension the audience, wondering who to really root for. The final episode makes that clear but the weak setup makes it hard to accept. It’ll have you tweeting #WTFEnding. And not in a good way.

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