Behind Her Eyes, a bestselling thriller written by Sarah Pinborough, was marketed with its own hashtag, #WTFThatEnding, that can be interpreted two ways: as a lure convincing potential readers that they’ll be delighted by an unexpected conclusion, or as a warning that they’ll want to hurl the book across the room upon finishing. I have not read Pinborough’s novel, and only learned of the hashtag after watching all six episodes of the new Netflix limited series version of Behind Her Eyes. And I’m sorry to report that my reaction was the latter.
The shame of it is that Behind Her Eyes the TV show is actually pretty good, until it starts prizing wild twists above all else. Adapted by Steve Lightfoot and Angela LaManna, the series starts off in familiar, secure territory as an erotic thriller about a love triangle. Louise (Simona Brown) is an English single mom who works part-time in a psychiatrist’s office. On a lonely night out at a pub, she hits it off with a handsome stranger, but he runs off right when the evening is about to advance to the next step. He is, of course, married — and, worse, he is Louise’s new boss, David (Tom Bateman), new in town along with his glamorous, mentally ill wife Adele (Eve Hewson). Before Louise can stop herself, she has fallen into bed with David and become close friends with Adele, convinced she can maintain both relationships without anyone finding out.
“It sounds like you’re shagging both of them,” warns an old pal, who can tell Louise has gotten in much too deep with this strange couple.
All of this is conventional but well executed, with central performances that are alluring even as each side of the triangle behaves badly. Hewson (The Knick), who’s particularly strong, is styled with a sharp bob and a chic, mostly-white wardrobe to accentuate the power that Adele holds over both her husband and her new friend, though she’s obviously dangerous to both. (There’s also a scene where she screams “Fuck off!” for so long, it becomes an aria. She’s great.) And Lightfoot and LaManna (who worked together on Hannibal and The Punisher) smartly and plausibly keep tilting the audience’s sympathies, so that any one of the three leads can seem like the villain or the victim at different points of the story. It’s creepy and engaging throughout the early chapters.
But then? Well… then, Behind Her Eyes becomes a different kind of story altogether, and a much sillier one. It’s difficult to talk about without spoiling that WTF ending, though it is a situation where telling potential viewers there’s a huge twist — more than one, actually — will in no way prepare them to work it out ahead of schedule. This is perhaps good for people who only want surprise from entertainment; much less good for those who want their entertainment to have some consistency of story or tone.
Here is what I can say: Louise and Adele bond over the rather huge coincidence that both suffer from night terrors. Adele promises to teach Louise a method of controlling her dreams, and as the women attack the problem together, Adele’s solution starts to border on the supernatural, until it tumbles headfirst in that direction.
Done smartly, smuggling one genre inside of another can be exciting. Behind Her Eyes, unfortunately, is too interested in shock value for its own sake, rather than making the pieces fit together. Most of it plays as if everyone involved just got bored with the original version of the story and decided to shake things up midway through. And though I’m personally a much more receptive audience for a wild sci-fi story than I am for an erotic thriller, I was far more absorbed by how the show handled the relationships at its core than its exploration of the more powerful forces at work underneath.
The best twist endings transform the entire meaning of a story in hindsight. Some of Behind Your Eyes makes a bit more sense once you get to its ridiculous conclusion, but it largely takes meaning away from what came before rather than adding new depth and excitement. #WTFThatEnding, indeed.
Behind Her Eyes premieres February 17th on Netflix. I’ve seen all six episodes.